Tom Paine's America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic
 0813931002, 9780813931005

Table of contents :
1. Imagining a Nation of Politicians: Political Printers and the Reader-Citizens of the 1790s
2. The Politics of Popular Cosmopolitanism
3. Can a Citizen of the World Be a Citizen of the United States?: The Reaction against Popular Cosmopolitanism
4. Conceptualizing Equality in a Commercial Society: Democratic Visions of Economic Justice
5. “The General Will Is Always Good . . . But by What Sign Shall We Know It?”: Debating the Role of the Public in a Representative Democracy

Citation preview


Jeffersonian America Jan Ellen Lewis, Peter S. Onuf, and Andrew O’Shaughnessy, Editors



Seth Cotlar

university of virginia press Charlottesville and London

University of Virginia Press © 2011 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper First published 2011 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Cotlar, Seth. Tom Paine’s America : the rise and fall of Transatlantic radicalism in the early republic / Seth Cotlar. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. isbn 978-0-8139-3100-5 (cloth : alk. paper) — isbn 978-0-8139-3106-7 (e-book) 1. United States—Politics and government—1783–1809. 2. Radicalism—United States— History—18th century. 3. Paine, Thomas, 1737–1809. I. Title. jk171.c68 2011 320.51092—dc22 2010027336

To my family

This page intentionally left blank






1. Imagining a Nation of Politicians Political Printers and the Reader-Citizens of the 1790s

2. The Politics of Popular Cosmopolitanism

13 49

3. Can a Citizen of the World Be a Citizen of the United States? The Reaction against Popular Cosmopolitanism


4. Conceptualizing Equality in a Commercial Society Democratic Visions of Economic Justice


5. “The General Will Is Always Good . . . But by What Sign Shall We Know It?” Debating the Role of the Public in a Representative Democracy




Notes Bibliography Index

215 251 265


This page intentionally left blank


There are many people and organizations who have contributed to the evolution of this book. From my graduate school advisor, T. H. Breen, I learned the craft of writing and the delicate art of textual interpretation. Professors Jim Oakes and Sharon Achinstein provided inspirational models of how to think and write about the history of political thought. Julia Stern and Josef Barton were kind enough to weigh in on my dissertation in its final stages, and their insightful comments were instrumental in helping me see how it could be transformed into a book. I was also fortunate to be part of a graduate student community that combined easy conviviality with sincere intellectual engagement. Bradley Schrager and David Bullwinkle left particularly strong marks on the shape of this project through their generously offered consultations over corned beef hash and beer (though not usually at the same time). The community of Early Americanists at Northwestern—especially Patrick Griffin, Chris Beneke, Chris Front, David Gellman, Chernoh Sesay, and Karen O’Brien—also deserve thanks for many stimulating conversations and moral support. The first draft of this book was written while in residence at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. The center supplied material assistance, but it also provided an ideal environment for this neophyte student of early America. The now retired director, Richard Dunn, offered much-needed advice at some moments, and unqualified encouragement at others. The community of graduate students and faculty at the center was a never-ending source of ideas and inspiration. Albrecht Koschnik, the royal bibliographer, gave generously of his comprehensive understanding of 1790s Philadelphia and the political history of the early American republic. Konstantin Dierks lent a critical and knowledgeable ear at key moments. Sarah Knott and I labored side by side in the Philadelphia archives for months, and throughout this project’s evolution she has served as a critical interlocutor, an insightful reader, and a supportive friend. Trish Loughran read every word of this project’s first draft and pushed me, more than anyone else, to both clarify and expand my thinking. Her deix


a c k n ow l e d g m e n t s

tailed and brilliant readings shaped these chapters in innumerable ways. I also want to thank the following people for their camaraderie and kindness during my time in Philadelphia: Rodney Hessinger, Ed Larkin, Ed Baptist, Nicole Eustace, John Smolenski, Randolph Scully, Evan Haefli, Carolyn Eastman, Paul Erickson, Heather Nathans, John Murrin, Susan Klepp, Michael Zuckerman, Dan Richter, Elizabeth Pardoe, and Karim Tiro. The world of Early American historians is a small one, and many of its inhabitants have offered assistance and encouragement along the way. Andrew Robertson, Jeff Pasley, David Waldstreicher, John Brooke, David Shields, Joyce Appleby, Alan Taylor, Paul Mapp, Matthew Dennis, Lizzie Reis, Tony Iaccarino, Rachel Wheeler, Ben Mutschler, Cindy Cumfer, Paul Otto, Monique Bourque, Fredrika Teute, Catherine Kaplan, Scott Casper, Alfred Young, Harvey Kaye, Bernard Bailyn, and Bill Pencak have all given me valuable and formative feedback on various pieces of this project. Matthew Hale helped me out with many useful research leads and hours of fruitful conversation over the years, and his soon-to-be-published work has greatly enriched my understanding of the 1790s. In innumerable e-mails, phone calls, and conference klatches, Seth Rockman has helped me think through virtually every stage of this project. He and Tara Nummedal also deserve special thanks for their kind hospitality. Peter Onuf and an anonymous reader at the University of Virginia Press read the entire manuscript twice; and while they probably wish I had taken even more of their advice, their critical comments were instrumental in helping me refine this book’s argument. Finally, Rosemarie Zagarri and Roderick McDonald deserve special thanks for both their tireless support of my scholarly pursuits and their friendship. Over the past ten years, this book has taken shape within the genial confines of Willamette University. Friends and colleagues across campus—but especially in the History and Politics Departments—have offered nothing but encouragement as I struggled to finish this project. Bill Duvall read multiple chapters of the manuscript and provided the perfect combination of criticism and encouragement. Tobias Menely and Margaret Ronda also merit special thanks for their stellar skills as critical interlocutors and dinner companions. During my time at Willamette I have had the opportunity to talk through the ideas in this book with the talented, hard-working undergraduates who have signed up for three of my classes—Foundations of American Thought, the Early American Republic, and Tom Paine and the Age of Democratic Revolutions. One particularly

a c k n ow l e d g m e n t s


talented student, Alicia Maggard, spent the summer of 2007 digging through old newspapers to help me finish up the research on chapters 2 and 4. Her impeccable research skills and interpretive sophistication greatly enriched those chapters, and the entire book as well. Numerous archives and funding organizations have supported this project along the way. Fellowships from the American Antiquarian Society, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, the North Caroliniana Society, the Huntington Library, the David Library of the American Revolution, the English Speaking Union, the Mellon Foundation, and the Northwestern University Graduate School enabled me to make numerous research trips which would not have been possible otherwise. The final stages of the manuscript were written with financial assistance from a Millicent C. McIntosh Fellowship from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation. I am thankful to the numerous archivists who helped me track down key sources, but Jim Green, Lauren Hewes, and Connie Cooper deserve particular mention for going above and beyond the call of duty. Many friends across the country generously hosted me when I swept through town for a research trip, but I must offer special thanks to Andrew Wetzler for letting me stay with him in Los Angeles for two months, all for the price of a coffee maker. My family has been a constant source of support and encouragement. Nannette Cotlar-Rosenberg and Bill and Lois Mary Dunlap provided much-needed material support at key moments. Aunts, uncles, and cousins all listened patiently as I tried to explain why it took so long to write a book, and they always responded with a sympathetic grin, even when they may have been harboring doubts. My grandparents—Ruth and Bernie Covitch and Nannette CotlarRosenberg and the late Chick Cotlar—were always on my shoulder as I wrote. Each of them, in their own way, has left an implicit mark on the pages that follow. My parents, Ken and Pam Cotlar, patiently watched and offered nothing but encouragement (and the occasional “Is the book done yet?” nudge). Their confidence in me and their support sustained this project through many a difficult moment. The latest addition to the family, Isaac Cotlar, has helped put it all in perspective in ways that are impossible to put into words. Leslie Dunlap and I have lived with each other’s research topics for too many years to mention. Her intellectual curiosity and literary panache have opened up worlds for me—worlds filled with the joys of bookstore browsing, the virtues of a well-turned phrase, and the art of alliteration. I can only begin


a c k n ow l e d g m e n t s

to thank her for the comradeship, comfort, care, cacophony, and conversation that have carried me through this project. Parts of chapter 3, in a slightly different form, first appeared in “The Federalists’ Transatlantic Cultural Offensive of 1798 and the Moderation of American Discourse,” in Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic, edited by David Waldstreicher, Jeffrey Pasley, and Andrew Robertson (copyright © 2004 by the University of North Carolina Press; used by permission). Chapter 4 is a significantly revised and expanded version of “Radical Conceptions of Property Rights and Economic Equality in the Early Republic: The Trans-Atlantic Dimension,” which appeared in Explorations in Early American Culture, vol. 4 (copyright © 2000 by the Pennsylvania Historical Association, for the McNeil Center for Early American Studies). Chapter 5 originally appeared, in a different form, in Periodical Literature in EighteenthCentury America, edited by Mark L. Kamrath and Sharon Harris (copyright © 2005 by the University of Tennessee Press; reprinted with permission).


This page intentionally left blank

Introduction I arrived at Baltimore on the 30th October, and you can have no idea of the agitation which my arrival occasioned. From New Hampshire to Georgia (an extent of 1500 miles), every newspaper was filled with applause or abuse. —Thomas Paine to Thomas Clio Rickman, March 8, 1803


N the fall of 1802 America’s taverns, coffee houses, and newspapers buzzed with the news that Thomas Paine was sailing back across the Atlantic after his fifteen-year sojourn in revolutionary Europe. In Philadelphia, James Perhouse, a British merchant who was friends with the city’s leading Federalists, followed Paine’s story closely, even recording in his diary the newspaper accounts of that notorious Jacobin and infidel’s departure from Europe. Perhouse traveled to Baltimore so he could be there when Paine’s ship arrived, and he described the scene in a letter to his brother: News came, that the Ship London . . . was beating up the bay, having the precious charge of Tom Paine on board. Tom upon his landing, immediately proceeded with a fellow passenger to the principal inn, but to the honour of the Landlord he wou’d not give him admittance. He then try’d another inn, but met with the same reception. Nay in this latter tavern the inmates of the house went in a body to the Landlord & told him that his admitting Paine would be a signal for one & all of them to leave his house. In this dilemma Tom was kept wandering thro the town for some time, at last, an honest hibernian, probably of congenial sentiments, admitted him into his tavern, & a paltry one it is. Great numbers of people, waggoners, porters, &c &c crouded round the house to have a peep at this famous animal.¹ This story of Paine’s humiliating return to America has much to tell us about what had happened during his absence. The standard account holds that 1


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

Paine’s religious unorthodoxy, expressed most forcefully in his 1795 pamphlet The Age of Reason, drove an increasingly evangelical American public to reject Paine and everything for which he stood.² While accurate to an extent, this religious explanation tells only part of the story. In this book I argue that the reaction against Paine and his writings in the late 1790s—partly spontaneous and partly nurtured by a concerted effort to disgrace him—was also an important chapter in the history of American political thought. As influential Americans buried Paine’s political reputation, they built a moderate, non-revolutionary vision of American politics upon the foundation of his disrepute. Paine and his American supporters refused to lie quietly in the political grave that had been dug for them, but in the counterrevolutionary climate of the late 1790s and early 1800s, they had difficulty being heard or taken seriously, even by many who had once supported Paine’s vision. The author of the Rights of Man—the Atlantic world’s most widely read pamphlet of the 1790s—came to inhabit a newly fashioned space in the public imagination. He was the foreign agitator, the atheistic anarchist who roamed the radical fringe of American politics. But marginality is not the same as irrelevance. Though many of his ideas had been discredited, the image of Thomas Paine remained absolutely central to how Americans defined their political identity. James Perhouse was just one of thousands of people in the new nation who wrote private letters, newspaper essays, and even entire pamphlets representing Paine as a sideshow freak, a political writer not worth being taken seriously.³ The sheer weight of these hyperbolic denunciations, however, suggests that, despite the wishes of many Americans, it was impossible to declare Paine irrelevant and move on. As the chorus of anti-Paine sentiment grew louder, Paine himself detected that his enemies seemed strangely obsessed with him: “I am become so famous among them, they cannot eat or drink without me. I serve them as a standing dish, and they cannot make up a bill of fare if I am not in it.”⁴ Perhouse unintentionally enacted this point in his semiannual letters to his brother in England. Between 1802 and 1810 virtually every letter included some comment on Paine’s latest escapades, only to be followed by an insistence that Paine was “laugh’d at . . . by all sensible men,” and had “sunk into that obscurity which he merits.”⁵ Perhouse, and the other “sensible” Americans who aggressively denounced and ridiculed Paine, protested a bit too much. For such people, Paine was not just one among many external threats to the nation. He was, to borrow the historian Alexander Saxton’s useful phrase, the “indispensable enemy.”⁶



Paine was such a magnet for attention because he embodied America’s and the Atlantic world’s ongoing democratic revolution. In this way, he posed a particularly difficult problem for those struggling to define a stable, moderate vision of American politics, and thus declare America’s democratic revolution successfully finished. This is where that sympathetic “hibernian” (i.e., Irishman) and the laborers who gathered around his Baltimore tavern reenter the story. Such people haunted Perhouse and his American friends. Though the dwindling number of American Painites had been largely driven to the margins of American politics by 1802, their radical Enlightenment visions of a more democratic future survived in workingmen’s clubs, in a few Universalist churches, and in small, radical newspapers in urban areas.⁷ These groups preserved Paine’s legacy during the first decades of the nineteenth century until the resurgence of labor radicalism in the 1820s and ’30s rekindled more widespread interest in Paine’s writings.⁸ But the irony remains that two years after America had supposedly witnessed its democratic revolution with the election of 1800, the man who had spent his life articulating and popularizing some of the Atlantic world’s most democratic principles had a hard time finding a drink in a town full of sailors. The chapters that follow seek to explain how the most widely read theorist in the age of democratic revolution could become persona non grata in the modern world’s first self-described democracy. The solution to this problem lies not just in Paine’s history, but also in the history of the word “democracy” in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In 1856, Samuel Goodrich, nephew of the staunch New Haven Federalist Elizur Goodrich, would note that “the word democracy . . . has essentially changed its signification” since the first years of the new republic. Originally a term of opprobrium, “synonymous with Jacobinism,” by the first decade of the 1800s democracy had “put on clean linen, and affected respectability.” The transformation was so dramatic that “it is difficult for the present generation to enter into the feelings of those days. . . . We who are now familiar with democracy, can hardly comprehend the odium attached to it in the age to which I refer, especially in the minds of the sober people of our neighborhood. They not only regarded it as hostile to good government, but as associated with infidelity in religion, radicalism in government, and licentiousness in society. It was considered a sort of monster, born of Tom Paine, the French Revolution, foreign renegados, and the great Father of Evil.”⁹ Goodrich’s mini-history of democracy gets the story only half right. It is true that most of the people we today call the founding fathers regarded democracy


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

as a monster. The minutes of the Constitutional Convention and the Federalist Papers are filled with statements clearly distinguishing the American republic from a democracy. And Goodrich also correctly noted that something had happened over the course of the 1790s that transformed the word “democrat” from an epithet into a compliment. But by implying that everyone in the early years of the new republic saw democracy in a negative light, he left out of the story those early advocates of democracy who so haunted people like his uncle. Democracy was not just a phantom dreamed up by American elites. It had many real, embodied advocates who somehow disappeared from Samuel’s story. Who were these people who insisted on using the word “democracy” to describe the new nation? They probably did not think of themselves as advocating “monstrous” political ideas, so what sort of new political vision did they espouse? And what did they think about the clean linen that their fellow Americans eventually draped over this initially rebellious term? By telling his story from the perspective of his “sober” neighbors, Samuel missed a crucial irony that the following chapters seek to illuminate. At the same time that “democracy” shifted from a term of abuse to a name one could proudly embrace in public, it was also being drained of its most challenging connotations. In 1800, one could use the term with a positive connotation, in part because America truly was a more democratic place for ordinary white men—or at least one less deferential and modestly less exclusionary. But the term “democracy” was also acceptable because it no longer posed such a threat to the status quo. Put simply, over the course of the 1790s democracy had been made safe for the new nation, and that transformation had been accomplished, in part, by the demonization of those individuals, like Paine, who advocated more radical interpretations of the concept. In this way, the “clean linen” that Goodrich referred to did more than just make the term “democracy” palatable for large numbers of Americans, it also fundamentally constricted the range of possible meanings for that protean concept. This argument about the reining in of democratic possibilities in the 1790s runs counter to how the story of democratization in the early republic is generally told. According to historians such as Gordon Wood and Joyce Appleby, the 1790s witnessed the unleashing of democratic urges that had been bottled up by a more-constricting colonial culture. Democracy, in their accounts, manifested itself in the aggressive individualism and rampant entrepreneurialism of ordinary white men, who publicly and proudly asserted their equality with their social betters and pursued their economic and political self-interest without



apology. A democratic society, in the minds of these upwardly mobile white men (and in the interpretations of Appleby and Wood), consisted of little more than unfettered access to economic opportunity and the right to vote into office people whose social backgrounds most closely mirrored their own.¹⁰ But as with any abstract concept, democracy meant different things to different people. In this book, I view that concept not through the eyes of Wood’s and Appleby’s subjects, but from the perspective of those many people in the 1790s who had more utopian and, in the end, unrealized, aspirations for America’s democratic future. It is difficult to generalize about the members of this community of radical democrats. Several hundred of them were political exiles from Britain and Ireland, driven across the ocean after having been persecuted for their support of a democratic revolution in Europe. Many had been born in America, but for a variety of reasons disagreed with the direction and tenor of the Washington administration. Many of these democrats were poor to middling laborers and farmers, while others were quite well-off and wellknown political leaders. What held this community together was not a shared class, ethnic, regional, or even partisan identity, but rather a shared enthusiasm about the sudden upsurge of political and intellectual experimentation going on around the Atlantic world in the 1790s. Their enthusiasm did not necessarily result in a consensus about what democracy might mean, but it focused peoples’ attentions on a shared set of questions. What role should ordinary citizens play in the day-to-day governance of a democracy? What economic arrangements were most likely to sustain a democratic polity? How should democrats balance their allegiance to abstract principles with their allegiance to duly elected leaders who might sometimes go against those principles? What, if any, forms of social inequality were compatible with a democracy, and which needed to be eradicated? The self-styled democratic newspapers that emerged in the 1790s sought to keep questions like these at the forefront of the national debate, providing an expanding community of citizen-readers with the sense that they were part of a new and burgeoning national conversation about how they could contribute to a more just and egalitarian future. It was, oddly enough, an event on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean— the French Revolution—that did the most to touch off these potentially radical conversations about democracy in America. If we could take a snapshot of American political discourse in 1789 as the debates surrounding ratification of the Constitution came to a close, we would see an intellectual world where the concept of democracy had very little place, and where the nation’s intellectual


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

leaders had pronounced most of the key questions of political theory settled. Certainly, many politically minded Americans had criticisms of the Constitutional settlement, but the pressures of national consolidation and a desire to move forward made it difficult for such critics to gain much of a public hearing. And then the Bastille fell, and French republicans (who quickly began calling themselves democrats) started issuing increasingly radical interpretations of the key concepts that had motivated the American Revolution only a few years earlier. As Irish and British radicals joined in the movement in the early 1790s, they added their own visions of what vague yet powerful terms like “democracy,” “equality,” and “liberty” could mean in practice. So while North America had been the site of much original and creative political theorizing in the 1770s and 1780s, the Atlantic world’s center of intellectual gravity shifted to revolutionary Europe in the 1790s, and a significant number of Americans found much inspiration in the new ideas flowing across the ocean. The tenuous consensus that had emerged regarding the fundamental principles of the new American nation was quickly unsettled by this wave of radical experimentation in Europe. What ensued was a struggle over what the abstract and unstable concepts that had legitimated the American Revolution would mean in practice, a struggle that would have occurred anyway, but which was given particular urgency by the utopian (or, for some, dystopian) atmosphere of the 1790s. The central purpose of this book is to sketch out the intellectual history of how politically minded American citizens engaged in this Atlantic-wide debate over first principles.¹¹ Surprisingly enough, historians of the early republic have paid scant attention to the transatlantic dimensions of political thought in that era. This is especially glaring, considering that most intellectual histories of the 1760s and 1770s emphasize the extent to which the American revolutionaries were in dialogue with their European predecessors and contemporaries.¹² When the historiographical scene shifts to the 1790s, however, the political tracts of that period suddenly seem cut off from intellectual developments elsewhere in the world. Thus, most studies of ideological change in the early republic focus on the particularities of the American case: the transformation of the Revolution’s republican ideology, changing economic conditions, a truncated social hierarchy, or America’s unique variety of partisan conflict. Such interpretations imply that Paine’s departure in 1787 signaled the end of the new nation’s critical engagement with contemporary European thinkers, and they frame the postConstitutional era as a time when Americans crafted a unique political tradition out of earlier, Revolutionary-era ideas. Indeed, with only a few exceptions, most



historians of the early republic seem to agree with Joyce Appleby’s conclusion that “the new nation shed its borrowed European ethos” in the 1790s.¹³ There are several reasons to be skeptical about such American exceptionalism. First of all, the historians Michael Durey, Richard Twomey, Maurice Bric, and David Wilson have demonstrated that hundreds of experienced European radicals emigrated to the United States in the 1790s.¹⁴ Many of them became intensely involved in the American political struggles of the decade. Indeed, Durey has found that approximately one-fifth of the most influential Jeffersonian newspaper editors and pamphleteers of the 1790s had received their political educations in Europe, not America. Second, these prominent and vocal émigrés were joined by tens of thousands of other European immigrants, some of whom had been active in organizations like the United Irishmen or the London Corresponding Society.¹⁵ Third, the newspapers, magazines, and book shops of America were filled with the latest works of Europe’s most influential thinkers. American readers eagerly followed French experiments with direct democracy and that country’s attempts to take the idea of equality to unprecedented extremes. Americans read hundreds of proclamations and pamphlets issued by radicals in Ireland and Britain that put forward their own, Frenchinspired visions of social transformation. Americans were active participants in the decade that produced the formative debate between Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke over the meaning of the French Revolution, the feminism of Mary Wollstonecraft, the anarchism of William Godwin, the radically populist deism of Volney, and the proto-socialism of John Thelwall and Thomas Spence, as well as the romantic and evangelical anti-Jacobinism that sought to delegitimate all of this radical experimentation. Yet if one only read the secondary literature on America’s 1790s, one would think that Americans hardly knew that these European thinkers existed. In contrast to such accounts, I demonstrate that in Paine’s absence American political discourse continued to evolve within a dynamic, transatlantic world of ideas. In this reinterpretation of the political thought of America’s 1790s, I look not just across the Atlantic Ocean, but also across the socioeconomic spectrum. The political newspapers and pamphlets of that decade differed from those of previous years in that an increasing number of them were written and priced for readers outside of the traditional leadership class. More conservative writers regarded this as an unfortunate side-effect of the Revolution, but those of a more democratic bent saw the emergence of a broad-based, politicized reading public as the most promising development of the era. Thomas Paine and the writers


