Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 July 2021
The first chapter offers a general overview of the interpretative framework that guides the selections and commentary in this volume. One thing has remained a constant fixture in American history: the enduring belief in an American exceptionalism. This book suggests that, besides the remarkable endeavor of leaving the Old World and of framing a new government by the people for the people, what has made American political thought exceptional is the unique combination of theoretical influences that were intertwined during the founding era. American statesmen combined two languages—liberalism and republicanism—and two conceptions of the people: the understanding of the people as a corporate entity and as a multitude of individuals. This paradigm of the people’s two bodies may be nothing more than a fiction, but it shaped American history and institutions profoundly. The guiding threat of the subsequent chapters is to trace the combination of republican and liberal ideas about the people and about representation in the primary sources from the Puritans’ arrival on the shores of New England to the Civil War.