History of Literature










American literature

 

CONTENTS:

The 17th century

The 18th century

Early 19th-century literature

From the Civil War to 1914

The 20th century. Writing from 1914 to 1945

The 20th century. After World War II


 


American literature
 


The 18th century

 

Cotton Mather
Jonathan Edwards
Benjamin Franklin
Thomas Paine
Thomas Jefferson
Alexander Hamilton
Philip Freneau
Royall Tyler
William Hill Brown
Hugh Henry Brackenridge
Charles Brockden Brown

 

 



The 18th century


In America in the early years of the 18th century, some writers, such as Cotton Mather, carried on the older traditions. His huge history and biography of Puritan New England, Magnalia Christi Americana, in 1702, and his vigorous Manuductio ad Ministerium, or introduction to the ministry, in 1726, were defenses of ancient Puritan convictions. Jonathan Edwards, initiator of the Great Awakening, a religious revival that stirred the eastern seacoast for many years, eloquently defended his burning belief in Calvinistic doctrine—of the concept that man, born totally depraved, could attain virtue and salvation only through God’s grace—in his powerful sermons and most notably in the philosophical treatise Freedom of Will (1754). He supported his claims by relating them to a complex metaphysical system and by reasoning brilliantly in clear and often beautiful prose.

But Mather and Edwards were defending a doomed cause. Liberal New England ministers such as John Wise and Jonathan Mayhew moved toward a less rigid religion. Samuel Sewall heralded other changes in his amusing Diary, covering the years 1673–1729. Though sincerely religious, he showed in daily records how commercial life in New England replaced rigid Puritanism with more worldly attitudes. The Journal of Mme Sara Kemble Knight comically detailed a journey that lady took to New York in 1704. She wrote vividly of what she saw and commented upon it from the standpoint of an orthodox believer, but a quality of levity in her witty writings showed that she was much less fervent than the Pilgrim founders had been. In the South, William Byrd of Virginia, an aristocratic plantation owner, contrasted sharply with gloomier predecessors. His record of a surveying trip in 1728, The History of the Dividing Line, and his account of a visit to his frontier properties in 1733, A Journey to the Land of Eden, were his chief works. Years in England, on the Continent, and among the gentry of the South had created gaiety and grace of expression, and, although a devout Anglican, Byrd was as playful as the Restoration wits whose works he clearly admired.

The wrench of the American Revolution emphasized differences that had been growing between American and British political concepts. As the colonists moved to the belief that rebellion was inevitable, fought the bitter war, and worked to found the new nation’s government, they were influenced by a number of very effective political writers, such as Samuel Adams and John Dickinson, both of whom favoured the colonists, and loyalist Joseph Galloway. But two figures loomed above these—Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine.
 

Franklin, born in 1706, had started to publish his writings in his brother’s newspaper, the New England Courant, as early as 1722. This newspaper championed the cause of the “Leather Apron” man and the farmer and appealed by using easily understood language and practical arguments. The idea that common sense was a good guide was clear in both the popular Poor Richard’s almanac, which Franklin edited between 1732 and 1757 and filled with prudent and witty aphorisms purportedly written by uneducated but experienced Richard Saunders, and in the author’s Autobiography, written between 1771 and 1788, a record of his rise from humble circumstances that offered worldly wise suggestions for future success.

Franklin’s self-attained culture, deep and wide, gave substance and skill to varied articles, pamphlets, and reports that he wrote concerning the dispute with Great Britain, many of them extremely effective in stating and shaping the colonists’ cause.


Thomas Paine went from his native England to Philadelphia and became a magazine editor and then, about 14 months later, the most effective propagandist for the colonial cause. His pamphlet Common Sense (January 1776) did much to influence the colonists to declare their independence. The American Crisis papers (December 1776–December 1783) spurred Americans to fight on through the blackest years of the war. Based upon Paine’s simple deistic beliefs, they showed the conflict as a stirring melodrama with the angelic colonists against the forces of evil. Such white and black picturings were highly effective propaganda. Another reason for Paine’s success was his poetic fervour, which found expression in impassioned words and phrases long to be remembered and quoted.
 


Cotton Mather



Cotton Mather, (b. Feb. 12, 1663, Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony [U.S.]—d. Feb. 13, 1728, Boston), American Congregational minister and author, supporter of the old order of the ruling clergy, who became the most celebrated of all New England Puritans. He combined a mystical strain (he believed in the existence of witchcraft) with a modern scientific interest (he supported smallpox inoculation).

The son of Increase Mather and the grandson of John Cotton and Richard Mather, Cotton Mather lived all his life in Boston. He entered Harvard at the age of 12, easily passing entrance requirements to read and write Latin and to “decline the Greek nouns and verbs.” He devoted himself unremittingly to study and prayer. At 18 he received his M.A. degree from the hands of his father, who was president of the college.

Mather once noted that his life was “a continual conversation with heaven,” but he spent agonizing hours convinced that he was damned and equal time in ecstasies that he was not. For a while, he feared he could not enter the ministry because of a speech impediment, and he considered becoming a physician; the subject of medicine was of lifelong interest to him. After a friend persuaded him “to oblige himself to a dilated Deliberation in speaking,” he conquered his weakness and returned to religious studies. He preached his first sermon in his father’s church in August 1680 and in October another from his grandfather John Cotton’s pulpit. He was formally ordained in 1685 and became his father’s colleague.

He devoted his life to praying, preaching, writing, and publishing and still followed his main purpose in life of doing good. His book, Bonifacius, or Essays to Do Good (1710), instructs others in humanitarian acts, some ideas being far ahead of his time: the schoolmaster to reward instead of punish his students, the physician to study the state of mind of his patient as a probable cause of illness. He established societies for community projects.

He joined his father in cautioning judges against the use of “spectre evidence” (testimony of a victim of witchcraft that he had been attacked by a spectre bearing the appearance of someone he knew) in the witchcraft trials and in working for the ouster of Sir Edmund Andros as governor of Massachusetts. He was also a leader in the fight for inoculation against smallpox, incurring popular disapproval. When Cotton inoculated his own son, who almost died from it, the whole community was wrathful, and a bomb was thrown through his chamber window. Satan seemed on the side of his enemies; various members of his family became ill, and some died. Worst of all, his son Increase was arrested for rioting.

Mather’s interest in science and particularly in various American phenomena—published in his Curiosa Americana (1712–24)—won him membership in the Royal Society of London. His account of the inoculation episode was published in the society’s transactions. He corresponded extensively with notable scientists, such as Robert Boyle. His Christian Philosopher (1721) recognizes God in the wonders of the earth and the universe beyond; it is both philosophical and scientific and, ironically, anticipates 18th-century Deism, despite his clinging to the old order.

Cotton Mather wrote and published more than 400 works. His magnum opus was Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), an ecclesiastical history of America from the founding of New England to his own time. His Manuductio ad Ministerium (1726) was a handbook of advice for young graduates to the ministry: on doing good, on college love affairs, on poetry and music, and on style. His ambitious 20-year work on biblical learning was interrupted by his death.

He died only five years after his father, whose colleague he had been for 40 years. Of 15 children by his three wives—Abigail Phillips, Elizabeth (née Clark) Hubbard, and Lydia (née Lee) George—only two survived him.

Cotton Mather’s heritage from his two grandfathers, Richard Mather and John Cotton, was both fortunate and unfortunate. Like them, he had an active mind and the will to use it. He lived in the shadow of their greatness and expected to carry on the tradition and to assume their role in the Puritan community. Unfortunately, he could not see that the old order was passing. As colonial communities became more secure from earlier hardships of settlements, they also became more complacent and less in need of a confining spiritual leadership. Cotton fought for the continuance of the old order of the ruling clergy, sometimes with frustration, sometimes in anger. His Diary was edited by W.C. Ford (1911–12).

 

 

 


Jonathan Edwards




Jonathan Edwards, (b. Oct. 5, 1703, East Windsor, Conn. [U.S.]—d. March 22, 1758, Princeton, N.J.), greatest theologian and philosopher of British American Puritanism, stimulator of the religious revival known as the “Great Awakening,” and one of the forerunners of the age of Protestant missionary expansion in the 19th century.

Early life and ministry
Edwards’ father, Timothy, was pastor of the church at East Windsor, Conn.; his mother, Esther, was a daughter of Solomon Stoddard, pastor of the church at Northampton, Mass. Jonathan was the fifth child and only son among 11 children; he grew up in an atmosphere of Puritan piety, affection, and learning. After a rigorous schooling at home, he entered Yale College in New Haven, Conn., at the age of 13. He was graduated in 1720 but remained at New Haven for two years, studying divinity. After a brief New York pastorate (1722–23), he received the M.A. degree in 1723; during most of 1724–26 he was a tutor at Yale. In 1727 he became his grandfather’s colleague at Northampton. In the same year, he married Sarah Pierrepont, who combined a deep, often ecstatic, piety with personal winsomeness and practical good sense. To them were born 11 children.

The manuscripts that survive from his student days exhibit Edwards’ remarkable powers of observation and analysis (especially displayed in “Of Insects”), the fascination that the English scientist Isaac Newton’s optical theories held for him (“Of the Rainbow”), and his ambition to publish scientific and philosophical works in confutation of materialism and atheism (“Natural Philosophy”). Throughout his life he habitually studied with pen in hand, recording his thoughts in numerous hand-sewn notebooks; one of these, his “Catalogue” of books, demonstrates the wide variety of his interests.

Edwards did not accept his theological inheritance passively. In his “Personal Narrative” he confesses that, from his childhood on, his mind “had been full of objections” against the doctrine of predestination—i.e., that God sovereignly chooses some to salvation but rejects others to everlasting torment; “it used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me.” Though he gradually worked through his intellectual objections, it was only with his conversion (early in 1721) that he came to a “delightful conviction” of divine sovereignty, to a “new sense” of God’s glory revealed in Scripture and in nature. This became the centre of Edwards’ piety: a direct, intuitive apprehension of God in all his glory, a sight and taste of Christ’s majesty and beauty far beyond all “notional” understanding, immediately imparted to the soul (as a 1734 sermon title puts it) by “a divine and supernatural light.” This alone confers worth on man, and in this consists his salvation. What such a God does must be right; hence, Edwards’ cosmic optimism. The acceptance and affirmation of God as he is and does and the love of God simply because he is God became central motifs in all of Edwards’ preaching.

Under the influence of Puritan and other Reformed divines, the Cambridge Platonists, and British philosopher-scientists such as Newton and Locke, Edwards began to sketch in his manuscripts the outlines of a “Rational Account” of the doctrines of Christianity in terms of contemporary philosophy. In the essay “Of Being,” he argued from the inconceivability of absolute Nothing to the existence of God as the eternal omnipresent Being. It was also inconceivable to him that anything should exist (even universal Being) apart from consciousness; hence, material things exist only as ideas in perceiving minds; the universe depends for its being every moment on the knowledge and creative will of God; and “spirits only are properly substance.” Further, if all knowledge is ultimately from sensation (Locke) and if a sense perception is merely God’s method of communicating ideas to the mind, then all knowledge is directly dependent on the divine will to reveal; and a saving knowledge of God and spiritual things is possible only to those who have received the gift of the “new sense.” This grace is independent of human effort and is “irresistible,” for the perception of God’s beauty and goodness that it confers is in its very nature a glad “consent.” Nevertheless, God decrees conversion and a holy life as well as ultimate felicity; and he has so constituted things that “means of grace” (e.g., sermons, sacraments, even the fear of hell) are employed by the Spirit in conversion, though not as “proper causes.” Thus, the predestinarian preacher could appeal to the emotions and wills of men.


Pastorate at Northampton
At Stoddard’s death in 1729, Edwards became sole occupant of the Northampton pulpit, the most important in Massachusetts outside of Boston. In his first published sermon, preached in 1731 to the Boston clergy and significantly entitled God Glorifiedin the Work of Redemption, by the Greatness of Man’s Dependence upon Him, in the Whole of It, Edwards blamed New England’s moral ills on its assumption of religious and moral self-sufficiency. Because God is the saints’ whole good, faith, which abases man and exalts God, must be insisted on as the only means of salvation. The English colonists’ enterprising spirit made them susceptible to a version of Arminianism (deriving from the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius), which was popular in the Anglican Church and spreading among dissenters; it minimized the disabling effects of original sin, stressed free will, and tended to make morality the essence of religion.

Against these ideas Edwards also delivered a series of sermons on “Justification by Faith Alone” in November 1734. The result was a great revival in Northampton and along the Connecticut River Valley in the winter and spring of 1734–35, during which period more than 300 of Edwards’ people made professions of faith. His subsequent report, A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737), made a profound impression in America and Europe, particularly through his description of the types and stages of conversion experience.

In 1740–42 came the Great Awakening throughout the colonies. George Whitefield, a highly successful evangelist in the English Methodist movement, and Gilbert Tennent, a Presbyterian minister from New Jersey, drew huge crowds; their “pathetical” (i.e., emotional) sermons resulted in violent emotional response and mass conversions. Edwards himself, though he held his own congregation relatively calm, employed the “preaching of terror” on several occasions, as in the Enfield sermon,“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741).

The Awakening produced not only conversions and changed lives but also excesses, disorders, and ecclesiastical and civil disruptions. Though increasingly critical of attitudes and practices associated with the revival, to the extent of personally rebuking Whitefield, Edwards maintained that it was a genuine work of God, which needed to be furthered and purified. In defense and criticism of the Awakening he wrote The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God (1741), Some Thoughts Concerning the Present Revival of Religion in New England (1742), and A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (1746).

