A Source Book of American Political Theory

By Benjamin Fletcher Wright Jr. | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER II CONSTITUTIONAL PROTEST AND REVOLUTION

INTRODUCTION

During the century or more preceding the enactment of the series of revenue measures by which Parliament intended to make the Americans pay their share of the cost of empire, the colonists were becoming more and more accustomed to governing themselves. There is a great deal of truth in the generalization that the cause of the Revolution was the laxity with which Britain had governed her American possessions before 1760. A century and a half of self-government was the best kind of preparation for independence, just as it was the worst possible forerunner, from the British point of view, for the administrative and financial measures which began with general search warrants and ended with an army of occupation.

Another important prelude to the struggle between colonies and mother country is the course of reading in political literature which many of the colonists seem to have been taking, even before 1760. The writings of such jurists and political theorists as Bacon, Coke, and Blackstone, Harrington, Sydney, and Locke, Grotius, Puffendorf, Burlamaqui, and Rousseau, were well known to the Americans, and the events which preceded the Revolution furnished them with opportunities to make use of their learning. The political theory produced in America between 1764 and 1776 was remarkable enough under any circumstances; few other periods in the world's history can equal it; but it would have been impossible without some knowledge of the English and Continental literature of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Of course, the Americans did not merely copy the theories of their predecessors. They did, however, find in

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