In his Preface to this fiftieth anniversary edition of The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bernard Bailyn emphasizes the Founding Fathers’ profound concern with power. In pamphlets, letters, newspapers, and sermons, they repeatedly returned to the problem of the uses and misuses of power―the great benefits of power when gained and used by popular consent, and the political and social devastation of power when acquired by those who seize it by force or other means and use it for their personal benefit.
The enlarged second edition includes the nationwide debate on the ratification of the Constitution, exploring not only the Founders’ initial hopes and aspirations, but also their struggle to implement their ideas in constructing the national government.
In a work initially based upon an exhaustive examination of colonial literature, especially pamphlets, the author outlines the evolution of colonial ideology which led directly to the American Revolution. He introduces the ideological sources which shaped colonial revolutionary thought, especially 17th and 18th century “Whig” opposition writing in England, which the American press distributed widely throughout the colonies. Classical Roman thought and English common law exerted great influence upon the colonists’ revolutionary thinking. The combination of these libertarian sources provided the spark for the “shot heard round the world.”
Bailyn’s prize-winning work remains required reading for anyone seeking to understand the historical roots of the American Revolution.