"For Liberty and Constitution": William Smith of New York's Alternative to the American Revolution
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My current research interests include the intellectual and political history of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world, focusing primarily on issues of loyalism during the era of the American Revolution. With a considerable gap existing between the American and Canadian historiography, loyalists are often misrepresented in both cases. While American Revolutionary historians are frequently dismissive of loyalists as self-interested individuals who could neither understand the significance of the Revolution nor appreciate America’s potential for future greatness, loyalist historians to the north of the border have long propagated the myth of loyalist exiles as zealous Tories committed to empire. In reality, some of those who remained loyal were just as whiggish and had very much in common with those who would become patriots. One of these men was William Smith of New York (1728–1793). A prominent New York City lawyer, Smith was a key player in the imperial crisis but ultimately opposed independence. Rather than stemming from some great attachment to empire, however, Smith’s decision was largely a constitutional one as is evidenced in his writings of the 1760s. Drafted between 1765 and 1767 in the midst of the imperial crisis, Smith’s “Thoughts upon the Dispute between Great Britain and her Colonies” outlines his plan for the establishment of an American parliament as a solution to the conflict. Though maintaining a connection to the British Crown, Smith’s proposed government would have bypassed Parliament and been bicameral in its own right, balancing both regional and continental interests in a manner that envisioned American federalism.