The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800: The Challenge

By R. R. Palmer | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THERE have long been a great many works on the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the beginnings of the parliamentary reform movement in Great Britain, and on Irish affairs, as also, though less known in the English-speaking world, on the several countries of continental Europe during this revolutionary era. This book attempts to bring all these national histories together. It rests heavily upon the work of others, for except in certain parts, notably Chapters I, IX, XIV, and XV, where I have been able to make use of researches of my own, it is built up from monographs, special studies, and collections of printed documents made by scholars in many countries over a long period of years. The book is therefore an example of what we have come to know as a historical synthesis, and I have accordingly thought it necessary to give detailed references, even at the cost of an unseemly parade of documentation, some of it in languages which I make no pretence of understanding and have been able to use only through the assistance of others. The book may be thought of also as an attempt at a comparative constitutional history of Western Civilization at the time of the French and American Revolutions; but "constitutional" is to be understood in a broad sense, without much emphasis on formal provisions, and in close connection with the political, social, and intellectual currents and the actual conflicts at the time. Much of the book deals with the nature of public authority and private rights, of law, sovereignty, and political representation -- or with liberty and equality, and with "fraternity" also, if fraternity be taken to mean the sense of equal membership in the community.

Naturally in the preparation of such a work I have incurred more than the usual number of obligations. Colleagues at Princeton and elsewhere have lent their assistance, either by calling my attention to writings that I would otherwise have missed, or by reading and criticizing particular chapters. I have learned a good deal also from my students, from college seniors to authors of doctoral dissertations. Whether as students, or in some cases as research assistants, they have surveyed materials for me or made studies of their own from which I have appropriated useful items, and in more than one case they have saved me from outright errors. There are some eight persons to whom I am indebted for reading Scandinavian and East European languages. In particular I wish to thank my colleague, Professor W. F. Craven of Princeton, for his continuing help in the problems of the American

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