David Hackett Fischer
Liberty & Freedom: A Visual History
of America's Founding Ideas.
Oxford University Press, 851 pages, $50

In 1843, a young historian eagerly interviewed ninety-one-year-old Captain Levi Preston, one of the last surviving veterans of the battle of Lexington and Concord, hoping for firsthand insight into the origins of the American Revolution. One by one, Preston rejected the historian’s standard explanations for the war: the Stamp Act, the tea tax, the ideas of Harrington, Sidney, and Locke. Preston had bought no stamps, drunk no tea, and read no books save the Bible, a few religious texts, and the yearly almanac. Finally, in frustration, the historian querulously asked, “Well, then, what was the matter?” The cantankerous old Yankee replied, “what we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: we had always been free, and we meant to be free always. They didn’t mean we...


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