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

and editors who identified with his cause never tired of telling their readers that it was the ideas and actions of ordinary citizens, not those of their leaders, that would usher in a more democratic world. Thus, while most eighteenth-century accounts of the American Revolution emphasized the role of military and political leaders, the democratic writers of the 1790s increasingly represented the French Revolution as a people’s movement, a “general revolution” carried forward by a “current of opinion too powerful to be resisted as well as too sacred to be treated with Neglect.”¹⁶ Whether or not this was an accurate analysis, such interpretations inspired many readers to think of themselves anew as empowered participants in a popular intellectual and political movement that was gaining adherents throughout the nation and the world. This narrative gave new political meaning to the seemingly prosaic act of reading a newspaper. With their frequent ruminations on political philosophy and detailed coverage of contemporary political developments, the democratic newspapers of the 1790s held out the promise of realizing Thomas Paine’s hope that all citizens would become active “proprietor[s] in government,” not just passive subjects.¹⁷ In hindsight, we know that the printed page—even when more widely available and accessibly written—does not have such magical powers. The historical subjects under investigation here, however, had no way of knowing that, swept up as so many of them were in a transatlantic revolutionary moment that evoked what the historian Robert Darnton has described as a “sense of boundless possibility,” built upon the conviction that “ordinary people can make history instead of suffering it.”¹⁸ Fantastical visions of an emerging nation of reader-citizens shaped the behavior of both the producers and consumers of democratic texts in the 1790s. Thus, if we are to understand these texts, we must try to read them as they did—not as mere reportage or as cynical engines of partisanship, but as powerful agents of opinion and communityformation. Indeed, Painite democrats devoted so much time and energy to the production and dissemination of print because they regarded it as the best way to create a world where political ideas and decisions would emerge out of conversations among ordinary citizens and not just filter down from their leaders. We need not take this utopian claim at face value to acknowledge that political texts aimed at a popular audience played an important role in shaping the terrain of public political discourse in the early republic. Until recently, most historians of political ideas have paid little attention to the thoughts of ordinary citizens, basing their interpretations instead on the writings of prominent political leaders. Recent works of social and cultural history, however, have



shown that we can no longer assume that the broad mass of American citizens either reflexively agreed with or were blissfully ignorant of the political ideas that their leaders articulated in their speeches, letters, pamphlets, and books.¹⁹ As we will see, the first years of the early republic were marked by a tremendous degree of intellectual ferment and change, but we misapprehend the nature of that change if we see only political elites as its primary agents. Like Paine and the other democrats under investigation here, this study proceeds from the assumption that the story of ideological transformation in the 1790s must include the actions and opinions of ordinary citizens. Writing a history of ideas from the bottom up is difficult, however, for ordinary readers did not leave a large archival record behind. The many prominent and prosperous participants in this transatlantic democratic moment—men like the scientist and reformer Joseph Priestley, the Irish American printer Matthew Carey, the American diplomat and author Joel Barlow, and, of course, Thomas Paine—left reams of essays and letters behind with which we can reconstruct their actions and ideas. The histories of such people have already been written, but that is not yet the case for the thousands of less-prominent people who thought of themselves as the compatriots of Priestley, Carey, Barlow, and Paine. The historical record is littered with scattered anecdotal evidence of the political consciousness of such people in the 1790s, but it is hard to cobble together a coherent and convincing story out of such materials. The Massachusetts tavern-keeper and self-described “citizen of the world” William Manning left behind one of the most extensive pieces of such evidence, a political treatise entitled “The Key of Libberty,” and it provides one of the central pieces of evidence in chapter 5. Manning’s writings grant us a tantalizing window onto what historians Sean Wilentz and Michael Merrill have called “an extensive political subculture, centered on . . . taverns and plebian meeting places,”²⁰ but there is only so much one can generalize from this single exceptional text. The other glimpses into the world of popular politics that we have are equally suggestive, but far less detailed. We know, for example, that many journeymen pooled their resources to purchase subscriptions to their local democratic newspapers, and that they probably read these papers aloud and discussed them as they worked. These conversations are the stuff of everyday political inquiry that I seek to uncover, yet the only concrete evidence that has survived is in the form of the newspapers themselves, and not the laborers’ interpretations of them. But if our mission is to understand the political subjectivities of such people—to grasp the meanings they attached to terms like “equality” or “democracy”—then it is to


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

the world of political print, comprised predominantly of newspapers, that we must turn our attentions. But how do we get from the words on the page of a 1790s newspaper to the range of meanings that contemporary readers produced during their interactions with those words? There is admittedly a degree of speculation involved in this process, but it is speculation informed by careful contextualization. As the historian Michael Schudson has argued, newspapers have never served as a neutral medium of information delivery; rather, they create and cement new communities of readers and writers who over time develop a relatively shared understanding of the world.²¹ While individual editors played the most important role in deciding what material would appear in the newspapers on a day-today basis, they did not make these decisions in a social and intellectual vacuum. In order to sell newspapers and to produce texts that would ring true with their readers, they had to make editorial decisions with those readers in mind. Thus, we should think of these newspapers as embodiments of long-term conversations between editors, writers, and readers.²² In the process of researching this book, I read newspapers in chronological order, trying to place myself into those conversations. I paid particular attention to those moments when authors and readers seemed to be renegotiating which arguments and ideas could be taken for granted and which needed to be explicitly defended—for moments, in other words, when the boundaries of public political debate were in flux. For example, in the early 1790s, most self-described democrats took anti-slavery to be a logical corollary of their democratic principles. By the late 1790s, however, many democratic newspapers were running articles that went to great defensive lengths to explain how a supporter of the Jeffersonian Democrats could also advocate the rights of slaveholders. The key point here is that the authors, who were writing for particular interpretive communities, were engaged in a struggle to define what it meant to be a democrat—and in that process they were both responding to and shaping their audiences’ expectations. The same constriction of public debate occurred in regard to women’s rights, economic equality, and many other logical but controversial implications of the founding ideals. My goal has been to recover the ways in which popular texts like newspapers and pamphlets shaped the range of the publicly utterable and the privately conceivable, rendering certain meanings of the word “democracy” commonsensical and others implausible.



After an opening chapter that explores how democratic activists used their access to print to create an interpretive community of citizen-readers with a relatively shared understanding of contemporary political theories and events, the remaining chapters reconstruct specific debates in which the members of this community and their detractors engaged. Chapter 2 traces the rise of popular cosmopolitanism in the first half of the 1790s. Whereas the American democratic tradition is usually represented as endemically localist, I argue that a Painite, French-inflected discourse about the “citizen of the world” infused and radicalized popular discussions of politics in the early 1790s. The third chapter traces the backlash against this cosmopolitan persuasion and examines how it fed into the construction of a romantic and anti-Jacobin conception of American nationalism that, ironically, resembled the discourses of nationalism that emerged in Europe at the same historical moment. Chapter 4 examines how many 1790’s democrats experimented with radical theories of property rights and economic equality. These largely neglected thinkers produced a critique of free market capitalism that was neither pre-modern nor proto-Marxist, but rather drew on French conceptions of popular sovereignty, democratic appropriations of Lockean natural rights discourse, and populist readings of Adam Smith’s political economy. The fifth and final chapter turns to debates over the nature and role of public opinion in a representative democracy. Here I argue that American democrats, inspired by French, British, and Irish examples, experimented with radically active conceptions and practices of citizenship. Such democrats argued that the institutionalized practice of publicity, such as in voluntary organizations, debating societies, and regular public meetings, could function as a conduit through which the “general will” of the people could continually influence the actions of their government. Just as the failure of the French Revolution truncated these radical conversations in Europe, America experienced a similar romantic and evangelical reaction against late-Enlightenment political theory. Yet America’s more moderate reaction came to be called “democracy.” The respectable and electable Jeffersonian Democrats of 1800 defined themselves not only against aristocratic Federalists, but also against the supposedly Jacobinical, atheistic, and foreign principles of those American Painite democrats who had once been so influential. It was this process of triangulation and demonization that eventually cloaked American democracy in the “clean linen” that Samuel Goodrich described. The pages that follow seek to pull away that covering and present a sympathetic account of what lay beneath.

This page intentionally left blank


߬ Imagining a Nation of Politicians Political Printers and the Reader-Citizens of the 1790s


IRTUALLY every European traveler in 1790’s America was struck by two unusual features of the new nation’s culture: Americans were obsessive newspaper readers, and politics was all they wanted to talk about. From our twenty-first-century vantage point, such a state of affairs might look idyllic, but most eighteenth-century visitors were more annoyed than impressed by what the English aristocrat John Davis disdainfully referred to as the “loquacious imbecility” with which “the American talks of his government.”¹ The transplanted Frenchman Moreau de Saint-Méry, for example, found it infuriating that his American servants would “drop whatever [they were] doing to talk politics for an hour at a time with any passing acquaintance.”² Mery’s fellow Frenchman, the duke de La Liancourt-Rochefoucault, was equally taken aback by the political presumptuousness of the people he met during his trip through the American countryside: “Every one here . . . takes an interest in state affairs, is extremely eager to learn the news of the day, and discusses politics as well as he is able.” From the perspective of this European gentleman-politician, there was something unseemly about a nation where ordinary people felt authorized to share their political opinions with strangers, and where “from the landlord down to the house-maid they all read two newspapers a day.”³ More democratically minded travelers viewed the American obsession with newspapers and politics through more sympathetic, though equally astonished eyes. The Englishman Henry Wansey, for example, found the Americans to be “great politicians,” who were “ready to ask me more questions than I was inclined to answer, though I am far from being reserved.” After 13


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

spending a few weeks in New England in 1794, he noted with wonderment that “almost every town prints a newspaper,” and that the people “interest themselves very much in the News of Europe.”⁴ Whether European travelers found it inspirational or monstrous, the America conjured up in their accounts was a nation where the air swam with political chatter and where a steady stream of newspapers and cheap pamphlets fueled these conversations. With a few notable exceptions, political historians have paid little attention to those seemingly ubiquitous citizen-readers who so intrigued and exasperated European tourists.⁵ The emergence of widespread popular interest in political matters is usually dated to the Jacksonian era of the late 1820s and early 1830s. According to such interpretations, popular politics flowered as a growing body of effective party operatives learned how to mobilize the passions and interests of ordinary voters in order to win elections. This model of politicization, however, does not fit the political landscape of the 1790s, where voting rates were low and where only the pale shadows of formal political parties were beginning to emerge. Indeed, those everyday “politicians” that European travelers regularly encountered were not running for office, nor were they campaigning for anyone. Actual campaigns and elections went largely unmentioned in these accounts. Instead, such musings about the political obsessions of America’s citizen-readers were usually provoked by an encounter in a tavern or the umpteenth inquiry as to whether the travelers had any newspapers or recently issued pamphlets with them. Such observations suggest that something other than what we today would consider formal politics fired the imagination of this largely forgotten generation of non-elite “politicians.” That “something other” was the French Revolution and the conversations it touched off around the Atlantic world about what a post-monarchical and post-aristocratic politics could look like. In the midst of this reconsideration of the role that ordinary citizens should play in politics, it made perfect sense for newspaper-reading farmers, merchants, housemaids, or artisans to consider themselves “great politicians.”⁶ Indeed, European travelers, and the Americans they described, attached a fairly vague, yet lofty meaning to the word “politician,” using it to describe someone who spent a significant amount of time discussing broad questions of political philosophy, as well as the potentially momentous day-to-day developments that we have now lumped together under the term “the age of democratic revolutions.”⁷ It was in this spirit that a writer in the democratic National Gazette suggested that “every . . . member of the republic ought to be a politician [to] a degree.”⁸ This peculiar and posi-

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


tive 1790’s usage of that term would soon be replaced by a more familiarly cynical and constricted definition of the politician as someone engaged in formal politics who has “little if any regard for the welfare of the republic unless immediately connected with . . . their own private pursuits.”⁹ The cynicism of this 1823 comment made sense in an era marked by increasingly bitter partisan squabbling and interest-group politics. But in the early 1790s, when America’s successful revolution was still a fresh memory, and when revolutionary movements throughout the Atlantic world seemed to be on the verge of creating a radically more egalitarian and democratic future, “politics” was not such a dirty word. Historians of popular political culture have uncovered a vibrant world of parades, public celebrations, debating societies, tavern conversations, and popular reading practices that ratify foreign travelers’ impressions that a large number of Americans proudly identified themselves as politicians in the 1790’s sense of the word.¹⁰ The optimism and excitement of a citizenry that felt itself newly authorized to discuss and learn about matters of national and international concern may appear naive in hindsight, but we should not let our knowledge of what lay in the future prevent us from seeing the first years of the early republic through the eyes of those caught up in the revolutionary moment. Thanks to a confluence of economic and political changes largely unrelated to events in revolutionary Europe, these reader-citizens found it increasingly easy to get access to newspapers and other forms of political print that bore news and ideas from around the Atlantic world. The United States Congress gave a de facto subsidy to the newspaper industry when it passed the Post Office Act of 1792, allowing printers to exchange their papers with each other free of cost and setting the price of sending a newspaper at one cent for any distance under 100 miles, and one and a half cents for any distance over that. At the same time, the nation had substantially improved its system of roads and had expanded other forms of inter- and intrastate transportation networks, thereby creating an environment that encouraged a growing number of printers to establish their own shops and produce their own newspapers.¹¹ Thanks in large part to these economic and political developments, the number of newspapers produced in the United States grew from about one hundred in 1790 to over two hundred and fifty in 1800. The book trade witnessed a similar expansion in the 1790s, as the nation recovered from the currency crisis of the 1780s. As booksellers found credit easier to come by, they began importing European pamphlets and books at a rapid rate, granting American readers expanded access to the European world of


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

ideas at precisely the moment that the French Revolution began transforming political thought around the Atlantic world. The Philadelphia bookseller Matthew Carey, for example, had poured most of his resources in the 1780s into an unsuccessful magazine comprised of largely American texts, but in the 1790s he looked across the ocean to enrich his business. In 1793 he asked the Irish bookseller Patrick Byrne to send him “two or three copies . . . of every new work” published in Britain, “even without orders.”¹² After sampling these texts, Carey picked a large number to reprint in American editions. Carey also created an extensive network of local booksellers and itinerants that spanned much of the nation, allowing him to disperse these imports and American reprints across a wide geographical area and giving readers in the nation’s cities and hinterlands access to the latest texts flowing out of revolutionary Europe. Carey’s business contacts linked him to political printers and booksellers in virtually every state of the union, and he was just one of several active and prolific democratic printers.¹³ The fluid and decentralized networks of exchange such democrats established created the primary conduit through which news and opinion from Europe filtered into American public discourse. This chapter explores how this increasingly cohesive network of political printers, and the texts they disseminated, catered to, and, in the process, helped generate a new community of reader-citizens. Political pamphlets had played an important role in the American Revolution, but most of these pamphlets had been written and priced for an educated elite. Paine’s Common Sense—one of the most widely read pamphlets of the Revolutionary era—is the exception that proves the rule. Few other pamphlets matched its popular tone or range of readership. In the 1790s, Paine’s Rights of Man—which sold at least as many copies in America as Common Sense—was just one of scores of democratic pamphlets aimed at a popular audience. Likewise, explicitly political newspapers had first flowered during the American Revolution, but these publications served narrowly local audiences, and the connections between the few political papers scattered across the colonies were very thin. In the 1790s, the relationship between newspapers and politics changed dramatically, as a growing number of democratically minded printers began to think of their publications as a means of incorporating their readers into a national, and even international, community of the like-minded. While the world of formal electoral politics was still highly deferential and dominated by a social elite, the newspapers offered readers a space for political discussion that promised to be far more egalitarian. They also offered people who generally led locally oriented lives—urban mechanics as

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


well as farmers in the countryside—a way to feel connected to and in dialogue with other people hundreds if not thousands of miles away. By disseminating a relatively shared set of ideas, stories, and interpretations of those stories, the loose network of democratic printers that emerged in the early 1790s was able to cobble together what the literary critic Stanley Fish has called an “interpretive community” of reader-citizens.¹⁴ To a striking extent, these political printers succeeded in generating a cohort of engaged and sympathetic readers. They created a political culture in which reading and identifying with a particular newspaper became one of the principal ways in which ordinary citizens related to a newly created polity comprised of millions of people whom they knew not as neighbors, but as abstract and theoretically equal fellow citizens. It would certainly be an exaggeration to claim that all Americans, regardless of race, class, gender, region, and ethnicity, became like-minded democrats in the 1790s, for stridently democratic newspapers never comprised more than one-fourth of all newspapers in that decade.¹⁵ All the same, it would be equally false to claim that these highly influential newspapers spoke only to the interests of narrowly defined segments of the population. As we will see in the chapters that follow, the utopian and egalitarian atmosphere of the revolutionary 1790s made it possible for an increasingly coherent and effective network of democratic editors to shape the terrain of public debate and to incorporate an unprecedentedly wide range of readers into their interpretive community. In the long run, their journalistic efforts made only modest strides toward leveling the hierarchies that structured American society. As the French Revolution devolved into chaos and counterrevolution, the democratic enthusiasm that sustained these newspapers faded and their political vision became increasingly pragmatic and incremental. By the end of the 1790s, the four most important democratic printers of the decade—Benjamin Franklin Bache, Eleazar Oswald, Thomas Adams, and Thomas Greenleaf—had all met untimely deaths, and they were replaced by a new generation of editors who identified themselves primarily as Democrats (capital “D”) who served a political party rather than as democrats (lowercase “d”) with more utopian aspirations. Nonetheless, the efforts of this short-lived generation of democratic printers, and the forceful backlash against them, tell us much about the possibilities and limits of popular politics in the early national period.


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

The Democratic Printers of the Early 1790s While the numbers of newspapers produced nearly tripled over the course of the 1790s, the structure of the printing trade remained largely unchanged. The vast majority of printers had risen up through the artisanal ranks and were thus men of moderate means and middling social standing. The technology they used to produce their newspapers and other texts had not changed in centuries, and would not until the advent of the steam press in the 1830s. The limitations of that technology, and the modest amount of capital to which printers had access, ensured that print runs of any particular text rarely exceeded 2,000 issues.¹⁶ But even though the technology and the labor system behind the production of newspapers remained fairly constant, the American Revolution had set in motion a series of changes that would profoundly transform the nature of printing in the early republic. The geographic expansion of the new nation drew young printers into new settlements in search of economic opportunities. Printing presses, once the preserve of towns along the Atlantic Coast, were dragged westward by young men, who began producing newspapers that kept their neighbors abreast of developments in the wider world. Likewise, thanks to a rapid increase in the numbers of printers, booksellers, and libraries (266 of which opened in the 1790s),¹⁷ the market for non-newspaper print, especially in the hinterlands, expanded dramatically. The nation’s appetite for print had never been greater, yet the machinery to serve that demand remained largely unchanged. The printers of this era were thus at the nexus of two contradictory forces. A good number, particularly those under consideration in this chapter, imagined the texts they produced as powerful agents that could bind an expanding nation together. Even as they sought to build a sense of community among their ever more geographically dispersed fellow citizens, however, the technology they had at their disposal was woefully inadequate to the task. There was no central clearinghouse for books or pamphlets to ensure easy distribution. No news agency existed that could gather and sort through the latest bits of information from around the world and transform them into easy-to-read digests. All of these tasks had to be taken on individually by hundreds of largely self-educated printers scattered across the country, with the assistance of a postal service that was only beginning to function effectively. Thus, if we want to understand the emergence of the politically charged world of avid newspaper readers that European travelers encountered, we must look not to economic or technological

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


explanations, but rather to the concerted, yet highly improvisational efforts of the cohort of printers who sought to democratize America’s emerging political culture. The most nationally prominent democratic editor of the 1790s was also the least representative, in terms of his social background. Benjamin Franklin Bache, the editor of Philadelphia’s Aurora, had spent much of his youth in Paris with his grandfather Benjamin Franklin. His first newspaper, the General Advertiser, began as a fairly moderate publication, but as the democratic momentum of the French Revolution built in 1791 and 1792, Bache’s political convictions became more pronounced and radical. In 1793 he changed the name of his newspaper to the Aurora and began publishing pieces that were increasingly critical of the Washington administration and supportive of the French Revolution and its radical sympathizers throughout the Atlantic world. These political commitments made Bache a pariah in the Philadelphia high society of which he once had been a part, but it gained him the respect and support of democratic readers and politicians throughout the nation. His fellow democratic editors turned to the Aurora more than to any other paper when they were looking for copy for their own papers, while Federalist editors and politicians singled out Bache and the arguments put forward in his paper for attack.¹⁸ Bache is one of the few newspaper printers of the 1790s whose personal papers have been preserved, and from these documents we get a clear picture of the trials that democratic printers had to face in advocating radical political change. Even though Bache came from a much more privileged background than all of his fellow democratic printers, he spent most of the 1790s on the edge of financial ruin. He seems to have put his political convictions ahead of the need to make money, devoting most of his resources to printing political tracts that sold well, but because they were priced for popular consumption, did not produce large profits. He identified himself as an explicitly political bookseller, and his shop became a gathering place for Philadelphia democrats and a target for their opponents.¹⁹ Indeed, Bache and many other democratic printers suffered numerous physical assaults on their persons and their property throughout the 1790s. The social backgrounds of the editors of the 1790’s two other most important democratic newspapers—the New-York Journal, published by Thomas Greenleaf, and Boston’s Independent Chronicle, published by Thomas and Abijah Adams—were more typical, in that they came from the ranks of middling artisans. Greenleaf ’s father had been an active Patriot and justice of the peace in Abington, Massachusetts, during the Revolutionary War. The younger Green-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

leaf had served his apprenticeship with Isaiah Thomas, one of the leading Patriot printers in Massachusetts, and then became the owner and editor of the NewYork Journal in the mid-1780s. Greenleaf ’s Boston counterparts, the Adams brothers, came from an even more humble background: their father was the clerk of the Faneuil Hall marketplace. There is no record of Thomas Adams’s previous employment before he began work as a newspaper printer in the late 1770s; his brother Abijah, however, had languished as an impoverished tailor until Thomas brought him into his newspaper business in 1791. In the mid1790s, Thomas Adams took as another partner one of his former apprentices, Isaac Larkin, whose father had worked as a ferryman between Charlestown and Boston. Considering that these printers lacked Bache’s social standing, family ties, and relatively easy access to capital, their repeated decisions to privilege their political commitments over economic security, and even personal safety, indicate how inseparable were their professional and political identities.²⁰ The print shops of democrats like Greenleaf, Adams, and Bache were more than just workplaces. They functioned as “rallying point[s]”²¹ for local groups of democratic readers, providing a physical embodiment of this new community and supplying it with a never-ending supply of material to read and discuss. John Prentiss, whose autobiography provides the only extant account of life in a democratic print shop, described his workplace as “a political school,” where he became “well versed” in foreign “as well as domestic affairs.” According to Prentiss, the counting room of the Independent Chronicle was “the club room of the leading spirits of the formidable opposition to the Washington policy. . . . They were fed daily by the essays and editorials of Freneau’s ‘National Gazette’ and Bache’s Aurora.” When Prentiss slipped out of the shop one day to listen to a speech by a candidate for the House of Representatives, he was spotted by his master, Thomas Adams: “I felt cheap and expected a reprimand but instead of that he met me pleasantly, and made some remark as if pleased to see me interested!” Prentiss wrote this account in the 1860s, after he had become a conservative, teetotaling evangelical, yet he still harbored fond memories of an egalitarian master who encouraged his apprentices to take an interest in political matters, even if that meant stealing time off from work.²² Journeyman printers in the 1790s were known for their political acuity and egalitarian truculence, so it is not surprising that the workplaces where democratic newspapers were produced took on a reputation as politically charged spaces. Most democratic printers also sold political books and pamphlets from the front rooms of their shops, drawing even more people into their political and intellectual orbit and

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


sending them out onto the streets armed with the latest news and ideas from the revolutionary Atlantic world. Urban democrats like Bache, Greenleaf, and Adams played an essential and ongoing role in articulating and disseminating a democratic critique of the Federalist administrations throughout the 1790s, and have thus attracted the bulk of attention from historians of the period.²³ Their efforts would not have been so effective, however, if there had not been a much wider network of local printers similarly sympathetic to the political vision articulated in their newspapers. This second tier of democratic newspapers—which included dozens of papers in medium-sized towns and in rural areas throughout the nation—reached readers who did not have the resources, connections, or inclination to secure subscriptions to the main urban papers. Assessing these second-tier newspapers is challenging since full runs of many of them have not survived and in almost all cases their editors left behind no personal papers. But extant newspapers and the few scraps of biographical information we do have can provide some clues as to why places as diverse as Sag Harbor (on Long Island), Norwich (Connecticut), Lexington (Kentucky), Haverhill (Massachusetts), Wilmington (Delaware), the rural hinterlands of Philadelphia, and Fredericksburg (Virginia) supported newspapers that encouraged readers to celebrate democratic revolutions in Europe and continued democratization in America. The political tenor of these second-tier newspapers can often be explained by the personal biographies and connections of their editors. Eleazar Oswald, the editor of a Philadelphia newspaper that catered to the farming communities within a day’s ride of the city, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War and had worked with Thomas Greenleaf in New York. They were both active antifederalists as young men in the mid-1780s, and they frequently excerpted pieces from one another’s papers throughout the 1790s. Oswald was so enamored of the French Revolution that he traveled to France in 1793 to participate in the military effort to liberate Ireland and the rest of Europe from their monarchical oppressors. Thomas Powars, the editor of Boston’s short-lived Argus (a democratic newspaper that matched, if not exceeded the radicalism of the Independent Chronicle), had also apprenticed with Greenleaf and Oswald in New York. For a brief time in 1791–92, Powars’s paper was edited by Abraham Bishop, a recent Yale graduate who had been radicalized during a tour of Europe and who would soon become one of New England’s most effective Democratic activists. Robert Coram, a key figure in Delaware’s democratic movement, who frequently contributed to democratic newspapers and who edited a Wilming-

