This month, we introduce a new format for occasional episodes focused on classic works in the field of early American history. In this first “classic work episode,” Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, Roy Rogers, and Mark Boonshoft revisit Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution.
Perhaps the most important book written on the American Revolution in the last fifty years, Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution was published in 1967 and had an immediate and long-lasting impact on the way historians understand the coming of the Revolution. In it, Bailyn challenged his fellow historians to begin taking ideas seriously again. By doing a thorough reading of the pre-revolutionary pamphlet literature, Bailyn concluded that a specific strain of thought from England, often referred to as “radical” or “country” Whig ideology, was the driving ideological force behind the ways in which patriots interpreted the events of the 1760s and early 1770s. This ideology stressed the virtue of the individual who acted on behalf of the “public good” rather than self-interest. More crucially, it stressed that power was inherently corrupting and that virtuous citizens must always be on guard against corruption, conspiracy, and tyranny. That ideology shaped the way colonists understood British imperial reform and actions during the 1760s and 1770s leading them to believe that the Parliament and the King’s Ministry had succumbed to corruption and acts such as the Stamp Act, Tea Act, and Coercive Acts were evidence that these men were conspiring to establish a tyranny over the colonies.
- Who was Bernard Bailyn and why did he write this book?
- Why was Bailyn’s book so different and so important when it was published?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of Bailyn’s interpretation and analysis?
- What has been the book’s long-term impact on the field of Revolution studies?
- How do historians view this class work today?
Mark Boonshoft is a PhD candidate at The Ohio State University. He focuses primarily on early American political and social history. His dissertation examines the development of educational and cultural institutions in the mid-Atlantic and upper South from the First Great Awakening to the early nineteenth century. He is a member of The Junto and a repeat guest on “The JuntoCast.”
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Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967.
———. The Origins of American Politics. New York: Vintage, 1970.
———. “Political Experience and Enlightenment Ideas in Eighteenth-Century America.” The American Historical Review 67, no. 2 (1962): 339–351.
Beeman, Richard R. “Deference, Republicanism, and the Emergence of Popular Politics in Eighteenth-Century America.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 49, no. 3 (1992): 401–430.
Kerber, Linda K. “The Republican Ideology of the Revolutionary Generation.” American Quarterly 37, no. 4 (1985): 474–495.
Maier, Pauline. From Resistance to Revolution: Colonial Radicals and the Development of American Opposition to Britain, 1765-1776. New York: Vintage, 1974.
Shalhope, Robert E. “Towards a Republican Synthesis: The Emergence of an Understanding of Republicanism in American Historiography.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 29, no. 1 (1972): 49–80.
Rodgers, Daniel T. “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept.” The Journal of American History 79, no. 1 (1992): 11–38.
Wood, Gordon S. “Conspiracy and the Paranoid Style: Causality and Deceit in the Eighteenth Century.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 39, no. 3 (1982): 402–441.
———. “Rhetoric and Reality in the American Revolution.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series 23, no. 1 (1966): 3–32.