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A Macat Analysis of Bernard Bailyn's The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution

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Before Bernard Bailyn published The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution in 1967, it was generally believed that the Revolution was driven both by social conflict between colonial settlers and the ruling British government, and by differences between classes in American society. Bailyn had a different view. He said that it was radical ideas that fired the American Revolution, and that the Revolution was above all else an ideological, constitutional, and political struggle.

Bailyn showed how American colonists were moved by a strain of radical anti-authoritarian thought that cherished individual liberty and distrusted centralized power. In Bailyn’s view, revolutionaries in the colonies felt their own oppression was part of a greater whole, part of “a comprehensive conspiracy against liberty throughout the English-speaking world—a conspiracy believed to have been nourished in corruption.”

Considered one of the most influential twentieth-century works on the American Revolution, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution won Bailyn the first of two Pulitzer Prizes. He was also awarded the Bancroft Prize for the work—the highest honor an American history book can receive.

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