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"The Sentiments of a Labourer": William Manning Inquires in the Key of Liberty, 1798

Many ordinary Americans entered into political debates in the revolutionary era and its republican aftermath. While the innovative political ideas that appeared during the constitutional debates in Philadelphia are well known, creative thinking at the grassroots level is harder to locate. William Manning, a farmer, revolutionary foot soldier, and political theorist, became agitated during the postwar political debates and economic crisis. In 1798, he completed a treatise called “The Key of Liberty.” Manning hoped to take advantage of the growing availability of newspapers and pamphlets during the post-revolutionary period to distribute his ideas. “The Key of Liberty” outlined a plan for a national association of American laboring men and their political allies, and also offered a broader historical commentary on the social origins of American politics. The Billerica, Massachusetts, farmer wrote several drafts but failed in his efforts at publication. Family members later deposited his papers in the Harvard University library.


To all the Republicans, Farmers, Mecanicks, and Labourers In Amarica your Canded attention is Requested to the Sentiments of a Labourer


Learning & Knowledg is assential to the preservation of Libberty & unless we have more of it amongue us we Cannot Seporte our Libertyes Long.

I am not a Man of Laming my selfe for I neaver had the advantage of six months schooling in my life. I am no travelor for I neaver was 50 Miles from whare I was born in no direction, & I am no grate reader of antiant history for I always followed hard labour for a living. But I always thought it My duty to search into & see for my selfe in all maters that consansed me as a member of society, & when the war began betwen Brittan & Amarica I was in the prime of Life & highly taken up with Liberty & a free Government. I See almost the first blood that was shed in Concord fite & scores of men dead, dying & wounded in the Cause of Libberty, which caused serious sencations in my mind.

But I beleived then & still believ it is a good cause which we aught to defend to the very last, & I have bin a Constant Reader of publick Newspapers & closely attended to men & measures ever sence, through the war, through the operation of paper money, framing Constitutions, makeing & constructing Laws, & seeing what selfish & contracted ideayes of interests would influence the best picked men & bodyes of men.

I have often thought it was imposable ever to seport a free Government, but firmly believing it to be the best sort & the ondly one approved off by heaven it was my unweryed study & prayers to the almighty for many years to find out the real cause & a remidy and I have for many years bin satisfyed in my own mind what the causes are & what would in a grate measure prove a reamidy provided it was carried into efect.

But I had no thoughts of publishing my sentiments on it untill the adoption of the Brittish trety1 in the manner it has bin done. But seeing the unweryed pains & the unjustifyable masures taken by large numbers of all ordirs of men who git a living without labour in Elections & many other things to ingure the interests of the Labourer & deprive us of the priviledges of a free government, I came to a resolution (although I have nither laming nor lasure for the purpose) to improve on my Constitutional Right & give you my sentiments on what the causes are & a remidy.

In doing which I must study bravity throughout the hole & but just touch on many things on which voloms mite be written, but hope I shall do it so as to be understood, and as I have no room for compliments & shall often make observations on sundry ordirs of men & their conduct, I beg leave once for all to observe that I am far from thinking any ordirs of men who live with out Labour are intirely needless or that they are all chargable with blame. But on the conterary I firmly believe that their is a large number in all ordirs who are true frinds to Libberty & that it is from them that Libberty always has & allways will receive its prinsaple seport. But I also beleive that a large majority of them are actuated by very different prinsaples. Also as I am not furnished with Documents & other Information that would be usefull I may represent Some things different from what they really are & so desire that they may be taken ondly as my Opinnion & belived no further than they appear Evident.