A Source Book of American Political Theory

By Benjamin Fletcher Wright Jr. | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This compilation has been prepared as the result of a conviction that the study of political theories can be satisfactory only when the original writings are available to the student. Secondary accounts of such writings are, of course, useful as guides and as commentaries, but they do not take the place of the documents themselves. Most of the classics of European political theory, from Plato to John Stuart Mill, are now to be had in convenient and inexpensive editions, but the writings of American political thinkers are, for the most part, not to be found in similar form. Many of them have never been reprinted, very few indeed in cheap editions. A large proportion of them can be consulted only in the most extensive libraries, and, even there, they are ordinarily unavialable for the student or the casual reader as a result of their rarity or of the bulky character of the collections in which they are found. I have attempted to remedy this situation somewhat by including in a single volume selections from the most important and less available American political literature. Rather than reprint a very large number of extracts which would be too short to give any real indication of the nature of the works from which they were taken I have chosen to include a smaller number of more substantial length.

I have not attempted to include in this book all of the materials which are of significance in the study of American political theory. The literature of a number of movements and the writings of many individual authors have necessarily been omitted. Some of these, for example the Federalist and judicial opinions on important questions of public law, because they are readily available in other forms, some because they are believed to be of relatively less significance than those selected, others because they can not satisfactorily be cut to a length which would make their inclusion possible. However, the most significant turning points in the history of American theory are dealt with and all of the outstanding theorists are represented by one or more selections. For the period since the Civil War the problem of selection is particularly difficult. Of the merit and influence of the earlier writings we are now in a

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