A Radical Political Experiment

Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By: Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives.

Pennsylvania was the home of the “most radical ideas about politics and constitutional authority voiced in the Revolution.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 226. This resulted in a “comprehensive examination of assumptions about government that elsewhere were generally taken for granted” and it resulted in one of the greatest experiments in politics up to that time. Id.

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The Emergence of American Principles and Tempers

Thomas Paine. By: Laurent Dabos.

As the American Revolution approached “most Americans had become convinced that they were ‘aptly circumstanced to form the best republicks, upon the best terms that ever came to the lot of any people before us.'” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 98 quoting Phila. Pa. Packet, Feb. 12, 1776; Purdie’s Wmsbg. Va. Gazette, May 17, 1776.

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Building the Momentum of the Revolution

James Iredell. By: Charles Balthazar Julien Fevret de Saint-Memin.

For a revolution, and particularly a bloodless revolution, to occur, the momentum must build so that the population’s outrage culminates in a change of power and a change of government. How the people sparking the flame that leads to the roaring fire of revolution is a subject worth studying, as revolutions are an inevitable fact of life in the world.

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A Supreme Sovereign Power

Page 1 of the Articles of Confederation.

Despite the fact that the Articles of Confederation loosely held the states together, there was still a remarkable union achieved. There were privileges and immunities granted, “reciprocity of extradition and judicial proceedings among the states,” no “travel and discriminatory trade restrictions between states, and the substantial grant of powers to the Congress in Article 9 made the league of states as cohesive and strong as any similar sort of republican confederation in history—stronger in fact than some Americans had expected.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 359. Read more

Coalescing All the States

John Adams. By: John Singleton Copley.

Americans had a keen understanding of the idea, popularized by Montesquieu, that “only a small homogeneous society whose interests were essentially similar could properly sustain a republican government.” Gordon Wood, The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787, 356. This idea created a fundamental problem for America: it was not a small homogeneous society, and it was rapidly expanding.

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The Greatest Question Ever Yet Agitated

Samuel Johnson. By: Joshua Reynolds.

In the early 1770s, the colonists and Britain began to debate “the greatest Question ever yet agitated.” John Adams, entry, Mar. 4, 1773, Butterfield, ed., Diary of Adams, II, 77. That question was focused on sovereignty and John Adams expressed the view that it was necessary and “should some where be lodged a supreme power over the whole.” Id.

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Virtue as a Principle and Foundation

John Adams. By: Gilbert Stuart.

At the time of the Revolution, republicanism was permeating political discourse and political theory. John Adams asked in 1776 that “[i]f there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?” He continued by explaining that a republican constitution “introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government, makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal.” John Adams, Thoughts on Government, Adams, ed., Works of John Adams, IV, 194, 199.

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