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revisionist research on religious revivalism in this period has steadily
diminished the notion that the Great Awakening was a peculiarly Ameri-
can religion of the frontier which invigorated healthily democratic and
vital New World Christianity in opposition to the tired and complacent
religiosity of Europe. Rather, historians are beginning to rediscover the
transatlantic basis of American revivalism, its roots in European religious
phenomena and developments, such as the Scots and Scots-Irish com-
munion season or the rise of German pietism, and the ways in which
experimental religion could stimulate Old World vernaculars and re-
inforce non-American nativism.Ô Nevertheless, in spite of this hybridity,
the predominant and hegemonic ethnic identity of the various colonial
political cultures was English and Gothicist.•» This was not only a conse-
quence of English predominance in the political arena. The importance
of the common law, for instance, led to the wider inculcation of an
English identity among non-English settlers. A prominent example is the
Scottish immigrant James Wilson (1742“98) whose initiation into the
Anglo-Saxonist tradition occurred as a result of his immersion in the
classical texts of the common law when apprenticed to the Philadelphia
legal practice of John Dickinson (1732“1808).•¦ The inXuence of jour-
nals, pamphlets and histories sent from England and, occasionally, re-
cycled in the colonies contributed to a wider dissemination of Gothicist
perspectives.•  The careful researches of Trevor Colbourn into college
and personal libraries, booksellers™ catalogues and colonial reprints have
demonstrated the accumulating potential of Gothicist ideas in colonial
society.•À Eventually, Gothicism was to prove one of the few ideas capable
of binding the various colonies together in an intercolonial opposition to
the British government during the 1760s and 1770s. The Gothic heritage
was not in itself the driving force of Revolutionary ideology, but it played

Ô N. Landsman, ˜Revivalism and nativism in the middle colonies: the Great Awakening
and the Scots community in east New Jersey™, American Quarterly 34 (1982), 149“64;
M. Westerkamp, Triumph of the laity: Scots-Irish piety and the Great Awakening, 1625“1760
(Oxford, 1988); L. Schmidt, Holy fairs: Scottish communions and American revivals in the
early modern period (Princeton, 1989); J. Frantz, ˜The awakening of religion among the
German settlers in the middle colonies™, WMQ 3rd ser. 33 (1976), 266“88.
•» H. T. Colbourn, The lamp of experience: whig history and the intellectual origins of the
American revolution (Chapel Hill, NC, 1965); R. MiddlekauV, The glorious cause: the
American revolution, 1763“1789 (1982: Oxford pbk edn, 1985), p. 120.
•¦ Colbourn, Lamp of experience, p. 119.
•  Ibid.; B. Bailyn, The ideological origins of the American revolution (Cambridge, MA, 1967),
chs. 2“3; Bailyn, The origins of American politics (New York, 1968), ch. 1.
•À Colbourn, Lamp of experience, Appendix II.
Varieties of Gothicism in the British Atlantic world 263

a signiWcant role in the two major trends in eighteenth-century colonial
identity formation: Anglicisation and the Wnal transformation of English-
ness into a nascent American nationhood.•Ã
There is now a consensus among American historians that eighteenth-
century Americanisation was an ironic side eVect of Anglicisation. From
the Glorious Revolution until 1763 the principal dynamic of colonial
development was Anglicisation. The eVect of Anglicisation, or more
properly, re-anglicisation, was to erode the strong particularist identities
of the seventeenth-century colonies. Localism had been stimulated by the
signiWcant impulse often given by sectarianism or by confessional dif-
ferences to settlement in North America, and by the importance of its
peculiar charter privileges to the emerging identity of each individual
colony. Only in the eighteenth century did a process of Anglicising
homogenisation impose on this particularist mosaic a new pattern sugges-
tive of intercolonial community and the shared interests of Englishmen in
America. Anglicisation contained the necessary rudiments of a common
enterprise of American nation-building.••
In the economic sphere the colonies became progressively drawn with-
in the ambit of British commercial activity. On the demand side, the
experience of America™s Tidewater consumers was analogous to that of
the burghers of English provincial towns such as Norwich or Bristol: they
were keen to follow where London led. The colonies became, in a sense,
the outer reach of an increasingly integrated English economy. As the
consumers of English ports and county towns developed a growing taste
for London designs and fashions, they became more uniform in their
material life. At a further remove, this was the experience of eighteenth-
century colonials. As Norwich became more like Bristol, so Boston
became more like Philadelphia.•’
Anglicisation of the cultural sphere took diVerent forms in New Eng-
land from the rest of the colonies. In New England, where the Puritans
had nurtured their own colleges, beginning with Harvard in 1636, an
indigenous cultural leadership receptive to English ideas and publica-
tions, in particular the remodulated theology of the English latitudinar-
ians and the new concepts of reWnement and polite conversation