Figure 1. Newspapers of the 1790s. The Aurora, the New York Journal, and the Independent Chronicle were the three most widely known and longest-lasting democratic newspapers of the 1790s. Circulating far beyond the confines of the cities where they were published, they were frequently excerpted in other like-minded newspapers. Philadelphia’s Independent Gazetteer was published by Revolutionary War veteran Eleazar Oswald and served a largely rural readership. His newspaper was a key voice of anti-Federalist dissent in 1787–88 and then became one of the earliest and most strident critics of the Washington administration. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


ton, Delaware, newspaper in 1795–96, had met Greenleaf during a trip to New York City in the early 1790s, and through his correspondence played a key role in keeping the democrats of Delaware in contact with their compatriots in Philadelphia and New York.²⁴ Another compatriot of Greenleaf ’s, David Frothingham, edited Frothingham’s Long Island Gazette from 1791 until 1798, when he moved to New York City to replace the recently deceased Thomas Greenleaf as the editor of the New-York Journal. James Carey, an émigré United Irishman who edited a series of democratic newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina, and Philadelphia, was Mathew Carey’s brother and through him had contacts with numerous other printers and editors. Benjamin Edes Jr., in Haverhill, Massachusetts, was the son of one of Boston’s leading Patriot printers and gained his professional contacts through this connection. The complex web of personal ties that bound Edes, Carey, Adams, Powars, Frothingham, Greenleaf, Oswald, and numerous other democratic printers together resulted in a network of print that brought their readers into contact with a shared pool of information and ideas. Even though this coherence emerged at first out of contingent personal ties more than any organized political project, the net result was still the same— an increasingly national print culture that enabled readers in Virginia, Philadelphia, New York, Kentucky, or Boston to encounter the same stories within a few weeks of each other. Over time, the personal connections among democratic printers were supplemented by growing ties of mutual economic interest. Most democratic printers lived on the margins of economic solvency. Newspapers rarely made much money. Rather, they generally functioned as a means to establish a printer’s position in a town, in the hopes of drawing more lucrative printing jobs from the government or from private citizens. In order to stay afloat, printers needed to find multiple ways to make money. For example, they might invest capital in a print run of a pamphlet that they hoped would sell well, purchase a collection of pamphlets and books to sell for a profit, or offer stationery or legal forms for sale to bring in a bit more money. As public interest in news and ideas from revolutionary Europe grew in the early 1790s, and as democratic and pro-French printers established firmer connections with one another, they built a decentralized network capable of churning out large amounts of democratic print without requiring large capital outlays for any single printer. For example, when Thomas Greenleaf printed a pamphlet of immediate political interest, his compatriots from Massachusetts to Virginia would often excerpt a piece from it in their own papers, and alert readers that they had acquired some


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

copies of the full text, which were available for sale in their print shops. And just as James Carey in Philadelphia had helped promote Greenleaf ’s productions, when Carey invested time and capital in the production of a pamphlet, Greenleaf would return the favor by excerpting and advertising Carey’s productions in his newspaper and selling them in his New York City shop. By 1794, an American reader interested in democratic politics throughout the Atlantic world could choose from scores of recent pamphlets or books on the topic, yet no single printer produced more than a few such texts in any given year. In this way, a modest group of barely middling printers was able to saturate the American market with a wide array of texts that painted a sympathetic and inspirational picture of an Atlantic world seething with revolutionary political aspirations.²⁵ A comparison of Thomas Greenleaf ’s offerings in 1792 and 1794 illustrates how rapidly the world of democratic print expanded in those years. When Greenleaf advertised the books he had for sale in his print shop in January 1792, the list contained only a few explicitly political texts. By January of 1794, he could offer interested readers almost a dozen democratic tracts—an edition of Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France bound with James Macintosh’s democratic rebuttal, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, two different collections of Thomas Paine’s writings, a sympathetic history of the French Revolution, five pamphlets produced by British democrats, and several pro-French pamphlets produced by Americans who sought to channel that revolution’s energies into a further democratization of the American economy and polity.²⁶ Greenleaf had published only a few of these texts himself. Indeed, he had acquired most of them from his fellow democratic printers up and down the eastern seaboard, most likely in exchange for a collection of his own productions. The correspondence and business records of Philadelphia’s leading bookseller, Mathew Carey, testify to how extensive the market in political books had become by 1794. In November of that year, Carey wrote to his Irish supplier, Patrick Byrne, informing him: “My demand is very considerably increasing, especially in the country where I have got a number of dealers whose sales are augmenting beyond expectation.”²⁷ Carey was not exaggerating, for he corresponded with almost forty booksellers that year who had purchased books from him. Several who were also printers then offered Carey collections of their own productions for him to sell in his shop or disseminate to others in his network. George Keatinge, a United Irishman who emigrated to Baltimore in

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


1794, was one such printer/bookseller. Soon after his arrival, he printed a collection of French Revolutionary, anti-slavery, and sailors’ songs that he entitled The Democratic Songster. In January of 1795, Carey sent Keatinge a collection of books to sell in exchange for sixty copies of The Democratic Songster as well as dozens of copies of several other political texts (including Paine’s Age of Reason) that Keatinge either had printed himself, secured from other local printers, or brought with him from Ireland.²⁸ Carey had entered the bookselling and supplying business in late 1791, yet only three years later he was dispatching multiple boxes of books and pamphlets to Chestertown, Martinsburg, and Hagerstown in Maryland; to Reading, Chambersburg, and Harrisburg in Pennsylvania; to two different booksellers in Kentucky; and to Petersburg, Virginia; New Haven, Connecticut; Wilmington, Delaware; and Newburyport, Massachusetts. He was also exchanging books (sometimes as many as a hundred copies of a single text) with three different printers/booksellers in Albany, seven in New York City, and four in Boston. At the same time, Mason Locke Weems began traveling throughout the South selling books and pamphlets on commission for Carey. Carey’s shop became a clearinghouse where he gathered recent publications received from European booksellers and other printers in the United States and then dispatched some to sellers in other cities and some to booksellers in the hinterlands. This network was able to get the latest print into the hands of readers across the country much faster than had ever been the case. It is also important to keep in mind that Carey was just one of several political booksellers in the early 1790s who had built such networks (though his papers and business records are the only ones to have been preserved), and that Carey’s politics were quite muted compared to many of his fellow democratic printers and booksellers. Indeed, while Carey’s political commitments shaped his business decisions to some extent, his correspondence reveals that he was also very willing to downplay those political convictions in order to secure beneficial business ties with other printers. In 1791 and 1792, before he had established reliable ties with democratic booksellers in Ireland and England, Carey’s main access to European books came through James Rivington, an unrepentant ex-Tory and one of the most powerful booksellers in New York City. Carey likewise exchanged hundreds of books with Isaiah Thomas, Hugh Gaine, and Cornelius Davis in Massachusetts, all of whom were outspoken Federalists. His exchanges with such booksellers involved only novels and religious books, and his correspondence with these men steered far clear of political matters. In contrast with

Figure 2. Ebenezer Larkin trade card. This depiction of Ebenezer Larkin’s Boston bookshop captures the public nature of such spaces. Larkin was one of Matthew Carey’s many business associates who sold Carey’s publications, and who in turn sent his own publications to Philadelphia for Carey to sell in his similarly designed bookshop. While Larkin’s store served a more genteel clientele than more democratically inclined booksellers, this image depicts a distinctive moment in the late eighteenth century when American bookstores were uniquely overflowing with published offerings from around the world. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


these solely business-oriented contacts, the bulk of Carey’s business in the 1790s involved the exchange of explicitly political texts with like-minded printers and booksellers. Just as he exchanged democratic songbooks and Jacobin novels with his fellow United Irishman George Keatinge in Baltimore, Carey sent the works of the British radical Richard Price to the Websters in Albany in exchange for their edition of Paine’s collected works. Carey also did significant business with John Fellows in New York City—the man who acted as Thomas Paine’s agent in the United States. From Fellows, Carey received hundreds of copies of Paine’s texts along with one hundred cheap prints of Paine’s portrait, several deist tracts, and over a dozen other works by contemporary British radicals. In exchange, Carey sent Fellows copies of his edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Thanks to politically oriented printers like Carey, Fellows, Keatinge, the Websters, Thomas Greenleaf, Benjamin Franklin Bache, and many others, by 1794 ordinary American readers with a taste for democratic politics could enter their local library or bookshop and find a vast array of texts that could feed and enrich that interest.²⁹ Building popular awareness of and demand for an ever growing catalog of political texts from around the Atlantic world, especially among people for whom the consumption of print was not yet a settled habit, posed many challenges for these democratic printers. One strategy they frequently used to attract interest in their productions was to link a work by a previously unknown democratic thinker to the famous figure of Thomas Paine. When the printers Francis Childs and John Swaine brought out an American edition of David Williams’s Lessons to a Young Prince in 1791, for example, they made the case for its significance by explicitly linking it to Paine’s work: “The quiet and unmolested, and unmenaced publication and circulation of this book, Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man, &c. through Great Britain, evidently proves that a Revolution has already been effectuated on the minds of the people there.”³⁰ As democratic printers across the nation similarly capitalized on Paine’s fame in order to sell the works of other European radicals, they created a new pantheon of writers—Joel Barlow, James Mackintosh, David Williams, Joseph Priestley, William Godwin, Constantin Volney, James Callendar, Joseph Gerrard, and many others we will encounter in the coming chapters—who, though now largely forgotten, at the time could be referred to and recognized simply by their last names. While their collective efforts to expand the market in democratic books and pamphlets profoundly shaped the political discourse of the 1790s, on a day-to-day basis the most pronounced way in which democratic editors worked


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

together was by excerpting material from each other’s newspapers. Since most editors had few opportunities to produce or procure original pieces, they spent most of their time culling through recent newspapers in search of text worthy of being reprinted. Over time, democratic printers came to rely on each other as sources for reliable and reprintable copy, thus bringing an unprecedented degree of continuity and coherence to the nation’s print media. Very few printers left behind written accounts of the time-consuming practice of selecting the material to include in their newspapers, but the surviving evidence suggests that politically minded printers took great pride in their ability to bring interpretive coherence out of the Atlantic world’s chaotic sea of information. James Carey described the production of a newspaper as “my favourite, my only hobby horse, in the enjoyment of which a want of wife, mistress, friends, and a thousand blandishments of life, are either forgotten or neglected.” He constantly beseeched his brother Matthew to send him any Irish and English newspapers he could find, even old ones, so that he could choose what news to reprint without having to depend on the digests in the more readily available American papers.³¹ As the debate over the French Revolution and its implications for other European monarchies became more heated, Thomas Greenleaf similarly began paying closer attention to the sources of his information. When rumors emerged that the French Revolution was about to descend into anarchy, Greenleaf ensured his readers that this was not the case, relying “on the credit of the Leyden Gazette, printed by M. Luzac, and reputed to be the most correct paper, for political intelligence, published in Europe.”³² At this same time, Greenleaf also stopped using the increasingly anti-French Columbian Centinnel as a resource for news, and turned instead to two newspapers edited by fellow democrats with whom he had apprenticed, Philadelphia’s Independent Gazetteer and Boston’s Argus. As the political climate heated up over the course of the decade, democratic printers became even more sensitive to what they saw as the “systematic misrepresentations”³³ of the Atlantic world’s less democratically inclined newspapers, driving them to identify other newspapers around the country and around the world that presented news in a way that resonated with their own political principles. By drawing explicit attention to this decision-making process in the pages of their newspapers, these editors taught readers to think critically about where their information and opinions were coming from. As events in revolutionary Europe unfolded from day to day, with the out-

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


come of the struggle between democracy and monarchy still in doubt, newspapers and their editors played a key role in helping their fellow citizens make sense of them. Boston apprentice John Prentiss recalled that whenever ships arrived in port bearing news from Europe, the city’s two leading, competing newspaper editors—Benjamin Russell and Thomas Adams—would stand in the street outside their print shops and hold forth with their interpretations of the latest developments. As crowds of people gathered around, the different political communities that these editors catered to would take material form on the streets of the city. William Cobbett sarcastically recorded a similar experience in Wilmington, Delaware: “Every time the newspapers arrive, the aristocrats and democrats have a decent quarrel to the admiration of all the little boys in the town.”³⁴ It is safe to assume that these scenes were reenacted in many places across the new nation where newspapers served not as a quiet and contemplative alternative to embodied political contestation, but rather as the raw material on which such contestation fed. Tom Paine’s passionate relationship with newspapers, though connected to his particularly intense political orientation, can to some extent be regarded as representative of the historically specific way in which many of his contemporaries interacted with these texts. In Paine’s world, newspapers were not to be read silently and calmly. Rather, reading and talking—print and oral culture— were inextricably woven together. One of his friends recalled that, upon meeting an acquaintance, Paine rarely used the customary “How d’ye do?” but instead immediately asked “What news?” Paine’s friend went on: “If they had none, he gave them his. . . . His common reading was the affairs of the day; not a single newspaper escaped him.” Indeed, whenever a pile of newspapers was within arm’s reach, “he hastened to over-run them all, like those who read to make extracts for their paper.” What he encountered in the newspapers always “interested him so much that he longed for an ear and a heart to pour forth all his soul.”³⁵ The diary of John Hall, an émigré artisan and friend of Thomas Paine’s in Philadelphia in the 1780s, likewise testifies to the public and social nature of newspaper reading in this era. Countless times in the 1780s and 1790s, Hall noted that he had “called in at the coffeehouse and looked over the paper,” or “took several walks to town and to coffeehouse to read paper.”³⁶ As the reading practices of Paine and Hall suggest, newspapers in the 1790s were far from a passive medium that dispensed knowledge to silent and solitary readers. Readers consumed their news in public and used the newspapers to start conversations


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

or end arguments. Thus, at this unique historical moment in the history of the media, newspapers straddled the boundaries between oral and print culture, and between private contemplation and public deliberation. Because they were so deeply woven into the texture of daily political and social life, these newspapers had a powerful effect on the ties that bound local, face-to-face communities together. One Kentucky memoirist from that decade, for example, noted that James Bradford’s Kentucky Gazette, a weekly paper that contained extensive accounts of French, British, and Irish radicalism, “was taken to the different settlements by postriders, and when it arrived the best reader among the inhabitants would mount a stump and never stop until he had read the paper through.”³⁷ In a 1799 pamphlet depicting daily life in the countryside, Philip Freneau described what was undoubtedly a familiar tavern scene, in which “a few neighbours meet to spit, smoke segars, drink apple whiskey . . . and read the news.”³⁸ While such scenes of public (or what historians have called “social”) reading strike modern eyes as unusual, the editors of the 1790s understood and capitalized upon the ways in which their readers used their newspapers as the starting points and main pieces of evidence in their daily discussions about the state of both their new democracy and the even newer ones struggling into existence around the Atlantic world. For those who lived far removed from the main communication centers on the eastern seaboard, newspapers and people with access to the latest reports and ideas from Europe were very welcome intrusions into largely local lives. Sixty years after the fact, Levi Beardsley reminisced about how, as a twelve-yearold living on the western New York frontier in the 1790s, he would run a mile through the woods every Sunday to pick up the family’s copy of the Otsego Herald, “generally read[ing] the part containing the news, before reaching home.” He even remembered the first book his father had bought for him—not a bible or a spelling book, but a pamphlet describing the execution of Louis XVI.³⁹ Beardsley also fondly recounted an encounter with western New York’s “indomitable democrat” Jedidiah Peck, who always had “political papers and scraps” on hand and “distribute[d] . . . [them] whenever he went from home.” Part evangelical preacher and part politician, Peck spent much of the 1790s delivering informal speeches and encouraging his fellow New Yorkers to take an interest in state, national, and world politics.⁴⁰ Massachusetts had its own “wandering apostle of sedition” in David Brown, a nearly penniless veteran of the Revolutionary War who had spent the 1790s traveling in “foreign Countries,” talking politics with tavern-goers across the state, and delivering impromptu readings

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


from his unpublished writings as well as from pamphlets written by Paine and Joel Barlow.⁴¹ Had he not been arrested under 1798’s Sedition Act, Brown’s activities would have remained invisible to the modern historian, yet by his own account he had visited more than eighty different towns in the past few years. The testimony at his trial provides a rare glimpse into those taverns and coffee houses where ordinary, non-elite citizens crafted a political world that ran parallel to, yet differed significantly from, the world their leaders created in the nation’s legislative halls and parlors. Brown and Peck are but two of the many itinerant democrats whose stories are scattered through the memoir literature and court dockets of the early republic. Taken together, as symptomatic of a broader political phenomenon, their stories illuminate the ways in which the circulation of people and texts connected people’s local lives up to national and international transformations about which they might have otherwise known little. While Brown and Peck moved around the countryside trying to bring people into their community of politically committed democrats, the leading democratic editors of the 1790s were attempting to do the same thing, only through the agency of their newspapers. Hence, the printed objects they produced functioned not just as sources of information and objects of occasional curiosity, but as powerful agents of community-formation. Editors frequently included pieces that commented on the state of their publications, usually with the presumption that their readers were invested in their success. In 1794 and 1795, as news of the Terror in France and the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania generated significant public skepticism about the beneficent intentions of American democrats, every major democratic editor made it a point to inform their readers that their subscription lists were expanding dramatically. The timing suggests that this was not just self-promotion, but a means to inspire readers with the thought that more and more of their fellow citizens were coming to share their interpretations of national and international politics.⁴² In the eyes of their opponents, these editors looked at best like juvenile troublemakers seeking to rile up discontent with the established authorities, and at worst like agents of a French plot to overthrow the American government. To unsympathetic historians, they have appeared to be the agents of cynical and ambitious office seekers who used the newspapers to tear down those in power in order to put themselves in their place. But none of these characterizations captures the sort of political work that this distinctive generation of editors and printers was trying to accomplish. Their main concern was not to foment anarchy, a French


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

republic on American soil, or the emergence of a new set of leaders. Their goal was to transform the political subjectivities of their citizen-readers, and thereby the nation they inhabited.

The Politics of Reading Just as communities of readers emerged around particular newspapers in a highly tentative and improvisational manner in the early 1790s, democratic printers’ understanding of the political role they played was also in tremendous flux. Before the 1770s, most printers had studiously avoided getting involved in political disputes, because they feared alienating potential advertisers or political patrons. By the first decade of the 1800s, however, political partisanship was the primary function of most American newspapers. Rather than avoiding political entanglements, more and more editors sought to align themselves with state and national leaders, regarding their publications as mouthpieces for particular political factions. The 1790s, especially the first half of that decade, were thus unusual because most editors eschewed the apolitical practices of the colonial era, yet there were no clearly defined and tightly organized political parties from which to take direction. The leading historian of newspapers in the early republic, Jeffrey Pasley, has interpreted the 1790s as a transitional moment in which we can see the building blocks of nineteenth-century partisan journalism emerging. My analysis takes a different tack, emphasizing that printers did not know what lay in the future, and were not necessarily seeking to build the world of partisan print that eventually emerged.⁴³ This is more than a quibble over terminology. To describe the democratic printers of the early to mid-1790s as Pasley does—as aspiring yet “not especially effective” partisans—is to judge them by a standard to which they did not necessarily hold themselves. A few of the democratic printers of the 1790s, unlike their colonial era predecessors, did indeed use their newspapers to accomplish tangibly partisan goals, such as winning votes for their favored candidates or shaping the fate of particular pieces of legislation, but this was only a small part of their self-perceived political mission. It was not until late 1795, for example, that some printers began including election results and explicitly electioneering pieces in their newspapers, even though by 1800 such practices would become nearly universal.⁴⁴ So when we try to evaluate the politics of these pre-partisan yet decidedly political printers, it is important that we take them on their terms, rather than seeing them as failed practitioners of a form of newspaper politics to

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


come. Looking beyond the results of particular elections, the newspaper editors of the 1790s set for themselves the much loftier goal of creating an engaged, radicalized, and cosmopolitan citizenry. Much like the ordinary “politicians,” or reader-citizens, of their time, their definition of politics had as much to do with the activities of ordinary citizens as with those of elected officials, and they referred to events that occurred outside of legislative halls as much as within them. The printers of the 1790s certainly hoped that a changed citizenry would elect different sorts of people into office, who would pursue policies more to their liking, but when they spoke to readers, they spoke not as political operatives looking for a few more votes, but as activists seeking to inspire and energize their fellow citizens. This distinction is key if we are to comprehend the political aspirations that shaped the content of the most influential democratic newspapers of the 1790s, as well as the content of those less widely circulated, second-tier papers. In contrast to the majority of newspaper printers in this decade, who either explicitly supported the Washington administration’s policies or gave them tacit support by avoiding political controversy, the approximately three dozen democratic newspapers that appeared between 1790 and 1798 emphasized two ongoing story lines that set them apart from their more conservative contemporaries. First, they explicitly thematized the link between their American political mission and the foreign news they reported, using news and ideas from Europe as a way to frame the Washington administration and its supporters as anti-democratic counterrevolutionaries. Second, they claimed to speak to and for an audience that identified itself as part of the democratic “many,” or “the people,” whose interests stood in opposition to the privileged “few.” These narratives emerged slowly and tentatively in response to the rapid political developments of the 1790s, not out of any predetermined political project or explicitly coordinated effort on the part of printers. By the middle of the decade, however, the editors of democratic newspapers had come to share an analysis of contemporary political events that led them to tell similar stories in similar ways. One representative edition of Benjamin Bache’s General Advertiser can illustrate how political editors like Bache carefully chose the material for their papers so as to model certain modes of political subjectivity for their readers. Like all 1790s newspapers, Bache’s devoted the majority of its copy to foreign affairs, but democratic newspapers like his placed particular emphasis on the ideas and organizations developed by their European counterparts, hoping that their actions would inspire American readers to take similar actions. On 20 April 1793,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

for example, Bache devoted seven of the eight columns of non-advertising text to the democrats of Europe. After a lengthy excerpt from an English reformist pamphlet entitled “Patriot of the World,” Bache included a proclamation from the Friends of a Parliamentary Reform in Belfast that urged people throughout Ireland to form political societies to bring about “radical” change. Their confident rationale was that “the voice of the people, once plainly and decidedly uttered, is a thunder which no government dares resist.” Next came a one-column excerpt from a Liverpool pamphlet entitled “Essay on Equality,” followed by a report about the English reception of Paine’s Rights of Man, which lamented that the English government seemed intent on keeping “a tight rein on the people,” illustrated by the fact that one recent émigré from England had been “obliged to fly for avowing in a public coffee-house, that he had read [Paine’s] work and approved of its principles.” Bache followed this story of political intimidation with a countervailing account attesting to the ongoing political assertion of the British populace: “The Irish newspapers we have received by the late arrivals, contain in every page spirited resolutions of a political nature entered into by numerous associations throughout the country.”⁴⁵ Bache then assured his readers that the proclamation he had printed in that day’s paper was merely one of many he could have chosen. In New York, Bache’s compatriot, Thomas Greenleaf, also found the resolutions of foreign political clubs repeatedly newsworthy. On 19 February 1794, for example, he informed his readers that he had just received a cache of British newspapers. Significantly, the pieces which struck him as being most worthy of republication on that day were several laudatory stories about the London Corresponding Society.⁴⁶ Week after week, the readers of democratic papers like Bache’s and Greenleaf ’s encountered foreign news presented in a similar way—as a means to demonstrate that ordinary European citizens were changing the nature of politics, and that the enemies of this democratization were fighting back. In a society only one generation removed from its own experience of revolutionary mobilization, such stories undoubtedly kindled memories of past political struggles and successes, and sympathetically linked these memories with events then unfolding across the ocean. By consistently presenting foreign news in this manner, democratic editors encouraged their readers not only to remember but also to reconceptualize the role they had played and eventually could play in generating historical change. The New York printers who advertised their 1791 reprint of a radical pamphlet by the Englishman David Williams, for example, trumpeted his new

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


democratic theory of historical change as one of the pamphlet’s primary selling points. They acknowledged that readers might find the author’s bottom-up account of the American Revolution “strange” because it ascribed the success of the Revolution to “the spirit of the people” rather than “the mere personal merit of the few.”⁴⁷ This new conception of historical causality was important for American readers to comprehend, however, for only then could they grasp the full meaning of Europe’s “revolution without leaders,” an event “unexampled in history.”⁴⁸ In sympathetic pamphlet and newspaper accounts of the early 1790s, the democratic protagonists were rarely great military or political leaders like George Washington or Lafayette. Rather, they were usually organizations that identified themselves as representatives of the people working toward their goal by holding public meetings and disseminating their ideas in printed form. The belief that Painite ideas were so self-evidently true that mere dissemination would automatically generate mass political conversion and commitment was perhaps the greatest democratic conceit of the age.⁴⁹ The British and Irish democrats of the early 1790s were particularly prone to claiming that radical reform was inevitable because, as the advertisement for Williams’s pamphlet put it, “a Revolution has already been effectuated on the minds of the people.”⁵⁰ In the new, enlightened era that they thought the American and French Revolutions had ushered in, it was readers and not leaders who would be the primary agents of change. And such change would occur not through violent means, but through the more gentle agency of print and reason. This emphasis on the press as an agent of political legitimacy had a long history in the Anglo-American world. For those Americans concerned about how the new, geographically extended republic would cohere, newspapers seemed to offer the best way to give the “far dispersed citizens of this extensive republic” a sense of attachment to the central government.⁵¹ In the wake of Shays’s Rebellion, for example, Thomas Jefferson believed that a wider diffusion of newspapers would prevent such episodes in the future. By giving the people “full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers,” Jefferson hoped, leaders could “reclaim” disaffected citizens by “enlightening them.”⁵² A few years later, as Congress was debating the postal rates for newspapers, editors lobbied strenuously to keep the cost down, arguing that newspapers were the most effective means by which “we keep company with the absent, . . . are . . . made acquainted with strangers, [and] feel, in solitude, a sympathy with mankind.”⁵³ Newspapers, in other words, had the power to change the social and political outlook of their readers, thus fostering the sense


