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Past and ProloguePolitics and Memory in the American Revolution$
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Michael D. Hattem

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780300234961

Published to Yale Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.12987/yale/9780300234961.001.0001

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Natural Law, Independence, and Revolutionary History Culture, 1772–1776

(p.127) Interlude
Past and Prologue

Michael D. Hattem

Yale University Press

This interlude explores the emergence of natural law as a primary feature of patriot rhetoric in the early 1770s. Once colonists had begun questioning the British past and its relationship to their current circumstances, adopting natural law arguments more widely allowed them to continue to argue the same principles they had previously based on the British past by universalizing them under the rhetoric of “natural law” and “natural rights.” In the years just prior to independence, arguments based on the authority of the past began to diminish in favor of natural law arguments. This shift is evident in the most important revolutionary texts from this period: Thomas Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and the Declaration of Independence.

Keywords:   natural law, Declaration of Independence, American Revolution, British Empire, historical memory, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine

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