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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: July 2009

1 - The Framers' Classical Education and World View


Classical antiquity molded the legal expectations of the Framers of the American Constitution, and guided their legal judgment in the actual structuring of the checks and balances of that national charter. As with any proposition of intellectual history, this one requires a proof in several stages. The first step is a demonstration of the classical propensities of the Framing generation. This chapter accomplishes that by assessing the way in which the Framers and their contemporaries acquired a classical education. But it is not enough to understand how the Framing generation learned Latin and Greek, studied classical texts, used classical references in their social discourse, and assumed classical modes of argument in their political debates. Rather, one must also consider the values that classical education imparted to American leaders involved with the Constitution's drafting in 1787 and subsequent ratification.

For starters, I need to be clear about what I mean when I refer to the “Framing generation.” Wishing to be as broadly inclusive as is sensible, that group must include not only the individuals who were present in Philadelphia as delegates to the Constitutional Convention in the summer of 1787, but also those involved, formally or informally, in the subsequent ratification debates that occurred in the states in the months following. Even more significantly, the Framing generation needs to be extended back in time to include prominent thinkers and leaders of the colonial period, as well as the patriots who launched and fought the American Revolution (1775–1783), and who held the country together during the Articles of Confederation period (1778–1788).

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