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

of fellow feeling necessary to sustain the new republican experiment. Some editors pushed this argument even further by linking widespread newspaper readership to the central tenet of American politics, popular sovereignty. Benjamin Franklin Bache took this approach when he explained to his readers why he had decided to establish his Philadelphia newspaper: “In a Commonwealth, the people are the Basis on which all power and authority rest. On the extent of their knowledge and information the solidity of that Foundation depends. . . . It is to be lamented that greater pains have not hitherto been taken to diffuse among the mass of citizens more knowledge . . . through the channel of Newspapers.”⁵⁴ In 1790, the mildly populist case for newspapers put forward by people like Jefferson or Bache still rang with paternalist echoes. Such men had long thought of themselves as part of a republic of letters that was bound together by print and inhabited by learned people around the world. They now looked to newspapers as a means to incorporate a broader range of reader-citizens into this republic, but they did not necessarily see newspapers as a means of empowering the previously dispossessed. Rather, they hoped that the diffusion of knowledge would dampen potential discontent by absorbing groups like the urban poor and small farmers on the frontier into a harmonious American nation. In this moderate Enlightenment model, legitimate knowledge and opinion was generated in the metropoles by trustworthy elites and then dispatched to the rest of the nation. As the 1790s progressed, however, this benign and optimistic vision of national unity through print was undermined by a new generation of readers who did not accept their allotted role as assenting spectators and instead began imagining themselves as more active and critical participants. European democrats led the way in reconceiving print in precisely this way—not just as an agent of cohesion, but also as a mechanism of critique and potential reconstitution. Democratic editors in America identified this new vision of print as one of the principal ways in which the French Revolution marked a radical break from the political past. In May of 1791, for example, Thomas Greenleaf printed a speech from the French National Assembly which lauded the “political . . . benefits” of the press, arguing that it had “changed the face of Europe: It will change the fate of the universe.” Greenleaf followed this piece with a letter from Paris that announced France’s commitment to resist the mounting forces of counterrevolution by spreading its principles around the world, their soldiers bearing copies of the Declaration of the Rights of Man on their bayonets.⁵⁵ In such stories, print no longer served to mollify and incorpo-

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


rate the citizenry, it could both energize them and be used as a weapon by them. As reported in American democratic papers, the story of the French Revolution was a radically new one about an ongoing process of democratization through dissemination. Editors framed the French Revolution as a “new scene . . . in the Theatre of human affairs,” in which politics ceased to be “the study and benefit of the few to the exclusion and depression of the many.” Since no one could deny that a portion of the national sovereignty resided “in the breast of every individual,” it was now clear that all legitimate political decisions must flow from “the actual information of all” and not the wisdom of a chosen few.⁵⁶ As political theorists and activists began thinking about the political efficacy of the ideas inside the heads of ordinary citizens, it led them into a wide-ranging conversation about how those ideas had gotten there. It generated, in other words, a debate about the politics of reading. Advocates of democratization waxed rhapsodic about the world-transformative possibilities of widespread readership. The British radical James Mackintosh, for example, pointed out that most of the political ideas that motivated contemporary democrats had been articulated over a hundred years earlier, but they had had no real effect because “the habits of reading” had not yet reached “the great body of mankind.” The French Revolution demonstrated just how swiftly political change could occur once those previously “confounded under the denomination of the vulgar” gained access to political ideas. As soon as “the batteries of the press were opened[, p]amphlet succeeded pamphlet, surpassing each other in boldness and elevation; and the advance of Paris to light and freedom was greater in three months than it had been in almost as many centuries. Doctrines were universally received in May which in January would have been deemed treasonous, and which in March were derided as the visions of a few deluded fanatics.”⁵⁷ This depiction of the French Revolution as an event made possible by widespread reading understandably appealed to those American democrats who were enthralled by the possibility of rapid political change. In the 1790s, no one symbolized this new world of potentially revolutionary plebeian reader-citizens more than Thomas Paine. American democrats made much of Paine’s background as a staymaker, and they were drawn to the sections of his writings where he aggressively asserted his right, as a non-elite and nonelected citizen, to voice his opinions on political matters. Indeed, Paine stood as an exemplar of the new type of democratic citizen who did “not adopt the slavish custom of following what in other governments are called leaders.”⁵⁸ Thus, when Walter Brewster, a Connecticut mechanic, wrote pieces calling for policies


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

that would foster greater economic equality, he chose to identify himself first and foremost as a supporter of “The Rights of Man.” An anonymous newspaper essayist in Philadelphia made similar use of Paine’s example, defending his right to participate in public debate by noting: “It is well enough in England to run down the rights of man, because the author of those inimitable pamphlets was a stay-maker; but in the United States all such proscriptions of certain classes of citizens, or occupations, should be avoided.”⁵⁹ This Painite style of plebeian assertion also informed the text of Paine’s Jests, an inexpensive British pamphlet reprinted by Matthew Carey in 1796. The editor of this collection of radical songs, jokes, and anecdotes introduced them by mimicking the words of antiPainite elites: “Beware of that fatal error of judging for yourselves. What! think for yourselves! O let me intreat, nay let me insist upon it, that you never think of thinking for yourselves; for the more you think, the more you will differ from [your betters] in your way of thinking: Think also, how many mild, happy and glorious Constitutions have been ruined by men thinking for themselves! Let your betters, therefore, think for you; because it stands to reason, they must think best.”⁶⁰ As democratic printers tried to inspire their readers to embrace such a self-assertive style of citizenship, Paine served as an effective legitimizing symbol for such practices. As the author of Common Sense, he had essentially invented the new genre of popular political writing that filled the columns of these newspapers. Editors capitalized on and augmented Paine’s populist credentials, going to great lengths to keep him at the heart of American political discourse by printing frequent excerpts of his latest pamphlets and keeping readers up to date on his latest actions and experiences in Europe. Paine’s emergence as an inspirational polestar for American democrats in the 1790s marked a major reversal in his public career, for he had fallen into relative obscurity preceding the publication of the first part of Rights of Man in 1791. Paine’s reputation had suffered badly during the Silas Deane affair in 1778–79, and for the next decade his writings on political affairs were far less influential than Common Sense and The Crisis papers had been.⁶¹ Indeed, when he left America in 1787, there was surprisingly little public discussion of his departure. For a variety of reasons, Paine chose to leave the public stage, going to Europe not to enter political debates there, but rather to garner financial support for his design of a steel bridge. Although Americans frequently paid homage to the man who had written Common Sense, Paine was by no means a figure capable of galvanizing and symbolizing an international political movement. This changed dramatically in 1791 as excerpts from the Rights of Man

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


began appearing in newspapers across the country.⁶² As one of the first and most effective authors to attack Edmund Burke’s conservatism and defend the American and French Revolutions, Paine quickly became the toast of democrats throughout the Atlantic world. American printers from Vermont to Baltimore quickly rushed the Rights of Man into print, producing nine editions of part 1 in 1791, and six editions of part 2 in 1792. One historian has estimated that between 50,000 and 100,000 copies of the Rights of Man circulated in America, a remarkable number considering that few pamphlets were printed in multiple editions and that the usual print run was smaller than 2,000 issues.⁶³ Indeed, American readers seemed to have an unbounded interest in texts by and about Paine, in part because his European career provided a personal link between America’s revolutionary past and the Atlantic world’s ongoing political struggles.⁶⁴ Throughout the 1790s, everything Paine published in Europe was reprinted in multiple American editions. Meanwhile, three different versions of his collected writings were produced—in Albany (1794), Baltimore (1796), and Philadelphia (1797). Much as he had done in 1776, Paine set the terms of public political debate for much of the 1790s. And just as George Washington had become an iconic symbol of the American Revolution, Paine quickly emerged as the figurehead of the new revolutionary movements now sweeping the Atlantic world. That said, Paine was a figurehead of a very different sort. Where Washington was a man to be worshipped and followed, Paine was someone to emulate. The figure of Washington hovered in the unreachable distance, his greatness lying in his uniqueness. Paine, on the other hand, embodied a new popular political assertiveness that was accessible to everyone, and indeed seemed to be percolating to the surface around the Atlantic basin. The stories that both his detractors and his supporters told about him implied that Paine’s writings worked like a virus, entering the mental world of readers and then replicating Paine’s political subjectivity over and over again. In the Rights of Man, Paine himself had happily noted how revolutionary eras can have a transformative effect on the consciousness of ordinary people: “Man finds himself changed, he scarcely perceives how.”⁶⁵ This threat of popular transformation weighed heavily on the minds of his opponents. By the time of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, it was common to refer to Painite tracts as forms of contagion that diseased the minds of readers. As early as 1791, when Rights of Man was first published, many people feared the effect Paine’s writings were having on the political attitudes of their social inferiors. The Frenchman Ferdinand Bayard, for example, traveling

Figure 3. Portrait of Thomas Paine. This portrait of a gentle and pensive Tom Paine appeared in most American editions of his collected works that appeared in the 1790s. Hence, this is probably the image that his American supporters would have associated with him in that decade. Most extant copies of these collections no longer contain Paine’s portrait, suggesting that sympathetic Painites may have removed the image and used it to decorate the walls of their homes or workplaces. (The Library Company of Philadelphia)

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


in Virginia in that year, provoked a hysterical response from a gout-ridden old planter when he mentioned Paine’s name: “The Virginian, at the mere mention of Payne, moved his bad leg, looked steadily at me with angry eyes, and interrupted me, exclaimed furiously: ‘I wish that Thomas Payne and all the people like him had been hanged before the American Revolution.’ ” In the eyes of people like this slaveholder, Paine and “people like him” symbolized a threatening new world of politically assertive commoners. The Virginian quickly ended the encounter by eyeing Bayard “from head to foot” and then leaving, “without saying another word.” The Frenchman took his parting shot by whistling the Revolutionary tune “Ça Ira” as he walked away, suggesting that people like Paine were all around and not about to be intimidated into silence.⁶⁶ Such stories about assertive Painites and beleaguered elites frequently appeared in the democratic writings of the 1790s. One of Paine’s compatriots in revolutionary Europe, the American expatriate Joel Barlow, published a widely circulated meditation on this theme just a few months after the appearance of Paine’s Rights of Man. The introduction to Barlow’s Advice to the Privileged Orders (1792) framed the pamphlet as a piece of polite advice to the powerful few, “who are afflicted at the prospect” of radical political change. The unprivileged readers of this inexpensive pamphlet, however, knew that Barlow was speaking both to and for them. Indeed, Barlow’s pose of politeness quickly faded as he ran through a menacing litany of all the ways in which the old rules that had supported elite power and privilege had now been exposed as unjust impositions. Restringing the long-standing genre of polite advice literature in order to play his particular revolutionary tune, Barlow made the very impolite suggestion that the “privileged” reader had become irrelevant and must capitulate or be overwhelmed by an angry, knowing people. In this way, Barlow’s text projected two ideal-type readers—the nervous and exposed elite figure supposedly being advised and the nameless member of the crowd who stood outside the parlor window reading the menacing text over his shoulder. Barlow wanted both kinds of readers to know, though for different reasons, that nothing could prevent the triumph of the Painite multitude: “Some, who perceive these truths, say that it is unsafe for society to publish them; but I say it is unsafe not to publish them. For the party from which the mischief is expected to arise, has the knowledge of them already. . . . It is the wise who are ignorant of these things, and not the foolish.”⁶⁷ With such inspirational statements Barlow constructed an idealized vision of radicalized citizens newly capable of seeing through the deceptions that had silenced and oppressed them for centuries. Barlow’s literary efforts


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

clearly resonated with his intended audience, for his pamphlet was reprinted several times throughout Europe and America. In 1792–93 his name was frequently mentioned in tandem with Paine’s whenever American democrats got together to propose toasts in honor of the political revolution sweeping the Atlantic world. The figure of the assertive plebeian reader that emerged in texts like Barlow’s became a common element of 1790’s political discourse throughout the Atlantic world, deployed by both opponents and supporters of democratization, though to different ends. The British government twice put Thomas Paine and his publishers on trial—in December 1792 for the Rights of Man. Part the Second, and in June 1797 for The Age of Reason—and both times the state’s argument focused not on the content of the texts but rather on the effect they would have on ordinary readers. The prosecutors conceded that Paine made few arguments that hadn’t already appeared in print—print that did not approach the boundary of the treasonous. Even the first part of Rights of Man did not merit prosecution, because “it was ushered into the world in that shape, that it was likely to fall only into the hands of tolerably informed persons.” The second part of Rights of Man differed, however, for it “appeared in a smaller size, printed on white brown paper, and thrust into the hands of all persons, of all ages, sexes, and conditions: They were even wrapped up with sweet meats for children.” The fear was not just that the lower orders would be deluded, but that they would be inspired by what they read in Paine’s works. Ironically enough, these fears themselves then became a source of greater inspiration for the Atlantic world’s democrats, as the transcripts of Paine’s trials—as well as the trials of seven other Painite activists who sought to disseminate democratic tracts—were printed in numerous editions in Britain and America.⁶⁸ The democratic editors of the 1790s frequently printed anecdotes dramatizing this mode of self-assertive citizenship, translating abstract ideas about citizenship into concrete examples of how a politically energized person could find the confidence to challenge local authority figures. At the same time Greenleaf was advertising Paine’s Jests for sale in his print shop, for example, he inserted in his newspaper a catechistic dialogue between a Tory and a young Republican. The dialogue supposedly took place at a recent procession honoring William Keteltas, a lawyer who had successfully defended two Irish laborers against trumped-up charges brought by a wealthy and corrupt city official. While he cheered the popular lawyer, the young Republican happened to overhear the

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


Tory sniff: “What a set of ragga-muffins are these. . . . There is not a man of respectability among them!” R. I doubt, sir, answered the young man, if you are perfectly right in pronouncing so freely concerning these men. Is money, sir, or merit, the object of your respect? T. Why both, to be sure. R. I beg leave to dispute your opinion then.—Those who follow here, may be the most meritorious men; good husbands, good fathers, and good citizens; men by whose mechanical labours the necessaries and conveniences of life are produced in abundance, and by whose courage and sufferings the pride of an invading foe may be humbled . . . T. Tut, tut man, you want a little more experience in the world to be a judge of this matter. R. This is evading the question, sir; however, I confess that my experience has not been so great as some others, but it has been sufficient to convince me, that although the possession of riches is in itself no crime, yet that it is the consequence of many. . . . The rich, generally speaking, have always made a party against the poor. T. I have nothing more to say, your ideas are so incongruous, that I find it impossible to argue with you. A good day, sir. R. I cannot but wish you a change of sentiment, and that the triumph of reason may be complete. A good day, Sir.⁶⁹ By repeatedly dramatizing social encounters like these, in which non-elite citizens refused to defer to their supposed social betters, democratic editors sought to model a new, class-inflected form of citizenship that put Painite egalitarianism into daily practice.⁷⁰ Democratic editors also used news about the European response to Paine’s 1790s pamphlets to further this goal. In March 1793, for example, the National Gazette printed a letter from Cork which noted: “Since Paine’s Rights of Man has made its appearance: almost every one is turned politician.”⁷¹ Soon after the Rights of Man’s initial publication, Thomas Greenleaf and Eleazar Oswald each ran an identical story about the “immense” demand for it in London: “Upon publication of the first edition, upwards of twelve thousand copies were


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

sold off in sheets, wet from the press; and the remainder of that edition entirely disposed of in a few hours after its first appearance. Upon the coming out of the second edition, it was found almost impossible to supply the orders; and at the date above mentioned, the third edition was already in press.”⁷² These inspirational stories about democratic readers scurrying home with ink-stained hands to read Paine’s latest work served the interests of democratic American printers quite well. Not only were they themselves reprinting, selling, and hoping to profit from Paine’s latest tracts, but they also sought to create a citizenry animated by the same sense of political urgency that drove ordinary Europeans to flock to the print shops. As Paine himself explained it, the stakes of the contemporary struggles throughout the Atlantic world were not about “whether this or that party shall be in or out,” but revolved around the “new system [that] is now opening to the view of the world,” and the efforts of its enemies “to counteract it.”⁷³ American editors tapped into this sense of urgency every time they reprinted a string of toasts in Paine’s honor, excerpts from his works, or stories about his European supporters’ efforts to bring about democratic revolutions. Where Common Sense had invited readers into a new community of “Americans” battling against monarchical Britain, the Rights of Man ushered in the next stage of that struggle. This time the battle was of an international scope, pitting those who wanted to expand ordinary citizens’ sense of the politically possible against those who sought to stifle this process. Federalist newspapers criticized these democratic visions of reader-citizenship from the moment they began surfacing in the opposition prints, yet it was not until late 1795 that an editor emerged who took it as his central goal to craft and disseminate a fully-fleshed-out alternative—an explicitly passive and anti-revolutionary vision of American reader-citizenship. This editor was Joseph Dennie, and his chosen vehicle was the Farmers Weekly Museum, of Walpole, New Hampshire—a newspaper that was funded by Isaiah Thomas and that Thomas hoped would serve as the creative centerpiece of the network of moderate Federalist newspapers that he supported throughout New England. Indeed, very soon after Dennie took over as editor, the Farmers Weekly Museum became one of the most frequently excerpted papers in the nation. Dennie filled his paper with weekly articles imploring his fellow citizens to stop reading about and discussing foreign, and even domestic, politics, in order to pay more attention to their private affairs. He repeatedly criticized the type of person who “reads Gazettes [and] lingers in coffee houses” seeking out the latest news. “One would suppose from the general inquiries respecting European affairs,” he

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


wrote in one article, “that Columbus had never discovered America; and that our interests, our hopes, and our fears grew in the streets of Paris, London, or on the banks of the Rhine and Po.” Dennie ended his piece with an injunction to his readers: “Devote not life to hearing and telling new things. If ye have business, mind it; are you masters of families, stay to home. Your heads are too shallow to contain the myriads of novel ideas ye wish.”⁷⁴ Week after week, through gentle chiding, biting sarcasm, and openly hostile criticism, Dennie drew negative attention to the practices of reader-citizenship that democratic editors were trying to cultivate in their readers. Dennie’s efforts in the Farmers Weekly Museum were widely noticed and praised by leading Federalists across the country. Encouraged by the many letters of support he received, Dennie collected a series of his newspaper essays into a pamphlet called The Lay Preacher in 1796. He explicitly stated the didactic purpose of the pamphlet in the preface, where he noted that the essays had been written in “an easy and obvious stile,” so as to better “instruct the villager.” Almost a quarter of these essays went out of their way to criticize either Thomas Paine or his followers, juxtaposing the supposedly violent radicalism of such outside agitators to the steady habits of the “sedate American.” In one essay, for example, Dennie described how he would greet one of Boston’s “Democrats,” or “Jacobins,” if he were to meet him on New Year’s Day: “If I wished him a happy new year, he would instantly conclude that I meant a revolutionary one. . . . Now, as I am a good subject, and perfectly well satisfied with the present order of things, nothing could be farther from my intention. Guarding against a meaning so mischievous, I would . . . wish him an obedient and well governed year. I would [forbid] him from reading French gazettes . . . and debar him from nocturnal clubs, or speeches. This man would infallibly become a good federalist, and his year would be happy.” Despite this apparently selfmocking ending to the story, Dennie and his Federalist benefactors seemed to believe that such texts, aimed at ordinary Americans, could change their political sentiments and behaviors. Dennie implored readers to pay more respect to formally educated “men of understanding” like himself, who “will teach us how to think, to speak, and to act.” There was simply no place for assertive readercitizens in a nation led by a “natural aristocracy” and populated by an obedient, contented citizenry.⁷⁵ But imagining a nation composed of apolitical, “sedate” American readers was difficult in the age of democratic revolutions. The language of American politics in the mid-1790s placed great obstacles in Dennie’s path toward such a


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

conception of the nation. He had to use British-inflected terms, like “subject” rather than “citizen,” “obedience” rather than “allegiance.” Dennie knew that he could not yet use the term “citizen” to describe his ideal obedient villager, because that term still rang with echoes of French conceptions of democratic political action. Likewise, the monarchical language of unquestioning obedience was quite out of place in the public political discourse of the 1790s. Nonetheless, framing allegiance as a matter of rational choice rather than binding obligation also would have entangled Dennie in a Painite discussion of the social contract and the right to revolution. As his use of anachronistic language suggests, the problem with Dennie’s vision of a world composed of obedient “villagers” was that it corresponded more to nostalgic idealizations of the British countryside than to the highly mobile and diverse communities of postRevolutionary America. The more Dennie romanticized and naturalized the authority of the local parson or squire, the less applicable his behavioral prescriptions for American citizens became. Thus, although his writings circulated widely and probably found a receptive audience among those ordinary citizens who were already skeptical of the nation’s Painite democrats, they had their greatest impact on his elite Federalist compatriots, who felt so alienated from the American political scene of the 1790s that they sought refuge in a quasi-Tory romanticization of traditional British society. While the building Federalist counterattack from editors like Dennie posed a modest challenge to the emergent democratic vision of reader-citizenship, even more troubling was the increasingly ominous news that began filtering out of revolutionary France in mid-1794. Whereas reports from revolutionary Europe had previously served as an almost inexhaustible source of inspiration and fresh ideas, as Americans began to learn of the Jacobin Terror these reports became harder to fit into a narrative of exciting experimentation and building revolutionary triumph. Over the course of 1794, several formerly pro-French democratic newspapers gradually turned against what they perceived to be the dangerous Jacobin tendencies of the democratic movements both in Europe and America.⁷⁶ Even for those democratic newspapers that persisted in their support for the French and their American admirers, the stories they printed about foreign events became more negative and defensive in tone as the decade progressed. Beginning in the fall of 1794 and continuing into 1795, for example, the leading democratic printers poured significant resources into producing multiple editions of pamphlets that detailed the persecution and eventual deportation of several British democrats. The stories of these “martyrs” who were

i m a g i n i n g a n at i o n o f p o l i t i c i a n s


transported to Botany Bay for the crime of advocating parliamentary reform had a double-edged effect on American readers. They were inspirational examples of men who risked their lives for the cause of democracy, yet they also generated a narrative of mounting persecution and counterrevolution that fed a growing sense that the revolutionary cause was on the defensive, if not on the wane. In some cases, editors turned to conspiracy theories to explain why some former democratic editors had turned against the cause and had come to echo the “British ministerial prints” that published only “calumnies on the French Revolution” and preached the monarchical “doctrine[s] of passive obedience and non resistance.”⁷⁷ Editors like Bache and Greenleaf implied that such newspapers were in the pay of either British agents or American Federalists; at the same time, they frequently complained that their own newspapers were disappearing from the mail at an alarming rate.⁷⁸ In sum, it now appeared that the historical and political tide was turning against the democratic movement that these editors had sought to cultivate over the previous several years. The increasingly defensive and viciously partisan tone of the democratic newspapers in the last half of the 1790s suggests that their editors recognized that they were speaking to a different group of readers than previously. They recognized that appeals to optimistic revolutionary utopianism would no longer attract more American readers to their cause; rather, their focus now turned to rallying those who were already committed democrats, and providing them with the arguments and the confidence to withstand the backlash that was now upon them. Thus, at mid-decade, democratic editors slowly began to shift the focus of their newspapers. The idealistic utopianism of the early 1790s did not completely or suddenly disappear, but it was supplemented with a new emphasis on generating a growing body of Democratic voter-citizens as much as democratic reader-citizens. The historian Jeffrey Pasley has demonstrated that at middecade a new cohort of Democratic printer-activists emerged who saw themselves as key political operatives, people whose access to print and influence over public opinion could make the difference as to which party held the reins of formal political power. Whereas in the early 1790s it was rare to find pieces in the democratic newspapers that sang the praises of particular American leaders, by the end of the 1790s electioneering pieces had become a regular feature in these newspapers. By the early 1800s, such papers had succeeded in expanding the electorate and in electing leaders more sympathetic to their views. Yet, as they became more successful at influencing the nation’s elections, Democratic editors paid increasingly less attention to democratizing the nation’s politi-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

cal discourse and culture. The more lofty and abstract talk of fundamentally transforming the nation’s political ideology and culture that had once suffused the self-described democratic newspapers of the early 1790s had vanished from most Democratic newspapers of the late 1790s and early 1800s and become the preserve of only a few urban, stridently radical papers. Perhaps this helps explain why Thomas Paine was shunned by all but a few democratic newspapers when he returned to America in 1802. Most Democratic editors regarded Paine as a political and electoral liability, and this trumped any inclination to engage more sympathetically with the life’s work of the age’s most influential advocate of popular democracy.


