The Thinking Revolutionary: Principle and Practice in the New Republic

Overview

A wide-ranging student of political thought, Ralph Lerner here reopens an enduring question: How can we best understand the extraordinary efforts that attended the creation of the American Republic?

In seven cogent and superbly written essays, Lerner weighs the revolutionaries' claim to having established a new model of liberty and self-governance. Focusing on the efforts of prominent founders such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, he documents how their ...

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Overview

A wide-ranging student of political thought, Ralph Lerner here reopens an enduring question: How can we best understand the extraordinary efforts that attended the creation of the American Republic?

In seven cogent and superbly written essays, Lerner weighs the revolutionaries' claim to having established a new model of liberty and self-governance. Focusing on the efforts of prominent founders such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, he documents how their thought helped to shape public discourse, perceptions, and institutions in the new republic. Lerner views the revolutionaries' aspirations and arguments as conscious products of gifted and purposive minds, not as mere reflections of generally accepted opinions, of impersonal social or economic forces, or of barely articulated anxieties. He also considers some of the limitations of this self-conscious revolutionary program as seen in early frustrated efforts to deal justly with aboriginal peoples, to rid the new nation of slavery, and to cultivate enlightened understanding in succeeding generations.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Both of these books use late 18th- and early 19th-century sources to argue against positions held by many 20th-century scholars. Berger maintains that the judiciary has subverted the intentions of the Founders with respect to the distribution of powers between the states and the nation. At issue is ``who may revise the Constitutionthe people by amendment or the judges.'' Refusing to ``equate what is desirable with what is constitutional,'' Berger focuses on the writings of the Founders to demonstrate that judicial interpretations of the 10th and 14th amendments, and the ``general welfare'' and ``commerce'' clauses, have vastly extended the powers intended for the national government. His conclusion that the Supreme Court should ``curtail its increasing intrusion into the States' internal affairs'' should be carefully considered by every citizen. Lerner's thesis is that the Founding Fathers were not merely reflexive purveyors of widely held opinions or products of impersonal socioeconomic forces, but rather ``thought for themselves and then deployed the results . . . to persuade the persuadable.'' He examines Franklin's autobiography, Jefferson's efforts to revise Virginia's legal code, and the political speeches to grand juries of early Supreme Court justices. The thread of his argument becomes tenuous as he discusses the attitudes of early white leaders toward Indians, and disappears altogether in concluding chapters as he turns to sources such as Tocqueville, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith. Of interest primarily to scholars of American intellectual history. Jack Ray, Loyola/Notre Dame Lib., Baltimore
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801420078
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/1987
  • Series: 4/18/2002
  • Pages: 238

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