In the Affections, Edwards insisted, against the revival critics’ ideal of sober, “reasonable” religion, that “the essence of all true religion lies in holy love,” a love that proves its genuineness by its inner quality and practical results. In 1749 he edited, with “Reflections,” the memoirs of David Brainerd, a young New Light revivalist who became a Presbyterian missionary to the Indians and died in 1747. The volume became a highly influential missionary biography. Edwards’ Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God’s People in Extraordinary Prayer (1747), written in support of a proposed international “concert of prayer” for “the Revival of Religion and the Advancement of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth,” helped to remove a major ideological barrier to missionary activity by arguing that the worst of the “great tribulations” (prophesied in the book of Revelation to John as preceding the millennium) were already past and that the church could thus look forward to an increasing success of the gospel among men.


Dismissal from Northampton.
Meanwhile, Edwards’ relations with his own congregation had become strained; one reason for it was his changed views on the requirements for admission to the Lord’s Supper. In the Halfway Covenant, baptized but unconverted children of believers might have their own children baptized by “owning the covenant”; Stoddard had instituted the subsequently widespread practice of admitting to the Eucharist all who were thus “in the covenant,” even if they knew themselves to be unconverted. Edwards gradually came to believe that the profession required for admission to full communion should be understood to imply genuine faith, not merely doctrinal knowledge and good moral behaviour.

The public announcement of his position in 1749 precipitated a violent controversy that resulted in his dismissal. On July 1, 1750, Edwards preached his dignified and restrained “Farewell-Sermon.” In the course of this controversy he wrote two books, Qualifications for Communion (1749) and Misrepresentations Corrected, and Truth Vindicated, in a Reply to the Rev. Mr. Solomon Williams’s Book (1752), one to convince his congregation, the other to correct what he considered misrepresentations of his views by a kinsman, the pastor at Lebanon, Conn. Though Edwards himself was defeated, his position finally triumphed and provided New England Congregationalism with a doctrine of church membership more appropriate to its situation after disestablishment.


Pastorate at Stockbridge
In 1751 Edwards became pastor of the frontier church at Stockbridge, Mass., and missionary to the Indians there. Hampered by language difficulties, illness, Indian wars, and conflicts with powerful personal enemies, he nevertheless discharged his pastoral duties and found time to write his famous work on the Freedom of Will (1754). The will, said Edwards, is not a separate, self-determining faculty with power to act contrary to the strongest motives, as he understood the Arminians to teach. Rather, it is identical with feelings or preference, and a volition is simply the soul’s “prevailing inclination” in action; the will “is as the greatest apparent good.” Men are free to do as they please, and God therefore rightly holds them morally responsible for the quality of their volitions as expressions of their desires and intentions.

By 1757 Edwards had finished his Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended (1758), which was mainly a reply to the English divine John Taylor of Norwich, whose works attacking Calvinism (based on the thought of the 16th-century Protestant Reformer John Calvin) had “made a mighty noise in America.” Edwards defended the doctrine not only by citing biblical statements about the corruption of man’s heart but also by arguing that the empirical evidence of men’s universal commission of sinful acts points to a sinful predisposition in every man. In answering Arminian objections to the notion that God “imputed” Adam’s guilt to his posterity, Edwards proposed a novel theory of identity by divine “constitution” to account for men’s unity with Adam and suggested that their innate corruption is not a judicial punishment for Adam’s guilt but is really their own because of their participation (being one with him) in the sinful inclination that preceded Adam’s sinful act. Edwards’ was the first major contribution to the long debate about human nature in American theology and helped set the terms of that debate.

Edwards perceived the threat in Taylor’s notion of man’s innate goodness and autonomy; the whole Christian conception of supernatural redemption seemed to be at stake. He therefore planned further treatises, of which he completed two posthumously published dissertations: Concerning the End for Which God Created the World and The Nature of True Virtue (1765). God’s glory, not human happiness, is his end in creation; but this is because God in his all-sufficient fullness must communicate himself by the exercise of his attributes. God can be said to aim at the creature’s happiness, but it is a happiness that consists in contemplating and rejoicing in God’s glory manifested in creation and redemption. Edwards defines true virtue as disinterested love (benevolence) toward God as Being in general and toward all lesser beings according to their degree of being. True virtue, therefore, does not spring from self-love or from any earthbound altruism (two prime 18th-century views); love to self, family, nation, or even mankind is good only if these lesser systems of being do not usurp the place of highest regard that belongs to God alone.

Edwards also projected books on other subjects, notably A History of the Work of Redemption (he had preached a series of sermons—posthumously published—on that subject in 1739), which was to be a complete theology combining biblical, historical, and systematic materials “in an entire new method.” Late in 1757, however, he accepted the presidency of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and arrived there in January. He had hardly assumed his duties when he contracted smallpox and died.


Influence
Edwards’ immediate disciples, Joseph Bellamy (pastor at Bethlehem, Conn.), Samuel Hopkins (pastor at Great Barrington, Mass., later at Newport, R.I.,), and Jonathan Edwards, Jr., developed some of his “improvements” into a distinct theological school; it was first called “Hopkinsianism” and later the “New England Theology.” These men and their successors, in their effort to defend Calvinism against Arminians, Unitarians (those who denied the doctrine of the Trinity), and “infidels,” made important modifications in some of its doctrines and thus prepared the way for later 19th-century evangelical liberalism.

Edwards’ influence on the intellectual character of American Protestantism for a century after his death was very pronounced, and he was widely read in the British Isles. In a general revolt against Puritanism and Calvinism after the U.S. Civil War (1861–65), Edwards’ prestige declined, and he was remembered mainly as a hell-fire preacher or as an abstruse, absent-minded metaphysician. In the 1930s and after, he was rediscovered by theologians reacting against liberalism and by secular scholars seeking to delineate the “American mind.” Edwards’ ability to combine religious intensity with intellectual rigour and moral earnestness, the cosmic sweep of his theological vision, his emphasis on faith as an “existential” response to reality, his insistence that love is the heart of religion, and his uncompromising stand against all forms of idolatry are some of the reasons his life and writings are again being seriously studied.

Thomas A. Schafer

 

 

 


Benjamin Franklin




Benjamin Franklin, also called Ben Franklin, pseudonym Richard Saunders (b. Jan. 17 [Jan. 6, Old Style], 1706, Boston, Mass. [U.S.]—d. April 17, 1790, Philadelphia, Pa., U.S.), American printer and publisher, author, inventor and scientist, and diplomat. One of the foremost of the Founding Fathers, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers, represented the United States in France during the American Revolution, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He made important contributions to science, especially in the understanding of electricity, and is remembered for the wit, wisdom, and elegance of his writing.

Early life (1706–23)
Franklin was born the 10th son of the 17 children of a man who made soap and candles, one of the lowliest of the artisan crafts. In an age that privileged the firstborn son, Franklin was, as he tartly noted in his Autobiography, “the youngest Son of the youngest Son for five Generations back.” He learned to read very early and had one year in grammar school and another under a private teacher, but his formal education ended at age 10. At 12 he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. His mastery of the printer’s trade, of which he was proud to the end of his life, was achieved between 1718 and 1723. In the same period he read tirelessly and taught himself to write effectively.

His first enthusiasm was for poetry, but, discouraged with the quality of his own, he gave it up. Prose was another matter. Young Franklin discovered a volume of The Spectator—featuring Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele’s famous periodical essays, which had appeared in England in 1711–12—and saw in it a means for improving his writing. He read these Spectator papers over and over, copied and recopied them, and then tried to recall them from memory. He even turned them into poetry and then back into prose. Franklin realized, as all the Founders did, that writing competently was such a rare talent in the 18th century that anyone who could do it well immediately attracted attention. “Prose writing” became, as he recalled in his Autobiography, “of great Use to me in the Course of my Life, and was a principal Means of my Advancement.”

In 1721 James Franklin founded a weekly newspaper, the New-England Courant, to which readers were invited to contribute. Benjamin, now 16, read and perhaps set in type these contributions and decided that he could do as well himself. In 1722 he wrote a series of 14 essays signed “Silence Dogood” in which he lampooned everything from funeral eulogies to the students of Harvard College. For one so young to assume the persona of a middle-aged woman was a remarkable feat, and Franklin took “exquisite Pleasure” in the fact that his brother and others became convinced that only a learned and ingenious wit could have written these essays.

Late in 1722 James Franklin got into trouble with the provincial authorities and was forbidden to print or publish the Courant. To keep the paper going, he discharged his younger brother from his original apprenticeship and made him the paper’s nominal publisher. New indentures were drawn up but not made public. Some months later, after a bitter quarrel, Benjamin secretly left home, sure that James would not “go to law” and reveal the subterfuge he had devised.


Youthful adventures (1723–26)
Failing to find work in New York City, Franklin at age 17 went on to Quaker-dominated Philadelphia, a much more open and religiously tolerant place than Puritan Boston. One of the most memorable scenes of the Autobiography is the description of his arrival on a Sunday morning, tired and hungry. Finding a bakery, he asked for three pennies’ worth of bread and got “three great Puffy Rolls.” Carrying one under each arm and munching on the third, he walked up Market Street past the door of the Read family, where stood Deborah, his future wife. She saw him and “thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward ridiculous Appearance.”

A few weeks later he was rooming at the Reads’ and employed as a printer. By the spring of 1724 he was enjoying the companionship of other young men with a taste for reading, and he was also being urged to set up in business for himself by the governor of Pennsylvania, Sir William Keith. At Keith’s suggestion, Franklin returned to Boston to try to raise the necessary capital. His father thought him too young for such a venture, so Keith offered to foot the bill himself and arranged Franklin’s passage to England so that he could choose his type and make connections with London stationers and booksellers. Franklin exchanged “some promises” about marriage with Deborah Read and, with a young friend, James Ralph, as his companion, sailed for London in November 1724, just over a year after arriving in Philadelphia. Not until his ship was well out at sea did he realize that Governor Keith had not delivered the letters of credit and introduction he had promised.

In London Franklin quickly found employment in his trade and was able to lend money to Ralph, who was trying to establish himself as a writer. The two young men enjoyed the theatre and the other pleasures of the city, including women. While in London, Franklin wrote A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain (1725), a Deistical pamphlet inspired by his having set type for William Wollaston’s moral tract, The Religion of Nature Delineated. Franklin argued in his essay that since human beings have no real freedom of choice, they are not morally responsible for their actions. This was perhaps a nice justification for his self-indulgent behaviour in London and his ignoring of Deborah, to whom he had written only once. He later repudiated the pamphlet, burning all but one of the copies still in his possession.

By 1726 Franklin was tiring of London. He considered becoming an itinerant teacher of swimming, but, when Thomas Denham, a Quaker merchant, offered him a clerkship in his store in Philadelphia with a prospect of fat commissions in the West Indian trade, he decided to return home.


Achievement of security and fame (1726–53)
Denham died, however, a few months after Franklin entered his store. The young man, now 20, returned to the printing trade and in 1728 was able to set up a partnership with a friend. Two years later he borrowed money to become sole proprietor.

His private life at this time was extremely complicated. Deborah Read had married, but her husband had deserted her and disappeared. One matchmaking venture failed because Franklin wanted a dowry of £100 to pay off his business debt. A strong sexual drive, “that hard-to-be-govern’d Passion of Youth,” was sending him to “low Women,” and he thought he very much needed to get married. His affection for Deborah having “revived,” he “took her to Wife” on Sept. 1, 1730. At this point Deborah may have been the only woman in Philadelphia who would have him, for he brought to the marriage an illegitimate son, William, just borne of a woman who has never been identified. Franklin’s common-law marriage lasted until Deborah’s death in 1774. They had a son, Franky, who died at age four, and a daughter, Sarah, who survived them both. William was brought up in the household and apparently did not get along well with Deborah.

Franklin and his partner’s first coup was securing the printing of Pennsylvania’s paper currency. Franklin helped get this business by writing A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency (1729), and later he also became public printer of New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. Other moneymaking ventures included the Pennsylvania Gazette, published by Franklin from 1729 and generally acknowledged as among the best of the colonial newspapers, and Poor Richard’s almanac, printed annually from 1732 to 1757. Despite some failures, Franklin prospered. Indeed, he made enough to lend money with interest and to invest in rental properties in Philadelphia and many coastal towns. He had franchises or partnerships with printers in the Carolinas, New York, and the British West Indies. By the late 1740s he had become one of the wealthiest colonists in the northern part of the North American continent.

As he made money, he concocted a variety of projects for social improvement. In 1727 he organized the Junto, or Leather Apron Club, to debate questions of morals, politics, and natural philosophy and to exchange knowledge of business affairs. The need of Junto members for easier access to books led in 1731 to the organization of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Through the Junto, Franklin proposed a paid city watch, or police force. A paper read to the same group resulted in the organization of a volunteer fire company. In 1743 he sought an intercolonial version of the Junto, which led to the formation of the American Philosophical Society. In 1749 he published Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsilvania; in 1751 the Academy of Philadelphia, from which grew the University of Pennsylvania, was founded. He also became an enthusiastic member of the Freemasons and promoted their “enlightened” causes.

Although still a tradesman, he was picking up some political offices. He became clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature in 1736 and postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. Prior to 1748, though, his most important political service was his part in organizing a militia for the defense of the colony against possible invasion by the French and the Spaniards, whose privateers were operating in the Delaware River.

In 1748 Franklin, at age 42, had become wealthy enough to retire from active business. He took off his leather apron and became a gentleman, a distinctive status in the 18th century. Since no busy artisan could be a gentleman, Franklin never again worked as a printer; instead, he became a silent partner in the printing firm of Franklin and Hall, realizing in the next 18 years an average profit of over £600 annually. He announced his new status as a gentleman by having his portrait painted in a velvet coat and a brown wig; he also acquired a coat of arms, bought several slaves, and moved to a new and more spacious house in “a more quiet Part of the Town.” Most important, as a gentleman and “master of [his] own time,” he decided to do what other gentlemen did—engage in what he termed “Philosophical Studies and Amusements.”