•Ã See J. P. Greene, Peripheries and center: constitutional development in the extended polities of
the British Empire and the United States 1607“1788 (1986: New York, 1990); T. H. Breen,
˜An empire of goods: the Anglicization of colonial America, 1690“1776™, Journal of
British Studies 25 (1986), 467“99; Breen, ˜˜˜Baubles of Britain™™: the American and
consumer revolutions of the eighteenth century™, P+P 119 (1988), 73“104.
•• J. Murrin, ˜A roof without walls: the dilemma of American national identity™, in
R. Beeman, S. Botein and E. C. Carter II (eds.), Beyond confederation: origins of the
Constitution and American national identity (Chapel Hill, NC, 1987).
•’ Breen, ˜Empire of goods™; Breen, ˜˜˜Baubles of Britain™™™.
264 Points of contact

associated with The Spectator and similar journals, began to dilute the
strong sense of a separate New England Puritan way. Soon, the cultural
elite of Harvard College was producing its own versions of the Ad-
disonian journal. In other colonies, including Virginia, which were slower
to develop their own educational institutions, cultural leaders tended to
be imported directly from the motherland.•“
Economic and cultural Anglophilia were not compromised in the Wrst
half of the century by any festering sense of ˜political Anglophobia™.
Emulation and Anglicisation were also facets of political culture. ˜The
central cultural impulse among the colonists was™, according to Jack
Greene, ˜not to identify and Wnd ways to express and to celebrate what
was distinctively American about themselves and their societies but,
insofar as possible, to eliminate those distinctions so that they might “
with more credibility “ think of themselves and their societies “ and be
thought of by people in Britain itself “ as demonstrably British.™•“ How-
ever, this process was double-edged. The growing realisation that the
metropolitan nation was dismissive of the pretensions of the colonists to
the full enjoyment of the rights of Englishmen triggered a reaction where-
by the sense of grievance fostered by exclusion was transformed into a
growing sense of American diVerence from the mother-nation.•” Gothi-
cism was an important factor in this critical realignment. For Saxon
libertarianism was both an identity shared with the metropolis and one of
the foundations upon which a new American nationalism was to be built.
For most of the seventeenth century, political culture in New England
had been based almost exclusively around Puritan concepts.’» The dis-
tinctive scriptural politics of the region were adulterated by the secular
English idiom of liberty and property during the political crisis of the
1680s. As the mother country endured a spate of government-inspired
quo warranto proceedings and borough remodelling in the aftermath of
the Exclusion crisis, so the Lords of Trade contemplated the reorganisa-
tion of undesirable aspects of colonial governance. In 1684 the Mass-
achusetts charter was abrogated, and in 1686 Sir Edmund Andros be-
came the Wrst governor of the enlarged and imperial Dominion of New
England. Andros questioned existing land titles, and introduced quit-
rents. When news of the Revolution in England reached the Dominion of
New England in 1689, Andros and his cronies were imprisoned and the
old constitutional forms were reinstated. According to T. H. Breen there
•“ N. Fiering, ˜The transatlantic republic of letters: a note on the circulation of learned
periodicals to eighteenth-century America™, WMQ 3rd ser. 33 (1976), 642; Murrin,
˜Roof without walls™, p. 337.
•“ J. P. Greene, Pursuits of happiness (Chapel Hill, NC, 1988), p. 175.
•” Greene, Peripheries, pp. 129“44, 162“9.
’» H. Stout, The New England soul (Oxford, 1986), pts I and II.
Varieties of Gothicism in the British Atlantic world 265

