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The writings of James Otis arguably had more influence in America and England before 1774 than those of any other American except John Dickinson. John Adams pointed to Otis as the first man to have plumbed the depths of the argument between Britain and the Anglo-American colonies. Anyone who wishes to understand the American Revolution, the American founding, and American political thought would benefit greatly from reading Otis's political writings.
Otis's writings tackle enduring themes of American politics: the rule of law, individual rights, and federalism. Otis saw that the problem facing the Anglo-American colonists was the difficulty of reconciling their rights as British subjects, and as men, with continued participation in the British Empire. His proposed solution, a federally structred empire, with a proportionate number of Anglo-American representative in the Parliament in London and the continued presence of Anglo-American governments, was unacceptable to almost everyone else at the time.
"Local government in colonial America was the seedbed of American constitutionalism." So begins the introductory essay to this landmark collection of eighty documents created by the American colonists—and not English officials—that are the genesis of American fundamental law and constitutionalism. Most of these documents, commencing with the Agreement of the Settlers at Exeter in New Hampshire, July 5, 1639, and concluding with Joseph Galloway's Plan of Union, 1774—"the immediate precursor to the Articles of Confederation"—have never before been accessible to the general reader or available in a single volume. As Professor Lutz points out, the documents are chosen to make possible "a careful examination of [the American] people's attempt at self-interpretation." All of the principal colonial documents are included, as are all documents attempting to unite the colonies, beginning with the New England Confederation of 1643. Bicameralism, popular sovereignty, the separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and religious freedom—in sum, the hallmarks of American constitutionalism—were first presented to the world in these writings.
Donald S. Lutz is Professor of Political Science at the University of Houston.
Arguably no political principle has been more central than the separation of powers to the evolution of constitutional governance in Western democracies. In the definitive work on the subject, M. J. C. Vile traces the history of the doctrine from its rise during the English Civil War, through its development in the eighteenth century—when it was indispensable to the founders of the American republic—through subsequent political thought and constitution-making in Britain, France, and the United States. The author concludes with an examination of criticisms of the doctrine by both behavioralists and centralizers—and with "A Model of a Theory of Constitutionalism." The new Liberty Fund second edition includes the entirety of the original 1967 text published by Oxford, a major epilogue entitled "The Separation of Powers and the Administrative State," and a bibliography.
M. J. C. Vile is Professor of Politics at the University of Kent at Canterbury and author also of The Structure of American Federalism.
The Crisis of the Seventeenth Century collects nine essays by Trevor-Roper on the themes of religion, the Reformation, and social change. As Trevor-Roper explains in his preface, "the crisis in government, society, and ideas which occurred, both in Europe and in England, between the Reformation and the middle of the seventeenth century" constituted the crucible for what "went down in the general social and intellectual revolution of the mid-seventeenth century." The Civil War, the Restoration, and the Glorious Revolution in England laid the institutional and intellectual foundations of the modern understanding of liberty, of which we are heirs and beneficiaries. Trevor-Roper's essays uncover new pathways to understanding this seminal time.
In his longest essay, "The European Witch-craze of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries," Trevor-Roper points out that "In England the most active phase of witch-hunting coincided with times of Puritan pressure—the reign of Queen Elizabeth and the period of the civil wars—and some very fanciful theories have been built on this coincidence. But . . . the persecution of witches in England was trivial compared with the experience of the Continent and of Scotland. Therefore . . . [one must examine] the craze as a whole, throughout Europe, and [seek] to relate its rise, frequency, and decline to the general intellectual and social movements of the time. . . ." Neither Catholic nor Protestant emerges unscathed from the examination to which Trevor-Roper subjects the era in which, from political and religious causes, the identification and extirpation of witches was a central event.
Hugh Trevor-Roper, Lord Dacre, is retired Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford. Among his works are The Last Days of Hitler, The Gentry, 1540–1640, The Rise of Christian Europe, the Plunder of the Arts in the Seventeenth Century, Princes and Artists: Patronage and Ideology at Four Hapsburg Courts, 1517–1633, and The Hermit of Peking.
Though usually Edmund Burke is identified as the first to articulate the principles of a modern conservative political tradition, arguably he was preceded by a Scotsman who is better known for espousing a brilliant concept of skepticism. As Laurence Bongie notes, "David Hume was undoubtedly the eighteenth-century British writer whose works were most widely known and acclaimed on the Continent during the later Enlightenment period. Hume's impact [in France] was of undeniable importance, greater even for a time than the related influence of Burke, although it represents a contribution to French counter-revolutionary thought which, unlike that of Burke, has been almost totally ignored by historians to this day." The bulk of Bongie's work consists of the writings of French readers of Hume who were confronted, first, by the ideology of human perfection and, finally, by the actual terrors of the French Revolution. Offered in French in the original edition of David Hume published by Oxford University Press in 1965, these vitally important writings have been translated by the author into English for the Liberty Fund second edition. In his foreword, Donald Livingston observes that "If conservatism is taken to be an intellectual critique of the first attempt at modern total revolution, then the first such event was not the French but the Puritan revolution, and the first systematic critique of this sort of act was given by Hume."
Laurence L. Bongie is Professor Emeritus of French at the University of British Columbia.
Donald Livingston is Professor of Philosophy at Emory University.