For some time now historians and political theorists have been actively engaged in a search for the origins of liberal America. Ironically, they have discovered that throughout the nineteenth century, a time in which the United States became one of the most liberal societies in the world, no clear, sustaining ideology of liberalism ever emerged. Even after British devotees of Adam Smith and Jeremy Bentham fashioned a powerful liberal ideology in England, Americans continued to view themselves as republicans. Republicanism - a familiar ideology permeating all walks of life - continued to shape the attitudes of Americans; it provided them with meaning and identity in their lives. Liberalism - an unarticulated behavioral pattern more than a sharply delineated mode of thought - unconsciously shaped their daily activities. Thus, most Americans clung to a harmonious, communal view of themselves and their society even while behaving in a materialistic, competitive manner.
Because of this stubborn affinity for republicanism, the liberal, democratic society that emerged in nineteenth-century America became a paradoxical blend of the traditional and the modern. Caught up in market forces over which they had little control and, perhaps, even less understanding, Americans obstinately attempted to understand their changing world in familiar terms. More often than not the socioeconomic transformations taking place throughout American society - increasingly complex and quite often confusing - gave rise to unintended consequences. Perhaps nowhere was this more true than in Bennington, Vermont. There, between 1760 and 1850, three distinct strains of republicanism vied for dominance. Out of this dialectic among the egalitarian communalism of Strict Congregationalists, the democratic individualism of Green Mountain Boys, and the hierarchical elitism of Federalist gentlemen emerged an entirely new political culture: a liberal democracy. None of the participants in this process anticipated such a result. Indeed, none of them fully comprehended what they had created. But then, few, if any, of these individuals ever completely understood how they and their society had changed over the years.