In this work, which won the 1924 Pulitzer Prize in history, McIlwain argues that the central problem in the genesis of the American Revolution was the determination of the exact nature of the British Empire's constitution. "After a searching examination of a wealth of judicial precedents drawn largely from Ireland's relations with the English king and parliament, the author reaches the conclusion that 'there was a bona fide constitutional issue which preceded the American Revolution, and from which it in part resulted.' He contends that, strictly from the legal standpoint, the colonists had a number of good constitutional precedents to support their position.": Allison, Fay, [et. al.] A Guide to Historical Literature cited in Marke, A Catalogue of the Law Collection at New York University (1953) 377.
Upon publication The Law Quarterly Review praised this book, noting that "great learning is manifest in these pages." Originally published: Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1940. ix, 162 pp. McIlwain examines of the rise of constitutionalism from the "democratic strands" in the works of Aristotle and Cicero through the transitional moment between the medieval and the modern eras. He concludes with a discussion of the forces of despotism that were threatening constitutionally based individual freedom in the 1930s. Reprint of the first edition.