߬ The Politics of Popular Cosmopolitanism


N 12 May 1796, middling lawyer and self-described democrat Tunis Wortman delivered a strikingly erudite speech to the mechanics and artisans of New York’s Tammany Society.¹ His thirty-one page Oration on the Influence of Social Institutions Upon Human Morals and Happiness invoked almost every major European intellectual figure of his day: Joseph Priestley, “the acute and penetrating” William Godwin, Thomas Reid, John Jebb, Erasmus Darwin, William Paley, the “celebrated and unfortunate” British radical Joseph Gerrald, the transplanted American Joel Barlow, and, of course, Thomas Paine.² Wortman’s assumption that the tailors, printers, and shoemakers in his audience would nod with recognition and approbation in response to the latest revolutionary ideas generated by their European contemporaries was probably a safe one. After all, at a meeting the previous year, this same society had offered toasts to its democratic counterparts “throughout the world,” to the efforts of French and Polish revolutionaries to “illuminate and renovate the European world,” and to the “speedy abolition of every species of Slavery throughout America.”³ One of the society’s leading members, Thomas Greenleaf, had printed these toasts in his newspaper, and he was undoubtedly in attendance at Wortman’s speech, along with scores of the sorts of reader-citizens he had spent the previous several years cultivating. So while the oration that Wortman delivered that evening was intellectually ambitious and politically avant-garde, it was not unreasonably so. He was not calling upon his audience of laboring men to alter radically their sense of political affiliation, as much as he was acknowl49


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

edging a cosmopolitanism that many of them had, to varying extents, already embraced.⁴ This representative vignette from 1796 illustrates the extent to which the French Revolution inspired non-elite democrats like the members of Wortman’s audience to envision themselves as part of a self-consciously experimental and often quite radical community of Painite “citizens of the world.” As a matter of personal disposition, such non-elite cosmopolitans regarded foreign ideas and events with interest and sympathy rather than with the reflexive suspicion encouraged by an emergent nationalism. But popular cosmopolitanism entailed more than just an openness to new ideas; it also rested upon a set of philosophical presumptions that brought to the fore the most egalitarian and socially transformative elements of late-Enlightenment thought. Cosmopolitans of the 1790s like Wortman assumed that “human nature is everywhere essentially the same,” and that the mind was a “plastic” entity “capable of becoming moulded in almost any shape.”⁵ If human nature was indeed universal and thoroughly malleable, the logic went, then there was little reason to venerate or even retain the long-standing geographical and social boundaries that had historically shaped peoples’ sense of identity and obligation. A growing number of late-eighteenth-century cosmopolitans thus re-envisioned traditional forms of allegiance—to family, town, sect, race, and even nation—as mere prejudices that stood in the way of a more philosophically and politically sound set of obligations that embraced the whole of humanity. As the French philosophe Denis Diderot put it: “I prefer my family to myself, my country to my family, the human race to my country.”⁶ The world of popular print in the 1790s was suffused with demonstrations of these new, expansive sympathies, and with exhortations for readers to emulate them—from lists of toasts celebrating freedom fighters around the world, to sympathetic news reports from revolutionary Europe and occasionally even St. Domingue, to utopian solutions for social problems generated by a plethora of new groups who identified themselves as “friends to humanity” or “friends of the people.” As the European historians Margaret Jacob, Lynn Hunt, and Sophia Rosenfeld have demonstrated, the formation of such sympathetic identifications that cut across entrenched social and political boundaries became an increasingly commonplace phenomenon in the last decades of the eighteenth century.⁷ Wortman’s oration, hence, can be seen as merely one, local manifestation of a popular cosmopolitanism that was emerging throughout the revolutionary Atlantic—a cosmopolitanism that encouraged people to divest themselves of “partial prejudices respecting nations,

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


names, and colors” and to work to “advance the increasing welfare of the human species of every class without exception, in all the quarters of the globe.”⁸ This cosmopolitan vision became a significant and hotly contested element of American political discourse in the 1790s, in part because of its radically egalitarian implications, but also because it worked at cross-purposes with the claims of an equally nascent sense of national identity. Like most Americans who sympathized with the goals of their revolutionary compatriots around the world, Wortman espoused a vision of citizenship that implied a sense of obligation to the entire world as well as to one’s nation. He advised patriotic parents, for example, to “teach their children to respect the political establishments of their country, but [also] teach them to reverence truth, liberty and justice more than they regard Constitutions.”⁹ Put most bluntly, Wortman suggested that the good citizen’s commitment to universal principles should trump their allegiance to any particular nation or temporary set of leaders who claimed to speak for it. Most Federalists (and many elite Democrats as well) regarded this as a very dangerous principle, for they thought that only substantial and spontaneous public veneration for the Constitution and its elected stewards could ensure the survival of the fragile new nation’s republican experiment. As Noah Webster had put it in 1789: “Every engine should be employed to render the people of this country national; to call their attachments home to their own country; and to inspire them with the pride of national character.”¹⁰ While nationalists such as Webster wanted American citizens to feel an ever deeper devotion to the nation and thus assign secondary importance to their local or trans-national allegiances, Wortman and his fellow democrats called this emergent nationalism into question, urging people like Tammany’s artisans and mechanics to consider themselves first and foremost world citizens devoted to Painite principles, and only secondarily American citizens. Ordinary Americans expressed these cosmopolitan sympathies in a variety of ways. On an almost weekly basis in the first half of the 1790s, essayists and toastmasters identifying themselves as a “friend to the Rights of Man” or “a friend to Universal Justice” inserted pieces in American newspapers celebrating the day when “liberty [may] triumphantly wave her banners over the earth,” or when “all the free Republics [would] unite in one common cause for the happiness of mankind.”¹¹ In towns throughout the new nation, diverse groups of Americans took to the street to celebrate French victories, or lifted their glasses to toast Polish, Irish, and British patriots.¹² The citizens of Carlisle, Pennsylvania—a hotbed of anti-Federalist sentiment—gathered funds to pur-

Figure 4. “Men, dare to think! . . .” Frontispiece from John-Paul Rabaut, An Impartial History of the Late Revolution in France (1794). As much a call to action as a description of the current times, this print captures the utopian spirit of the early 1790s, when many Americans believed that the French Revolution augured the universal spread of liberty and justice across the globe. This print appeared in a popular sympathetic account of the French Revolution that was sold by every democratic bookseller in the early 1790s. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


chase flour for “the Distressed Friends of Freedom in France” and published a broadside encouraging other towns to do likewise.¹³ Travelers’ accounts from the 1790s contain many reports of taverns filled with Americans singing French Revolutionary songs and heatedly discussing the latest political developments in Europe. The number of Americans seeking instruction in French suddenly surged,¹⁴ while one group of Virginia settlers in 1796 petitioned to name their newly incorporated town after the French Revolutionary song “Ça Ira.”¹⁵ Cosmopolitan excitement about the age of revolutions even transformed how people addressed each other. The term “citizen” (as well as its feminine variant, “citess”) became, in many social circles, commonplace as a personal greeting.¹⁶ One man, for example, closed a letter to Mathew Carey with a long discourse on why he would no longer end his letters with “your humble servant,” but would from now on adopt the more appropriate, French-inspired salutation of “your fellow citizen.”¹⁷ Carey himself addressed one of his business letters in 1793 to a small merchant and farmer in New Jersey whom he identified as “James Craft, cosmopolite et pharmocopolist.”¹⁸ Several Americans, most prominently the Philadelphia newspaper editor and leading anti-Federalist Eleazar Oswald, went so far as to travel to Europe to take up arms on behalf of the French.¹⁹ In sum, the revolutionary atmosphere of these years gave a uniquely cosmopolitan tint to the political aspirations of ordinary Americans. Indeed, it was nearly impossible to become politicized in the 1790s without also becoming an internationalist.²⁰ At the same time that many Americans were avidly adopting a range of cultural practices that emanated out of revolutionary Europe, they also became more likely to encounter people who had directly participated in or witnessed the political action idealized in those cultural forms. Immigration rates soared in the 1790s, bringing tens of thousands of European laborers to the United States. Many of these émigrés were fleeing political persecution, and the presence of such people subtly changed the tone of tavern and marketplace conversation as they introduced their new American neighbors to the latest news and ideas from Europe. Likewise, the resumption of trade after the peace of 1783 brought to American ports an ever increasing number of sailors, a group known in the eighteenth century for their political radicalism.²¹ For much of September 1793, for example, the French privateer Xebec, manned by the “Sans Culottes de Marseilles,” was anchored in Philadelphia’s harbor. No records exist of the street and tavern conversations which must have taken place between these sailors and those Americans who supported their cause, but on 10 September a pro-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

French newspaper thanked “the republican seamen of france, who, by their meritorious exertions” helped their “fellow citizens” put out a fire at Second and Chestnut Streets.²² On 4 July of the following year, Moreau de Saint-Méry and several other French worthies were watching a parade celebrating American independence when a “long procession of French Jacobins, marching two by two, singing the Marseillaise and other republican songs . . . interrupted themselves to address invectives [at us].”²³ We will never know who exactly these international radicals were or to what extent and in what ways they engaged with their American compatriots, for they left behind few printed or manuscript records. It was the assertive presence of such people in the 1790s, however, that made widespread political change seem possible to those who sought it, and dangerous to those who feared it. The various manifestations of popular cosmopolitanism described above have fallen out of our vision of the early republic because historians have tended to assume that American rank-and-file democrats have always been localists. While engagement with contemporary European thinkers and the adoption of an internationalist political perspective did indeed become predominantly elite (and elitist) phenomena in the nineteenth century, this was not at all the case during the revolutionary decade of the 1790s. In those years, cosmopolitan inclinations and outlooks suffused the nation’s popular political culture and met with some of its fiercest resistance among the nation’s political and intellectual leaders. This chapter and the following one seek to unsettle the automatic connection that most modern observers make between localism and populism, cosmopolitanism and elitism. My analysis starts from the assumption that localism—like nationalism, regionalism, and cosmopolitanism—has a complicated and contested history, that local or trans-local allegiances are not features of human nature, but rather the products of specific historical and political moments.²⁴ The political struggles of the 1790s were a pivotal moment in the history of American localism and trans-localism because the primary, reflexive allegiance of newly minted American citizens was not necessarily hooked up yet to an image of a unified American nation. While most democrats identified themselves as patriots, they endorsed a variety of patriotism that was highly skeptical of nationalism—one that, according to one 1796 toastmaster, grew out of “sentiment and not of the soil.”²⁵ In this peculiar historical moment, before an exclusive and exceptionalist version of American national identity had been firmly established, abstract ideals such as liberty, equality, and the rights of man had strong emotional appeal and great intellectual power, especially for

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


those Americans who embraced the French Revolution’s message that ordinary citizens could transform global, national, and local politics.²⁶ The first section of this chapter explores how these cosmopolitan ideals inspired many democratic newspapers in the early 1790s to experiment with strikingly radical and innovative critiques of slavery and racial prejudice. By the late 1790s, as the emergent Democratic Party became increasingly dependent upon the electoral support of the Southern states, most newspapers in that coalition fell silent on the issue of racial justice. All the same, before electoral imperatives moved more to the center of democratic editors’ mission, it was generally assumed that the self-described citizens of the world whom they served understood an opposition to slavery and its attendant racial prejudices to be a key component of what it meant to be a true democrat. The second section of this chapter examines the cosmopolitan language in which an emerging democratic coalition articulated its opposition to the Washington administration. By positioning themselves as advocates for universal political principles that transcended political boundaries, cosmopolitan democrats found an effective way to frame their opposition to the new nation’s leaders as more than narrow-minded party spirit. Both the racially egalitarian and oppositional force of cosmopolitanism faded in the late 1790s as excitement about international democratic revolution waned, but during the heady days of the early 1790s, the French Revolution and the utopian, universalistic political visions it inspired profoundly shaped the contours of American democratic discourse.

Popular Cosmopolitanism and the Democratic Critique of Slavery in the Early 1790s As we saw in the previous chapter, democratic printers capitalized upon the expansion of media in the 1790s to cultivate new solidarities among their readers. By printing news about political initiatives and ideas around the globe and around the new American nation, newspaper editors encouraged their readers on a weekly basis to imaginatively span great geographical distances in order to sympathize with and support other like-minded democrats whom they had never met, and probably never would. Given the nature of politics and the uneven access to print in the late eighteenth century, it should come as no surprise that the overwhelming majority of these new sympathetic identifications involved different groups of white men. Although the democratic newspapers used reports of political events around the Atlantic world to encourage


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

previously depoliticized (if not disenfranchised) men to become more actively engaged in the political conversations and movements of the day, the tenor of these newspapers still implicitly presumed a reader that occupied a racial and gender position that provided them with a basic level of political legitimacy. That said, two developments in the first years of the 1790s—the sudden rise to prominence of European anti-slavery movements and the slave revolt in St. Domingue—combined with the broader utopianism inspired by the French Revolution to push editors of a democratic and cosmopolitan disposition to rethink their position on slavery. While no democratic newspapers supported the abolition of slavery with the same fervor that they supported the revolutionaries in France, most printed a significant number of pieces that encouraged their predominantly white and male readership to forge bonds of solidarity that cut across racial boundaries, sometimes in quite unpredictably radical ways. In the years immediately preceding the French Revolution, American newspaper discussions of slavery’s future (with the exception of many papers in Virginia and the Carolinas) tended to assume that the institution was a disappearing anomaly in the age of democratic revolutions, yet such pieces almost never advocated radical measures to bring a quick end to slavery in America, or asked readers to identify with enslaved or free blacks who were struggling to gain or defend their own freedom. With only a few exceptions, newspaper depictions of enslaved people and free blacks were paternalistic at best, derisive and mocking at worst. Stories using black dialect to mark African Americans as less intelligent appeared with increasing regularity in the 1780s in newspapers across the political spectrum. Occasionally, newspaper essayists advocated greater education or other reforms to improve the lives of free blacks, but they usually advocated such changes as ways to make them “less troublesome to the community than they now are.”²⁷ When newspapers contemplated the end of slavery in America, they framed it as part of the gradual “progress of humanity” and the benign diffusion of civilization and enlightenment, a diffusion that would proceed down the social ladder and eventually bestow its benefits upon those at the bottom by convincing white people to give up their more barbaric treatment of slaves.²⁸ There was nothing revolutionary, or even democratic, about this anti-slavery discourse, for almost never did it propose that slaves could legitimately take a hand in freeing themselves, or that freed slaves or already free blacks could become equal citizens of the new republic. The appearance of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man in May of 1791 began to shift the tone of public discussion around the issue of slavery’s future in

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


America. Even though Paine’s work was primarily about French and British politics, democrats and anti-slavery advocates in Britain and America quickly made it clear that their understanding of “the rights of man” was not merely confined to people like themselves, but applied to “the whole human race black or white, high or low, rich or poor.”²⁹ In September 1791, for example, an author in Eleazar Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer, identified as “A Friend to the Rights of Man,” criticized the common practice by Northern sheriffs of apprehending free blacks and then selling them as slaves.³⁰ The “rights of man,” this piece implied, were shared by black as well as white Americans, and just as American readers sympathized with the political struggles of French and British democrats, they should also side with their black neighbors whose rights were jeopardized. In 1792, another piece signed by “A Friend to the Rights of Man” appeared in both the Augusta Chronicle and the National Gazette and called for an end to the African slave trade, because “nature gave the African rights, of which he cannot be divested without an act of injustice.” Though the author rejected immediate emancipation of all slaves, he looked “forward, with a pleasing anticipation, to the time, when slavery shall not be known in the United States.”³¹ As these pieces suggest, the Painite phrase “the rights of man” that was so avidly appropriated by rank-and-file democrats across the nation to justify their own political empowerment, was, from the moment of its introduction into American political discourse, reflexively associated with an opposition to slavery.³² To some extent, the sympathy such democrats expressed for the suffering of enslaved people was consonant with a broader cultural phenomenon— embraced by people across the political spectrum—that identified slaves as objects of sympathy or pity. In some cases, however, the new language of “the rights of man” pushed American democrats to embrace a more radical variant of anti-slavery discourse. In February 1791, a few months before Paine’s pamphlet was first published in America, Benjamin Bache printed a piece about a slave who had killed a white overseer in self-defense, noting that “a slave, notwithstanding his degraded station, still retains some natural rights, particularly that of self-preservation, which could not be taken from him by human laws, as he derived them from a source infinitely superior to all human authority.”³³ While this story validated the right of personal self-defense and encouraged readers to sympathize with the plight of a cruelly treated slave, it did not necessarily advocate any broader remedy for slavery as a system. A few months after Paine’s Rights of Man had been published, and excerpted extensively in Bache’s


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

paper, he included a story that discussed the same case, only this time the tone of the piece, re-titled “A Lesson to the Oppressed,” more stridently defended the actions of the slave and noted that they should “afford satisfaction to every friend of humanity.”³⁴ Later that same year, Bache’s democratic compatriot at the Argus, Abraham Bishop, wrote a provocative piece entitled “Rights of Black Men” that defended the violent actions of St. Domingue’s slave rebels. Bishop pointed out the absurd racial logic that seemed to underlie white Americans’ trepidation about this slave revolt: “If Freedom depends upon colour, we may have only to seek for the whitest man in the world, that we may find the freest, and for the blackest, that we may find the greatest slave. But the enlightened mind of Americans will not receive such ideas.” Bishop ended with a plea for his fellow Americans not to “sacrifice principle to a paltry partiality for colour.”³⁵ Such pieces suggest that as the pace of political change picked up dramatically around the Atlantic world in late 1791, the increasingly charged language of “the rights of man” led many white democrats like Bishop and Bache to endorse in public forums the armed resistance of black people against a slave system that they now readily acknowledged was just as oppressive as the systems of European monarchy and aristocracy against which American and French revolutionaries had taken up arms. While democratic newspapers did not universally approve of the slave revolt in St. Domingue, they were the only ones to print pieces, like Bishop’s, that equated the actions of black and white freedom fighters. In January 1792, for example, Boston’s Independent Chronicle endorsed the actions of St. Domingue’s slave rebels, noting that “the glorious sentiments of cato, and the Hon. samuel adams, Esq . . . burn strong in their bosoms . . . ‘that one moment of Liberty, is worth an eternity of bondage.’ ”³⁶ That same week, Abraham Bishop, the author of “Rights of Black Men” offered the readers of the Argus a “retrospect” of the year’s major events, in which he commented favorably on the French Revolution, the anti-imperialist movement of Tipu Sultan in India, and the rebellion in St. Domingue—three movements that he saw as animated by the same virtuous principles. After equating the struggle of blacks in St. Domingue to that of the American patriots at Lexington, and suggesting that Indian violence on the frontier had been provoked by the injustice of whites stealing the Indians’ land, Bishop defused his readers’ potential resistance to his radical analysis by admitting that “queries of this nature may offend the great; but the honest soul . . . knows one principle alone, that is equality of right for the world of man.” According to Bishop, such a person “dares to pronounce, the

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


Negro, melting in the blaze of day—the Indian, freezing at the polar point— and the White inhabitants of more temperate Europe, the Children of one Father. . . . That pliancy of sentiment, which establishes a code of freedom for one part of the globe, and silently sanctions slavery as the deserved portion of the rest, is totally unworthy of Americans.”³⁷ By yoking together the resistance exhibited by American colonists in the 1770s, contemporary French democrats, Native Americans on the frontier, slaves in St. Domingue, and the colonial subjects of India, pieces like this one articulated a distinctly democratic version of American cosmopolitanism that encouraged readers to imaginatively cross lines of race and geography to identify with the oppressed against their oppressors. Indeed, the term “oppression” turned up frequently in the early 1790s newspaper pieces on slavery, functioning as a useful way to establish equivalencies between the political and economic sufferings of white Americans and the plight of blacks. As we will see in chapter 4, democratic newspapers frequently used the word “oppression” to name the economic hardships of poor farmers and artisans who were being harmed by the Hamiltonian economic policies of the Washington administration. White men associated “oppression” with losing one’s foothold as an independent proprietor, which many democrats had come to see as a universal birthright. Thus, when the newspapers they read began to use that same terminology to describe slavery, these white readers were encouraged to see themselves as sharing the same plight as people of African descent. Eleazar Oswald, for example, printed excerpts in his Independent Gazetteer from a French anti-slavery tract that described how Africans had been “taken by violence from the middle of their fields [and] separated from their families and friends,” an image that he knew would resonate powerfully with his largely agrarian readership, a significant number of whom were facing foreclosure on their farms and a life of dispossession and dislocation.³⁸ Much like the democratic critique of excessive wealth that became amplified at this same historical moment in the pages of every democratic paper, the slave trade was also framed as a means by which a fortunate few acquired illgotten gains at the expense of the unfortunate many. One anti-slavery piece in Bache’s paper, for example, explained the profits made in the slave trade thus: “There is scarcely one rich man out of one hundred, who was not himself an oppressor, or the son of an oppressor.”³⁹ This language of oppression tapped into a deep wellspring of populist resentment and moral outrage and directed it at slave traders and owners on behalf of the enslaved, a group of people who had not historically been such an object of concern or sympathy for ordinary


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

white Americans. Many pieces drew out the explicit lesson of such sympathetic stories that humanized the enslaved, urging readers to “consider ourselves as in their [the slaves] predicament. . . . Make no evasion—all our sensations are felt in them—the same that hurts and wounds us, hurts and wounds them.”⁴⁰ Just as Thomas Paine in Common Sense had asked his readers to transport themselves to Boston to imagine the sufferings of their fellow colonists, democratic editors repeatedly encouraged their readers to transport themselves to Africa to imagine being subjected to the brutalities of the slave trade. In the early 1790s virtually every other democratic editor printed pieces that echoed such injunctions for white Americans to resist the imperative to confine their sense of empathy and solidarity to those who shared their skin color. Commenting on a story about the massacre of white sailors by their captive slaves, Benjamin Bache urged his readers not to mourn this loss of life but rather to “rejoice.” He hoped “that no citizen of the United States is so far blinded by prejudice, as to think the lives of a petty gang of robbers and kidnappers an object of greater consequence (merely because they happen to be white men) than the lives and happiness of several hundred honest unoffending Africans, whose only crime is, that their faces are black.”⁴¹ Aware that their readers might at first recoil at stories about Africans killing Europeans, editors pushed readers to question that reflexive identification along racial lines in order to embrace a vision of justice and “the rights of man, without regard to . . . colour or complexion.”⁴² Thomas Greenleaf, who had reprinted Bishop’s previously mentioned retrospective in 1792, used the words of French reformers to make a similarly anti-racist point in May of 1794. He devoted two columns to the French National Assembly’s debate about abolishing slavery in the French colonies, a debate in which one delegate declared: “We cannot dissemble but that in our Constitution we have been egoists, and that we have forgotten the people of colour. . . . Let us decree that all men of colour are French Citizens, and that they shall enjoy the blessings of the constitution.” At this point, the translator, who may or may not have been Greenleaf, added the note: “We translate literally. By People of Colour the French mean all the shades from white down to positive black inclusive.” The account ended with Georges Danton’s observation that: “Hitherto you have decreed liberty only to yourselves, but to day in the face of the universe you have decreed universal liberty. Hitherto your liberty has appeared a kind of rust, but this day it is brightened.”⁴³ While the radical implications of such pieces may have been muted by the fact that these events had taken place beyond the boundaries of the United States,

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


editors often brought the moral of the story home by linking such sentiments of interracial solidarity to the founding principles of the new nation. As one author in the National Gazette put it, in a piece criticizing the exclusion of African Americans from a Philadelphia church, “I believe (tho’ some may contradict it) that our constitution recognizes the rights of negroes.”⁴⁴ Such cosmopolitan rights talk encouraged readers to see their own society from an outsider’s perspective, and to rethink previously unremarkable features of it. In the early 1790s, for example, the enslavement of white American sailors in North Africa generated much righteous outrage in the nation’s newspapers as readers imagined their friends or relatives subjected to the brutalities of enslavement. Only the most radically democratic newspapers, however, used this event to point out the hypocrisy of condemning slavery only when its victims were white. As a writer in Bache’s paper put it, “If Pennsylvanians can . . . hold in slavery some thousands of the human race, to administer to their luxury or pleasure, it cannot be wrong in the Algerines to enslave 4 or 500 Americans for the same purposes.”⁴⁵ This argument for what we might call radical interchangeability—that is, for the idea that all human lives are equally valuable and worthy of respect—appeared with increasing frequency in the early 1790s. In the summer of 1791, for example, a piece in Oswald’s paper asked his white readership to join him in deriding a white lawyer who “was very much chagrined” when he was “beat . . . hollow” by a plaintiff ’s lawyer, “black Peter, a Negro.”⁴⁶ Although such populist humor that took pleasure in the humiliation of the powerful by the weak was most commonly used to ridicule wealthy nabobs who thought themselves more suited to rule than their nonelite neighbors, it was also quickly picked up by those who sought to contest the idea that blacks and whites should be treated differently. By asking readers to laugh with and not at self-assertive African Americans, and to root for rather than against slave rebels, democratic editors urged readers to resist the countervailing impulse to identify along racial lines, an impulse that was also gaining strength at that historical moment. This distinctively cosmopolitan variant of anti-slavery discourse differed from the dominant discourse of sentimental anti-slavery, in that it more fully collapsed the distinction between the sympathetic witness and the pitied victim. Just as cosmopolitans called for solidarity with European revolutionaries in the shared cause of democratization, these anti-slavery pieces in the early 1790s extended the ties of solidarity to both free and enslaved people of African descent, in the name of remaining true to the nation’s founding principles.


