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Outlines of English and American Literature|
The Revolutionary Period
by Long, William J.
The literary period included in the above term is, in general, the latter
half of the eighteenth century; more particularly it extends from the Stamp
Act (1765), which united the colonies in opposition to Britain's policy of
taxation, to the adoption of the Constitution (1787) and the inauguration
of Washington as first president of the new nation.
The writings of this stormy period reflect the temper of two very different
classes who were engaged in constant literary Party warfare. In the tense
years which preceded the Literature Revolution the American people
separated into two hostile parties: the Tories, or Loyalists, who supported
the mother country; and the Whigs, or Patriots, who insisted on the right
of the colonies to manage their own affairs, and who furnished the armies
that followed Washington in the War of Independence. Then, when America had
won a place among the free nations of the world, her people were again
divided on the question of the Constitution. On the one side were the
Federalists, who aimed at union in the strictest sense; that is, at a
strongly centralized government with immense powers over all its parts. On
the other side were the Anti-Federalists, or Antis, who distrusted the
monarchical tendency of every centralized government since time began, and
who aimed to safeguard democracy by leaving the governing power as largely
as possible in the hands of the several states. It is necessary to have
these distinctions clearly in mind in reading Revolutionary literature, for
a very large part of its prose and poetry reflects the antagonistic aims or
ideals of two parties which stood in constant and most bitter opposition.
In general, the literature of the Revolution is dominated by political and
practical interests; it deals frankly with this present world, aims to find
the best way through its difficulties, and so appears in marked contrast
with the theological bent and pervasive "other worldliness" of Colonial