In her Introduction to The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, Caroline Robbins wrote that the Commonwealthmen were "a gifted and active minority of the population of the British Isles, who kept alive, during an age of extraordinary complacency and legislative inactivity, a demand for increased liberty of conscience.". Their essays, arguments, pamphlets, and histories -- a continual flow from the late seventeenth century to the end of the eighteenth -- were hugely popular in America. The themes presented were revolutionary: separation of powers, natural rights, rotation in office, religious freedom, a supreme court, and resistance to tyranny. They achieved very little political success, but the documents of later generations are full of ideas kept alive by the Commonwealthmen in difficult times. In The Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, Robbins adeptly presents a history of these men, whose writings advocated the principles of liberty in an era when change was considered perilous.
Caroline Robbins (1903-1999) was educated at the University of London, receiving her PhD there before going to the United States. She taught history at Bryn Mawr College from 1929 to 1971 and was chairman of the department from 1957 to 1969. Author of numerous articles on English political and constitutional history, she wrote Absolute Liberty (1982), edited Two English Republican Tracts (1969), and was chairman of the Papers of William Penn from 1967 to 1979.