Revolution, Liberty, and Founding Figures

  • Phyllis Wheatley, from Poems on Various Subjects & letters to George Washington and Samson Occom
  • John and Abigail Adams Letters
  • Thomas Jefferson, from Notes on the State of Virginia and draft of the Declaration of Independence
  • Benjamin Franklin, The Autobiography

The texts included in this section offer a glimpse into the conversations surrounding the birth of the new American nation. The discussions were varied and complex: what would this new nation look like? How would it function? What values should it emphasize? What would constitute liberty, justice, and democracy—and for whom? Whose rights would be legally protected, and under what circumstances? What would count as “American”?

Collectively, each of these authors engage with questions like these while also being in conversation with one another. Sometimes these conversations are explicit, public, and direct; at other times, the writing may be private or intimate. Whatever form the writing takes, and whatever position the writer comes from, each author grapples with fundamental questions that are both personal and political. As you read through the texts in this section, consider:

  • How do these writers (re)define terms like revolution, liberty, justice, or democracy? What are their expectations for these words?
  • How do these writers define what counts as American? What values or qualities do they emphasize? What is their expectation for this new nation and the direction it should go?
  • How do these texts extend the conversation started by the early American colonists? How do the descriptions of this new nation compare to the descriptions of the “New World”?


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Open Anthology of American Literature Copyright © 2021 by Farrah Cato is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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