Although I have serious objections to the political principles of the American Revolution, I nevertheless find much to admire in the love of the common good which the revolutionaries showed. Matthew Peterson has recently written a fascinating study of how that love was manifested in the debates on the American Constitution. I was reminded of this recently, when listening to a lecture by Duane Berquist in which he quotes the following lines from James Fenimore Cooper’s The Spy:
Many years since, the writer of this volume was at the residence of an illustrious man [presumably John Jay], who had been employed in various situations of high trust during the darkest days of the American Revolution. The discourse turned upon the effects which great political excitement produces on character, and the purifying consequences of a love of country, when that sentiment is powerfully and generally awakened in a people. He who, from his years, his services, and his knowledge of men, was best qualified to take the lead in such a conversation, was the principal speaker. After dwelling on the marked manner in which the great struggle of the nation, during the war of 1775, had given a new and honorable direction to the thoughts and practices of multitudes whose time had formerly been engrossed by the most vulgar concerns of life, he illustrated his opinions by relating an anecdote, the truth of which he could attest as a personal witness.