The Era of the American Revolution: Studies Inscribed to Evarts Boutell Greene

By Richard B. Morris | Go to book overview

America and the Irish Revolutionary Movement in the Eighteenth Century

MICHAEL KRAUS

BY ITS very existence, said Oliver Wendell Holmes, America is a standing threat to the absolutist governments of the Old World. The America of the eighteenth century was of less threatening aspect, but even then it held within itself the seeds of destruction for Europe's social structure. This does not mean, of course, that events in thirteen far-off colonies were the most important factor in breaking the crust that bounded European society. A changing industrial mechanism and an altered intellectual outlook that challenged respected and even revered mores were enough to disrupt a world. But the vague aspirations of Europeans toward a new universe were given solidity by the concrete appearance of the world of tomorrow in the thirteen colonies. The fortunes of the many thousands who had sailed from Europe to seek a new homeland, with all their fears and hopes, had become part of the stream of consciousness of those who were left behind. For those who missed the Mayflower there was at least the hope that on her return trip she would bring back some manifestation of that new spirit arising overseas--new wine to be poured into old bottles. It was the American Revolution which was the "chief factor in the collapse of the Georgian reaction."1

England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Belgium, the German states, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, and others to the east and south, all in varying degrees felt the impact of distant events. John Adams was right when he said that a complete history of the

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1
In the preparation of the present study the author was aided by a grant from the Social Science Research Council. The quotation cited is from R. Coupland, The American Revolution and the British Empire ( New York, 1930), p. 42.

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