In the 1740s electricity was one of these curious amusements. It was introduced to Philadelphians by an electrical machine sent to the Library Company by one of Franklin’s English correspondents. In the winter of 1746–47, Franklin and three of his friends began to investigate electrical phenomena. Franklin sent piecemeal reports of his ideas and experiments to Peter Collinson, his Quaker correspondent in London. Since he did not know what European scientists might have already discovered, Franklin set forth his findings timidly. In 1751 Collinson had Franklin’s papers published in an 86-page book titled Experiments and Observations on Electricity. In the 18th century the book went through five English editions, three in French, and one each in Italian and German.

Franklin’s fame spread rapidly. The experiment he suggested to prove the identity of lightning and electricity was apparently first made in France before he tried the simpler but more dangerous expedient of flying a kite in a thunderstorm. But his other findings were original. He created the distinction between insulators and conductors. He invented a battery for storing electrical charges. He coined new English words for the new science of electricity—conductor, charge, discharge, condense, armature, electrify, and others. He showed that electricity was a single “fluid” with positive and negative or plus and minus charges and not, as traditionally thought, two kinds of fluids. And he demonstrated that the plus and minus charges, or states of electrification of bodies, had to occur in exactly equal amounts—a crucial scientific principle known today as the law of conservation of charge (see charge conservation).

Theodore Hornberger
Gordon S. Wood


Public service (1753–85)
Despite the success of his electrical experiments, Franklin never thought science was as important as public service. As a leisured gentleman, he soon became involved in more high-powered public offices. He became a member of the Philadelphia City Council in 1748, justice of the peace in 1749, and in 1751 a city alderman and a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. But he had his sights on being part of a larger arena, the British Empire, which he regarded as “the greatest Political Structure Human Wisdom ever yet erected.” In 1753 Franklin became a royal officeholder, deputy postmaster general, in charge of mail in all the northern colonies. Thereafter he began to think in intercolonial terms. In 1754 his “Plan of Union” for the colonies was adopted by the Albany Congress, which was convened at the beginning of the French and Indian War and included representatives from the Iroquois Confederacy. The plan called for the establishment of a general council, with representatives from the several colonies, to organize a common defense against the French. Neither the colonial legislatures nor the king’s advisers were ready for such union, however, and the plan failed. But Franklin had become acquainted with important imperial officials, and his ambition to succeed within the imperial hierarchy had been whetted.

In 1757 he went to England as the agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly in order to get the family of William Penn, the proprietors under the colony’s charter, to allow the colonial legislature to tax their ungranted lands. But Franklin and some of his allies in the assembly had a larger goal of persuading the British government to oust the Penn family as the proprietors of Pennsylvania and make that colony a royal province. Except for a two-year return to Philadelphia in 1762–64, Franklin spent the next 18 years living in London, most of the time in the apartment of Margaret Stevenson, a widow, and her daughter Polly at 36 Craven Street near Charing Cross. His son, William, now age 27, and two slaves accompanied him to London. Deborah and their daughter, Sally, age 14, remained in Philadelphia.

Before he left for London, Franklin decided to bring his Poor Richard’s almanac to an end. While at sea in 1757, he completed a 12-page preface for the final 1758 edition of the almanac titled “Father Abraham’s Speech” and later known as the The Way to Wealth. In this preface Father Abraham cites only those proverbs that concern hard work, thrift, and financial prudence. The Way to Wealth eventually became the most widely reprinted of all Franklin’s works, including the Autobiography.

This time Franklin’s experience in London was very different from his sojourn in 1724–26. London was the largest city in Europe and the centre of the burgeoning British Empire, and Franklin was famous; consequently, he met everyone else who was famous, including David Hume, Captain James Cook, Joseph Priestley, and John Pringle, who was physician to Lord Bute, the king’s chief minister. In 1759 Franklin received an honorary degree from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, which led to his thereafter being called “Dr. Franklin.” Another honorary degree followed in 1762 from the University of Oxford. Everyone wanted to paint his portrait and make mezzotints for sale to the public. Franklin fell in love with the sophistication of London and England; by contrast, he disparaged the provinciality and vulgarity of America. He was very much the royalist, and he bragged of his connection with Lord Bute, which enabled him in 1762 to get his son, William, then age 31, appointed royal governor of New Jersey.

Reluctantly, Franklin had to go back to Pennsylvania in 1762 in order to look after his post office, but he promised his friends in London that he would soon return and perhaps stay forever in England. After touring the post offices up and down North America, a trip of 1,780 miles (2,900 km), he had to deal with an uprising of some Scotch-Irish settlers in the Paxton region of western Pennsylvania who were angry at the Quaker assembly’s unwillingness to finance military protection from the Indians on the frontier. After losing an election to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1764, Franklin could hardly wait to get back to London. Deborah stayed in Philadelphia, and Franklin never saw her again.

He soon had to face the problems arising from the Stamp Act of 1765, which created a firestorm of opposition in America. Like other colonial agents, Franklin opposed Parliament’s stamp tax, asserting that taxation ought to be the prerogative of the colonial legislatures. But once he saw that passage of the tax was inevitable, he sought to make the best of the situation. After all, he said, empires cost money. He ordered stamps for his printing firm in Philadelphia and procured for his friend John Hughes the stamp agency for Pennsylvania. In the process, he almost ruined his position in American public life and nearly cost Hughes his life.

Franklin was shocked by the mobs that effectively prevented enforcement of the Stamp Act everywhere in North America. He told Hughes to remain cool in the face of the mob. “A firm Loyalty to the Crown and faithful Adherence to the Government of this Nation…,” he said, “will always be the wisest Course for you and I to take, whatever may be the Madness of the Populace or their blind Leaders.” Only Franklin’s four-hour testimony before Parliament denouncing the act in 1766 saved his reputation in America. The experience shook Franklin, and his earlier confidence in the wisdom of British officials became punctuated by doubts and resentments. He began to feel what he called his “Americanness” as never before.

During the next four or five years Franklin sought to bridge the growing gulf between the colonies and the British government. Between 1765 and 1775 he wrote 126 newspaper pieces, most of which tried to explain each side to the other. But, as he said, the English thought him too American, while the Americans thought him too English. He had not, however, given up his ambition of acquiring a position in the imperial hierarchy. But in 1771 opposition by Lord Hillsborough, who had just been appointed head of the new American Department, left Franklin depressed and dispirited; in a mood of frustration, nostalgia, and defiance, he began writing his Autobiography, which eventually became one of the most widely read autobiographies ever published.

In recounting the first part of his life, up to age 25—the best part of the Autobiography, most critics agree—Franklin sought to soothe his wounds and justify his apparent failure in British politics. Most important, in this beginning part of his Autobiography, he in effect was telling the world (and his son) that, as a free man who had established himself against overwhelming odds as an independent and industrious artisan, he did not have to kowtow to some patronizing, privileged aristocrat.

When the signals from the British government shifted and Hillsborough was dismissed from the cabinet, Franklin dropped the writing of the Autobiography, which he would not resume until 1784 in France following the successful negotiation of the treaty establishing American independence. Franklin still thought he might be able to acquire an imperial office and work to hold the empire together. But he became involved in the affair of the Hutchinson letters—an affair that ultimately destroyed his position in England. In 1772 Franklin had sent back to Boston some letters written in the 1760s by Thomas Hutchinson, then lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, in which Hutchinson had made some indiscreet remarks about the need to abridge American liberties. Franklin naively thought that these letters would somehow throw blame for the imperial crisis on native officials such as Hutchinson and thus absolve the ministry in London of responsibility. This, Franklin believed, would allow his friends in the ministry, such as Lord Dartmouth, to settle the differences between the mother country and her colonies, with Franklin’s help.

The move backfired completely, and on Jan. 29, 1774, Franklin stood silent in an amphitheatre near Whitehall while being viciously attacked by the British solicitor-general before the Privy Council and the court, most of whom were hooting and laughing. Two days later he was fired as deputy postmaster. After some futile efforts at reconciliation, he sailed for America in March 1775.

Although upon his arrival in Philadelphia Franklin was immediately elected to the Second Continental Congress, some Americans remained suspicious of his real loyalties. He had been so long abroad that some thought he might be a British spy. He was delighted that the Congress in 1776 sent him back to Europe as the premier agent in a commission seeking military aid and diplomatic recognition from France. He played on the French aristocracy’s liberal sympathies for the oppressed Americans and extracted not only diplomatic recognition of the new republic but also loan after loan from an increasingly impoverished French government. His image as the democratic folk genius from the wilderness of America preceded him, and he exploited it brilliantly for the American cause. His face appeared everywhere—on medallions, on snuffboxes, on candy boxes, in rings, in statues, in prints; women even did their hair à la Franklin. Franklin played his role to perfection. In violation of all protocol, he dressed in a simple brown-and-white linen suit and wore a fur cap, no wig, and no sword to the court of Versailles, the most formal and elaborate court in all of Europe. And the French aristocracy and court loved it, caught up as they were with the idea of America.

Beset with the pain of gout and a kidney stone, and surrounded by spies and his sometimes clumsy fellow commissioners—especially Arthur Lee of Virginia and John Adams of Massachusetts, who disliked and mistrusted him—Franklin nonetheless succeeded marvelously. He first secured military and diplomatic alliances with France in 1778 and then played a crucial role in bringing about the final peace treaty with Britain in 1783 (see Peace of Paris). In violation of their instructions and the French alliance, the American peace commissioners signed a separate peace with Britain. It was left to Franklin to apologize to the comte de Vergennes, Louis XVI’s chief minister, which he did in a beautifully wrought diplomatic letter.

No wonder the eight years in France were the happiest of Franklin’s life. He was doing what he most yearned to do—shaping events on a world stage. At this point, in 1784, he resumed work on his Autobiography, writing the second part of it, which presumes human control over one’s life.


Last years (1785–90)
In 1785 Franklin reluctantly had to come to America to die, even though all his friends were in France. Although he feared he would be “a stranger in my own country,” he now knew that his destiny was linked to America.

His reception was not entirely welcoming. The family and friends of the Lees in Virginia and the Adamses in Massachusetts spread stories of his overweening love of France and his dissolute ways. The Congress treated him shabbily, ignoring his requests for some land in the West and a diplomatic appointment for his grandson. In 1788 he was reduced to petitioning the Congress with a pathetic “Sketch of the Services of B. Franklin to the United States,” which the Congress never answered. Just before his death in 1790, Franklin retaliated by signing a memorial requesting that the Congress abolish slavery in the United States. This memorandum provoked some congressmen into angry defenses of slavery, which Franklin exquisitely mocked in a newspaper piece published a month before he died.

Upon his death the Senate refused to go along with the House in declaring a month of mourning for Franklin. In contrast to the many expressions of French affection for Franklin, his fellow Americans gave him one public eulogy—and that was delivered by his inveterate enemy the Rev. William Smith, who passed over Franklin’s youth because it seemed embarrassing.

Following the publication of the Autobiography in 1794, Franklin’s youth was no longer embarrassing. In the succeeding decades, he became the hero of countless early 19th-century artisans and self-made businessmen who were seeking a justification of their rise and their moneymaking. They were the creators of the modern folksy image of Franklin, the man who came to personify the American dream.


Assessment
Franklin was not only the most famous American in the 18th century but also one of the most famous figures in the Western world of the 18th century; indeed, he is one of the most celebrated and influential Americans who has ever lived. Although one is apt to think of Franklin exclusively as an inventor, as an early version of Thomas Edison, which he was, his 18th-century fame came not simply from his many inventions but, more important, from his fundamental contributions to the science of electricity. If there had been a Nobel Prize for Physics in the 18th century, Franklin would have been a contender. Enhancing his fame was the fact that he was an American, a simple man from an obscure background who emerged from the wilds of America to dazzle the entire intellectual world. Most Europeans in the 18th century thought of America as a primitive, undeveloped place full of forests and savages and scarcely capable of producing enlightened thinkers. Yet Franklin’s electrical discoveries in the mid-18th century had surpassed the achievements of the most sophisticated scientists of Europe. Franklin became a living example of the natural untutored genius of the New World that was free from the encumbrances of a decadent and tired Old World—an image that he later parlayed into French support for the American Revolution.

Despite his great scientific achievements, however, Franklin always believed that public service was more important than science, and his political contributions to the formation of the United States were substantial. He had a hand in the writing of the Declaration of Independence, contributed to the drafting of the Articles of Confederation—America’s first national constitution—and was the oldest member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that wrote the Constitution of the United States of America in Philadelphia. More important, as diplomatic representative of the new American republic in France during the Revolution, he secured both diplomatic recognition and financial and military aid from the government of Louis XVI and was a crucial member of the commission that negotiated the treaty by which Great Britain recognized its former 13 colonies as a sovereign nation. Since no one else could have accomplished all that he did in France during the Revolution, he can quite plausibly be regarded as America’s greatest diplomat.

Equally significant perhaps were Franklin’s many contributions to the comfort and safety of daily life, especially in his adopted city of Philadelphia. No civic project was too large or too small for his interest. In addition to his lightning rod and his Franklin stove (a wood-burning stove that warmed American homes for more than 200 years), he invented bifocal glasses, the odometer, and the glass harmonica (armonica). He had ideas about everything—from the nature of the Gulf Stream to the cause of the common cold. He suggested the notions of matching grants and Daylight Saving Time. Almost single-handedly he helped to create a civic society for the inhabitants of Philadelphia. Moreover, he helped to establish new institutions that people now take for granted: a fire company, a library, an insurance company, an academy, and a hospital.

