From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820

From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820

From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820

From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820

Excerpt

This book arises out of my reading and teaching during the last ten years or so in the field of early American thought, and, less directly, out of many years of study of the lives of Benjamin Franklin and James Madison. Its theme, the changing ideas of loyalty, purpose, and national character that were part of the transition from colony to country in 1750-1820, depends basically on my study of sermons, speeches, tracts, essays, letters, poems, novels, and histories written by Americans during those years.

Since changes in the public life of the colonies and then the nation were what preoccupied leading thinkers throughout the period, I have paid particular attention to the writings of the most influential statesmen: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton. I have for the same reason paid relatively little attention to artists, architects, scientists, and even literary figures, making use of them principally as they reflect the broader patterns of thought worked out by the more explicitly public philosophers. Writers and artists in this period had in general neither to "escape" and establish identity apart from politics nor to engage in crusades to transform American public purposes. Rather, they commonly sought to express in their art the new purposes and character of the new nation. The matter becomes clearer if one compares the concerns of intellectuals during this period with those of, say, Emerson's day, or Edmund Wilson's or Noam Chomsky's. I have, therefore, dealt with such figures as David Rittenhouse, Charles Willson Peale, and Washington Irving only as they reveal here and there the central trauma over the nation's politi-

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