The recovery of the ideas and experiences of William Manning is a major event in the history of the American Revolutionary era. A farmer, foot soldier, and political philosopher, Manning was a powerful democratic voice of the common American in a turbulent age. The public crises of the infant republic - beginning with the Battle of Concord - shaped his thinking, and his writings reveal a mind grappling with some of the weightiest issues of the nation's founding. His most notable contribution was the first-known plan for a national political association of labouring men. That plan, and Manning's broader conclusions, open up a new vista on the popular origins of American democracy and the invention of American politics. Until now, only a few specialists have referred to any of Manning's writings - though always with some wonderment at his sophistication - and his place as a pioneering and exemplary American democrat has been largely unacknowledged. In this presentation of his works, the often arid debates over "republicanism" and "liberalism" in early America come to life.
The early growth of democratic impulses among quite ordinary people - impulses that defy orthodox categories, yet come closer to describing the ferment that led to the repeated political conflicts of the late 18th century - is here visible and felt. "The Key of Liberty" allows us a fuller understanding of the popular responses to the major political battles of the early republic, from Shay's Rebellion through to the election of Thomas Jefferson. It offers a grassroots view of the rise of democratic opposition in the new nation. It sheds light on the popular culture - literary, religious, and profane - of the epoch, with more exactness than previous histories, presenting a controversial interpretation of early American democracy.
Sean Wilentz is George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous books on American history and politics, including The Rise of American Democracy, which won the Bancroft Prize and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and The Politicians and the Egalitarians, chosen as Best History Book of the Year by Kirkus and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Wilentz's writings on American music have earned him two Grammy nominations and two Deems-Taylor-ASCAP awards.