The era of the American Revolution was a period of radical changes in men's ways of thinking about religion and science as well as a period of political upheaval and of new directions in political theory. The thought of the men of the revolutionary period was hostile to traditional institutions, whether political or religious. It was opposed to authoritarianism, whether that of kings or that of priests. The revolutionary generation had faith in the dignity of each and every individual, and based its ethical and social thinking on the radically humanistic view that each man, sheerly and simply because he is a man, is free and is equal in rights to any other man.
After the changes of the revolutionary period, an era of consolidation set in. The values of stability and permanence were again placed above those of novelty and change. The country became more prosperous; it began to settle down. Mild evidences of unrest were magnified in the telling into major upheavals. There was a widespread fear that the anarchy of the French Revolution might hurtle across the Atlantic and destroy the hard-won security of the young American republic. A period of reaction set in, during which the ideals of the revolutionary generation were critically reconsidered and, in many cases, restricted in their application or discarded completely. Several features of the reaction were given philosophic expression. There was a failure of nerve, manifested in the reaction against the ideas of the Declaration of Independence. There was increasing tension because the Jeffersonian tradition in the South did not meet the problem of slavery adequately. There was a return to religious orthodoxy, even among liberals, which led to a closing of the ranks against any scientific view which could not be reconciled with Christian belief. Finally, there was the beginning of an academic