Probably Franklin’s most important invention was himself. He created so many personas in his newspaper writings and almanac and in his posthumously published Autobiography that it is difficult to know who he really was. Following his death in 1790, he became so identified during the 19th century with the persona of his Autobiography and the Poor Richard maxims of his almanac—e.g., “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”—that he acquired the image of the self-made moralist obsessed with the getting and saving of money. Consequently, many imaginative writers, such as Edgar Allan Poe, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and D.H. Lawrence, attacked Franklin as a symbol of America’s middle-class moneymaking business values. Indeed, early in the 20th century the famous German sociologist Max Weber found Franklin to be the perfect exemplar of the “Protestant ethic” and the modern capitalistic spirit. Although Franklin did indeed become a wealthy tradesman by his early 40s, when he retired from his business, during his lifetime in the 18th century he was not identified as a self-made businessman or a budding capitalist. That image was a creation of the 19th century. But as long as America continues to be pictured as the land of enterprise and opportunity, where striving and hard work can lead to success, then that image of Franklin is the one that is likely to endure.

Gordon S. Wood

 

 

 


Thomas Paine




Thomas Paine, (b. January 29, 1737, Thetford, Norfolk, England—d. June 8, 1809, New York, N.Y., U.S.), English-American writer and political pamphleteer whose “Common Sense” and “Crisis” papers were important influences on the American Revolution. Other works that contributed to his reputation as one of the greatest political propagandists in history were Rights of Man, a defense of the French Revolution and of republican principles; and The Age of Reason, an exposition of the place of religion in society.

Life in England and America
Paine was born of a Quaker father and an Anglican mother. His formal education was meagre, just enough to enable him to master reading, writing, and arithmetic. At 13 he began work with his father as a corset maker and then tried various other occupations unsuccessfully, finally becoming an officer of the excise. His duties were to hunt for smugglers and collect the excise taxes on liquor and tobacco. The pay was insufficient to cover living costs, but he used part of his earnings to purchase books and scientific apparatus.

Paine’s life in England was marked by repeated failures. He had two brief marriages. He was unsuccessful or unhappy in every job he tried. He was dismissed from the excise office after he published a strong argument in 1772 for a raise in pay as the only way to end corruption in the service. Just when his situation appeared hopeless, he met Benjamin Franklin in London, who advised him to seek his fortune in America and gave him letters of introduction.

Paine arrived in Philadelphia on Nov. 30, 1774. His first regular employment was helping to edit the Pennsylvania Magazine. In addition Paine published numerous articles and some poetry, anonymously or under pseudonyms. One such article was “African Slavery in America,” a scathing denunciation of the African slave trade, which he signed “Justice and Humanity.”

Paine had arrived in America when the conflict between the colonists and England was reaching its height. After blood was spilled at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19, 1775, Paine argued that the cause of America should not be just a revolt against taxation but a demand for independence. He put this idea into “Common Sense,” which came off the press on Jan. 10, 1776. The 50-page pamphlet sold more than 500,000 copies within a few months. More than any other single publication, “Common Sense” paved the way for the Declaration of Independence, unanimously ratified July 4, 1776.

During the war that followed, Paine served as volunteer aide-de-camp to General Nathanael Greene. His great contribution to the patriot cause was the 16 “Crisis” papers issued between 1776 and 1783, each one signed “Common Sense.” “The American Crisis. Number I,” published on Dec. 19, 1776, when George Washington’s army was on the verge of disintegration, opened with the flaming words: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Washington ordered the pamphlet read to all the troops at Valley Forge.

In 1777 Congress appointed Paine secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. He held the post until early in 1779, when he became involved in a controversy with Silas Deane, a member of the Continental Congress, whom Paine accused of seeking to profit personally from French aid to the United States. But in revealing Deane’s machinations, Paine was forced to quote from secret documents to which he had access as secretary of the Committee for Foreign Affairs. As a result, despite the truth of his accusations, he was forced to resign his post.

Paine’s desperate need of employment was relieved when he was appointed clerk of the General Assembly of Pennsylvania on Nov. 2, 1779. In this capacity he had frequent opportunity to observe that American troops were at the end of their patience because of lack of pay and scarcity of supplies. Paine took $500 from his salary and started a subscription for the relief of the soldiers. In 1781, pursuing the same goal, he accompanied John Laurens to France. The money, clothing, and ammunition they brought back with them were important to the final success of the Revolution. Paine also appealed to the separate states to cooperate for the well-being of the entire nation. In “Public Good” (1780) he included a call for a national convention to remedy the ineffectual Articles of Confederation and establish a strong central government under “a continental constitution.”

At the end of the American Revolution, Paine again found himself poverty-stricken. His patriotic writings had sold by the hundreds of thousands, but he had refused to accept any profits in order that cheap editions might be widely circulated. In a petition to Congress endorsed by Washington, he pleaded for financial assistance. It was buried by Paine’s opponents in Congress, but Pennsylvania gave him £500 and New York a farm in New Rochelle. Here Paine devoted his time to inventions, concentrating on an iron bridge without piers and a smokeless candle.


In Europe: “Rights of Man”
In April 1787 Paine left for Europe to promote his plan to build a single-arch bridge across the wide Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. But in England he was soon diverted from his engineering project. In December 1789 he published anonymously a warning against the attempt of Prime Minister William Pitt to involve England in a war with France over Holland, reminding the British people that war had “but one thing certain and that is increase of taxes.” But it was the French Revolution that now filled Paine’s thoughts. He was enraged by Edmund Burke’s attack on the uprising of the French people in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, and, though Paine admired Burke’s stand in favour of the American Revolution, he rushed into print with his celebrated answer, Rights of Man (March 13, 1791). The book immediately created a sensation. At least eight editions were published in 1791, and the work was quickly reprinted in the U.S., where it was widely distributed by the Jeffersonian societies. When Burke replied, Paine came back with Rights of Man, Part II, published on Feb. 17, 1792.

What began as a defense of the French Revolution evolved into an analysis of the basic reasons for discontent in European society and a remedy for the evils of arbitrary government, poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, and war. Paine spoke out effectively in favour of republicanism as against monarchy and went on to outline a plan for popular education, relief of the poor, pensions for aged people, and public works for the unemployed, all to be financed by the levying of a progressive income tax. To the ruling class Paine’s proposals spelled “bloody revolution,” and the government ordered the book banned and the publisher jailed. Paine himself was indicted for treason, and an order went out for his arrest. But he was en route to France, having been elected to a seat in the National Convention, before the order for his arrest could be delivered. Paine was tried in absentia, found guilty of seditious libel, and declared an outlaw, and Rights of Man was ordered permanently suppressed.

In France Paine hailed the abolition of the monarchy but deplored the terror against the royalists and fought unsuccessfully to save the life of King Louis XVI, favouring banishment rather than execution. He was to pay for his efforts to save the King’s life when the radicals under Robespierre took power. Paine was imprisoned from Dec. 28, 1793, to Nov. 4, 1794, when, with the fall of Robespierre, he was released and, though seriously ill, readmitted to the National Convention.

While in prison, the first part of Paine’s Age of Reason was published (1794), and it was followed by Part II after his release (1796). Although Paine made it clear that he believed in a Supreme Being and as a deist opposed only organized religion, the work won him a reputation as an atheist among the orthodox. The publication of his last great pamphlet, “Agrarian Justice” (1797), with its attack on inequalities in property ownership, added to his many enemies in establishment circles.

Paine remained in France until Sept. 1, 1802, when he sailed for the United States. He quickly discovered that his services to the country had been all but forgotten and that he was widely regarded only as the world’s greatest infidel. Despite his poverty and his physical condition, worsened by occasional drunkenness, Paine continued his attacks on privilege and religious superstitions. He died in New York City in 1809 and was buried in New Rochelle on the farm given to him by the state of New York as a reward for his Revolutionary writings. Ten years later, William Cobbett, the political journalist, exhumed the bones and took them to England, where he hoped to give Paine a funeral worthy of his great contributions to humanity. But the plan misfired, and the bones were lost, never to be recovered.


Assessment
At Paine’s death most U.S. newspapers reprinted the obituary notice from the New York Citizen, which read in part: “He had lived long, did some good and much harm.” This remained the verdict of history for more than a century following his death, but in recent years the tide has turned: on Jan. 30, 1937, The Times of London referred to him as “the English Voltaire,” and on May 18, 1952, Paine’s bust was placed in the New York University Hall of Fame.

Philip S. Foner

 




The new nation

In the postwar period some of these eloquent men were no longer able to win a hearing. Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams lacked the constructive ideas that appealed to those interested in forming a new government. Others fared better—for example, Franklin, whose tolerance and sense showed in addresses to the constitutional convention. A different group of authors, however, became leaders in the new period—Thomas Jefferson and the talented writers of The Federalist papers, a series of 85 essays published in 1787 and 1788 urging the virtues of the proposed new constitution. They were written by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. More distinguished for insight into problems of government and cool logic than for eloquence, these works became a classic statement of American governmental, and more generally of republican, theory. At the time they were highly effective in influencing legislators who voted on the new constitution. Hamilton, who wrote perhaps 51 of the Federalist papers, became a leader of the Federalist Party and, as first secretary of the treasury (1789–95), wrote messages that were influential in increasing the power of national government at the expense of the state governments.

Thomas Jefferson was an influential political writer during and after the war. The merits of his great summary, the Declaration of Independence, consisted, as Madison pointed out, “in a lucid communication of human rights … in a style and tone appropriate to the great occasion, and to the spirit of the American people.” After the war he formulated the exact tenets of his faith in various papers but most richly in his letters and inaugural addresses, in which he urged individual freedom and local autonomy—a theory of decentralization differing from Hamilton’s belief in strong federal government. Though he held that all men are created equal, Jefferson thought that “a natural aristocracy” of “virtues and talents” should hold high governmental positions.
 


Thomas Jefferson



 

Thomas Jefferson, (b. April 2 [April 13, New Style], 1743, Shadwell, Virginia [U.S.]—d. July 4, 1826, Monticello, Virginia, U.S.), draftsman of the Declaration of Independence of the United States and the nation’s first secretary of state (1789–94), second vice president (1797–1801), and, as the third president (1801–09), the statesman responsible for the Louisiana Purchase. An early advocate of total separation of church and state, he also was the founder and architect of the University of Virginia and the most eloquent American proponent of individual freedom as the core meaning of the American Revolution. (For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America.)

Long regarded as America’s most distinguished “apostle of liberty,” Jefferson has come under increasingly critical scrutiny within the scholarly world. At the popular level, both in the United States and abroad, he remains an incandescent icon, an inspirational symbol for both major U.S. political parties, as well as for dissenters in communist China, liberal reformers in central and eastern Europe, and aspiring democrats in Africa and Latin America. His image within scholarly circles has suffered, however, as the focus on racial equality has prompted a more negative reappraisal of his dependence upon slavery and his conviction that American society remain a white man’s domain. The huge gap between his lyrical expression of liberal ideals and the more attenuated reality of his own life has transformed Jefferson into America’s most problematic and paradoxical hero. The Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated to him on April 13, 1943, the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Early years
Albermarle county, where he was born, lay in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in what was then regarded as a western province of the Old Dominion. His father, Peter Jefferson, was a self-educated surveyor who amassed a tidy estate that included 60 slaves. According to family lore, Jefferson’s earliest memory was as a three-year-old boy “being carried on a pillow by a mounted slave” when the family moved from Shadwell to Tuckahoe. His mother, Jane Randolph Jefferson, was descended from one of the most prominent families in Virginia. She raised two sons, of whom Jefferson was the eldest, and six daughters. There is reason to believe that Jefferson’s relationship with his mother was strained, especially after his father died in 1757, because he did everything he could to escape her supervision and had almost nothing to say about her in his memoirs. He boarded with the local schoolmaster to learn his Latin and Greek until 1760, when he entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

By all accounts he was an obsessive student, often spending 15 hours of the day with his books, 3 hours practicing his violin, and the remaining 6 hours eating and sleeping. The two chief influences on his learning were William Small, a Scottish-born teacher of mathematics and science, and George Wythe, the leading legal scholar in Virginia. From them Jefferson learned a keen appreciation of supportive mentors, a concept he later institutionalized at the University of Virginia. He read law with Wythe from 1762 to 1767, then left Williamsburg to practice, mostly representing small-scale planters from the western counties in cases involving land claims and titles. Although he handled no landmark cases and came across as a nervous and somewhat indifferent speaker before the bench, he earned a reputation as a formidable legal scholar. He was a shy and extremely serious young man.

In 1768 he made two important decisions: first, to build his own home atop an 867-foot- (264-metre-) high mountain near Shadwell that he eventually named Monticello and, second, to stand as a candidate for the House of Burgesses. These decisions nicely embodied the two competing impulses that would persist throughout his life—namely, to combine an active career in politics with periodic seclusion in his own private haven. His political timing was also impeccable, for he entered the Virginia legislature just as opposition to the taxation policies of the British Parliament was congealing. Although he made few speeches and tended to follow the lead of the Tidewater elite, his support for resolutions opposing Parliament’s authority over the colonies was resolute.

In the early 1770s his own character was also congealing. In 1772 he married Martha Wayles Skelton (Martha Jefferson), an attractive and delicate young widow whose dowry more than doubled his holdings in land and slaves. In 1774 he wrote A Summary View of the Rights of British America, which was quickly published, though without his permission, and catapulted him into visibility beyond Virginia as an early advocate of American independence from Parliament’s authority; the American colonies were tied to Great Britain, he believed, only by wholly voluntary bonds of loyalty to the king.