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

In several cases, democrats translated these abstract calls for interracial solidarity into local action. Democratic editors like Eleazar Oswald and Robert Coram, along with many of their fellow democrats, joined local anti-slavery societies that worked to end slavery and protect the rights of free blacks.⁴⁷ Democratic editors also played a key role in publicizing the actions of European anti-slavery activists. Eleazar Oswald, for example, brought the work of the French abolitionist writer Benjamin Frossard to the attention of the reading public, producing the only published translation of his work to appear in America.⁴⁸ Oswald’s newspaper also frequently drew attention to how racial prejudice distorted social interaction among Philadelphians in ways that contradicted the nation’s founding egalitarian principles. The 23 June 1792 edition of the Independent Gazetteer, for example, took the unusual step of acknowledging the death of an African American resident of Philadelphia. Her funeral procession included “numerous . . . people of her own color, and a very respectable [number] of white citizens. This pleasing instance of total indifference to complexion, though on a melancholy occasion, must prove a greatful piece of intelligence to those inhabitants of the United States, who, to their own credit, have for years past espoused the cause of the greatly injured African race, notwithstanding all the persecution to which they have been exposed from the less humane, a happy presage of the time fast approaching, when the important declaration in holy writ will be fully versified, that ‘God hath made of one blood, all the nations of the earth.’ ”⁴⁹ A few columns away, this same edition of the newspaper also told readers of anti-slavery actions taken by both the British House of Commons and the French National Assembly. By juxtaposing such stories critical of slavery and racism—stories that took place both in one’s home town and in loci of revolutionary activity around the globe—newspapers like Oswald’s crafted a democratic, cosmopolitan take on slavery that emphasized the links between universal imperatives, international political action, and local—even personal—action. In this way, the newspaper’s solidifying narrative of democratic cosmopolitanism gave broader political meaning to the personal ties of friendship that motivated white Philadelphians to attend an African American woman’s funeral. These ties stretched not just backward to the unique histories of such friendships, but also forward into a preferable future in which cosmopolitan citizens ceased to pay heed to the racial divisions that marred the present. The simultaneously global and personal approach to discussing slavery also surfaced in several articles that lamented the extent to which non-slaveholding

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


whites were complicit with the immorality of slavery through their consumption habits. Bache, for example, printed an article that recounted the horrors of life on a West Indian sugar plantation, and then went on to recommend the use of the sugar maple in the American North as an alternative means of acquiring “this fatal sweet . . . without a crime.”⁵⁰ A few months earlier, Eleazar Oswald had printed a dialogue between a bee and a West Indian slave that counseled the use of honey instead of slave-produced sugar. After the slave told his story about having been ripped away from a happy and prosperous life in Africa, the bee described his production of sugar as “a life of pleasure,” claiming that “the white men are welcome to my work instead of thine.” When asked why whites repeatedly chose sugar and its attendant miseries over happily produced honey, the slave could only conjecture that “the fetiches, whom the whites worship, have joy in evil, and love the negro’s groan.”⁵¹ By establishing the chain of causality that linked two seemingly disconnected experiences—the pleasure of eating sugar in one’s home and the suffering of a slave in the West Indies— these texts gave an abstract commitment to “the rights of man” or to “universal benevolence” a distinctly embodied focus. Readers were asked to imagine themselves not just as local subjects engaged in face-to-face relationships with those who lived near them, but as global subjects who were embedded in, and hence morally complicit with, a host of social and economic arrangements of which they would have been highly critical had these arrangements pertained in their localities. Cosmopolitan arguments about slavery in the early 1790s thus pushed people to think about the larger structures of power in which they lived out their lives. One radical pamphleteer boiled down this point to its most simple formulation. Sugar and coffee, he suggested, could be defined thus: “Vegetables which have been the ruin and misery of two parts of the world; America has been unpeopled to get land to plant them in, and Africa is unpeopled to cultivate them.”⁵² What is perhaps most striking about this outpouring of anti-slavery and anti-racist material in the democratic newspapers of the early 1790s is that the editors who selected and published these pieces had little political advantage to gain by it. Attacking those who consumed sugar or coffee, or, even worse, condemning the immorality of slavery, the economic lifeblood of the region of the country that was most sympathetic to the emerging democratic coalition’s criticism of the Washington administration, were hardly tactics likely to bring about electoral success. The lure of these pieces on slavery, much like the inspirational stories about the emerging democratic initiatives in France, Britain, and Ireland,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

lay in their ability to give concrete shape to a slowly unfolding story about the translation of compelling universal principles into reality. Indeed, the only way in which these editors tried to score political points with pieces about slavery was when they linked the French Revolution with abolition and the British government with efforts to protect slavery. One commentator in Bache’s paper, for example, noted with pleasure that the anti-slavery play The Tragedy of Gustavus Vasa was being performed in a Philadelphia theater after having been banned in London “by interference of Government, on account of its containing sentiments too much in favor of Liberty.”⁵³ When democratic newspapers linked the issue of slavery to the geopolitical conflicts of the day, they did so in such a way as to reinforce popular support for a France that was on the side of liberation and justice, and to encourage opposition to a British government that sought to thwart such progress. Story after story narrated these countervailing processes in great detail—British leaders ignored ordinary citizens and opposition politicians who petitioned to end the slave trade, while French revolutionaries declared that “Negroes . . . are also of the nation . . . [because] goodness, courage, patience, [and] humanity, are . . . the portion of blacks as well as whites.”⁵⁴ While few historians have noted the prevalence of anti-slavery opinion in the democratic newspapers of the 1790s, their political opponents at the time frequently ridiculed those democrats who came forward to support the rights of blacks. At times these criticisms were principled. A writer in Noah Webster’s American Minerva, for example, asked how the Southern members of a “Democratical Society” who call for “the Rights of Man forever” could really mean that. After all, “suppose your slaves should take arms and fight hard to gain their freedom, could you blame them?” The author then tauntingly suggested that a “popular Society of your Slaves” should be formed “to watch over their masters. . . . Call it not trifling. The business is an embryo in your own principles.”⁵⁵ One author, writing in the Gazette of the United States, took a more playful run at the same theme, noting how Southerners had joined their Northern brethren in singing the praises of “Liberty and Equality, Paine and the Rights of Man,” and so on, except that in the South they enacted these principles by saying “Citizen Caesar, or Citizen Pompey, clean my boots,” or by auctioning off “Citizen Alexander.”⁵⁶ Pieces like these seemed to acknowledge both the legitimacy of abolition and the radically anti-slavery implications of Painite talk about the rights of man, yet they also pointed out how unlikely it was that a coalition that rested so heavily on support from the South would actually follow through on those principles in any meaningful way. Put another

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


way, these critics regarded the cosmopolitan anti-slavery position as more sound than substance, a rhetorical flourish that seemed to promise much but had no real possibility of delivering on those promises. While this strand of Federalist criticism emphasized the ways in which Southern democrats hypocritically mistreated their slaves, a more cynical variety of Federalist attacks criticized democrats for being ludicrously radical in their racial views and overly solicitous of African Americans. Several Federalist wags depicted the frequent public celebrations orchestrated by democrats as scandalous orgies of interracial fraternization. One poet, for example, described John Hancock’s welcoming of black Bostonians to a public meeting as an encounter between inarticulate and odiferous “sons of Afric” and the “driveling folly” of a democratic demagogue who “lubb de Neger.”⁵⁷ Another poet portrayed a “glorious Independence Day” celebration as a day of disorder and “blest equality,” when “father and mother are but men, [and] Sambo [the fiddler] is a citizen.” The poem ends with a motley crew of revelers getting the squire to “drink until [he is] blind” so they can wheel out the “French Guillotine” without him noticing.⁵⁸ As we will see in the next chapter, this association of cosmopolitanism and the breakdown of all social order and hierarchy became quite common in the last half of the 1790s. Even though, in the aggregate, more Federalists than Democrats favored abolition and supported the rights of free blacks, many Federalists were still willing to score political points by playing upon white fears of racial disorder. In one New Jersey race, for example, the Federalist candidate accused his Democratic opponent of being “a Jacobin, Frenchman, and a leveler of all order and distinction . . . [who] intended to advocate the immediate emancipation of all the Negroes.”⁵⁹ With only a few exceptions, democratic newspapers north of Maryland throughout the 1790s resisted the impulse to gain political advantage by fanning white fears of racial disorder, even when the Federalist candidate was an abolitionist. Such restraint, from a group of political activists generally not known for their habits of self-censorship, testifies to how thoroughly the cosmopolitan case against slavery and racism had been absorbed by these early democrats. That said, over time, a different form of self-censorship came to mark democratic editors’ engagement with the issue of slavery. They largely ceased printing stridently anti-slavery pieces and began to defend explicitly those Southern members of the democratic coalition who owned slaves. It was primarily partisan imperatives that drove this change, for by 1795 it had become clear that at the federal level the South made up a central part of the emerging democratic


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

coalition. Indeed, while this transformation occurred at different times in different newspapers, it roughly coincided with the heated debates over the Jay Treaty in 1795, a debate in which Northern democrats depended upon the support of Southern congressmen to resist implementation of a treaty they regarded as pro-British and dangerously subversive of the national interest. Whereas earlier democratic newspapers had asked readers to empathize with the enslaved and only occasionally apologized for criticizing “the mistaken polic[ies] of [our] sister state[s],”⁶⁰ now they began attacking those Northerners who asked “insulting” and “artful impolitic questions” about slavery.⁶¹ As the claims of partisanship and national harmony gained strength, the cosmopolitan case against slavery received less and less attention on the pages of democratic newspapers. As one democratic editor euphemistically put it in 1797: “If our southern neighbours are a little different from us, let us look upon the differences with charity and candour.” In the name of “every sentiment of philanthropy, liberality or common justice,” this editor chastised those who called Southerners “despotic negro whippers,” and savored the possibility that “their negroes are going to rise up against them and cut their throats.” Whereas such fantasies of racial retribution were once floated under the banner of “the rights of man,” democratic newspapers now more frequently made the case that it was “the duty of every citizen” to honor the interests of American slaveholders and forswear such identifications with the enslaved.⁶² The way Democrats publicly discussed slavery and race at the close of the 1790s differed dramatically from how democrats had treated these issues in the first half of that decade.⁶³ Whereas the Painite language of “the rights of man” and the anti-slavery example of the French revolutionaries and British reformers had pushed American democrats to embrace cosmopolitan principles that framed slavery and racial inequality as profound deviations from the nation’s founding principles, most Democrats became less dedicated to that position (or at least less willing to articulate it publicly) during the last half of the decade. In an 1800 pamphlet supporting Jefferson for president, for example, Tunis Wortman—the abolitionist who delivered the cosmopolitan speech which began this chapter—went to great lengths to assert the “moral and physical inferiority” of black Americans, that “different race of men.” While he still regarded slavery as a contradiction to the nation’s founding principles, he echoed Jefferson in recoiling at the idea of racial “intermingling,” for fear that America would “become a motley and degenerate race of mulattoes.”⁶⁴ It is possible that Wortman had held these ideas earlier, but it is significant that this was the first

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


time he had expressed them publicly. Espousing racial inequality while admitting that slavery was wrong in the abstract became a common trope in the Democratic newspapers and pamphlets in the run up to the election of 1800. By that time, the Democratic coalition had few people within it who were willing to advocate national emancipation or challenge arguments about natural racial inequality that were coming to play an increasingly powerful role in national political discourse. After its brief moment of flowering in the early 1790s, an anti-slavery persuasion that was simultaneously democratic, cosmopolitan, and rooted in the discourse of “the rights of man” largely disappeared from the mainstream of American political debate.

Popular Cosmopolitanism as an Oppositional Idiom Just as popular cosmopolitanism significantly shifted the national discussion about race and slavery in the early 1790s, it had an even more profound effect on the language and practice of political dissent. The sudden rise of a democratic opposition that spoke in a cosmopolitan idiom was far from a predictable development. During the debates over the Constitution in 1787–88, the anti-federalist opposition positioned itself as the defender of local, traditional rights, against what was perceived to be the overly consolidated and distant power of the proposed federal government. When that battle ended with the ratification of the Constitution, a significant portion of the American population remained dissatisfied with the new order, but the American political vocabulary did not offer such people many ways to express this disenchantment aside from the high-stakes language of revolution. As pockets of dissatisfaction grew into a more formidable opposition in the early 1790s, the Washington administration’s supporters charged this coalition with trying to form a faction or a party, and such accusations carried great rhetorical weight. According to the dictates of eighteenth-century Anglo-American political culture, only selfserving, ambitious, and potentially treasonous men joined together to form a lasting opposition to the government.⁶⁵ Likewise, just as groups of dissenters could not identify themselves as a party, neither could they embrace the term “anti-federalism,” for it also had powerfully negative connotations. The popular cosmopolitanism generated by the French Revolution, however, provided a new and compelling way for American democrats to justify their opposition. After asserting their allegiance to the supposedly universal principles that animated the American and French Revolutions, American democrats could then


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

claim that the nation’s current leaders had fallen away from these principles and needed to be called back to them by the people. In this way, American democrats appropriated a centuries-old British language of patriotism that colonial Whigs had used in the 1760s and 1770s, and transformed it into a more cosmopolitan persuasion better suited to the age of democratic revolution. Since the early eighteenth century, the British opposition (both Whig and Tory) had justified itself by describing its actions as patriotic rather than disloyal. Americans were quite familiar with this strategy because they had adopted it during the imperial crisis of the 1760s and 1770s, casting themselves not as innovators but as the heirs to a venerable patriotic tradition that stretched back to John Locke, Algernon Sydney, John Milton, John Hampden, and others. Patriotic arguments in this Anglo-American tradition took two different forms. First, patriots could claim that they sought to save the nation from corruption. Such arguments assumed that the basic structures and underlying principles of the nation were just. The objects of reform were merely the particular people who were supposedly sullying the glorious fixed principles which defined the true British government. Second, patriots could argue that they wanted only to restore the Ancient Constitution of Britain, from which current practice had severely deviated. Such arguments rested upon historical claims about how pre– Norman Conquest Britons governed themselves. In the 1790s, these arguments based on the Ancient Constitution took on a highly radical valence as democratic reformers portrayed ancient Britain as an inclusive, democratic, decentralized polity. Thus, the eighteenth century’s language of patriotism differed significantly from the jingoistic, nationalistic patriotism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In this earlier period, the self-described patriot was generally the critic, not the defender of the political status quo.⁶⁶ Because of the particularities of place and time, Americans in the 1790s had to reconfigure this Anglo-American language of patriotism to make it a viable justification for their own opposition. First, arguments about corruption were not effective, because few agreed on what the fixed principles of the newly minted American polity were. In the improvisational atmosphere of the nation’s first years, legislators and citizens explored what, exactly, the vague language of the Constitution would mean in practice. Because Alexander Hamilton could so easily defend his actions as congruent with the intent of the Constitution’s framers (in part because he was one), it was not effective to accuse him of deviating from some pure model. Likewise, the patriotic opposition had no Ancient American Constitution to restore and defend. Thus, without a virtuous past in

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


which to ground their opposition, Americans had to find other ways to define their actions as more than just the grumblings of disappointed office-seekers or the machinations of potentially traitorous demagogues. Placed in this dilemma, many Americans chose to articulate their opposition in a cosmopolitan, Painite language of natural rights. They measured federal policies not against past models of virtuous governance, but against the radical enlightenment abstractions of liberty, equality, and universal justice. American patriots appropriated many older symbols of British patriotism for their new oppositional appeal, lifting them out of their specific historical contexts and integrating them into a cosmopolitan narrative of world revolution. Algernon Sydney, for example, had long stood as the quintessential British patriot, the man who gave his life in the cause of defending the Ancient Constitution from corruption. In the 1790s, however, Sydney appeared in American newspapers not as a defender of historical British rights, but as an apostle of “universal emancipation” and an inspiration to the “patriots of the world.”⁶⁷ The American authors of numerous political toasts turned the eminently English Algernon Sydney of the seventeenth century into an unlikely mixture of Thomas Paine, a United Irishman, and a sans-culotte. With such appropriations, Painite radicals in the 1790s transformed a chauvinistic tradition that had stressed the unique virtue of Britain’s political past, into a cosmopolitan critique of national pride. In his Political Dictionary: Describing the True Meaning of Words, one such radical, Charles Pigott, pithily captured this transformation when he defined “Prejudice (National)” as “a near, though an illegitimate, relation of patriotism.”⁶⁸ The true patriot of the 1790s had not just the good of the nation in mind, but the good of the world. It was in this transatlantic language of cosmopolitan patriotism that the American opposition first articulated itself. The foundational English-language text for an emerging community of cosmopolitan political dissidents was supplied by Richard Price, a British dissenting minister who had been a prominent supporter of the American Revolution. His celebratory sermon on the French Revolution, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country (1789), was quickly reprinted in America and became widely known, thanks to newspaper editors who excerpted it, and to Edmund Burke, who opened his Reflections on the Revolution in France with a vicious attack on it. Indeed, when Benjamin Franklin Bache issued the first edition of his new Philadelphia newspaper in 1790, he included on the front page a toast in support of the French Revolution that Price had delivered at a meeting of London’s leading radicals. The title of Price’s sermon was deceptive, for his main goal was


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

not to explain why Britons should love their own country, but rather why they should abandon their traditional hatred for France in order to celebrate and support the recent events there. Because hating the French was such a central feature of what it meant to be British in the eighteenth century, Price had to make a creative cosmopolitan case for why his fellow citizens should look fondly upon the revolutionary events unfolding across the channel. The noblest principle in our nature is the regard to general justice, and that good-will which embraces all the world. . . . It cannot be too often repeated . . . a narrower interest ought always to give way to a more extensive interest. In pursuing particularly the interest of our country, we ought to carry our views beyond it. We should love it ardently, but not exclusively. We ought to seek its good, by all the means that our different circumstances, and abilities will allow; but, at the same time, we ought to consider ourselves as citizens of the world, and take care to maintain a just regard to the rights of other countries. As this passage suggests, Price’s Discourse on the Love of Our Country said much about the ways in which one should not love one’s country, going to great lengths to distinguish “that love of our country which is false and spurious” from that “which is just and reasonable.” Price criticized nationalism as a “partial affection,” a “blind and narrow principle” that oftentimes distorted one’s perception of the world.⁶⁹ As Price saw it, Christ’s example demonstrated that the noblest perspective ignored the differences of nation, creed, or race, and instead viewed the world through the prism of “universal benevolence”—one of the key concepts that came to define what it meant to be a democrat in this era.⁷⁰ Nothing made this cosmopolitan appeal more compelling in the early 1790s than the almost unanimous American excitement about the French Revolution and its professed goal to democratize the world. Indeed, it was with particular zeal that Americans celebrated the political transformations in France and gloated over the desperate fears that they provoked among Britain’s ruling elite. Americans had just spent years fighting the British, suffering injuries and various injustices at their hands, while the French had offered significant assistance to America during the war. Thus, the Revolution had nurtured a visceral Anglophobia, and this combined with the memory of French generosity to overdetermine the American response to the events of 1789. When Lafayette sent Washington the key to the Bastille in 1790, it cemented the perception that the French Revolution was a European manifestation of the same spirit

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


that had motivated the Americans in 1776. As one July 4th orator explained it (in a speech that was then reprinted by pro-French radicals in Ireland): “The discovery of America is the first link in a chain of causes, which bids fair to enlarge the happiness of mankind, by regenerating the principles of government in every quarter of the world.”⁷¹ By 1792, few Americans dared to disagree in public with Philip Freneau’s claim that “the cause of France was . . . the cause of every free American.”⁷² For the first two years of the French Revolution, American support was so widely shared that pro-French sentiments did not necessarily have an oppositional political valence.⁷³ Even newspapers like Boston’s Columbian Centinel— a publication that had been staunchly federalist in the late 1780s and would become viciously critical of Paine and the French Revolution in the mid1790s—portrayed the European events of 1789–91 in positive terms. In late 1791, for example, editor Benjamin Russell printed a poetic tribute to the legacy of “Common Sense” and the French efforts “to complete thy glorious plan” by leading the world “higher to the Rights of Man.” That day’s paper also contained a scathing article about the French Revolution’s most well-known critic, Edmund Burke.⁷⁴ When voluntary organizations of all sorts congregated in 1790 and 1791 to celebrate occasions like Washington’s birthday or July Fourth, they easily placed expressions of respect for the Washington administration alongside glowing endorsements of Paine, Lafayette, and other European “patriots.” John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams (writing under the pseudonym Publicola) wrote the only two major American publications to appear before 1793 that expressed even moderate reservations about the events unfolding in France.⁷⁵ Although many conservative elites criticized the French in their private correspondence, trying to differentiate America’s revolution from France’s, they knew that such sentiments would not be well received by the general reading public, and thus they generally kept them to themselves.⁷⁶ Early coverage of events in revolutionary Europe often contained statements intended to bolster American readers’ pride in having touched off those developments. One review of 1791’s major political transformations around the world, for example, ended by noting that “America set the example: France copied her animated portraits: and the universe is rapidly approaching to the true knowledge of government.”⁷⁷ Another writer similarly celebrated the extent to which “that monster common sense” was transforming “public opinion . . . in Sardinia, the Netherlands, &c” and hence hastening the downfall of monarchical governments across Europe.⁷⁸ Pieces like these, which were quite com-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

mon in 1791 and 1792, framed events in Europe as largely imitative efforts to replicate the perfect political system that Americans had achieved with their own revolution and constitutional settlement. Those newspapers that had been decidedly pro-federalist in the late 1780s and that would become pro-Federalist in the mid- and late 1790s, tended to discuss foreign affairs in this manner. The accounts of international events in opposition papers, however, soon began to use stories about foreign radicalism to suggest that America had not yet fully realized its revolutionary promise to its citizens and the world. Democratic editors quickly embraced such a strategy as a way to articulate an alternative, more democratic path for the American nation, and to goad their readers into examining American society anew with more critical eyes.⁷⁹ Indeed, although the majority of Americans shared a positive evaluation of the French Revolution, there were signs early on that opinions could differ dramatically about the American implications of French events. In February 1791, for example, New York’s Tammany Society, composed primarily of artisans, mechanics, and middling professionals, joined with the Society of the Cincinnati, composed of generally well-born former officers in the Continental Army, for a celebration of Washington’s birthday. Although the two groups shared the evening’s meal and each other’s company, their separate toasts reveal quite different interpretations of contemporary European and American politics. The Tammany Society toasted the “Marquis de Lafayette, . . . the friends of virtue and liberty throughout all nations . . . [and the] patriots of France,” and then ended with a domestic application of these pro-French sentiments: “May the baneful weeds of aristocracy never be suffered to spring up in the garden of freedom.” The Society of the Cincinnati, a group that had frequently been criticized as being quasi-aristocratic, made little mention of contemporary European events, offering only a lukewarm toast to the “health and happiness [of ] our friends throughout the world.” Choosing instead to look backward to the American Revolution for their examples of virtuous political action, the Cincinnati toasted “the dear memory of those illustrious patriots who shed their blood in the cause of freedom,” and “the rising generation; may they, like their fathers, love their country.”⁸⁰ Whereas the relatively humble men of the Tammany Society expressed a cosmopolitan interest in and support for the French Revolution, the well-off members of the Cincinnati crafted a set of far more nationalistic, patriarchal toasts. The two groups could toast the nation’s president together, but their ideas about what that nation and its citizens should stand for differed quite dramatically.

