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Outlines of English and American Literature
The Revolutionary Period
by Long, William J.


(1765-1800)

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.

Party Literature

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 writings.

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