American states of nature (2019)

the origins of independence, 1761-1775

in: Oxford scholarship online

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The exact phrase, 'state of nature,' was used thousands of times in the British colonies between 1630 and 1810, in juridical, theological, medical, political, economic and other senses. From the plurality of meanings, a distinctive American state of nature discourse started to emerge by the 1760s. It combined existing European and American semantic ranges and sidelined others in moments of intense contestation, for instance during the 1765-66 Stamp Act crisis, and the 1774 First Continental Congress. This text examines how the increasingly distinct and coherent American state of nature came to justify independence at least as much as colonial formulations of liberty, property and individual rights did.