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


A few months later, in May of 1791, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (part 1) appeared in American bookstores and instantly sped up the process of transforming pro-French discourse into a means of criticizing American political leaders and their policies. Paine interpreted the French Revolution as a continuation of America’s successful revolt against monarchy and aristocracy. Although Paine’s primary focus was European, and especially British, politics, opposition leaders knew that his American readers would apply Paine’s critique to the American situation, thus turning his pamphlet into an effective counterweight to the perceived Anglophilic and aristocratic sympathies of some American leaders. Thomas Jefferson, for example, put forward this interpretation of the American impact of Paine’s work in a May 1791 letter to the British radical Benjamin Vaughan: “We have some names of note here who have apostatised from the true faith, but they are few indeed, and the body of our citizens are pure . . . in their republicanism. Mr. Paine’s answer to Burke will be a refreshing shower to their minds.”⁸¹ In that same month, Benjamin Franklin Bache informed his readers that “the rapid circulation of Mr. Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’ . . . shews that notwithstanding the prejudices in favor of Monarchy still entertained by many of those who call themselves citizens of America, . . . our countrymen have not departed from the glorious principles” which inspired them to fight the revolution.⁸² Just as Richard Price had used the French Revolution as a means to effect change in Pitt’s Britain, American editors like Bache began to use inspiring accounts of the French Revolution, like Paine’s, as a way to encourage Americans to think critically about the political status quo in their own country, and to regard their own revolution as an ongoing process that had yet to realize its full promise. As editors forged an ever tighter rhetorical link between foreign and local movements for political change, this strategy nurtured a hopeful optimism in those who sought change, and a growing fear in those who sought order. In this spirit of optimism, editor Thomas Greenleaf eagerly informed his readers about a meeting of the Revolution Society in London attended by the leading British radicals of the day. After naming many of them, Greenleaf noted that Thomas Paine rose to toast “the revolution of all the world.” In future papers, Greenleaf continued to follow the efforts of these vehemently pro-French radicals to effect constitutional change in Britain. On 14 January 1792, only ten days after Greenleaf ’s report, Boston’s Federalist editor Benjamin Russell included this same story in his paper, but derisively described Paine’s toast as “extraordinary.” Other pieces in Russell’s paper made it clear that he was becoming


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

increasingly skeptical about British radicals like Paine and Joseph Priestley, and he wanted his readers to share his discomfort with the radical cosmopolitanism of Paine’s toast.⁸³ Those who shared Russell’s trepidation were responding to the increasingly assertive and politically charged cosmopolitanism of pro-French Americans. In February of 1792, for example, the Tammany Society of New York again celebrated Washington’s birthday, but this time they chose not to join the Society of the Cincinnati, and their toasts, like Paine’s, reflected the increasingly utopian aspirations of the day. Through their toasts Tammany’s middling men expressed their support for the worldwide transformation that they believed the French Revolution had unleashed: “An uninterrupted enjoyment of the rights of man to all the world. . . . May the genius of freedom accompany the American stars to the uttermost regions of the earth, and under their influence proclaim the rights of man. . . . May the oppressed sons of liberty, in foreign climes, ever find a peaceful asylum in this, our land of freedom. . . . May the eagle of liberty hover over the world, and grasp all tyrants in its talons.” Having clearly put themselves on the side of an international movement seeking to regenerate the world through the spread of enlightened principles, the Tammany members gently reminded their domestic foes that they were not excluded from this narrative of regeneration. One of their final toasts—“May the love of liberty be ever superior to the love of property”—was a thinly veiled reference to Alexander Hamilton’s controversial plans for the nation’s economic future.⁸⁴ In the previous few weeks, Greenleaf had been printing story after story about Hamiltonian policies that would have protected the ill-gotten holdings of the rich while disproportionately taxing the meager earnings of tradesmen and farmers. This class-inflected rhetoric had particular resonance in New York at that moment because the state had recently refused to incorporate a society of mechanics yet had granted significant assistance to groups of wealthy men who wanted to form banks and other economic ventures. Indeed, on the same day that Greenleaf printed Tammany’s toasts, he also printed an essay that defended the mechanics’ right to incorporate, in which he framed their “democratic” spirit as “a wholesome check to the baneful growth of aristocratic weeds among us.”⁸⁵ Tammany’s toast about valuing “liberty” over “property” thus tapped into this ongoing discussion in Greenleaf ’s paper, explicitly linking calls for greater social and economic equality to the cause of “the rights of man.” As this context suggests, Tammany’s seemingly abstract toasts had very specific referents for their contemporary auditors and readers. The example of the

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


French Revolution and the “oppressed sons of liberty in foreign climes” recast the mechanics’ particular domestic claims as part of a struggle that included international participants and held international implications. The age of democratic revolutions raised the stakes of domestic political disputes, turning the battle over the incorporation of a mechanics’ society, or debates regarding economic speculation, into microcosms of the grand Atlantic-wide war between “the people” and the entrenched “privileged orders” who sought to deny them access to economic and political power.⁸⁶ It was primarily through the mechanism of opposition newspapers that American readers learned to weave local and international events into the coherent cosmopolitan narrative that, for many, motivated their political behaviors. At the same time, those who wished for a more ordered, tranquil American society lamented the ways in which this cosmopolitan narrative enabled the opposition to transform every political debate, no matter how mundane the issue, into a test case of one’s political sympathies—democratic or aristocratic. Over time, the emergent network of democratic printers made these Federalists’ fears come true, effectively channeling their readers’ pro-French sympathies into a class-inflected cosmopolitan critique of the Washington administration. Framing France as a vanguard nation carrying on the political work of the American Revolution, opposition writers argued that America’s current leaders were too admiring of Britain, too lukewarm in their support for France, and thus threatening to bring about a Burkean counterrevolution in America. The fate of democracy in America, in other words, seemed intimately tied to the success of the French Revolution. As Eleazar Oswald explained it in June of 1792: “Should a counterrevolution be ultimately affected in France, the advocates of hereditary government and titular dignities here may again be emboldened to come forward with their pernicious doctrines.”⁸⁷ It was in this spirit of international solidarity that many writers called for Americans to emulate the more democratic practices of the French. The pseudonymous “Diogenes,” for example, contrasted American usage of honorific terms like “Worshipful Mayor,” “Esquire,” “Reverend,” “Honorable,” or “Excellency” to the “social and soul-warming term” used universally by the French, “Citizen.” Diogenes argued that the use of “diabolical terms” of honor ran counter “to the principles of a republican government” and were “despicable to every citizen who thinks for himself.” Americans, it appeared, had much to learn from “the pride of nations . . . the central and glorious spot which gave the first genuine birth to the rights of man—I mean France.”⁸⁸


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

George Logan, a prominent Philadelphia democrat, made a similarly Francophilic claim in a 1792 series of newspaper essays that were quickly collected into a widely excerpted pamphlet. Logan argued that the current advanced state of political inquiry in Europe “should have some influence on the measures of the general government of the United States, which are tending, in an alarming degree, to undermine the liberties of our country.” He specifically complained that the current administration focused only on national aggrandizement and the well-being of the rich, while neglecting one of the key lessons of the French Revolution, that “the prosperity and happiness of citizens, constitutes the real strength of nations.”⁸⁹ That same year, Philadelphia’s National Gazette printed an essay, written by “Brutus,” that made a similar argument about the connection between French political advances and a perceived aristocratic resurgence in America: “At a time when the light of the French Revolution is procuring the rights of man to the long oppressed people of Europe, American citizens certainly will not sacrifice their acquired rights to [leaders] . . . who have the vanity to measure the prosperity of our country not by the general ease and happiness of the people, but by the palaces, and sumptuous feasts, and parade of the well born few, supported by the plunder of their fellow citizens.”⁹⁰ In these essays, Logan and Brutus were talking about a particular set of American leaders— Alexander Hamilton and his compatriots—and complaining about a specific bundle of Hamiltonian economic policies, which the opposition referred to collectively as “the funding system.” The newspaper pieces worked rhetorically, however, because they collected a variety of economic grievances harbored by their readers into a compelling narrative about the international struggle between the twin forces of democratic change and aristocratic reaction. The Democratic-Republican Societies that emerged in 1793–94 were particularly successful in using the press to frame foreign events as a legitimization for their political activities.⁹¹ The editors of the nation’s three most influential democratic newspapers—Benjamin Bache, Thomas Greenleaf, and Thomas Adams—were all active members of their local Democratic-Republican Societies, and their papers printed ads for the societies’ meetings as well as countless essays defending their actions. Through their strategic daily presentation of foreign events, the three editors crafted a compelling narrative of the relationship between their own associational activities and the actions of their democratic compatriots in Europe. As they printed story after story about the successes of European political associations, as well as the governmental persecution they

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


and their members faced, the three editors used Europe as a mirror in which Americans could see various future incarnations of themselves. The editors presented readers with what seemed like an easy choice. They could imagine themselves as stifled Britons, banding together to protect their rights from a war-hungry, unresponsive government, or as free French citizens, experimenting with institutions and policies that would create a more just and egalitarian society. The editors thematized the present as a struggle between the broadminded, universalist appeal of forward-thinking French revolutionaries and the defensive parochialism of an unapologetically hierarchical Britain.⁹² The newspaper conversation about the future of American politics was thus inextricably bound up with interpretations of contemporary European events. One group of Greenleaf ’s readers, in Canaan, New York, who had recently established their own “democratic society,” found his repeated cosmopolitan calls to domestic political action compelling. In their constitution, which Greenleaf reproduced in the New-York Journal for 8 March 1794, the group claimed that they had formed a society “for elucidating and establishing . . . the Rights of Man . . . because a powerful combination in Europe seem now desperately bent on the extermination of liberty; while in these States the growing establishment of pride, formality, inequality . . . and a baneful and servile imitation of . . . corrupt nations . . . justly awaken the solicitude of the true patriot.” According to these Canaan democrats, the present provided the best moment “to give force and effect to reformation, principles and regulations, in favor of the equal Rights of Man . . . because, the glorious revolutions of America and France, have now, more than ever, disclosed the true objects of society and free government.” The new group’s constitution ended with a list of abstract Painite political principles that its members wished to see better implemented in the new United States. Significantly, they did not identify these ideas or their group with any particular nation; rather, they proudly claimed to have rejected all “prejudice[s], . . . religious, national and political.”⁹³ Here was Greenleaf ’s interpretation of the link between domestic and foreign events, appropriated by a group of citizens who lived more than a day’s journey from New York City, utilized as a justification for local political action, and then dispatched back to the city for publication and circulation among the area’s other, as yet unorganized, democrats. When American democrats, like Greenleaf ’s readers in Canaan, encountered reports about European political societies, they did not just see foreigners


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

emulating already existing American practices. Indeed, such reports often discussed in concrete terms how European democrats experimented with innovative political ideas, many of which were more radical than those currently dominant in America. In February of 1794, for example, Greenleaf reported that “a convention of delegates from certain [British] societies [met in Edinburgh] for the purpose of obtaining a reform of . . . Parliament on the principles of universal suffrage.” The manifesto that outlined the goals of this convention was widely available in America, as was the radical French Constitution of 1793 that had inspired it.⁹⁴ In these documents—which all opposition editors advertised for sale—American democrats read about plans to divide the nation into small primary assemblies in which citizens could debate and suggest amendments to proposed laws. American readers also found in these documents a powerful language of radical popular sovereignty that conjured up a world in which the people would become “joint sovereigns,” and where they would be subject to no laws which they had not had a hand in constructing. Thus, in the newspapers and bookshops of Democratic-Republican Society leaders like Greenleaf and Bache, Americans encountered an inspirational (and highly selective) picture of ordinary French and British citizens voluntarily banding together to create a political and social system that would enable “the people” to govern themselves in a far more literal sense than in any other nation in recent history, even America. What made this idealized, radical, Enlightenment vision appear even more inspirational and heroic was the violent resistance it met from British authorities. Throughout the summer of 1794, Greenleaf described for his readers how the Edinburgh Convention had been broken up by authorities and its leaders transported to Botany Bay. Greenleaf deluged his readers with almost daily updates on the latest monarchical attempts to squelch reform, and he lost few opportunities to draw a parallel between the actions of the British government and those of Americans who opposed the Democratic-Republican Societies. On 9 July 1794, for example, Greenleaf reprinted George III’s message to the House of Commons vilifying the seditious practices “carried on by certain societies in London, in correspondence with societies in different parts of the country.” Greenleaf used italics so that his readers would not overlook the connections between British and American opposition to political clubs. In another section of that same issue, Greenleaf noted that the leaders of several political societies in England had been arrested, and he followed this news with the sarcastic com-

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


ment, “How sweet is English liberty!” By printing story after story about the repression of British political societies, Greenleaf crafted a nightmarish picture of a British politics that had essentially outlawed the Atlantic world’s emerging practices of democratic self-rule, practices he had been eagerly participating in and describing for his readers over the previous several years.⁹⁵ Public opinion began to turn against the Democratic-Republican Societies in the summer of 1794—thanks largely to their supposed links to the Whiskey Rebellion—and many legislators began talking about sanctioning or even outlawing them. Opposition editors tried to defend the societies by framing the government’s hysterical overreaction as a “British” way of responding to popular unrest. The opposition thus tried to fit the aggressive response to the rebellion into a narrative about an international counterrevolution, led by Britain and valiantly resisted by democrats around the globe. Perhaps this explains why Greenleaf stepped up his coverage of European political activism as Congress began debating the Democratic-Republican Societies in November of 1794. On the fifteenth of that month, for example, Greenleaf excitedly noted that all of the recent ships from Europe had brought news demonstrating that the mania of Liberty has inspired the great body of the people in hither Europe (and that this inspiration is spreading still farther) with an enthusiasm which despots, with all their baubles, titles, supercilious grandeur, stars, garters, ribbands, and childish equipage, may in vain expect to subdue. . . . There are insurrections in South Prussia, in Geneva, and Switzerland of serious consequence; the disposition of the citizens in England, Scotland, and Ireland is well known—If the hands of power are strong enough, they will suppress them—if not—liberty and equality universal will ensue!—hail the day, when the rights of man shall triumph, and rational government lead the world in peace.⁹⁶ On this same day, Greenleaf informed his readers that they could purchase five separate pamphlets, all of them American editions, providing the transcripts of the trials of Archibald Hamilton Rowan, Thomas Muir, Maurice Margarot, Joseph Gerrald, and Daniel Isaac Eaton.⁹⁷ Even occasional readers of his paper would have likely known the stories of each of these British and Irish radicals in detail, for Greenleaf had covered their stories sympathetically and extensively since word of their apprehension had first reached America in early 1794. Opposition editors also had spent the previous several years generating sympa-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

thy for British and Irish democrats by printing a seemingly endless stream of toasts from American groups saluting “the Irish Volunteers, and our friends in England,”⁹⁸ as well as hopeful rumors about the impending popular overthrow of the British monarchy. Once the American Congress seemed to be imitating repressive British policies, American democrats were well armed with arguments about why they should resist, and models of how to do it. Thus, by the end of 1794, Greenleaf and his fellow democratic editors across the country had successfully crafted and disseminated a compelling cosmopolitan narrative that justified their opposition to the Washington administration. Thanks to the efforts of democrats like Greenleaf, it would have been difficult for any literate American to have avoided almost daily encounters with accounts of the Atlantic world’s assertive democrats, whether these were stories about the activities of French revolutionaries, a reprinted proclamation of the London Corresponding Society or the United Irishmen, or a toast from an American Democratic Society to “the oppressed sons of liberty in foreign climes.”⁹⁹ It was such stories that gave meaning and power to the innumerable public celebrations of the 1790s, where people offered toasts to the day when “the Rights of Man shall become the supreme law of every land, and their separate fraternities be absorbed in one great Democratic society comprehending the human race,” or to “the dispersed friends of Liberty throughout the world—May France be the rallying point where they may collect their scattered forces, and whence they may sally forth to the destruction of all the tyrants of the earth.”¹⁰⁰ Although this universalistic language fell on many unreceptive ears, and ultimately failed to transform the nation’s politics in fundamental ways, it is still important that we include in our stories of the early 1790s those ordinary Americans who did take the cosmopolitan utopianism of the opposition press seriously, and who saw themselves as participants in a political movement that was simultaneously American, democratic, and international. Indeed, observers at the time, regardless of their political affiliations, understood that popular cosmopolitanism was more than simply benign revelry or reflexive Anglophobia. For the more democratically-minded, it represented the promise of a tolerant, broad-minded citizenry capable of sustaining a more just and participatory political system. Through Federalist eyes, popular cosmopolitanism represented the threat of what the future American polity could look like—composed of undeferential and empowered citizens of the world. What both sides shared was a keen awareness of the power of printed words, a sensitivity to the way that a nation could

t h e p o l i t i c s o f p o p u l a r c o s m o p o l i ta n i s m


talk itself into certain political arrangements by convincing enough people that they were true or natural. Not surprisingly, by 1794, Federalist printers, editors, and writers had begun a counterattack, intended to convince the American people that popular cosmopolitanism was indeed neither a natural, nor a desirable, identity for a good citizen to adopt.


߬ Can a Citizen of the World Be a Citizen of the United States? The Reaction against Popular Cosmopolitanism


NTIL 1794 popular cosmopolitanism had drawn little critical attention in America’s public prints, but that quickly changed once the French Revolution took its turn toward mass violence and mainstream American support for the French cooled. Using events in France as their justification, American Federalists developed an increasingly coherent critique of popular cosmopolitanism. Deriding the “citizen of the world” as an unnatural and undesirable identity for the good American to adopt, Federalists recast previously uncontroversial practices as suspicious and even dangerous. They countered the idealized figure of the politically engaged, internationally minded artisan, mechanic, or farmer with its deviant mirror image—the selfish, immoral, demagogic democrat—the foreign disorganizer whose talk of universal justice simply masked his own sexual, political, and economic passions. As this caricature of the dangerous democrat became a stock character in the popular print culture of the late 1790s, the choice for an ordinary American to identify as a cosmopolitan friend to the rights of man became increasingly freighted with a host of negative connotations. Over time, more Americans became convinced that the citizen of the world could simply not be a good citizen of the United States. American Painites tried to counter the Federalists’ attacks on their proFrench and democratic sympathies, but events in Europe forced them to constantly qualify and defend their position. Opposition editors continued to use news of European radicalism to encourage their readers to think in cosmopoli82

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


tan terms. The growing United Irish movement, for example, became a frequent topic of sympathetic discussion in American democratic newspapers in the years preceding the 1798 Irish Rebellion. Despite occasional good news from Ireland and other parts of Europe, however, events in France forced editors and writers to improvise new and only marginally successful arguments that distinguished between admirable French principles and sometimes misguided French practices. This distinction proved hard to maintain, however, for the increasingly ominous news of the Terror enabled American anti-democrats to reframe the utopian political discourse of the early 1790s as the rantings of potentially genocidal demagogues. As the editor of the Federalist Gazette of the United States put it: “Every species of crime has found apologists and applauders in the writings of some persons who call themselves friends of France, friends of mankind.”¹ Although it became easier for the Federalists to demonize the democrats’ French heroes, they could not merely elevate Britain to the status of a model to be emulated. American knowledge of British repression and widespread Anglophobia made this tactic impossible. What emerged slowly to replace the French-inflected citizen of the world as the ideal American citizen was the figure of the proudly xenophobic American patriot who had little interest in or desire to emulate European politics. But this chauvinistic image of the ideal citizen, like the democrats’ distinction between principle and practice, was a tenuous improvisation. In the absence of an unproblematic foreign ideal to emulate, American nationalists began the difficult process of formulating a substantive conception of the unique, non-British and non-French, American character.² It was thus the contingencies of European political developments, as much as domestic affairs, that drove Americans to begin thinking and talking in earnest about their unique national character. Convincing Americans to absorb this nationalistic conception of themselves, however, required a delegitimation of the cosmopolitanism that many of them had embraced in the first years of the 1790s.³ Just as international events had set the stage for the emergence of popular cosmopolitanism in the early 1790s, the reaction against it was part of a transatlantic movement as well. In their assault on Painite cosmopolitanism, Americans looked to British anti-Jacobinism for their models, some even going so far as to advocate an American society that resembled Edmund Burke’s portrayal of traditional Britain. After 1794, Americans did not have difficulty finding printed arguments against Painite cosmopolitanism, for in that year Federal-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

ist printers and newspaper editors began importing and disseminating British, anti-Jacobin propaganda in the hopes of changing the minds and the politics of American readers. In Britain, the government and conservative elites had sponsored a formidable anti-Jacobin printing campaign, and thanks to the efforts of American printers and editors like William Cobbett, Cornelius Davis, James Rivington, and Joseph Dennie, these effective anti-French and anti-Painite works flooded the American market. While few of the British anti-Painite tracts of the early 1790s found their way into American readers’ hands, beginning in 1794 the political print cultures of the two nations began to look much more similar. In this way, the conservative and romantic reactions against radical Enlightenment cosmopolitanism that shaped British and French politics in the early nineteenth century also shaped American politics—only America’s more moderate reaction came to be called democracy. Historians have long noted the nativist and localist nature of the Jeffersonian era’s democratic nationalism, but they have generally seen it as a product of unique American circumstances. But there is much to be gained from telling this story as an American variant of a transatlantic story, from exploring, ironically enough, the European roots of early-nineteenth-century American nationalism. Indeed, the emerging discourses of nationalism in late-eighteenth and earlynineteenth-century Europe and America bore a striking resemblance to each other. As the ideal of the Painite citizen of the world moved to the margins of public political discussion, a naturalized discourse about the primacy of local, familial, and national attachments emerged to take its place. While the ideal Painite subject had viewed the nation from outside its boundaries—seeing its arrangements as contingent rather than necessary, historically constructed rather than natural—anti-democrats throughout the Atlantic world derided cosmopolitanism as visionary and speculative, paying too little respect to the beneficence of the present, the wisdom of the past, and the virtues of local, informal, paternalistic arrangements. While Painites argued that such older arrangements were mere prejudice—leftovers from an unjust, aristocratic and monarchical past—American Federalists followed European conservatives like Burke in representing them as the “pleasing illusions” that made social harmony possible. Such romantic conceptions of selfhood and nation moved to the center of American political discourse, thus encouraging ordinary Americans to channel their political, transformative energies toward their own souls, their localities, their states, or their nation, rather than the world.⁴ The Jeffersonian

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


nationalists who triumphed in 1800 participated in this trend as well, jettisoning the controversial abstraction of “the universal rights of man” for the equally abstract but less contested concept of “the American people” as the ultimate legitimating symbol for their political arguments.⁵ In describing this contraction of the popular political imagination, I seek to provide an alternate account of the emergence of American nationalism. Most histories of nationalism in the early republic see the crucial problem as that of transforming a stubborn localism into a sense of national belonging.⁶ While this is part of the story, it ignores another process that was occurring as well. American nationalists struggled not only against localism but also against cosmopolitanism.⁷ While the localist critique of nationalism was resuscitated in the nineteenth century (most prominently by states’ rights Southerners), the democratic cosmopolitan critique of the national government largely vanished from the nation’s political discourse after 1800.⁸ Indeed, in the nineteenth century the most visible Americans who identified as citizens of the world were educated elites who formed rich trans-local networks in the interest not of political change, but of scientific advancement, artistic exchange, economic development, and diplomatic negotiation. To a great extent, this later, nineteenthcentury form of cosmopolitanism defined itself against the crude caricature of plebeian cosmopolitanism that emerged in the late 1790s. The ubiquity and persistence of the anti-cosmopolitan critique—one that framed trans-local thinking as a laudable trait for elites but a laughable and potentially sinister one for ordinary citizens—accounts in part for why historians have tended to overlook the committed cosmopolitanism of the many Americans in the early republic who called themselves democrats. Since there is no way to measure a rise or decline in how many people identified themselves as cosmopolitans, this chapter instead focuses on how political writers tried to persuade their readers by appealing to different registers of identification—the universal, the national, the regional, the local, the familial, or the individual. Depending on when, where, and for what purposes one was writing, writers often chose to emphasize one of these registers over the others. Americans did not cease making cosmopolitan political arguments by the nineteenth century, but such arguments went from being widely accepted, and thus quite effective, in the early 1790s, to being a discredited, highly charged way of making one’s case in the later years of that decade. The terrain of public political discourse shifted so dramatically over the course of the 1790s that the


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

cosmopolitan register of political argumentation became virtually useless for all but the most self-consciously radical American democrats. This chapter tells the story of how that transformation occurred.

