These volumes provide a selection of seventy-six essays, pamphlets, speeches, and letters to newspapers written between 1760 and 1805 by American political and religious leaders. Many are obscure pieces that were previously available only in larger research libraries. But all illuminate the founding of the American republic and are essential reading for students and teachers of American political thought. The second volume includes an annotated bibliography of five hundred additional items for future reference.
The subjects covered in this rich assortment of primary material range from constitutionalism, representation, and republicanism to freedom of the press, religious liberty, and slavery. Among the more noteworthy items reprinted, all in their entirety, are Stephen Hopkins, "The Rights of the Colonies Examined" (1764); Richard Bland, "An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies" (1766); John Adams, "Thoughts on Government" (1776); Theophilus Parsons, "The Essex Result" (1778); James Madison, "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments" (1785); James Kent, "An Introductory Lecture to a Course of Law Lectures"" (1794); Noah Webster, "An Oration on the Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence" (1802); and James Wilson, "On Municipal Law" (1804)."
A SON OF LIBERTY
[SILAS DOWNER 1729-1785]
A Discourse at the Dedication of the Tree of Liberty
After graduating from Harvard, Downer settled in Providence, Rhode Island, where he united minor political appointments with small business ventures to launch a career that eventually won him considerable repute as a lawyer. Politics seems to have been too attractive, however, to permit any great success in accumulating wealth. He was a rebel in the cause of resistance that steadily developed into a demand for independence, involving himself from their first appearance in the activities of the Providence Committee of Correspondence and several other local organizations devoted to information and arousal of the Rhode Island citizenry. The passionate plea for liberty printed here was delivered to a Providence audience eight years before the fateful Declaration of Independence. The tradition of dedicating a tree of liberty probably goes back to the ancient practice of Saxon clans’ assembling to hold their tungemoot (town meeting) under some large tree. Under Norman rule since the eleventh century, the Saxons would dedicate a tree of liberty to symbolize their former liberty. In any case, the practice was common in the American colonies well before the struggle for independence. Silas Downer here uses the occasion to rehearse the American position developed during the recently concluded Stamp Act crisis. He clearly states the basic formula that the American people are equal to the British people in the mother country. This formula, implicit in one or two of the earlier pieces reproduced here, would be reiterated hundreds of times in colonial and, later, revolutionary newspaper articles and pamphlets. In this context, the words by Jefferson that “all men are created equal,” despite any individualistic meaning he may have had, were certainly read by the average reader as meaning just what Downer says here: the American people are equal to the people in England, and not in any sense subordinate.
Charles S. Hyneman (ed.)
Charles S. Hyneman was Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Indiana University before his death in 1984. He was a past president of the American Political Science Association.
Donald S. Lutz (ed.)
Donald S. Lutz is Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston.