Special Event


American States of Nature: The Origins of Independence

Adams National Historical Park


Free. Free

Dates & Times


Thursday, May 23, 2019


7:00 PM


1 hour and 30 minutes

Type of Event



The “state of nature” refers to mankind’s pre-political condition; interstate relations; nudity; hell; or innocence. The term appeared in these senses thousands of times in juridical, theological, medical, political, economic, and other texts produced in the British American colonies between 1630 and 1810. By the 1760s, a coherent and distinctively American state of nature discourse started to emerge. It combined existing meanings and sidelined others in moments of intense contestation, such as the Stamp Act crisis of 1765-66 and the First Continental Congress of 1774. In laws, resolutions, petitions, sermons, broadsides, pamphlets, letters and diaries, the American state of nature, where the colonists’ natural rights became collective rights, came to justify independence as much as formulations of liberty, property, and individual rights did. The founding generation deliberately transformed this flexible concept into a powerful theme that shapes US constitutional and international law to this day. As the Stone Library’s rare books on the state of nature will help to show, no history of the Revolution can be written without it.

Mark Somos is Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Fellow and Senior Research Affiliate at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany. He holds a BA in History and an MPhil in Political Thought and Intellectual History from the University of Cambridge, an AM in Government and Social Policy and a PhD in Political Science from Harvard University, an LLM in International Security and Law from the University of Sussex, and a PhD in Law from Leiden University. His research and teaching interests include secularization, intersections of science and law, and international legal history.

The lecture will take place in the Carriage House, located at 135 Adams St., Quincy MA.  Limited street parking is available.

Reservation or Registration: No

Contact Information

Jessica Pilkington
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