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Focusing on the decades leading up to the Declaration of Independence, chapter 5 presents historical arguments in favor and against independence. Selections from Patriots and Loyalists show that both the liberal social contract and the republican political contract could be levered in support of either position. Based on the political contract between ruler and ruled, Jonathan Mayhew argued that the people as a whole has a duty to rebel when the ruler becomes tyrannical. Daniel Leonard, in turn, opposed the Parliament’s oppression of the colonies from a liberal perspective, contending that men enter civil society to protect their property and that taxation without representation violated the principles of the social contract. After the First Continental Congress, however, Leonard changed to the Loyalist side and excerpts from his later writings reveal the use of republican arguments about virtual representation to argue against independence. Jonathan Boucher, again, argued based on the Locke’s theory that a right of resistance is incompatible with the duty to submit to majority decision. Other authors in this chapter include Daniel Dulaney, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and Peter Oliver.
Chapter 6 deals with the question of American self-understanding after the Declaration of Independence—were they one people or many peoples?—and the framing of the state constitutions. The first part of the chapter offers substantial excerpts from the first constitutions of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts as well as critical examinations of these documents by contemporaries, including passages from Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia and Benjamin Rush’s Observations on the Present Government of Pennsylvania. The selections reveal two fundamental problems to be decided by the state constitutional conventions: who was qualified to write a constitution and who should approve and ratify it—the people at large or the natural aristocracy? The second part of the chapter presents the Articles of Confederation and excerpts from related writings. The same confrontation between the principle of corporate representation and the principle of numerical majorities played out in the debates on the Articles of Confederation as delegates disagreed whether to emphasize the union or the states.
Chapter 4 discusses the political theology of the American Puritans and their influential legacy of the bi-dimensional covenant. Arriving on the shores of the New World in the 1620s and 1630s, the Puritans set about the ambitious project of creating perfect theologico-political communities. In particular, the Puritan settlements combined republican and liberal perspectives: On the one hand, the church covenant resembled in its horizontality the social contract theory, by creating a religious community with an accepted government from the free accord of its individual members. On the other hand, the vertical covenant of each church with God was modeled after the classical political contract between the people and its rulers. Thus, both the liberal apprehension of the people as a collection of equal individuals and the republican understanding of the people as of corporate whole were implemented in the colonies of New England. The chapter includes samples of the Puritan compacts, excerpts from the Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies of New England, and selections from the writings of John Winthrop, John Cotton, Roger Williams, Nathaniel Ward, John Wise, and others.
Chapter 9 gives attention to some of the voices and groups that were often excluded during the founding period. From the destitute dreams of a complete make-over of property laws, to individuals mistrusting all governments, to Native Americans, to women, and—last but not least—African Americans; what was their place and role in the body politic? The chapter includes selections from Thomas Skidmore’s The Rights of Men; from the American Transcendentalists; from speeches by Native Americans, including Tecumseh and Pushmataha; and from the early nineteenth-century women’s rights movement as represented by Abigail Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft, who as widely read among American women, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. The arguments of these authors reveal inherent tensions between the liberal and the republican view of society, i.e., between the idea of fundamental equality of all individuals, regardless of their race, gender, or beliefs, and the classical republican recognition of diversity among members of society. The chapter thus raises questions about the relative merit of abstract and descriptive representation.
Chapter 2 introduces selections from Aristotle, Polybius, William Blackstone, and Edmund Burke, and lays out the basic tenets of classical republicanism. By focusing on the “res-publica”, the common good, republicanism embraces a corporatist and organic vision of both the people and the state. The political community is envisioned as a human body, suggesting that the body politic grows naturally; each organ or member contributes a different task and the health of the whole depends on the well-being of each member. Moreover, republican theorists suggest the need to adapt political institutions to the character and changing circumstances of the people. Selections from Aristotle focus on the organic origin of the political community and on the mixed regime. Polybius introduces the idea of checks-and-balances and the importance of religious beliefs for the stability of the political order. Blackstone and Burke tried to accommodate some of the new liberal ideas in their theoretical framework, attempting to reconcile theoretically opposed visions—an approach that would prove particularly popular during the American founding.
The first chapter offers a general overview of the interpretative framework that guides the selections and commentary in this volume. One thing has remained a constant fixture in American history: the enduring belief in an American exceptionalism. This book suggests that, besides the remarkable endeavor of leaving the Old World and of framing a new government by the people for the people, what has made American political thought exceptional is the unique combination of theoretical influences that were intertwined during the founding era. American statesmen combined two languages—liberalism and republicanism—and two conceptions of the people: the understanding of the people as a corporate entity and as a multitude of individuals. This paradigm of the people’s two bodies may be nothing more than a fiction, but it shaped American history and institutions profoundly. The guiding threat of the subsequent chapters is to trace the combination of republican and liberal ideas about the people and about representation in the primary sources from the Puritans’ arrival on the shores of New England to the Civil War.
Chapter 8 treats the decades between 1790 and 1830, focusing on the formation of the first two party systems and the parties’ different views of the American people and the Union. Excerpts from Alexander Hamilton and Fisher Ames illustrate the Federalists’ support of strong central government and of a strong executive, while selections from Thomas Jefferson and John Taylor represent the Republicans’ advocacy for state and individual rights. In turn, letters and speeches from Martin Van Buren, Andrew Jackson, and Enos Throop offer insights into the formation of the Democratic Party and their populist, horizontal understanding of the people, while excerpts from the Daniel Webster’s Speeches on Foot’s Resolution represent the Whig’s classical republican view of government. Extending the traditional narrative of the two-party system(s), the chapter also includes excerpts from the party platforms of the Anti-Masonic Party and the Native American Party, also known as the Know Nothings.
