Saturday, January 07, 2023

Both Thinkers and Doers

The intellectual creativity of the founding generation has never been in doubt. Samuel Eliot Morison and Harold Laski both believed that no period of modern history, with the possible exception of the Civil War decades of seventeenth-century England, was as rich in political ideas and contributed as much in such a short period of time to Western political theory. In the Americans' efforts to explain the difference of their experience in the New World and ultimately to justify their Revolution and their new governments, they were pressed to speak and write both originally and extensively about politics, using a wide variety of eighteenth-century instruments, newspapers, pamphlets, state papers, poetry, plays, satire, and, of course, letters. Indeed, their phenomenal reliance on personal correspondence for the communication of their thoughts made the revolutionary years the greatest letter-writing era in American history. (Without Jefferson's letters, what would we know of his mind?) It is a remarkable body of political literature that the revolutionaries created, and what is most remarkable about it is that this political theory was generally written by the very men responsible for putting it into effect.

- Gordon S. Wood, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different

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