was an important transition in the political discourse of New England.
The region™s traditional Scripture politics were jettisoned for the lan-
guage of historic English liberties. Breen suggests that what may have
been intended as a ˜rhetorical stance™ to win support from the Williamite
establishment in the mother country for the reinstitution of the charter
privileges of Massachusetts became in time ˜an expression of a sincere
belief™. Through resisting attempts by the Lords of Trade ˜to make the
Puritans more English™, the colonists had come to adopt the political
identity of free-born Englishmen. Henceforth, while New England re-
tained a sense of its own peculiar heritage, its own distinctive brand of
institutions and public rituals, and a powerful Wliopietism towards its
seventeenth-century founders, this was overlaid with the transatlantic
language of English Gothicism. Whereas in the seventeenth century Old
Testament Scripture politics had been the exclusive vehicle of public
discourse in New England, in the eighteenth century it was joined, and, to
an extent displaced, by ancient Anglo-Saxon constitutionalism, pride in
Magna Carta and assertions of the rights of Englishmen to trial by jury
and rule by consent.’¦
English constitutionalism became the dominant language of political
debate throughout the eighteenth-century colonies. It was never to
swamp completely the various discourses of proprietary, ethnic and relig-
ious issues in Pennsylvania, or the distinctive Erastian Anglicanism of
Virginia gentry politics, but it was to be the pole star of colonial political
identity.’  In the eighteenth century the sense of a common historical
experience of the Revolution of 1688“9 and of warfare against Roman
Catholic France created a stronger identiWcation both with the mother-
land and as an intercolonial community.’À The strong colonial identity of
the seventeenth century was eroded. Increased communications too
played their part in the creation of an intercolonial political culture
responsive to an Anglo-Saxon identity found in histories, pamphlets and
journals.
The eighteenth-century colonies imported the staples of English whig
historiography. Colonial pamphlets and newspapers sang the old songs of
’¦ T. H. Breen, The character of the good ruler (New Haven and London, 1970), esp.
pp. 136“8, 143“4, 151“67, 182“4, 247, 254, 259“60, 263“4.
’  For the Gothicism of William Penn, see England™s present interest discovered (n.p., 1675),
pp. 7“15; J. R. Pole, Political representation in England and the origins of the American
republic (New York and London, 1966), pp. 80“1, 404; S. Kliger, The Goths in England
(Cambridge, MA, 1952), pp. 81“2. However, for the distinctiveness of local political
cultures, see e.g. P. Bonomi, Under the cope of heaven: religion, society, and politics in colonial
America (New York, 1986), esp. pp. 168“81; R. Isaac, The transformation of Virginia,
1740“1790 (Chapel Hill, NC, 1982).
’À R. Bloch, Visionary republic: millennial themes in American thought, 1756“1800 (Cam-
bridge, 1985).
266 Points of contact

