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Society Precedes Government: Two Counterrevolutions

A successful War of Independence established 13 free and independent states in North America in 1783.  This was followed, unfortunately for us, by the French Revolution and then by the 19th century, preeminently a time of violent government centralization.  Subsequent events, as well as nationalist emotion and propaganda, have seriously damaged our ability to see what the American Revolution meant to the people who carried it out.

From the founding of Jamestown in 1607 to the outbreak of hostilities in 1775 is 168 years.  In that long period each colony developed its own society.  They shared Christianity and an inheritance of English law, but also had a consciousness of their differences in interests and values.  An imperial threat to their well-established tradition of virtual self-government brought them all, finally, to resist an attempted increment of British power over their internal affairs.  It was, as the great M.E. Bradford observed, not a revolution made but a revolution averted—a counterrevolution to preserve their existing societies.

Anyone who reads the debates on the ratification of the U.S. Constitution will see that its purpose was the same: the preservation of the existing societies.  This was true for most, although there were centralist rent-seekers and imperialists lurking on the margins whose dubiously constitutional agenda came forward as soon as the federal...

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