The Origins of Originalism — Brion McClanahan

When I read the May 23, 2022 Law and Liberty article, John Phillip Reid’s Constitutional Achievement, by Aaron N. Coleman, my first thoughts were how historian Brion McClanahan would react to it. He has mentioned in the past how he framed how the American War of Independence against the British as mostly a constitutional struggle/conflict and not a revolution such as took place in France. I always assumed he was guided in this direction by works such as The “Higher Law” Background of American Constitutional Law, by Edward S. Corwin. I was totally unfamiliar with John Phillip Reid’s body of work in the field. In his podcast above he mentioned Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and how libertarians loved that book. Indeed it has been my Bible (along with his The Origins of American Politics) for 50 years. In 1972 as an undergraduate in one American Political Thought class I was assigned the Origins text, and in another class at another college I chose to focus a paper on The Ideological Origins text. This period of American history fascinated me and was my primary focus of study. Independent (and contemporaneous) to my university studies Murray Rothbard had published his seminal article, Modern Historians Confront the American Revolution, tracing how historical scholarship had changed/evolved over decades from the Constitutionalist school, the Progressive school, the Consensus school, to the Ideological school, etc. ushered in by Bailyn and Gordon Wood. That was my prism with which I have viewed examining the Revolution. Now I feel compelled to examine Reid’s work, based on his recommendation and that of Coleman.  Our Libertarian American Revolution (Amazon book list).


1:00 am on June 7, 2022