Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v1.djvu/150

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American Political Writing, 1760–1789

AMERICAN history between 1760 and 1789—from the end, that is, so far as military operations were concerned, of the Seven Years' War to the inauguration of the new government under the Federal Constitution—falls naturally into three well-marked periods. The first, comprising the development of the constitutional struggle with Great Britain over taxation and imperial control, reaches its culmination in the armed collision between the British and the patriot forces at Lexington, 19 April, 1775. The second period covers the eight years of war, ending with the peace treaty of September, 1783; while the third embraces the so-called "critical period" of the Confederation, and the formation and adoption of the Constitution.

Such a time of storm and stress, of revolution and evolution, is pretty certain, especially in a new country, if it bring forth literature at all, to bring forth such as is predominantly political in content, style, and purpose. The Revolutionary leaders who have left a large and permanent impress upon American literature were concerned chiefly with such weighty matters as the nature of the British constitution, the formulation of colonial rights, and the elaboration of schemes of government and administration; and it was of these things that they chiefly wrote. It is a striking tribute to the classical education of the age, to the moulding power of closely-reasoned theological and legal treatises on which ministers and lawyers fed,[1] and to the subtle, pervasive influence of the English Bible, that the best political writing of the Revolutionary period attained a dignity and

  1. See Book I, Chap. VII, for evidence as to the knowledge of French radical books in the colonies after 1760.