Cover: The Key of Liberty in PAPERBACK

The Key of Liberty

The Life and Democratic Writings of William Manning, “a Laborer,” 1747–1814

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Product Details


$32.00 • £25.95 • €29.00

ISBN 9780674502888

Publication Date: 03/30/1993


240 pages

7 halftones

The John Harvard Library


This publication of William Manning’s writings—with their populist formulations of the powerful few and the laboring many, as well as their libertarian defenses of individual liberties—is a powerful blow for democracy and freedom. The meticulous scholarship of Michael Merrill and Sean Wilentz has unearthed a jewel in early American thought that still poses a challenge for us in these days of democratic decay.—Cornel West, Princeton University

The writings of William Manning constitute a major contribution to our understanding of the rise of American democracy, making clear the popular origins of democratic reforms, and the quality of thinking that emerged outside the political elite of the Revolutionary era. Michael Merrill and Sean Wilentz deserve our thanks for rescuing Manning from obscurity, and for brilliantly placing his work in the social and politica context of his time.—Eric Foner, Columbia University

There is much in The Key of Liberty to satisfy students and historians alike, not the least of which is a more sophisticated and compelling version of Merrill’s argument about the moral basis of markets… The Key of Liberty is a fine accomplishment and makes a significant contribution to both historians and their students.Journal of American History

Obsessed with the struggle between the few and the many, Manning, a common ‘laborer’ whose writings were collected posthumously, gives a summary of the fiscal and political conditions in Massachusetts and the colonies during the first three presidents’ terms. Manning examined the monetary system in detail along with the interrelationships of interest groups in the young country. Fascinating is the introduction by Merrill (Labor Education Center, Rutgers) and Wilentz (history, Princeton), in which they include an analysis of the religious roots of Manning’s beliefs and arguments. One of Manning’s most penetrating and revealing theories is that popular deference commonly occurs during times of economic prosperity, that in turn breeds a complacency that Manning deplored. The work has generous footnotes and the introduction cogently presents the salient points so the reader can look to the text for Manning’s actual expressions.—Clay Williams, Library Journal

The Key of Liberty provides modern-day readers with fresh insight into the thoughts of the 18th-century citizen-soldier and his analysis of the contemporary political scene.Choice

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