The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government

Steve Pincus. Yale Univ., $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0300216189
In this informative if repetitive treatise on the founders’ intent in the Declaration of Independence, Yale history professor Pincus (1688: The First Modern Revolution) presents a strong case for why, then and now, the government should actively promote the “pursuit of happiness.” He stresses the document’s pre-Revolution economic basis. The United Kingdom’s Patriot faction wanted to invest in the colonies, reasoning that the mother country could only benefit from the growth of that untapped consumer market. George III and his Tory minsters, however, wanted to retire the national debt from the Seven Years’ War and transfer much of the tax burden to the colonies, while also limiting immigration and westward expansion. Neatly completing this picture of competing interests, Pincus explains that the North American Patriots thought the unwritten British Constitution should allow them to pursue their economic interests. Perhaps most intriguingly, the book observes that many colonists, including slaveholders, opposed slavery not just on ethical grounds but also because it concentrated wealth in the hands of a few and did nothing to promote a broad consumer base. The Declaration articulates the need for an activist “government that could promote economic prosperity,” concludes Pincus. He reiterates this cogent argument briskly; despite the book’s broad applicability, his writing style will appeal more to scholars than history-interested lay readers. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 224 pages - 978-0-300-22444-3
Paperback - 224 pages - 978-0-300-23462-6
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