Anglo-Saxonism, the common law, the glories of Magna Carta (which
was held to have restored Saxon liberties) and the vicissitudes of the
English libertarian heritage.’Ã The landscape of colonial political culture
did not, however, replicate exactly the contours of metropolitan whig-
gery. In particular, the commonwealth tradition which embodied the
radical whig critique of the failings, omissions and compromises of estab-
lishment whiggery was more prominent in the colonies than at home.’•
The mainstream of colonial political culture took on an oppositional hue.
One of the most popular and deWnitive texts in the imported canon of
colonial whiggery was the work of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon,
Cato™s letters. Trenchard and Gordon were dissatisWed with the limited
achievements of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a damp squib which
had failed to restore the ancient liberties of Englishmen. Cato™s letters
indoctrinated many Americans into a radical critique of English whig
complacency.’’ As Gordon Wood has argued, a selective absorption of
English oppositional ideology ˜implicated the Americans in a peculiar
conception of English history . . . and in an extraordinarily radical
perspective on the English constitution they were so fervently defend-
ing™.’“ An enthusiastic commitment to a historic English identity initiated
the process of divergence from the motherland.
In addition to receiving a heavy dose of Anglo-Saxonism from the
mother country, American political culture was also heavily indebted to
the wider European perspective of the decline of Gothic constitutions, a
prominent feature of commonwealth ideology. Such works as Moles-
worth™s Account of Denmark were part of the canon of historiographical
works widely read in the colonies.’“ This perspective allowed colonists to
read into any attack on their local legislatures not a remodelling of the
loose structure of British overseas governance, but the thin end of an
absolutist anti-parliamentarian wedge “ as an assault on the Gothic
privilege of parliamentary self-government.’”
Although the existence of a distinctive American Gothicist identity
’Ã Bailyn, Ideological origins, pp. 80“2; L. H. Leder, Liberty and authority: early American
political ideology, 1689“1763 (Chicago, 1968), p. 121.
’• Bailyn, Ideological origins, pp. 34“54.
’’ D. Jacobson, ˜Introduction™, in Jacobson (ed.), The English libertarian heritage from the
writings of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon in ˜The independent whig™ and ˜Cato™s letters™
(Indianapolis, 1965), pp. xxxi, liii; Bailyn, Origins of American politics, ch. 1, esp.
pp. 54“5; R. Hamowy, ˜Introduction™, in Cato™s letters (ed. Hamowy, 2 vols., In-
dianapolis, 1995), p. xxxvi; MiddlekauV, Glorious cause, p. 133; Colbourn, Lamp of
experience, pp. 49“51; Colbourn, ˜John Dickinson, historical revolutionary™, Pennsylvania
Magazine of History and Biography 83 (1959), 282“3; D. Lutz, A preface to American
political theory (Lawrence, KS, 1992), p. 136.
’“ G. Wood, The creation of the American republic, 1776“1787 (1969: New York, 1972),
p. 14. ’“ Bailyn, Ideological origins, pp. 39, 65“6.
’” Greene, Peripheries, pp. 127, 133“4.
Varieties of Gothicism in the British Atlantic world 267

long predated the crises of the 1760s and 1770s, it was the excitable
political debate of these critical decades which introduced Americans to a
signiWcant new phase of Anglo-Saxonism that contributed to widening
the ideological distance between colonies and motherland. From the
accession of George III English radicalism became more assertively
Saxonist, and overtly critical of the failures of eighteenth-century whig
parliamentarians to restore the ancient democratic freedoms of the Saxon
constitution, such as annual parliaments and a general freeman franchise.
According to Colbourn, Saxonism ˜became a basic revolutionary doc-
trine in America in the 1760s™.“» Gerald Newman in his study of the rise of
English nationalism in the middle of the eighteenth century has described
the eVects of the wave of English Saxonist radicalism of the 1760s and
1770s on American political culture as ˜the American Saxon Revol-
ution™.“¦
Saxonism became one of the most salient features of American political
culture, contributing to its stridently oppositional character. An historical
essay on the English constitution (1771), a work attributed to Obadiah
Hulme, has been described by Bernard Bailyn as ˜a book both determi-
native and representative of the historical understanding that lay behind
the emerging American constitutionalism™ of the Revolutionary period.“ 
The genuine principles of the ancient Saxon, or English constitution (1776), a
patriot pamphlet published in Philadelphia which included the text of the
Declaration of Independence, drew heavily upon Hulme™s Saxonist treat-
ise.“À James Burgh™s Political disquisitions, published in 1774, which told
the history of England as a saga of declension from a democratic Saxon
constitution, was an immediate sensation in the colonies, and was re-
printed in Philadelphia the next year.“Ã James Otis (1725“83) argued:
˜Liberty was better understood and more fully enjoyed by our ancestors
before the coming in of the Wrst Norman tyrants than ever after, till it was
found necessary for the salvation of the kingdom to combat the arbitrary
and wicked proceedings of the Stuarts.™“• This picture was reinforced by
Catherine Macaulay, whose history was a canonical feature of patriot


“» Colbourn, Lamp of experience, p. 31.
“¦ G. Newman, The rise of English nationalism: a cultural history 1740“1830 (London, 1987),
p. 191.
“  Bailyn, Ideological origins, p. 184; Colbourn, Lamp of experience, pp. 63, 65, 170“1.
“À Colbourn, Lamp of experience, pp. 190“1; Wood, Creation of the American republic, p. 227.
“Ã O. Handlin and M. Handlin, ˜James Burgh and American Revolutionary theory™, Pro-
ceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society 73 (1961), 38“57; Colbourn, ˜Dickinson™,
285“6.

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