His reputation thus enhanced, the Virginia legislature appointed him a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in the spring of 1775. He rode into Philadelphia—and into American history—on June 20, 1775, a tall (slightly above 6 feet 2 inches [1.88 metres]) and gangly young man with reddish blond hair, hazel eyes, a burnished complexion, and rock-ribbed certainty about the American cause. In retrospect, the central paradox of his life was also on display, for the man who the following year was to craft the most famous manifesto for human equality in world history arrived in an ornate carriage drawn by four handsome horses and accompanied by three slaves.


Declaring independence
Jefferson’s inveterate shyness prevented him from playing a significant role in the debates within the Congress. John Adams, a leader in those debates, remembered that Jefferson was silent even in committee meetings, though consistently staunch in his support for independence. His chief role was as a draftsman of resolutions. In that capacity, on June 11, 1776, he was appointed to a five-person committee, which also included Adams and Benjamin Franklin, to draft a formal statement of the reasons why a break with Great Britain was justified. Adams asked him to prepare the first draft, which he did within a few days. He later claimed that he was not striving for “originality of principle or sentiment,” only seeking to provide “an expression of the American mind”; that is, putting into words those ideas already accepted by a majority of Americans. This accurately describes the longest section of the Declaration of Independence, which lists the grievances against George III. It does not, however, describe the following 55 words, which are generally regarded as the seminal statement of American political culture:

We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

On July 3–4 the Congress debated and edited Jefferson’s draft, deleting and revising fully one-fifth of the text. But they made no changes whatsoever in this passage, which over succeeding generations became the lyrical sanction for every liberal movement in American history. At the time, Jefferson himself was disconsolate that the Congress had seen fit to make any changes in his language. Nevertheless, he was not regarded by his contemporaries as the author of the Declaration, which was seen as a collective effort by the entire Congress. Indeed, he was not known by most Americans as the principal author until the 1790s. (See primary source document: Declaration of Independence.)

He returned to Virginia in October 1776 and immediately launched an extensive project for the reform of the state’s legal code to bring it in line with the principles of the American Revolution. Three areas of reform suggest the arc of his political vision: first, he sought and secured abolition of primogeniture, entail, and all those remnants of feudalism that discouraged a broad distribution of property; second, he proposed a comprehensive plan of educational reform designed to assure access at the lowest level for all citizens and state support at the higher levels for the most talented; third, he advocated a law prohibiting any religious establishment and requiring complete separation of church and state. The last two proposals were bitterly contested, especially the statute for religious freedom, which was not enacted until 1786. (See primary source documents: An American Education for American Youth, The Education of Women, and The Sphere of Religion.)

Taken together, these legal reforms capture the essence of Jefferson’s political philosophy, which was less a comprehensive body of thought than a visionary prescription. He regarded the past as a “dead hand” of encrusted privileges and impediments that must be cast off to permit the natural energies of individual citizens to flow freely. The American Revolution, as he saw it, was the first shot in what would eventually became a global battle for human liberation from despotic institutions and all coercive versions of government.

At the end of what was probably the most creative phase of his public career, personal misfortune struck in two successive episodes. Elected governor of Virginia in 1779, he was caught off-guard by a surprise British invasion in 1780 against which the state was defenseless. His flight from approaching British troops was described in the local press, somewhat unfairly, as a cowardly act of abdication. (Critics would recall this awkward moment throughout the remainder of his long career.) Then, in September 1782, his wife died after a difficult delivery in May of their third daughter. These two disasters caused him to vow that he would never again desert his family for his country.


American in Paris
The vow was sincere but short-lived. Jefferson agreed, albeit reluctantly, to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress in December 1782, where his major contribution was to set forth the principle that territories in the West should not be treated as colonies but rather should enter the Union with status equal to the original states once certain conditions were met. Then, in 1784, recognizing the need to escape the memories of Martha that haunted the hallways at Monticello, he agreed to replace Franklin as American minister to France; or, as legend tells the story, he agreed to succeed Franklin, noting that no one could replace him.

During his five-year sojourn in Paris, Jefferson accomplished very little in any official sense. Several intractable conditions rendered his best diplomatic efforts futile: the United States was heavily in debt owing to the recent war, so few European nations were interested in signing treaties of amity and commerce with the infant American republic; the federal government created under the Articles of Confederation was notoriously weak, so clear foreign policy directives proved impossible; Great Britain already enjoyed a monopoly, controlling more than 80 percent of America’s foreign trade, so it had no incentive to negotiate commercial treaties on less favourable terms; and France was drifting toward a cataclysmic political crisis of its own, so relations with the upstart new nation across the Atlantic were hardly a high priority.

As a result, Jefferson’s diplomatic overtures to establish a market for American tobacco and to reopen French ports to whale oil produced meagre results, his efforts to create an alliance of American and European powers to contest the terrorism of the Barbary pirates proved stillborn, and his vision of open markets for all nations, a world without tariffs, seemed excessively visionary. His only significant achievement was the negotiation of a $400,000 loan from Dutch bankers that allowed the American government to consolidate its European debts, but even that piece of diplomacy was conducted primarily by John Adams, then serving as American minister to the Court of St. James’s in London.

But the Paris years were important to Jefferson for personal reasons and are important to biographers and historians for the new light they shed on his famously elusive personality. The dominant pattern would seem to be the capacity to live comfortably with contradiction. For example, he immersed himself wholeheartedly in the art, architecture, wine, and food of Parisian society but warned all prospective American tourists to remain in America so as to avoid the avarice, luxury, and sheer sinfulness of European fleshpots. He made a point of bringing along his elder daughter, Martha (called Patsy as a girl), and later sent for his younger daughter, Maria (called Polly), all as part of his genuine devotion as a single parent. But he then placed both daughters in a convent, wrote them stern lecturelike letters about proper female etiquette, and enforced a patriarchal distance that was in practice completely at odds with his theoretical commitment to intimacy.

With women in general his letters convey a message of conspicuous gallantry, playfully flirtatious in the manner of a male coquette. The most self-revealing letter he ever wrote, “a dialogue between the head and the heart,” was sent to Maria Cosway, an Anglo-Italian beauty who left him utterly infatuated. Jefferson and Cosway, who was married to a prominent if somewhat degenerate English miniaturist, spent several months in a romantic haze, touring Parisian gardens, museums, and art shows together, but whether Jefferson’s head or heart prevailed, either in the letter or in life, is impossible to know. Meanwhile, there is considerable evidence to suggest, but not to prove conclusively, that Jefferson initiated a sexual liaison with his attractive young mulatto slave Sally Hemings in 1788, about the time his torrid affair with Cosway cooled down—this despite his public statements denouncing blacks as biologically inferior and sexual relations between the races as taboo. (See Sidebar: “Tom and Sally”: the Jefferson-Hemings paternity debate.)

During the latter stages of Jefferson’s stay in Paris, Louis XVI, the French king, was forced to convene the Assembly of Notables in Versailles to deal with France’s deep financial crisis. Jefferson initially regarded the assembly as a French version of the Constitutional Convention, then meeting in Philadelphia. Much influenced by moderate leaders such as the Marquis de Lafayette, he expected the French Revolution to remain a bloodless affair that would culminate in a revised French government, probably a constitutional monarchy along English lines. He remained oblivious to the resentments and volatile energies pent up within French society that were about to explode in the Reign of Terror, mostly because he thought the French Revolution would follow the American model. He was fortunate to depart France late in 1789, just at the onset of mob violence.


Slavery and racism
Even before his departure from France, Jefferson had overseen the publication of Notes on the State of Virginia. This book, the only one Jefferson ever published, was part travel guide, part scientific treatise, and part philosophical meditation. Jefferson had written it in the fall of 1781 and had agreed to a French edition only after learning that an unauthorized version was already in press. Notes contained an extensive discussion of slavery, including a graphic description of its horrific effects on both blacks and whites, a strong assertion that it violated the principles on which the American Revolution was based, and an apocalyptic prediction that failure to end slavery would lead to “convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of one or the other race.” It also contained the most explicit assessment that Jefferson ever wrote of what he believed were the biological differences between blacks and whites, an assessment that exposed the deep-rooted racism that he, like most Americans and almost all Virginians of his day, harboured throughout his life.

To his critics in later generations, Jefferson’s views on race seemed particularly virulent because of his purported relationship with Sally Hemings, who bore several children obviously fathered by a white man and some of whom had features resembling those of Jefferson. The public assertion of this relationship was originally made in 1802 by a disreputable journalist interested in injuring Jefferson’s political career. His claim was corroborated, however, by one of Hemings’s children in an 1873 newspaper interview and then again in a 1968 book by Winthrop Jordan revealing that Hemings became pregnant only when Jefferson was present at Monticello. Finally, in 1998, DNA samples were gathered from living descendants of Jefferson and Hemings. Tests revealed that Jefferson was almost certainly the father of some of Hemings’s children. What remained unclear was the character of the relationship—consensual or coercive, a matter of love or rape, or a mutually satisfactory arrangement. Jefferson’s admirers preferred to consider it a love affair and to see Jefferson and Hemings as America’s preeminent biracial couple. His critics, on the other hand, considered Jefferson a sexual predator whose eloquent statements about human freedom and equality were hypocritical.

In any case, coming as it did at the midpoint of Jefferson’s career, the publication of Notes affords the opportunity to review Jefferson’s previous and subsequent positions on the most volatile and therefore most forbidden topic in the revolutionary era (see primary source document: On Accommodating African Americans). Early in his career Jefferson had taken a leadership role in pushing slavery onto the political agenda in the Virginia assembly and the federal Congress. In the 1760s and ’70s, like most Virginia planters, he endorsed the end of the slave trade. (Virginia’s plantations were already well stocked with slaves, so ending the slave trade posed no economic threat and even enhanced the value of the existent slave population.) In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, he included a passage, subsequently deleted by the Continental Congress, blaming both the slave trade and slavery itself on George III. Unlike most of his fellow Virginians, Jefferson was prepared to acknowledge that slavery was an anomaly in the American republic established in 1776. His two most practical proposals came in the early 1780s: a gradual emancipation scheme by which all slaves born after 1800 would be freed and their owners compensated, and a prohibition of slavery in all the territories of the West as a condition for admission to the Union. By the time of the publication of Notes, then, Jefferson’s record on slavery placed him among the most progressive elements of southern society. Rather than ask how he could possibly tolerate the persistence of slavery, it is more historically correct to wonder how this member of Virginia’s planter class had managed to develop such liberal convictions.

Dating the onset of a long silence is inevitably an imprecise business, but by the time of his return to the United States in 1789 Jefferson had backed away from a leadership position on slavery. The ringing denunciations of slavery presented in Notes had generated controversy, especially within the planter class of Virginia, and Jefferson’s deep aversion to controversy made him withdraw from the cutting edge of the antislavery movement once he experienced the sharp feelings it aroused. Moreover, the very logic of his argument in Notes exposed the inherent intractability of his position. Although he believed that slavery was a gross violation of the principles celebrated in the Declaration of Independence, he also believed that people of African descent were biologically inferior to whites and could never live alongside whites in peace and harmony. They would have to be transported elsewhere, back to Africa or perhaps the Caribbean, after emancipation. Because such a massive deportation was a logistical and economic impossibility, the unavoidable conclusion was that, though slavery was wrong, ending it, at least at present, was inconceivable. That became Jefferson’s public position throughout the remainder of his life.

It also shaped his personal posture as a slave owner. Jefferson owned, on average, about 200 slaves at any point in time, and slightly over 600 over his lifetime. To protect himself from facing the reality of his problematic status as plantation master, he constructed a paternalistic self-image as a benevolent father caring for what he called “my family.” Believing that he and his slaves were the victims of history’s failure to proceed along the enlightened path, he saw himself as the steward for those entrusted to his care until a better future arrived for them all. In the meantime, his own lavish lifestyle and all the incessant and expensive renovations of his Monticello mansion were wholly dependent on slave labour. Whatever silent thoughts he might have harboured about freeing his slaves never found their way into the record. (He freed only five slaves, all members of the Hemings family.) His mounting indebtedness rendered all such thoughts superfluous toward the end, because his slaves, like all his possessions, were mortgaged to his creditors and therefore not really his to free.


Party politics
Jefferson returned to the United States in 1789 to serve as the first secretary of state under President George Washington. He was entering the most uncharted waters in American history. There had never been an enduring republican government in a nation as large as the United States, and no one was sure if it was possible or how it would work. The Constitution ratified in 1788 was still a work-in-progress, less a blueprint that provided answers than a framework for arguing about the salient questions. And because Jefferson had been serving in France when the constitutional battles of 1787–88 were waged in Philadelphia and then in the state ratifying conventions, he entered the volatile debates of the 1790s without a clear track record of his constitutional convictions. In truth, unlike his friend and disciple James Madison, Jefferson did not think primarily in constitutional categories. His major concern about the new Constitution was the absence of any bill of rights. He was less interested in defining the powers of government than in identifying those regions where government could not intrude (see primary source documents: On the New Constitution and On the Omission of a Bill of Rights).

During his tenure as secretary of state (1790–93), foreign policy was his chief responsibility. Within the cabinet a three-pronged division soon emerged over American policy toward the European powers. While all parties embraced some version of the neutrality doctrine, the specific choices posed by the ongoing competition for supremacy in Europe between England and France produced a bitter conflict. Washington and Adams, who was serving as vice president, insisted on complete neutrality, which in practice meant tacking back and forth between the two dominant world powers of the moment. Alexander Hamilton pushed for a pro-English version of neutrality—chiefly commercial ties with the most potent mercantile power in the world. Jefferson favoured a pro-French version of neutrality, arguing that the Franco-American treaty of 1778 obliged the United States to honour past French support during the war for independence, and that the French Revolution embodied the “spirit of ’76” on European soil. Even when the French Revolution spun out of control and began to devour its own partisans, Jefferson insisted that these bloody convulsions were only temporary excesses justified by the larger ideological issues at stake.

