What perhaps more than anything else distinguished the Revolution and Founding from European experience was the American transformation of the idea of a social contract from theory to practice. By focusing on the role of the social contract we can shed new light on the old question, “Was the American Revolution a revolution?” The enormous importance of the idea of a social contract in America after the revolutionary era can be tracked by studying, among other developments, the land reform movement or the uses of the Declaration of Independence, down to Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963.
Mark Hulliung holds a professorship at Brandeis University. His research and teaching interests are in European and American history, cultural, intellectual, and political. He is a political theorist as well as an historian. His major publications are Montesquieu and the Old Regime (University of California Press, 1976), Citizen Machiavelli (Princeton University Press, 1983), The Autocritique of Enlightenment: Rousseau and the Philosophes (Harvard University Press, 1994), co-author of Contemporary Political Ideologies (HarperCollins, 1996), Citizens and Citoyens: Republicans and Liberals in America and France (Harvard University Press, 2002), and The Social Contract in America: From the Revolution to the Present Age (University Press of Kansas, 2007). At present he is working as co-author and co-editor of a volume tentatively titled Revisiting the Liberal Tradition in America: What is Living and What is Dead in the Work of Louis Hartz.
Topic: “Was the American Revolution a Revolution?”
Focus: Both Boorstin (1953) and Hartz (1955) held that the American Revolution was not a revolution. How effectively did they make their respective cases? Compare Boorstin and Hartz on the role of ideology in the Revolution and throughout American history. How effective is Palmer’s case (1959) for the proposition that the Revolution was a revolution? Why was the question, was the Revolution a revolution, such a hot topic in the 1950s? How important—or unimportant—is this question today?
- Mark Hulliung, The Social Contract in America: From the Revolution to the Present Age, Chapter 1 (Principles, Forms, Foundations).
- Daniel Boorstin, The Genius of American Politics, pp. 1-35, 80-94, 181-189.
- Louis Hartz, The Liberal Tradition in America, Chapter 2 (The Perspectives of 1776).
- R.R. Palmer, The Age of Democratic Revolution, vol. 1 (The Challenge), pp. 185-190, 232-235.
Topic: “Declarations of Independence”
Focus: Compare the American Declaration of 1776 with the English Declaration of 1689 and the French Declaration of 1789. Throughout American history what has been the relationship between the Declaration and the Constitution? Compare the Declaration with the Bill of Rights. Historically, who strove to bury the Declaration and by what means?
- Mark Hulliung, The Social Contract in America: From the Revolution to the Present Age, Chapter 5 (Declarations of Independence).
- [English] Declaration of Rights, 1689.
- Declaration of Independence, 1776.
- [French] Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, 1789.
- [American] Bill of Rights, 1791.
- Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, Nov. 19, 1863.
- Martin Luther King, Jr., “I Have A Dream” speech, August 28, 1963.