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The First Liberty Library How one man's publishing inspired the American Revolution

Written By: Murray N. Rothbard  |  Posted: Friday, July 27th, 2012

            The lone individual is seldom given credit as a shaper and mover of great historical events; and this is particularly true when that individual is no famous statesman or military hero, nor leader of a mass movement, but simply a little-known person pursuing his own idea in his own way. Yet such a person, scarcely known in his day and totally forgotten by historians until the last few years, played an important role in one of the most significant events in modern history: the American Revolution. In all the welter of writing on the economic, social, political, and military factors in the Revolution, the role of this one obscure man, who directed no great events nor even wrote an influential book, had been completely forgotten; and yet now we know the great influence of this man and his simple idea in forming an event that has shaped all of our lives.

            Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn (1720-1774) was an independently wealthy Englishman of the eighteenth century, who came from a long line of leading merchants and Dissenters (non-Anglican Protestants). From early in life, Hollis developed two passions that were to guide and consume his life: books and individual liberty. The devotion to liberty was not surprising, for the Hollis family had long been steeped in the libertarian "Commonwealthman" or "Real Whig" tradition, a tradition derived from the English republicanism of the seventeenth century. What was unique about Thomas Hollis was his fusion of an intense devotion to books and to liberty, a fusion which led to his particular idea, to the cherished "Plan" to which he would dedicate his life. This was a plan to disseminate the writings of liberty (his affectionately named "liberty books") as widely as possible to kindle the spirit and the knowledge of liberty throughout the world.

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