The Development of American Political Thought

The Development of American Political Thought

The Development of American Political Thought

The Development of American Political Thought

Excerpt

More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since the appearance of Professor Merriam's History of American Political Theories. In that time there has been remarkably little written upon the development of political theory on this side of the Atlantic. This is unfortunate. It is true that the contributions of Americans to the subject of political theory have not in recent years been abundant or important. New ideas which have attracted much attention in England and upon the continent of Europe have passed almost unnoticed in the United States. But in the long years which lie between the planting of the first colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts and the inauguration of the government under the Constitution there was no lack of political theory in this country. The rich and suggestive ideas which were developed in the colonies and in the formative period of the Union deserve more intensive study than they have received.

The impetus to the development of political theory in America sprang from the long experience of the people with local self- government. Indeed, the American people had by 1787 come into posession of almost the whole of their stock of fundamental ideas. Borrowing largely from English liberal thought of the seventeenth century, American philosophers, clergymen and statesmen joined their efforts to adapt the ideas to the circumstances of a new country. At the same time the cultivation of ideas did not assume the form of a distinctively American political philosophy. There was an essentially practical character about the political speculations of American statesmen; they utilized theory for definite constructive ends.

The study of political theory in the American colonies cannot be undertaken apart from the study of the dominant ideas in England during the same period. It is the divergence between the ideas of the colonists and the political leaders at Westminster that . . .

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