Chapter 7 covers the federal constitutional debates and public debates on ratification, respectively. Substantial selections from Madison’s Notes of the Debates offer insight into the main subject of disagreement: Were the American people to be apprehended in their corporate capacity, at state level, or as a collection of individuals that happened to live various states? Corresponding to this theoretical dilemma, some delegates proposed the equal representation of the states in the national legislature, while others argued that the number of representatives should be based upon the population of each state. In the end, the Connecticut Plan offered a compromise between the two understandings of the people. In some respects, one could claim that the framers managed to recuperate and make permanent the Puritan legacy of the bi-dimensional covenant at a scale previously difficult to imagine. The second part of the chapter presents selections from both the Federalist Papers and the Anti-Federalists’ writings. These excerpts demonstrate the unique combination of theoretical perspectives in the American Constitution as well as lingering doubt about its practicality and legitimacy.
The third chapter presents selections from Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Montesquieu, and David Hume, and explains the central theoretical assumptions of classical liberalism. Switching the emphasis from the people apprehended as an organic whole to the people as a collection of individuals, social contract theory presupposes that the state is an artificial entity created by human will and consent. The liberal perspective emphasizes the original equality and freedom of all individuals, often overlooking the unicity of each person, and values the private good over the common good. Excerpts from Hobbes and Locke illustrate the idea of the social contract. Although neither Montesquieu nor Hume embraced the social contract theory, their thought exemplifies the liberal ideas that the state should protect, as much as possible, the right of individuals to pursue their lives as they see fit.
The last chapter discusses the major contentions leading up the civil war, that is, state rights and slavery. The first part focuses once again on the disagreement over the proper definition of the people. On the one hand, excerpts from John Calhoun’s writings demonstrate the Southern emphasis on state rights and his idea of the concurrent majority. On the other hand, Henry Clay’s speech on the Compromise Tariff Bill reveals his dedication to the Union and embrace of compromise as the founding principle of the United States. Daniel Webster’s Constitution and Union Speech gives insight into his controversial support of the Fugitive Slave Act in the name of constitutional obligations. The second part presents the arguments of the moral abolitionists, with excerpts from the American Anti-Slavery Society, William Lloyd Garrison, and Frederick Douglass. In turn, the Southern reactionary defense of slavery is illustrated in selections from George Fitzhugh’s Sociology for the South and Hammond’s “mudsill theory.” The last section of the chapter offers excerpts of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, exhibiting his political pragmatism on the question of slavery and the maintenance of the Union.
American political thought was shaped by a unique combination of theoretical influences: republicanism, liberalism, and covenant theology. This reader shows how these influences came together. Organized chronologically from the Puritans' arrival in the New World to the Civil War, each chapter includes carefully selected primary sources and substantial commentary to explain the historical context and significance of the excerpts. A coherent interpretative framework is offered by focusing the analysis on the different assumptions of the people - the republican understanding as a corporate whole and the liberal understanding as a multitude of individuals - that were intertwined during the founding. The book features, for the first time, two chapters on non-American authors, who capture the main tenets of republicanism and liberalism and were widely quoted in the era, as well as excerpts from lesser-known sources, including Puritan covenants, the first state constitutions, and Native American speeches.
Embarrassing as it is to acknowledge, the issue of slavery was initially largely perceived as an economic rather than a moral one. The main cause of division was the proper interpretation of the Constitution and, implicitly, of what people’s sovereignty actually entailed: who were the much-invoked “people”? It took decades for the practice of deferential politics to disappear and for politicians to abandon the rhetoric of an aristocracy of merit in favor of a more egalitarian one. The rapid disappearance of property requirements and the ensuing expansion of electoral franchise to all white males marked the beginning of mass politics and the emergence of the first mass party system. Yet these democratic developments came with a price—the emergence of identity politics. The idea of a political people, encompassing all other identities, came under attack. Threats of secession ensued. When the Civil War erupted, it was, in Lincoln’s words, “essentially a people’s contest.” Once the war was over, no one questioned any longer if there was one American people. Nevertheless, the quest for the elusive American people’s two bodies was – and still is – far from over.
Each group of Puritans and Pilgrims arriving on the shores of the New World actually created new theologico-political “peoples” through the express consent of individuals to found both a church and a political community. They were covenanted people, and covenantal theory permeated their entire Weltanschauung despite, or precisely because of, its sophistication. Two covenants proved to be long-lasting: the horizontal church covenant, among the members to form a church and a political community, and the vertical covenant between each church and God, that was politically reflected in the covenant of the newly created people with their elected leaders. The American Puritans, unlike their English counterparts, distrusted forum externum, for, like the French, they suspected it of being tainted with hypocrisy. Nor did they trust forum internum, as the French did, for, as the English, they believed it was deceitful, easy prey to devil’s tricks. As a result, they rejected both the British centrifugal individualism and the French centripetal form of individualism, embracing one of their own, which I labeled, for lack of a better word, “purged individualism.”