Conceived in Liberty: How William Livingston gave the American Revolution its rationale

Here’s how Myron Magnet opens his terrific new article over at

In John Adams’s view, the American Revolution started long before the shots rang out at Lexington and Concord in April 1775. “But what do we mean by the American Revolution?” he asked in an 1818 article.

“Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations . . . . This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.”

And anyone who wants to trace how that revolution managed “to change the temper and views of the people and compose them into an independent nation” need only consult the “pamphlets, newspapers, and even handbills” that flooded America between 1760 and 1775. However spectacular, the war “was only an effect and consequence” of that revolutionized worldview, Adams told Thomas Jefferson in an 1815 letter.

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