Bernard Bailyn rescued our remembrance of the American Revolution from the cynical hands of so-called Progressive historians, primarily Charles Beard and his acolytes. Beard propagated the one-dimensional theory that our Founders were acting purely out of economic self-interest. An entire generation of academics were groomed to believe this.
Bailyn’s Ideological Origins, came along in 1967 and challenged this economic orthodoxy. He reestablished that the Founders were men of ideas, and that such men could act on their beliefs. Our struggle for independence started in pamphlets and pubs long before April 1775, as John Adams observed, “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 …“
These Revolutionary ideas impacted North America far beyond the War for Independence. Bailyn’s study has been built upon by one of his most noteworthy students, Gordon Wood, who demonstrated just how radical these ideas truly were; Radical ideas that have completely changed western civilization.
The academic pendulum is clearly swinging the other direction, as evidenced by the recent controversy surrounding the 1619 Project published in the New York Times. Rather than arguing our Founders were driven by economics, the current “progressive” critique is racial. Our Founders sought Independence only to defend slavery; once again, the ideas behind the Revolutionary cause are ignored.
It is a shame that Bailyn was forced to witness this latest barrage of academic chicanery. Critics went as far as to accuse Gordon Wood of being a white supremacist because he questioned the dubious conclusions. The American public is taking an increasingly negative view of the Founding generation at this most critical time. The efforts of the Bailyn may be lost in the revisionist tide.