This remained his unwavering position throughout the decade. Even after he retired from office late in 1793, he issued directives from Monticello opposing the Neutrality Act (1793) and the Jay Treaty (1795) as pacts with the British harlot and betrayals of our French brethren. Serving as vice president during the Adams presidency (1797–1801), Jefferson worked behind the scenes to undermine Adams’s efforts to sustain strict neutrality and blamed the outbreak of the “quasi-war” with France in 1797–98 on what he called “our American Anglophiles” rather than the French Directory. His foreign-policy vision was resolutely moralistic and highly ideological, dominated by a dichotomous view of England as a corrupt and degenerate engine of despotism and France as the enlightened wave of the future.

Jefferson’s position on domestic policy during the 1790s was a variation on the same ideological dichotomy. As Hamilton began to construct his extensive financial program—to include funding the national debt, assuming the state debts, and creating a national bank—Jefferson came to regard the consolidation of power at the federal level as a diabolical plot to subvert the true meaning of the American Revolution. As Jefferson saw it, the entire Federalist commitment to an energetic central government with broad powers over the domestic economy replicated the arbitrary policies of Parliament and George III, which the American Revolution had supposedly repudiated as monarchical and aristocratic practices, incompatible with the principles of republicanism. Jefferson sincerely believed that the “principles of ’76” were being betrayed by a Federalist version of the “court party,” whose covert scheme was to install monarchy and a pseudo-aristocracy of bankers and “monocrats” to rule over the American yeomanry.

All the major events of the decade—the creation of a national bank, the debate over the location of a national capital, the suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania, the passage of the Jay Treaty, and, most notoriously, the enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Acts—were viewed through this ideological lens. By the middle years of the decade two distinctive political camps had emerged, calling themselves Federalists and Republicans (later Democratic-Republicans). Not that modern-day political parties, with their mechanisms for raising money, selecting candidates, and waging election campaigns, were fully formed at this stage. (Full-blooded political parties date from the 1830s and ’40s.) But an embryonic version of the party structure was congealing, and Jefferson, assisted and advised by Madison, established the rudiments of the first opposition party in American politics under the Republican banner.

The partnership between Jefferson and Madison, labeled by subsequent historians as “the great collaboration,” deserves special attention. John Quincy Adams put it nicely when he observed that “the mutual influence of these two mighty minds on each other is a phenomenon, like the invisible and mysterious movements of the magnet in the physical world.” Because the notion of a legitimate opposition to the elected government did not yet exist, and because the term party remained an epithet that was synonymous with faction, meaning an organized effort to undermine the public interest, Jefferson and Madison were labeled as traitors by the Federalist press. They were, in effect, inventing a modern form of political behaviour before there was any neutral vocabulary for talking about it. Jefferson’s own capacity to live comfortably with contradictions served him well in this context, since he was creating and leading a political party while insisting that parties were evil agents. In 1796 he ran for the presidency against Adams, all the while claiming not to know that he was even a candidate. Most negative assessments of Jefferson’s character date from this period, especially the charge of hypocrisy and duplicity.

The highly combustible political culture of the early republic reached a crescendo in the election of 1800, one of the most fiercely contested campaigns in American history. (See primary source document: Jefferson and Liberty.) The Federalist press described Jefferson as a pagan and atheist, a treasonable conspirator against the duly elected administrations of Washington and Adams, a utopian dreamer with anarchistic tendencies toward the role of government, and a cunning behind-the-scenes manipulator of Republican propaganda. All these charges were gross exaggerations, save the last. Always operating through intermediaries, Jefferson paid several journalists to libel Adams, his old friend but current political enemy, and offered the vice presidency to Aaron Burr in return for delivering the electoral votes of New York. In the final tally the 12 New York votes made the difference, with the tandem of Jefferson and Burr winning 73 to 65. A quirk in the Constitution, subsequently corrected in the Twelfth Amendment, prevented electors from distinguishing between their choice of president and vice president, so Jefferson and Burr tied for the top spot, even though voter preference for Jefferson was incontestable. The decision was thrown into the House of Representatives where, after several weeks of debate and backroom wheeling and dealing, Jefferson was elected on the 36th ballot.


Presidency
There was a good deal of nervous speculation whether the new American nation could survive a Jefferson presidency. The entire thrust of Jefferson’s political position throughout the 1790s had been defiantly negative, rejecting as excessive the powers vested in the national government by the Federalists. In his Virginia Resolutions of 1798, written in protest of the Alien and Sedition Acts, he had described any projection of federal authority over the domestic policy of the states as a violation of “the spirit of ’76” and therefore a justification for secession from the Union. (This became the position of the Confederacy in 1861.) His Federalist critics wondered how he could take an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States if his primary goal as president was to dismantle the federal institutions created by that very document. As he rose to deliver his inaugural address on March 4, 1801, in the still-unfinished Capitol of the equally unfinished national capital on the Potomac, the mood was apprehensive. The most rabid alarmists had already been proved wrong, since the first transfer of power from one political regime to another had occurred peacefully, even routinely. But it was still very much an open question whether, as Lincoln later put it, “any nation so conceived and so dedicated could long endure” in the absence of a central government along Federalist lines.

The major message of Jefferson’s inaugural address was conciliatory. Its most famous line (“We are all republicans—we are all federalists”) suggested that the scatological party battles of the previous decade must cease. He described his election as a recovery of the original intentions of the American Revolution, this after the hostile takeover of those “ancient and sacred truths” by the Federalists, who had erroneously assumed that a stable American nation required a powerful central government. In Jefferson’s truly distinctive and original formulation, the coherence of the American republic did not require the mechanisms of a powerful state to survive or flourish. Indeed, the health of the emerging American nation was inversely proportional to the power of the federal government, for in the end the sovereign source of republican government was voluntary popular opinion, “the people,” and the latent energies these liberated individuals released when unburdened by government restrictions.

In 1804 Jefferson was easily reelected over Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, winning 162 electoral votes to Pinckney’s 14. Initially, at least, his policies as president reflected his desire for decentralization, which meant dismantling the embryonic federal government, the army and navy, and all federal taxation programs, as well as placing the national debt, which stood at $112 million, on the road to extinction. These reforms enjoyed considerable success for two reasons. First, the temporary cessation of the war between England and France for European supremacy permitted American merchants to trade with both sides and produced unprecedented national prosperity. Second, in selecting Albert Gallatin as secretary of the Treasury, Jefferson placed one of the most capable managers of fiscal policy in the most strategic location. Gallatin, a Swiss-born prodigy with impeccable Republican credentials, dominated the cabinet discussions alongside Madison, the ever-loyal Jefferson disciple who served as secretary of state.

Actually there were very few cabinet discussions because Jefferson preferred to do the bulk of business within the executive branch in writing. Crafting language on the page was his most obvious talent, and he required all cabinet officers to submit drafts of their recommendations, which he then edited and returned for their comments. The same textual approach applied to his dealings with Congress. All of his annual messages were delivered in writing rather than in person. Indeed, apart from his two inaugural addresses (see primary source documents: First Inaugural Address and Second Inaugural Address), there is no record of Jefferson delivering any public speeches whatsoever. In part this was a function of his notoriously inadequate abilities as an orator, but it also reflected his desire to make the office of the presidency almost invisible. His one gesture at visibility was to schedule weekly dinners when Congress was in session, which became famous for the quality of the wine, the pell-mell seating arrangements, and informal approach to etiquette—a clear defiance of European-style decorum.

The major achievement of his first term was also an act of defiance, though this time it involved defying his own principles. In 1803 Napoleon decided to consolidate his resources for a new round of the conflict with England by selling the vast Louisiana region, which stretched from the Mississippi Valley to the Rocky Mountains. Although the asking price, $15 million, was a stupendous bargain, assuming the cost meant substantially increasing the national debt. More significantly, what became known as the Louisiana Purchase violated Jefferson’s constitutional scruples. Indeed, many historians regard it as the boldest executive action in American history. But Jefferson never wavered, reasoning that the opportunity to double the national domain was too good to miss. The American West always triggered Jefferson’s most visionary energies, seeing it, as he did, as America’s future, the place where the simple republican principles could be constantly renewed. In one fell swoop he removed the threat of a major European power from America’s borders and extended the life span of the uncluttered agrarian values he so cherished. Even before news that the purchase was approved reached the United States in July 1803, Jefferson dispatched his private secretary, Meriwether Lewis, to lead an expedition to explore the new acquisition and the lands beyond, all the way to the Pacific.

If the Louisiana Purchase was the crowning achievement of Jefferson’s presidency, it also proved to be the high point from which events moved steadily in the other direction. Although the Federalist Party was dead as a national force, pockets of Federalist opposition still survived, especially in New England. Despite his eloquent testimonials to the need for a free press, Jefferson was outraged by the persistent attacks on his policies and character from those quarters, and he instructed the attorneys general in the recalcitrant states to seek indictments, in clear violation of his principled commitment to freedom of expression (see primary source document: On Misreporting by the Press). He was equally heavy-handed in his treatment of Aaron Burr, who was tried for treason after leading a mysterious expedition into the American Southwest allegedly designed to detach that region from the United States with Burr crowned as its benevolent dictator. The charges were never proved, but Jefferson demanded Burr’s conviction despite the lack of evidence. He was overruled in the end by Chief Justice John Marshall, who sat as the judge in the trial.

But Jefferson’s major disappointment had its origins in Europe with the resumption of the Napoleonic Wars, which resulted in naval blockades in the Atlantic and Caribbean that severely curtailed American trade and pressured the U.S. government to take sides in the conflict. Jefferson’s response was the Embargo Act (1807), which essentially closed American ports to all foreign imports and American exports. The embargo assumed that the loss of American trade would force England and France to alter their policies, but this fond hope was always an illusion, since the embryonic American economy lacked the size to generate such influence and was itself wrecked by Jefferson’s action. Moreover, the enforcement of the Embargo Act required the exercise of precisely those coercive powers by the federal government that Jefferson had previously opposed. By the time he left office in March 1809, Jefferson was a tired and beaten man, anxious to escape the consequences of his futile efforts to preserve American neutrality and eager to embrace the two-term precedent established by Washington.


Retirement
During the last 17 years of his life Jefferson maintained a crowded and active schedule. He rose with the dawn each day, bathed his feet in cold water, then spent the morning on his correspondence (one year he counted writing 1,268 letters) and working in his garden. Each afternoon he took a two-hour ride around his grounds. Dinner, served in the late afternoon, was usually an occasion to gather his daughter Martha and her 12 children, along with the inevitable visitors. Monticello became a veritable hotel during these years, on occasion housing 50 guests. The lack of privacy caused Jefferson to build a separate house on his Bedford estate about 90 miles (140 km) from Monticello, where he periodically fled for seclusion.

Three architectural projects claimed a considerable share of his attention. Throughout his life Monticello remained a work-in-progress that had the appearance of a construction site. Even during his retirement years, Jefferson’s intensive efforts at completing the renovations never quite produced the masterpiece of neoclassical design he wanted to achieve and that modern-day visitors to Monticello find so compelling. A smaller but more architecturally distinctive mansion at Bedford, called Poplar Forest, was completed on schedule. It too embodied neoclassical principles but was shaped as a perfect octagon. Finally there was the campus of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, which Jefferson called his “academical village.” Jefferson surveyed the site, which he could view in the distance from his mountaintop, and chose the Pantheon of Rome as the model for the rotunda, the centrepiece flanked by two rows of living quarters for students and faculty. In 1976 the American Institute of Architects voted it “the proudest achievement of American architecture in the past 200 years.” Even the “interior” design of the University of Virginia embodied Jeffersonian principles, in that he selected all the books for the library, defined the curriculum, picked the faculty, and chaired the Board of Visitors. Unlike every other American college at the time, “Mr. Jefferson’s university” had no religious affiliation and imposed no religious requirement on its students. As befitted an institution shaped by a believer in wholly voluntary and consensual networks of governance, there were no curricular requirements, no mandatory code of conduct except the self-enforced honour system, no president or administration. Every aspect of life at the University of Virginia reflected Jefferson’s belief that the only legitimate form of governance was self-governance.

In 1812 his vast correspondence began to include an exchange with his former friend and more recent rival John Adams. The reconciliation between the two patriarchs was arranged by their mutual friend Benjamin Rush, who described them as “the North and South poles of the American Revolution.” That description suggested more than merely geographic symbolism, since Adams and Jefferson effectively, even dramatically, embodied the twin impulses of the revolutionary generation. As the “Sage of Monticello,” Jefferson represented the Revolution as a clean break with the past, the rejection of all European versions of political discipline as feudal vestiges, the ingrained hostility toward all mechanisms of governmental authority that originated in faraway places. As the “Sage of Quincy (Massachusetts),” Adams resembled an American version of Edmund Burke, which meant that he attributed the success of the American Revolution to its linkage with past practices, most especially the tradition of representative government established in the colonial assemblies. He regarded the constitutional settlement of 1787–88 as a shrewd compromise with the political necessities of a nation-state exercising jurisdiction over an extensive, eventually continental, empire, not as a betrayal of the American Revolution but an evolutionary fulfillment of its promise.

