FREEDOM AND PROGRESS: PROMISE OR PROBLEM?
Growing out of speculative philosophy as well as Renaissance humanism, a new science of politics provided the foundations for the American Revolution and the radical rejection of Europe’s authority traditions. Decrying metaphorical “enslavement” to British designs (although not the actual enslavement of African workers), radicals such as John Adams crafted an ideology of liberation with which they organized the independence movement. In the same generation Adam Smith proposed as “natural” a competitive free-market model for economic activity to replace the corrupt and “erroneous” policies of mercantilist governments. Meanwhile empirical sciences—astronomy, botany, geology, zoology, geography—continued to empower human beings to appreciate the inner truths of material nature. In fact, “natural laws” appeared everywhere to structure the dreams and expectations of the coming generation and help create the confidence and optimism that buoyed Americans into believing they could erect “a new order for the ages.”
Professor Larson studied history at Luther College and Brown University. Before joining Purdue in 1983 he served as Director of Research at Conner Prairie Pioneer Settlement and taught at Earlham College. From 1994 to 2004 he was coeditor, with Michael A. Morrison, of the Journal of the Early Republic. His publications include Bonds of Enterprise: John Murray Forbes and Western Development in America's Railway Age (1984), Internal Improvement: National Public Works and the Promise of Popular Government in the Early United States (2001), and The Market Revolution in America (2010).
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