actonLord Acton once said of the American revolution: “No people was so free as the insurgents, no government less oppressive than the government which they overthrew.” It was America’s high view of liberty and its ideas that cultivated this unprecedented freedom ripe for flourishing. Colonists railed over 1 and 2 percent tax rates and were willing to take up arms in a protracted and bloody conflict to secure independence and self-government.

In a chapter on Lord Acton in The Moral Imagination: From Adam Smith to Lionel Trilling, Gertrude Himmelfarb explains how Acton was a historian who saw moral absolutes, and these were the same absolutes Lord Acton found in America’s Framers.

In America, there is certainly a great dearth of moral clarity in today’s political culture and really most of society. I think a large segment of our population certainly feels aimless and fatigued over the trajectory of not just the political debate, but where our nation is headed. As a country that is losing its history, many thirst for a return to first principles and away from the kind of relativistic rot which has become the status quo. Below is an excerpt from Himmelfarb’s book which discusses Lord Acton’s view on the American Revolution:

Although the first tentative overtures toward freedom came in ancient and medieval times, only in modernity, Acton claimed, did it emerge in its true nature. English Protestant sects in the seventeenth-century discovered that “religious liberty is the generating principle of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of religious.” But not until the American Revolution had “men sought liberty knowing what they sought.” Unlike earlier experiments in liberty, which had been tainted by expediency, compromise, and interest, the Americans demanded liberty simply and purely as a right. The three-pence tax that provoked the revolution was three-pence worth of pure principle. “I will freely spend nineteen shillings in the pound, Acton quoted Benjamin Franklin, “to defend my right of giving or refusing one other shilling.” Acton himself went further. The true liberal, like the American revolutionists, “stakes his life, his fortune, the existence of his family, not to resist the intolerable reality of oppression, but the remote possibility of wrong, of diminished freedom.” The American Constitution was unique in being both democratic and liberal. “It was democracy in its highest perfection, armed and vigilant, less against aristocracy and monarchy than against its own weakness and excess. . . . It resembled no other known democracy, for it respected freedom, authority, and law.”


  • Curt Day

    Why is it that American Conservatives insist on the self-worship that comes with American Exceptionalism? Why? Conservatives boast of their principles, morals, and love of liberty. But since that liberty was limited by race, gender, and land ownership, we see that what American conservatives praise as liberty is actually privilege.

    • Marc Vander Maas
    • Christine Read

      OK first of all not all revolutionaries were privileged, but they did believe in liberty which was the right to govern themselves and to worship God without government intrusion or oversight. Secondly, Conservatives do not worship themselves or believe that one race is better than another. Actually, there is only one race and that is the human race. The Founders new the institution of slavery needed to end, and that it would. Thirdly, it is true that women did not own much property at the time of the revolution, were not in positions of political power and authority and they could not vote. But the new republic had to start somewhere. In fact, America IS exceptional in her design and you know this historically. And though we have progressed in this country with regards to rights of people, we have regressed and declined morally, economically and intellectually as well as spiritually. That is without question. Now we suffer from a corrupt and abusive and intrusive federal government that is aided and abetted by an equally corrupt and rotten mass media. Which is why you need to read things like this blog.