These genuine differences of opinion made Adams and Jefferson the odd couple of the American Revolution and were the primary reasons why they had drifted to different sides of the divide during the party wars of the 1790s. The exchange of 158 letters between 1812 and 1826 permitted the two sages to pose as philosopher-kings and create what is arguably the most intellectually impressive correspondence between statesmen in all of American history. Beyond the elegiac tone and almost sculpted serenity of the letters, the correspondence exposed the fundamental contradictions that the American Revolution managed to contain. As Adams so poignantly put it, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.” And because of Adams’s incessant prodding, Jefferson was frequently forced to clarify his mature position on the most salient issues of the era.

One issue that even Adams and Jefferson could not discuss candidly was slavery. Jefferson’s mature position on that forbidden subject represented a further retreat from any leadership role in ending the “peculiar institution.” In 1819, during the debate in Congress over the Missouri Compromise, he endorsed the expansion of slavery into all the western territories, precisely the opposite of the position he had taken in the 1780s. Though he continued to insist that slavery was a massive anomaly, he insisted even more strongly that it was wrong for the federal government to attempt any effort at emancipation. In fact he described any federal intrusion in the matter as a despotic act analogous to George III’s imperial interference in colonial affairs or Hamilton’s corrupt scheme to establish a disguised form of monarchy in the early republic. His letters to fellow Virginians during his last years reflect a conspiratorial mentality toward the national government and a clear preference for secession if threatened with any mandatory plan for abolition.

Apart from slavery, the other shadow that darkened Monticello during Jefferson’s twilight years was debt. Jefferson was chronically in debt throughout most of his life, in part because of obligations inherited from his father-in-law in his wife’s dowry, mostly because of his own lavish lifestyle, which never came to terms with the proverbial bottom line despite careful entries in his account books that provided him with only the illusion of control. In truth, by the 1820s the interest on his debt was compounding at a faster rate than any repayment schedule could meet. By the end, he was more than $100,000—in modern terms several million dollars—in debt. An exception was made in Virginia law to permit a lottery that Jefferson hoped would allow his heirs to retain at least a portion of his property. But the massiveness of his debt overwhelmed all such hopes. Monticello, including land, mansion, furnishings, and the vast bulk of the slave population, was auctioned off the year after his death, and his surviving daughter, Martha, was forced to accept charitable contributions to sustain her family.

Before that ignominious end, which Jefferson never lived to see, he managed to sound one last triumphant note that projected his most enduring and attractive message to posterity. In late June 1826 Jefferson was asked to join the Independence Day celebrations in Washington, D.C., on the 50th anniversary of the defining event in his and the nation’s life. He declined, explaining that he was in no condition to leave his mountaintop. But he mustered up one final surge of energy to draft a statement that would be read in his absence at the ceremony. He clearly intended it as his final testament. Though some of the language, like the language of the Declaration itself, was borrowed from others, here was the vintage Jeffersonian vision:

May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government.… All eyes are opened or opening to the rights of men. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few, booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others; for ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.

Even as these words were being read in Washington, Jefferson went to his maker in his bed at Monticello at about half past noon on July 4, 1826. His last conscious words, uttered the preceding evening, were “Is it the Fourth?” Always a man given to Herculean feats of self-control, he somehow managed to time his own death to coincide with history. More remarkably, up in Quincy on that same day his old rival and friend also managed to die on schedule. John Adams passed away later in the afternoon. His last words—“Thomas Jefferson still lives”—were wrong at the moment but right for the future, since Jefferson’s complex legacy was destined to become the most resonant and controversial touchstone in all of American history.

(For additional writings by Jefferson, see Debates on Independence; On the Need for a Little Rebellion Now and Then; A Firebell in the Night; On Civil and Natural Rights; A Simple and Inexpensive Government; On Republican Government; The Rulers and the Ruled; On the Censorship of Religious Books; On the Civil and Religious Powers of Government; and On Science and the Perfectibility of Man.)

Joseph J. Ellis

 

 

 


Alexander Hamilton




Alexander Hamilton, (b. January 11, 1755/57, Nevis, British West Indies—d. July 12, 1804, New York, New York, U.S.), New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1787), major author of the Federalist papers, and first secretary of the Treasury of the United States (1789–95), who was the foremost champion of a strong central government for the new United States. He was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr.

Early life
Hamilton’s father was James Hamilton, a drifting trader and son of Alexander Hamilton, the laird of Cambuskeith, Ayrshire, Scotland; his mother was Rachel Fawcett Lavine, the daughter of a French Huguenot physician and the wife of John Michael Lavine, a German or Danish merchant who had settled on the island of St. Croix in the Danish West Indies. Rachel probably began living with James Hamilton in 1752, but Lavine did not divorce her until 1758.

In 1765 James Hamilton abandoned his family. Destitute, Rachel set up a small shop, and at the age of 11 Alexander went to work, becoming a clerk in the countinghouse of two New York merchants who had recently established themselves at St. Croix. When Rachel died in 1768, Alexander became a ward of his mother’s relatives, and in 1772 his ability, industry, and engaging manners won him advancement from bookkeeper to manager. Later, friends sent him to a preparatory school in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and in the autumn of 1773 he entered King’s College (later Columbia) in New York. Intensely ambitious, he became a serious and successful student, but his studies were interrupted by the brewing revolt against Great Britain. He publicly defended the Boston Tea Party, in which Boston colonists destroyed several tea cargoes in defiance of the tea tax. In 1774–75 he wrote three influential pamphlets, which upheld the agreements of the Continental Congress on the nonimportation, nonconsumption, and nonexportation of British products and attacked British policy in Quebec. Those anonymous publications—one of them attributed to John Jay and John Adams, two of the ablest of American propagandists—gave the first solid evidence of Hamilton’s precocity.


American Revolution
In March 1776, through the influence of friends in the New York legislature, Hamilton was commissioned a captain in the provincial artillery. He organized his own company and at the Battle of Trenton, when he and his men prevented the British under Lord Cornwallis from crossing the Raritan River and attacking George Washington’s main army, showed conspicuous bravery. In February 1777 Washington invited him to become an aide-de-camp with the rank of lieutenant colonel. In his four years on Washington’s staff he grew close to the general and was entrusted with his correspondence. He was sent on important military missions and, thanks to his fluent command of French, became liaison officer between Washington and the French generals and admirals.

Eager to connect himself with wealth and influence, Hamilton married Elizabeth, the daughter of General Philip Schuyler, the head of one of New York’s most distinguished families. Meantime, having tired of the routine duties at headquarters and yearning for glory, he pressed Washington for an active command in the field. Washington refused, and in early 1781 Hamilton seized upon a trivial quarrel to break with the general and leave his staff. Fortunately, he had not forfeited the general’s friendship, for in July Washington gave him command of a battalion. At the siege of Cornwallis’s army at Yorktown in October, Hamilton led an assault on a British stronghold.


Early political activities
In letters to a member of Congress and to Robert Morris, the superintendent of finance, Hamilton analyzed the financial and political weaknesses of the government. In November 1781, with the war virtually over, he moved to Albany, where he studied law and was admitted to practice in July 1782. A few months later the New York legislature elected him to the Continental Congress. He continued to argue in essays for a strong central government, and in Congress from November 1782 to July 1783 he worked for the same end, being convinced that the Articles of Confederation were the source of the country’s weakness and disunion.

In 1783 Hamilton began to practice law in New York City. He defended unpopular loyalists who had remained faithful to the British during the Revolution in suits brought against them under a state law called the Trespass Act. Partly as a result of his efforts, state acts disbarring loyalist lawyers and disfranchising loyalist voters were repealed. In that year he also won election to the lower house of the New York legislature, taking his seat in January 1787. Meanwhile, the legislature had appointed him a delegate to the convention in Annapolis, Maryland, that met in September 1786 to consider the commercial plight of the Union. Hamilton suggested that the convention exceed its delegated powers and call for another meeting of representatives from all the states to discuss various problems confronting the nation. He drew up the draft of the address to the states from which emerged the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia in May 1787. After persuading New York to send a delegation, Hamilton obtained a place for himself on the delegation.

Hamilton went to Philadelphia as an uncompromising nationalist who wished to replace the Articles of Confederation with a strong centralized government, but he did not take much part in the debates. He served on two important committees, one on rules in the beginning of the convention and the other on style at the end of the convention. In a long speech on June 18, he presented his own idea of what the national government should be. Under his plan, the national government would have had unlimited power over the states. Hamilton’s plan had little impact on the convention; the delegates went ahead to frame a constitution that, while it gave strong power to a federal government, stood some chance of being accepted by the people. Since the other two delegates from New York, who were strong opponents of a Federalist constitution, had withdrawn from the convention, New York was not officially represented, and Hamilton had no power to sign for his state. Nonetheless, even though he knew that his state wished to go no further than a revision of the Articles of Confederation, he signed the new constitution as an individual.

Opponents in New York quickly attacked the Constitution, and Hamilton answered them in the newspapers under the signature Caesar. Since the Caesar letters seemed not influential, Hamilton turned to another classical pseudonym, Publius, and to two collaborators, James Madison, the delegate from Virginia, and John Jay, the secretary of foreign affairs, to write The Federalist, a series of 85 essays in defense of the Constitution and republican government that appeared in newspapers between October 1787 and May 1788. Hamilton wrote at least two-thirds of the essays, including some of the most important ones that interpreted the Constitution, explained the powers of the executive, the senate, and the judiciary, and expounded the theory of judicial review (i.e., the power of the Supreme Court to declare legislative acts unconstitutional and, thus, void). Although written and published in haste, The Federalist was widely read, had a great influence on contemporaries, became one of the classics of political literature, and helped shape American political institutions. In 1788 Hamilton was reappointed a delegate to the Continental Congress from New York. At the ratifying convention in June, he became the chief champion of the Constitution and, against strong opposition, won approval for it.


Hamilton’s financial program
When President Washington in 1789 appointed Hamilton the first secretary of the Treasury, Congress asked him to draw up a plan for the “adequate support of the public credit.” Envisaging himself as something of a prime minister in Washington’s official family, Hamilton developed a bold and masterly program designed to build a strong union, one that would weave his political philosophy into the government. His immediate objectives were to establish credit at home and abroad and to strengthen the national government at the expense of the states. He outlined his program in four notable reports to Congress (1790–91).

In the first two, Reports on the Public Credit, which he submitted on January 14, 1790, and December 13, 1790, he urged the funding of the national debt at full value, the assumption in full by the federal government of debts incurred by the states during the Revolution, and a system of taxation to pay for the assumed debts. His motive was as much political as economic. Through payment by the central government of the states’ debts, he hoped to bind the men of wealth and influence, who had acquired most of the domestically held bonds, to the national government. But such powerful opposition arose to the funding and assumption scheme that Hamilton was able to push it through Congress only after he had made a bargain with Thomas Jefferson, who was then secretary of state, whereby he gained Southern votes in Congress for it in exchange for his own support in locating the future national capital on the banks of the Potomac.

Hamilton’s third report, the Report on a National Bank, which he submitted on December 14, 1790, advocated a national bank called the Bank of the United States and modeled after the Bank of England. With the bank, he wished to solidify the partnership between the government and the business classes who would benefit most from it and further advance his program to strengthen the national government. After Congress passed the bank charter, Hamilton persuaded Washington to sign it into law. He advanced the argument that the Constitution was the source of implied as well as enumerated powers and that through implication the government had the right to charter a national bank as a proper means of regulating the currency. This doctrine of implied powers became the basis for interpreting and expanding the Constitution in later years. In the Report on Manufactures, the fourth, the longest, the most complex, and the most farsighted of his reports, submitted on December 5, 1791, he proposed to aid the growth of infant industries through various protective laws. Basic to it was his idea that the general welfare required the encouragement of manufacturers and that the federal government was obligated to direct the economy to that end. In writing his report, Hamilton had leaned heavily on The Wealth of Nations, written in 1776 by the Scottish political economist Adam Smith, but he revolted against Smith’s laissez-faire idea that the state must keep hands off the economic processes, which meant that it could provide no bounties, tariffs, or other aid. The report had greater appeal to posterity than to Hamilton’s contemporaries, for Congress did nothing with it.


Establishment of political parties
A result of the struggle over Hamilton’s program and over issues of foreign policy was the emergence of national political parties. Like Washington, Hamilton had deplored parties, equating them with disorder and instability. He had hoped to establish a government of superior persons who would be above party. Yet he became the leader of the Federalist Party, a political organization in large part dedicated to the support of his policies. Hamilton placed himself at the head of that party because he needed organized political support and strong leadership in the executive branch to get his program through Congress. The political organization that challenged the Hamiltonians was the Republican Party (later Democratic-Republican Party) created by James Madison, a member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. In foreign affairs the Federalists favoured close ties with England, whereas the Republicans preferred to strengthen the old attachment to France. In attempting to carry out his program, Hamilton interfered in Jefferson’s domain of foreign affairs. Detesting the French Revolution and the egalitarian doctrines it spawned, he tried to thwart Jefferson’s policies that might aid France or injure England and to induce Washington to follow his own ideas in foreign policy. Hamilton went so far as to warn British officials of Jefferson’s attachment to France and to suggest that they bypass the secretary of state and instead work through himself and the president in matters of foreign policy. This and other parts of Hamilton’s program led to a feud with Jefferson in which the two men attempted to drive each other from the cabinet.

When war broke out between France and England in February 1793, Hamilton wished to use the war as an excuse for jettisoning the French alliance of 1778 and steering the United States closer to England, whereas Jefferson insisted that the alliance was still binding. Washington essentially accepted Hamilton’s advice and in April issued a proclamation of neutrality that was generally interpreted as pro-British.

