LIBERTY IN AMERICA 1600 TO THE PRESENT by Oscar & Lilian Handlin Handlin


Email this review


The second volume (of a projected four) in the Handlins' epic study of the concept of liberty in American history. The first volume, Liberty and Power: 1600-1760 (1986), explored the question of how the early settlers reacted to vast continental space by gravitating away from centralized power and toward local governance. Here, the Handlins take the story up to Abolitionist days, spanning the Revolution and independence, and the Constitutional Convention. As always with the Handlins, history is people-oriented, concerned not so much with great figures as with how the common people's intentions were made manifest in the country's power relationships. Although the new period under exploration found the majority of citizens still concerned with survival and subsistence, increasing attention was being given to further exploring nascent rights that had been ignored on the other side of the Atlantic. Never far from the surface here is the fact Of expansion--""the central experience of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."" The Handlins' view of this is all-encompassing, focusing not only on western expansion, but on eastern and southern as well. And the ""profound insecurity in all aspects of existence created the desire for a means to protect life and property without threatening personal liberty--that is, the rule of law."" The authors reject the usual notion that the span from Washington to Jackson represented a shift from republicanism to liberalism. Rather, they demonstrate that the nation evolved in a way that the state became ""but one of several instruments for pursuing social and personal goods."" The Handlins continue to offer a valuable perspective in exploring the question ""How to choose between bread and freedom?"" This account clearly shows that Americans answered the question by dismissing ""the hive as well as the hermitage,"" by learning to go their own way without interfering with others.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1989
Publisher: Harper & Row