At the same time, British seizure of U.S. ships trading with the French West Indies and other grievances led to popular demands for war against Great Britain, which Hamilton opposed. He believed that such a war would be national suicide, for his program was anchored on trade with Britain and on the import duties that supported his funding system. Usurping the power of the State Department, Hamilton persuaded the president to send John Jay to London to negotiate a treaty. Hamilton wrote Jay’s instructions, manipulated the negotiations, and defended the unpopular treaty Jay brought back in 1795, notably in a series of newspaper essays he wrote under the signature Camillus; the treaty kept the peace and saved his system.


Out of the cabinet
Lashed by criticism, tired and anxious to repair his private fortune, Hamilton left the cabinet on January 31, 1795. His influence, as an unofficial adviser, however, continued as strong as ever. Washington and his cabinet consulted him on almost all matters of policy. When Washington decided to retire, he turned to Hamilton, asking his opinion as to the best time to publish his farewell. With his eye on the coming presidential election, Hamilton advised withholding the announcement until a few months before the meeting of the presidential electors. Following that advice, Washington gave his Farewell Address in September 1796. Hamilton drafted most of the address, and some of his ideas were prominent in it. In the election, Federalist leaders passed over Hamilton’s claims and nominated John Adams for the presidency and Thomas Pinckney for the vice presidency. Because Adams did not appear devoted to Hamiltonian principles, Hamilton tried to manipulate the electoral college so as to make Pinckney president. Adams won the election, and Hamilton’s intrigue succeeded only in sowing distrust within his own party. Hamilton’s influence in the government continued, however, for Adams retained Washington’s cabinet, and its members consulted Hamilton on all matters of policy, gave him confidential information, and in effect urged his policies on the president.

When France broke relations with the United States, Hamilton stood for firmness, though not immediate war; however, after the failure of a peace mission that President Adams had sent to Paris in 1798, followed by the publication of dispatches insulting to U.S. sovereignty, Hamilton wanted to place the country under arms. He even believed that the French, with whom the United States now became engaged in an undeclared naval war, might attempt to invade the country. Hamilton sought command of the new army, though Washington would be its titular head. Adams resisted Hamilton’s desires, but in September 1798 Washington forced him to make Hamilton second in command of the army, the inspector general, with the rank of major general. Adams never forgave Hamilton for this humiliation. Hamilton wanted to lead his army into Spain’s Louisiana and the Floridas and other points south but never did. Through independent diplomacy, Adams kept the quarrel from spreading and at the order of Congress disbanded the provisional army. Hamilton resigned his commission in June 1800. Meantime Adams had purged his cabinet of those he regarded as “Hamilton’s spies.”

In retaliation, Hamilton tried to prevent Adams’s reelection. In October 1800 he privately circulated a personal attack on Adams, The Public Conduct and Character of John Adams, Esq., President of the United States. Aaron Burr of New York, the Republican candidate for vice president and Hamilton’s political enemy, obtained a copy and had it published. Hamilton was then compelled to acknowledge his authorship and to bring his quarrel with Adams into the open, a feud that revealed an irreparable schism in the Federalist Party. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr won the election, but, because both had received the same number of electoral votes, the choice between them for president was cast into the House of Representatives. Hating Jefferson, the Federalists wanted to throw the election to Burr. Hamilton helped to persuade them to select Jefferson instead. By supporting his old Republican enemy, who won the presidency, Hamilton lost prestige within his own party and virtually ended his public career.


The Burr quarrel
In 1801 Hamilton built a country house called the Grange on Manhattan island and helped found a Federalist newspaper, the New York Evening Post, the policies of which reflected his ideas. Through the Post he hailed the purchase of Louisiana in 1803, even though New England Federalists had opposed it. Some of them talked of secession and in 1804 began to negotiate with Burr for his support. Almost all the Federalists but Hamilton favoured Burr’s candidacy for the governorship of New York state. Hamilton urged the election of Burr’s Republican opponent, who won by a close margin, but it is doubtful that Hamilton’s influence decided the outcome. In any event, Hamilton and Burr had long been enemies, and Hamilton had several times thwarted Burr’s ambitions. In June 1804, after the election, Burr demanded satisfaction for remarks Hamilton had allegedly made at a dinner party in April in which he said he held a “despicable opinion” of Burr. Hamilton held an aversion to dueling, but as a man of honour he felt compelled to accept Burr’s challenge. The two antagonists met early in the morning of July 11 on the heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, where Hamilton’s eldest son, Philip, had died in a duel three years before. Burr’s bullet found its mark, and Hamilton fell. Hamilton left his wife and seven children heavily in debt, which friends helped to pay off.


Assessment
Hamilton was a man both of action and of ideas, but all his ideas involved action and were directed toward some specific goal in statecraft. Unlike Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson, he did not have a broad inquisitive mind, nor was he speculative in his thinking in the philosophical sense of seeking intangible truths. He was ambitious, purposeful, a hard worker, and one of America’s administrative geniuses. In foreign policy he was a realist, believing that self-interest should be the nation’s polestar; questions of gratitude, benevolence, and moral principle, he held, were irrelevant.

What renders him fascinating to biographers are the streaks of ambition, jealousy, and impulsiveness that led him into disastrous personal clashes—the rupture with Washington in 1781, which luckily did him no harm; an adulterous affair in 1791, which laid him open to blackmail; the assault on Adams that doomed Federalist prospects in 1800; and perhaps even the duel in which he died. The union of a mind brilliantly tuned to the economic future with the temperament of a Hotspur is rare.

Most of all, Hamilton was one of America’s first great nationalists. He believed in an indivisible nation where the people would give their loyalty not to any state but to the nation. Although a conservative, he did not fear change or experimentation. The conservatism that led him to denounce democracy as hostile to liberty stemmed from his fear that democracy tended to invade the rights of property, which he held sacred. His concern for property was a means to an end. He wished to make private property sacred because upon it he planned to build a strong central government, one capable of suppressing internal disorders and assuring tranquillity. His economic, political, military, and diplomatic schemes were all directed toward making the Union strong. Hamilton’s most enduring monument was the Union, for much of it rested on his ideas.

Alexander DeConde

 




 

Notable works of the periodPoets and poetry

Poetry became a weapon during the American Revolution, with both loyalists and Continentals urging their forces on, stating their arguments, and celebrating their heroes in verse and songs such as Yankee Doodle, Nathan Hale, and The Epilogue, mostly set to popular British melodies and in manner resembling other British poems of the period.

The most memorable American poet of the period was Philip Freneau, whose first well-known poems, Revolutionary War satires, served as effective propaganda; later he turned to various aspects of the American scene. Although he wrote much in the stilted manner of the Neoclassicists, such poems as The Indian Burying Ground, The Wild Honey Suckle, To a Caty-did, and On a Honey Bee were romantic lyrics of real grace and feeling that were forerunners of a literary movement destined to be important in the 19th century.
 


Philip Freneau





Philip Freneau, in full Philip Morin Freneau (b. Jan. 2, 1752, New York, N.Y. [U.S.]—d. Dec. 18, 1832, Monmouth county, N.J., U.S.), American poet, essayist, and editor, known as the “poet of the American Revolution.”

After graduating from Princeton University in 1771, Freneau taught school and studied for the ministry until the outbreak of the American Revolution, when he began to write vitriolic satire against the British and Tories. Not until his return from two years in the Caribbean islands, where he produced two of his most ambitious poems, “The Beauties of Santa Cruz” and “The House of Night,” did he become an active participant in the war, joining the New Jersey militia in 1778 and sailing through the British blockade as a privateer to the West Indies. Captured and imprisoned by the British in 1780, Freneau wrote in verse bitterly, on his release, The British Prison-Ship (1781).

During the next several years he contributed to the Freeman’s Journal in Philadelphia. Freneau became a sea captain until 1790, when he again entered partisan journalism, ultimately as editor from 1791 to 1793 of the strongly Republican National Gazette in Philadelphia. Freneau alternated quiet periods at sea with periods of active newspaper work, until he retired early in the 19th century to his farm in Monmouth county.

Well schooled in the classics and in the Neoclassical English poetry of the period, Freneau strove for a fresh idiom that would be unmistakably American, but, except in a few poems, he failed to achieve it.
 




Drama and the novel

In the years toward the close of the 18th century, both dramas and novels of some historical importance were produced. Though theatrical groups had long been active in America, the first American comedy presented professionally was Royall Tyler’s Contrast (1787). This drama was full of echoes of Goldsmith and Sheridan, but it contained a Yankee character (the predecessor of many such in years to follow) who brought something native to the stage.

William Hill Brown wrote the first American novel, The Power of Sympathy (1789), which showed authors how to overcome ancient prejudices against this form by following the sentimental novel form invented by Samuel Richardson. A flood of sentimental novels followed to the end of the 19th century. Hugh Henry Brackenridge succeeded Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Henry Fielding with some popular success in Modern Chivalry (1792–1815), an amusing satire on democracy and an interesting portrayal of frontier life. Gothic thrillers were to some extent nationalized in Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland (1798), Arthur Mervyn (1799–1800), and Edgar Huntly (1799).
 


Royall Tyler




 

Royall Tyler, original name William Clark Tyler (b. July 18, 1757, Boston—d. Aug. 26, 1826, Brattleboro, Vt., U.S.), U.S. lawyer, teacher, and dramatist, author of the first American comedy, The Contrast (1787).

After graduating from Harvard University, Tyler served in the U.S. Army and later became a lawyer. A meeting with Thomas Wignell, the star comedian of the American Company, in New York City, led him to write The Contrast, which premiered in 1787 at the John Street Theatre. A light comedy echoing the English playwrights Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Sheridan (especially The School for Scandal), The Contrast contains a Yankee character, the predecessor of many such in years to follow, that brought something native to the stage. His other plays, some no longer extant, did not equal The Contrast.

 

 


William Hill Brown

William Hill Brown, (b. November 1765, Boston—d. Sept. 2, 1793, Murfreesboro, N.C., U.S.), novelist and dramatist whose anonymously published The Power of Sympathy, or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth (1789) is considered the first American novel. An epistolary novel about tragic, incestuous love, it followed the sentimental style developed by Samuel Richardson; its popularity began a flood of sentimental novels.

The son of the Boston clockmaker who made the timepiece in Old South Church, Boston, Brown wrote the romantic tale “Harriot, or the Domestic Reconciliation” (1789), which was published in the first issue of Massachusetts Magazine, and the play West Point Preserved (1797), a tragedy about the death of a Revolutionary spy. He also wrote a series of verse fables, a comedy in West Indies style (Penelope), essays, and a short second novel about incest and seduction, Ira and Isabella (published posthumously, 1807). Brown went south to study law and died shortly thereafter.
 

 

 


Hugh Henry Brackenridge





Hugh Henry Brackenridge, (b. 1748, Kintyre, near Campbeltown, Argyll, Scot.—d. June 25, 1816, Carlisle, Pa., U.S.), American author of the first novel portraying frontier life in the United States after the Revolutionary War, Modern Chivalry (1792–1805; final revision 1819).

At five Brackenridge was taken by his impoverished family from Scotland to a farm in York county in Pennsylvania. After a local minister taught him Latin and Greek, he became a teacher and worked his way through the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), receiving his B.A. in 1771. For the commencement exercises he recited “The Rising Glory of America,” a patriotic poem that he had written with a classmate, Philip Freneau, who also was to make his name in American letters. Brackenridge went on to get his M.A. in theology at Princeton in 1774. An enthusiast for the Revolution, he joined George Washington’s army as chaplain. He published two verse dramas on Revolutionary themes, The Battle of Bunkers-Hill (1776) and The Death of General Montgomery at the Siege of Quebec (1777), and Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scripture (1778). In an attempt to promote native American literature, he established and edited The United States Magazine in 1779, but it failed within the year.

Brackenridge became a lawyer and settled in the frontier village of Pittsburgh in 1781, where he helped start The Pittsburgh Gazette, the first newspaper in what was then the Far West. After he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1786, he obtained funds to found the academy that became the University of Pittsburgh. As mediator in 1794 during the Whiskey Rebellion, he lost favour with both sides but wrote Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794 (1795). His leadership of Thomas Jefferson’s Republican Party won him, in 1799, appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, a post he held until his death. He settled permanently in Carlisle in 1801.

 

 

 


Charles Brockden Brown




Charles Brockden Brown, (b. Jan. 17, 1771, Philadelphia—d. Feb. 22, 1810, Philadelphia), writer known as the “father of the American novel.” His gothic romances in American settings were the first in a tradition adapted by two of the greatest early American authors, Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Brown called himself a “story-telling moralist.” Although his writings exploit horror and terror, they reflect a thoughtful liberalism.

The son of Quaker parents, Brown was of delicate constitution, and he early devoted himself to study. He was apprenticed to a Philadelphia lawyer in 1787, but he had a strong interest in writing that led him to help found a literary society. In 1793 he gave up the law entirely to pursue a literary career in Philadelphia and New York City.

His first novel, Wieland (1798), a minor masterpiece in American fiction, shows the ease with which mental balance is lost when the test of common sense is not applied to strange experiences. The story concerns Theodore Wieland, whose father died by spontaneous combustion apparently for violating a vow to God. The younger Wieland, also a religious enthusiast seeking direct communication with divinity, misguidedly assumes that a ventriloquist’s utterances are supernatural in origin; driven insane, he acts upon the prompting of this “inner voice” and murders his wife and children. When apprised of his error, he kills himself. Brown also wrote Ormond (1799), Edgar Huntly (1799), and Arthur Mervyn (1799–1800), as well as a number of less well known novels and a book on the rights of women. Despite this literary output, Brown engaged in trade throughout his life to support his family.
 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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