The Foreign Disorganizer vs. the Sedate American: The Anti-Cosmopolitan Counterattack and the Construction of an American Identity, 1793–1797 The arrival of the new French minister, “Citizen” Edmond Genet, to the United States in the spring of 1793 brought to the fore, for the first time, the political problems that popular cosmopolitanism posed for the leaders of the new nation. Genet arrived with a fatal combination of demanding diplomatic instructions and inflated assumptions about America’s willingness to support the French cause, a combination that would soon drive the Washington administration (even its pro-French members, such as Thomas Jefferson) to call for his removal. But for the first few months of his mission, the American people gave him little reason to suspect that such failure lay ahead. When Genet arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, on 8 April 1793, a huge crowd greeted him at the pier. After ten days of receiving nothing but pledges of support for his mission from the citizens and political leaders of that state, Genet departed for the overland trip to the nation’s capital in Philadelphia. At virtually every town along the way Genet was toasted and feted by Americans sympathetic to the French cause. The French minister thus arrived in Philadelphia with the expectation that the Americans would eagerly fulfill his government’s requests for aid in their battle against the anti-democratic, reactionary regimes of Europe.⁹ Although the American people seemed willing to commit to the French cause, the leaders of the federal government received Genet’s demands less enthusiastically. The problem was that Genet asked the Americans to interpret every existing treaty and every dictum of international law in the manner most conducive to French interests. He came bearing blank letters of marque and military commissions to distribute to American citizens who were willing to stir up rebellions in the Spanish and British colonies of Louisiana, Florida, and Canada. He also sought to commission American ships and sailors to engage in privateering raids on British ships in the Atlantic. While these efforts were not technically an abrogation of international law, they asked American citizens to engage in warlike aggressions against foreign governments. Genet also wanted the American government to grant French ships all of the privileges of American

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


ships. One effect of this provision would have been to allow French privateers to sell seized British goods in American ports. The 1778 Treaty of Alliance with France had contained an abstract provision for free trade between the two nations, but, again, Genet’s interpretation of this provision would have led Americans into actions that were tantamount to a declaration of war against Britain. Finally, Genet requested that America immediately pay back the entire $5.6 million debt that had accrued during the American Revolution. The French would use this money to buy provisions from American farmers and manufacturers, and thus, Genet argued, it would pose no hardship for the nation. It would, however, have sent American maritime traders into British-infested waters to carry much-needed supplies to the French, a nation with whom the British were at war. The Washington administration, wishing to avoid war with any European power at virtually any cost, responded coolly to Genet’s demands. When it became clear that the government would not honor his demands, an enraged Genet threatened to disobey the administration’s orders and to make his appeal directly to “the people.” This threat, more than anything else, provoked the government to insist upon his recall. Most accounts of Genet’s failure emphasize the particularities of his personality and his refusal to obey the standard procedures of diplomatic negotiation. Broadening the focus to take into account the prevalence of popular cosmopolitanism in the early 1790s, however, helps explain why Genet and many Americans saw his appeal to “the people” as reasonable, and why the Washington administration took this seemingly absurd and illegal appeal so seriously. Genet’s two-month stay in America had reinforced his opinion that the majority of American citizens supported the French cause. By his account, he had spent virtually all of April and May “in the midst of perpetual fetes” and receiving “addresses from all parts of the Continent.” Thus, it made sense for him to interpret the administration’s rejection of his demands as “certainly not the intention of the people of America,” since their “fraternal voice has resounded from every quarter around me, and their accents are not equivocal.”¹⁰ American practices and professions of popular cosmopolitanism, in other words, had given Genet the impression that they were willing to make great sacrifices in the name of liberty and equality. But it was the political leaders of the nation who had to seriously consider and take responsibility for the inevitably dire diplomatic ramifications of this pro-French sentiment. In this way, Genet’s mission—its combination of popular support and governmental rejection—provided America’s first concrete experience with the threat that


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

popular cosmopolitanism posed to the authority of the national government. The actions of citizens who evinced too much active support for foreign revolutionaries could jeopardize national security by leading the nation into war. Even worse, Genet’s appeal for ordinary citizens to disobey the dictates of their national government in the name of universal justice threatened to undermine the administration’s domestic authority as well. Despite the failure of Genet’s mission, convincing Americans in the mid1790s to privilege their new nation’s diplomatic interests over the triumph of the rights of man in Europe was not an easy task. Considering that before the Genet affair the French and their would-be revolutionary compatriots throughout Europe had enjoyed tremendous support in America, it would take a concerted reinterpretive effort to change peoples’ minds. In the closing months of 1793 and early 1794, Noah Webster, a man who had once enthusiastically endorsed the French cause, took up this difficult charge, one that he described as “of infinite consequence to this country.” In a series of widely reprinted newspaper essays that were then transformed into an influential pamphlet in the spring of 1794, Webster made the first extended attempt to convince the American public that they should withdraw their affections from France and, most importantly, reject the principles upon which the Revolution was conducted.¹¹ Webster knew that in order to construct a viable, anti-French conception of virtuous, patriotic American citizenship, he had to first disrupt the dominant narrative about the symbiotic relationship between the American and French Revolutions. The difficulty of this task was evident throughout the text, as Webster repeatedly, and more than a little defensively, asserted that although he was criticizing the French, he was no monarchist or aristocrat. “Let it not be thought that the writer of these sheets is an enemy to liberty or a republican government. . . . The Writer . . . wishes to see republican governments established over the earth, upon the ruins of despotism.” Webster tried to uncouple the American and French Revolutions by redescribing events in France as inimical to liberty, as a resurgence of tyranny only in non-monarchical form. The transformative impulse that had driven the American Revolution and the early stages of the French Revolution, Webster argued, had mutated into a debased “modern philosophy, that rejects all ancient institutions, civil, social and religious, as the impositions of fraud; the tyranny of cunning over ignorance, and of power over weakness.” The French had developed no substantive institutions to replace the old ones, naively assuming “that men are capable of such perfection on earth, as to regulate all their actions by moral rectitude, without the restraints

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


of religion and law.”¹² In Webster’s skillful hands, the French emerged less as the avant-garde of a noble, worldwide political experiment, and more as amoral individualists and unthinking rebels bent on destroying the old without having any coherent vision of the new. According to Webster, this intellectual bankruptcy, rather than the diligent efforts of counterrevolutionary forces throughout Europe, was what lay behind the excessive violence of Robespierre’s regime. Because Webster’s interpretation closely resembles the currently dominant (though certainly not the only) mode of interpreting the French Revolution, it is hard for modern readers to recapture just how controversial an argument he was making.¹³ Webster’s analysis of the French Revolution sought to do more than just reorient American opinions about France, for it also explicitly attacked the cosmopolitan and egalitarian conception of citizenship that pro-French Americans had recently begun to articulate. Where Painite opposition writers used the doctrine of the equal rights of man to argue for the incorporation of even the humblest of citizens into the active political nation, Webster used the example of France to reject such efforts as dangerously visionary. Most people, Webster argued, would never resemble Paine’s idealized portrait of the rational citizen of the world: “Notwithstanding all the fine philosophy of the modern reformers, a great part of mankind, necessitated to labour, and unaccustomed to read, or to the civilities of refined life, will have rough passions, that will always require the corrective force of law to prevent them from violating the rights of others.” The Jacobins in Paris had cynically capitalized on the ignorance of the people, issuing “inflammatory writings” from their presses, setting up “public readers” to spread the word and “harrangue extemporaneously,” and disseminating “patriotic songs” to fire “the soldiers, seamen, and the peasantry . . . with an enthusiasm for what they call liberty.”¹⁴ Webster knew that these forms of political culture would be immediately recognizable to his American readers, for they were the same practices of popular cosmopolitanism that American democrats had adopted. Webster disdained such forms of popular politicization because they encouraged citizens to respect abstract principles rather than their leaders, whom Webster referred to as the “natural aristocracy.” The vast majority of citizens, he argued, were incapable of feeling allegiance to abstractions like liberty or justice; rather, they “from nature or habit, are inclined to pay more than ordinary respect to persons who are born of parents that have been distinguished for something eminent, and to persons who have large estates.” Such habits were natural and


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

beneficent, and the attempts on the part of democratic “demagogues” to undermine these traditional and natural feelings of respect could lead only to anarchy.¹⁵ In Webster’s eyes, veneration for specific men, not principles, was the force that held society together and enabled a government to exert its authority effectively. Although Webster never sung the praises of hereditary nobility the way Edmund Burke did, his conception of American society was nearly as organic, localistic, and patriarchal as Burke’s. The intellectually independent citizen of the world, the figure that was such a large part of the opposition print culture of the early 1790s, was recast by Webster into a misguided visionary whose ideas could lead America into the depths of a French-style terror. The ideal citizen toasted Washington, not the rights of man, and obeyed the dictates of his local and elected leaders, not universal justice. While Webster framed one trans-local sentiment, cosmopolitanism, as dangerously visionary, he insisted that the almost equally trans-local sentiment of “national prejudice” was a natural one that citizens must share in order for a state to persevere. He put forward this proposition in an awkward logic that belied just how unformed and multifarious those supposedly unifying national prejudices were in 1794: The citizens of this extensive republic constitute a nation. As a nation, we feel all the prejudices of a society. These national prejudices are probably necessary, in the present state of the world, to strengthen our government. They form a species of political bigotry, common to all nations, from which springs a real allegiance, never expressed, but always firm and unwavering. This passion, when corrected by candor, benevolence and love of mankind, softens down into a steady principle, which forms the soul of a nation, true patriotism.¹⁶ As a man of the Enlightenment, Webster knew that arguing for the beneficence of any “prejudice,” let alone “national prejudice,” would be controversial; which explains why he quickly qualified his endorsement by saying that this form of “political bigotry” was “probably” needed, “in the present state of the world.” Because Webster could not assume the existence of nationalistic sentiment in the America of 1794, he had to argue for it on the basis of utility, as a force that would “strengthen our government.” But at this point Webster changed tactics, arguing that nationalism was indeed a natural entity that existed in “all nations” and, although “never expressed,” provided the “firm and unwavering” support necessary for the perpetuation of any polity. Whereas the opposi-

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


tion had defined the patriot as the friend to universal justice and the rights of man, Webster argued that a deeply ingrained, virtually unthinking “passion” for one’s nation formed “the soul . . . of true patriotism.” Thus, while conceding that cosmopolitan patriotism may have been more philosophically sound, Webster insisted that it was nonetheless unnatural and dangerous—it was not “true patriotism.” Webster’s pamphlet elicited a few spirited responses in opposition newspapers and earned him a popular reputation as a pro-British anti-democrat, but it did not substantially reorient American public political discourse. No one published a pamphlet to refute Webster’s charges, and in the newspapers American democrats treated his essay as merely one of many attempts to slander the French patriots. Webster’s pamphlet struck democrats as offensive but relatively unthreatening because its intended audience was the educated elite, a group they assumed was already predisposed to be pro-British and anti-democratic. In late 1794, however, the first anti-French tract written for a popular audience appeared in American bookshops. In a Thanksgiving day sermon entitled The Wonderful Works of God are to be remembered, David Osgood, the first American clergyman to portray the French Revolution publicly in a thoroughly negative light, excerpted at length from Webster’s “judicious and instructive pamphlet” in order to demonstrate the threat that French principles posed to the peace and stability of the new nation.¹⁷ Federalists saw his sermon as a boon to their cause and thus had it reprinted seven times in five different towns in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. Democrats responded to this attempt to influence public opinion by excoriating Osgood’s pamphlet in their newspapers as a monarchical assault on the political principles that underlay the American and French Revolutions. They also countered Osgood’s widely disseminated text with multiple editions of James Sullivan’s The Altar of Baal Thrown Down: or, The French Nation Defended against the Pulpit Slander of David Osgood.¹⁸ These two texts, and the controversy they provoked, turned the cosmopolitan, proFrench practices of the opposition into a subject of heated public debate. The first half of Osgood’s text followed the standard form of a Thanksgiving sermon, reminding the audience of the prosperity, peace, and health with which they had been blessed during the previous year. Midway through the sermon, however, Osgood diverged from the standard pattern to draw critical attention to Governor Samuel Adams’s Thanksgiving proclamation, noting its “strange and singular” omission of the federal government in its list of blessings to be thankful for.¹⁹ Massachusetts Federalists had long mistrusted the old


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

revolutionary and recent anti-Federalist Adams, and his open support for the French and their American sympathizers in the 1790s only heightened their discontent. Like the opposition editors who lauded his actions, Samuel Adams felt that the federal government was controlled by men who were too enamored of the British Constitution and too skeptical about the democratic promise of the French Revolution. Adams was the embodiment of the early 1790s cosmopolitan patriot, in that he frequently criticized the federal government for not actively supporting the extension of the rights of man around the world and in America. Where this position had been virtually unassailable before 1793, Osgood used the events of late 1793 and 1794—the Genet affair, the Whiskey Rebellion, and the recently arrived news of the Jacobin Terror—to cast Adams’s political sympathies in a more sinister, non-patriotic light. Osgood reinterpreted Adams’s cosmopolitan critique of the federal government, claiming that the governor’s omission of the federal government from the list of blessings had a nearly treasonous “air of separate sovereignty and independence.” Osgood recounted the actions of Genet, that “foreign incendiary,” and of the Democratic-Republican Societies, those “demagogues well skilled in the business of faction.” The nation, it seemed, was filled with “constitutionally turbulent and uneasy” people, “who can have pleasure in nothing but scenes of tumult and confusion.” Such people had taken advantage of the “ignorant, though honest, people” who thought Americans held a “debt of gratitude” to the French. “The passions, prejudices and opinions” of these people were stirred up by selfish men who merely envied “the abilities of their superiours, and covet[ed] their stations.” Osgood ended his sermon with a long passage from Webster’s pamphlet on the French Revolution, a passage that compared the American Democratic-Republican Societies to the Jacobins of Paris. As James Sullivan and other democrats quickly pointed out, Osgood’s sermon was intended not to give humble thanks to the deity, but rather “to excite the hatred” of France in his fellow Americans.²⁰ Osgood’s was only the first in a long series of texts designed to encourage ordinary Americans to look suspiciously upon their politicized pro-French neighbors who viewed the actions of the federal government through a critical, cosmopolitan lens. Osgood’s and Webster’s accounts laid the groundwork for a new type of anti-cosmopolitan discourse that drew increasing attention to the individual characters of Painite citizens of the world. This new strategy turned cosmopolitan discourse on its head, framing the expansive rhetoric of the rights of

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


man as pathological rather than patriotic. Anti-Jacobin writers eschewed serious engagement with French principles, choosing instead to ascribe every injustice that occurred in France to the Jacobins’ uniquely sinister cast of mind. In America, the figure of the “foreign disorganizer” became one of the key rhetorical devices of the late 1790s, as Federalists tried to supplant the spirit of popular cosmopolitanism with that of affective nationalism—as they sought, in other words, to divert American eyes from foreign radicals in order to focus their attention on the unique genius of their federal government. For Americans to believe, in Osgood’s words, that “our federal government is the greatest, the chief, and, in fact, the basis . . . of all our political blessings,” they had to first be convinced that they should fear rather than admire the “incendiary” democrats of Europe.²¹ The New York printer James Rivington offered Americans their first opportunity to read an extended account of one of these foreign disorganizers. In 1795, Rivington, a former Loyalist and professed Tory, published an American edition of Henry James Pye’s English, anti-Jacobin novel The Democrat; or Intrigues and Adventures of Jean Le Noir. In a short preface written expressly for the American edition, Rivington described Le Noir, as “a Democratic Missionary, sent from the Metropolitan See of Sedition and Murder at Paris, to propagate their principles in a neighbouring country.” This itinerant Jacobin’s “awkward, though zealous endeavours in the cause of liberty and equality” would provide the reader with more than just “amusement.” Rivington claimed that the events and characters described in the novel had “a particular claim to the attention of the American reader at this moment, when circumstances render them applicable to ourselves.” Here Rivington drew his readers’ attention to two recent events, the formation of the Democratic-Republican Societies and the nationally coordinated protest movement against the Jay Treaty. “It is well known that the mother of our Democratic Clubs established, long ago, a regular system of communication with all the ‘grumblers’ in the United States.” When this clandestine organization was not found sufficient to defeat the Jay Treaty, Rivington went on, the societies “dispatched . . . one of their members . . . to Boston with a pack of treaties at his back, like a peddlar.”²² Their goal, according to Rivington, was to gather “a mob” for “a holy insurrection.” Rivington thus framed the novel as a guidebook to the particularly treacherous political geography of the mid-1790s. It provided a description of this “itinerant gang,” so that “unwary” readers would be able “to distinguish them.” “[They] will be easily known by


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

their physiognomy; they all seem to be, like their Vice-President, of the tribe of Shylock: they have that leering underlook, and malicious grin, that seem to say to the honest man—approach me not.”²³ Le Noir’s character—the itinerant Jacobin—tapped into long-standing, often anti-Semitic fears of the roving stranger, or “peddlar,” but Pye channeled these fears into a particularly 1790’s critique of cosmopolitan democracy. Le Noir was not just a huckster and a seducer, he was also a “leveller” and a potentially genocidal demagogue. Pye’s strategy was to undermine every supposedly lofty ideal that Le Noir articulated by reframing it as base selfishness. As a child, Le Noir had been particularly interested in “the equalization of property.” This meant that “if any boy in the village had a larger proportion of nuts, apples, or grapes, than the rest . . . he made no scruple of reducing his opulence more to a level with his companions, by appropriating a part of it to himself.” Likewise, when Le Noir joined the French army to fight for American independence, “he embraced . . . the earliest opportunity of asserting his natural right to independence by deserting from his regiment.”²⁴ Abstract talk of equality masked bullying avarice; asserting one’s personal independence was a cowardly means of shirking one’s duty. In this way, Pye’s novel claimed to unmask the real intentions of supposedly idealistic revolutionaries. When Le Noir traveled to England to foment revolution there, he encountered a people who had little sympathy for his visionary plans. Although he met many “grumblers,” none of these people seemed to share Le Noir’s “foreign principles.” When Le Noir met his first “grumbler,” a middling bookseller, he thought he had found a kindred spirit. Despite this man’s complaints about local aristocrats, however, he balked at Le Noir’s plan to stir up the laborers of the town, fearing that they would seize his property. Likewise, the disgruntled sailors Le Noir encountered in a tavern rejected his call for them to “unite, and form a general plan.” They had no interest in his vision of an agricultural paradise where each man owned a small piece of land. All they wanted was “to have time to spend my money, have my can and a girl, and my fiddle, and then Monsieurs, take care of yourselves; I’ll have another lick at you.”²⁵ At the end of the story, Le Noir finally encountered a group of pickpockets in a coffee shop whose principles are “after his own heart,” which is to say, “the levelling of rank and equalization of property, were measures they adopted in their fullest extent.” The story ends with the pickpockets being sent to Botany Bay and Le Noir being acquitted of robbery but deported back to France. Pye was thus able to end with a paean to the fairness of a British legal system so mild it could

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


acquit even a rogue like Le Noir, and a compliment to a British Parliament that had “wisely” armed “the executive government, with a power [the Alien Bill] of sending away such active citizens of a neighbouring nation, as migrate hither for the purpose of imparting to us the same liberal system they have established at home.”²⁶ Pye’s novel thus narrated the politics of the 1790s as a struggle to defend the purity of a fundamentally just England from the machinations of foreign incendiaries like Le Noir. Indeed, even Le Noir, upon first arriving in Southampton, “was struck with admiration.” He marveled at “the display of wealth and elegance that appeared in various shops . . . ; and fields in the highest state of cultivation, hills gently rising from the water, their sides covered with pastures and corn-fields, and their brows luxuriantly cloathed with wood, the whole interspersed with innumerable neat and elegant villas,” so that “for a while he seemed . . . almost to doubt if French equality, or French fraternity, could add to the prosperity of the inhabitants.”²⁷ Although the nation contained a few “grumblers” and criminals who seemed discontented, when confronted with the Frenchman’s visionary plans, their discontent was exposed for what it truly was, a selfish desire for more money or power. This romantic portrayal of the fertile land and contented people of England provided the backdrop against which Le Noir’s cosmopolitan radicalism seemed so unnatural. Britons’ discontent could not be systematized and remedied through political action. French talk of equality and fraternity fell on deaf ears in a nation where good people were happy, and unhappy people were either criminals or greedy businessmen on the make. By publishing this novel, Rivington sought to encourage his American readers to adopt a similar narrative about American politics and foreign incendiaries. Federalist authors followed Pye and Osgood in juxtaposing overly insistent accounts of the peace, prosperity, and happiness of the American people with descriptions of sinister Jacobins like Le Noir. By framing the politics of the day in this manner—as a battle between fundamentally contented Americans and a few foreign and domestic malcontents—these texts sought to shape American responses to those non-elites who—like Le Noir, Paine, or many readers of the nation’s democratic newspapers—attended debating clubs, talked about politics with their compatriots, and tried to convince others to become activists on behalf of the rights of man. This anti-cosmopolitan persuasion could only work, however, if Americans could be convinced of the fundamental justice of their present system and the leaders who administered it.


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

We have already seen, in chapter 1, how Joseph Dennie sought to use the Farmers Weekly Museum to accomplish this goal by crafting a romanticized, quasi-Tory vision of an American citizenry that revered its leaders and rejected the Jacobin frenzy that had seized so many ordinary European citizens. But Dennie was just one of many Federalists who sought to convince their fellow citizens that they belonged to a unified, virtuous, and prosperous nation that deserved their undiluted support and affection. One of Dennie’s Federalist friends, Elihu Hubbard Smith, for example, wrote to Uriah Tracy, the senator from Connecticut, in 1797, advising him to engage in just such a project: “We have suffered, from the want of a common, national sentiment. . . . It is time for us to call to mind that we pretend to be a people. . . . The people are almost ripe for entire conviction; & the moment must be seized to press it upon them.”²⁸ Smith worried that Americans’ cosmopolitan support for France had weakened the new nation, rendering it “supine” and “wanting in self-respect.” Smith knew that in the cosmopolitan 1790s, “a common, national sentiment” was hardly a preexistent entity waiting to be tapped into, yet no other force seemed capable of preventing American entanglement in a destructive European war. American citizens still overwhelmingly supported the French, and they seemed incapable of seeing how this sympathy threatened to incur the military wrath of Britain. In Smith’s eyes, the only way to preserve peace was to disabuse Americans of their interest in European politics and start them thinking like a nation with a unified set of beliefs and interests.²⁹ A few months earlier, the nation’s most unifying figure, George Washington, had issued his Farewell Address, in which he beseeched Americans to eschew “foreign attachments” in order to preserve their nation. While Washington’s address was putatively about matters of diplomatic relations, he spent much time trying to convince Americans that they lived in a unified, homogenous nation to which they should feel “a cordial, habitual, & immoveable attachment.” As “citizens by birth or choice, of a common country,” Washington argued, “that country has a right to concentrate your affections.” In this way, Washington’s prescription for the future of American foreign policy turned, in large part, on the question of whether “the name of American” would “always exalt the just pride of Patriotism” in ordinary citizens. To legitimate this conception of anti-cosmopolitan patriotism, Washington insisted on the existence of a unified and unique American character that deserved veneration and protection. “With slight shade of difference, you have the same Religion, Manners, Habit & political Principles.” Knowing that much of the allegiance that people

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


felt toward the national government had more to do with respect for him than for any material or emotional attachment to the Constitution or to particular political institutions, Washington, in the context of an impending crisis in international diplomacy, wishfully banished the deep divisions in American society to conjure up an image of a homogenous, united, and happy American people contented with the present state of affairs. He thus sought to transfer Americans’ tenuous sense of national loyalty from himself to an abstract conception of a unified American character. Boston’s leading opposition editor, Thomas Adams, printed Washington’s entire address on 26 September 1796, but other pieces in his paper undermined the president’s nationalistic mission. On the page facing Washington’s address, Adams printed a report about a pro-French gathering in Boston attended by the French minister. The final volunteer toast was to “All mankind—may the exalted virtue of Patriotism itself be finally lost in universal Philanthropy.” On 22 September Adams had reported on the success of the French armies in Europe, noting that “in America, her friends will multiply with her victories; and those who would have danced a ball, which a British Consul or Ambassador would have given, upon the extinction of equal Liberty in Europe, will now join in a ‘Civic Fete’ in honor of the Republic and its Ministers.”³⁰ In these pieces Adams was enacting the very “foreign attachments” that Washington so wished to eliminate. The cosmopolitan opposition, the people who defined national prejudice as an illegitimate and constricted form of universal benevolence, still had the ear of a significant portion of the American people. It would take more than just newspaper essays, pamphlet wars, and presidential addresses to thoroughly discredit them.

War, Nativism, Anti-Jacobinism and the Resurgence of Patriarchal Localism, 1798–1799 Between 1793 and 1797 Federalist writers began making a case against popular cosmopolitanism, but these efforts generated only a modest popular backlash against the French and their Painite supporters throughout Europe and America. That changed in 1797 when diplomatic relations between America and France became more strained and evidence surfaced of France’s objectionable treatment of American diplomats.³¹ Federalist pamphleteers and newspaper editors seized upon these French insults (known as the XYZ Affair) as a way to stir up the anti-European nationalist pride that had been so lacking in the previous


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

years. Fast days, college graduations, July 4th celebrations, and days of thanksgiving all became occasions for reminding Americans “that the present crisis of our national affairs calls for the exercise of an ardent affection to . . . our country.”³² The work of men like Dennie, Rivington, Webster, and Osgood might have faded from public view had relations with France not soured. Instead, their texts became the foundation for a broad-based effort to rally popular support in preparation for war against the French. The xenophobic and chauvinistic spirit of 1798, the spirit that enabled the Alien and Sedition Acts to pass with much public support, was thus more than merely an expression of some latent American nationalism that had awaited the right moment to express itself. Rather, it was the culmination of a concerted anti-cosmopolitan campaign that had begun several years earlier. Indeed, most arguments in 1798 for the virtues of American patriotism rested upon the claim that it would counteract the traitorous efforts of those “metaphysical reformers and tyrants” who threateningly disseminated the “cant of universal benevolence.”³³ The barrage of anti-cosmopolitan discourse that accompanied the war hysteria of 1798 contained two new elements. First, Federalist orators and writers filled the public sphere with richly detailed accounts of a supposedly recently discovered, well-organized Jacobin conspiracy to overthrow the federal government. Second, Federalists and now even moderate Republicans described European democratic principles as a threat to the “natural” affections that bound together families, neighbors, and nations. They thus framed the “foreign” as a dire threat to the “domestic”—in both senses of that word. Such frequently repeated arguments about the dangers of foreign principles legitimated an extensive campaign in 1798 to change the cosmopolitan reading and thinking habits of American citizens. In the context of impending war, cosmopolitanism was re-cast as a form of treason, a sentiment that needed to be muted if not extirpated in order to save the nation. As “An Enemy to Traitors” put it in the Federalist Gazette of the United States: “I am a citizen of the world, said a philosopher. Very well,—so am I. But I am not so much a citizen of the world as to forget that I am a citizen of the United States. . . . When we carry our universal citizenship so far as to throw ourselves on the mercy of the world, we shall smart for it.”³⁴ The person most responsible for widely disseminating in America the argument that the cosmopolitan Jacobin was a threat to affective ties of kin and locality was William Cobbett. A British émigré and advocate for a pro-British foreign policy, Cobbett’s vigorous Anglophilia and penchant for vicious char-

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


acter assassination rendered him suspect in the eyes of many Americans, even pro-British Federalists. Abigail Adams, for example, lauded Cobbett for his efforts to defend her husband John against the criticism of the city’s democratic papers, but she lamented that he “frequently injures the cause he means to advocate for want of prudence and discretion. . . . There is a strange mixture in him. He can write very handsomely, and he can descend & be as low, and vulgar as a fish woman.” Despite such worries about Cobbett’s rhetorical excesses, however, until late 1798 many Federalists actively encouraged and funded his pamphlet and newspaper attacks on American and foreign democrats.³⁵ Cobbett’s scurrilous and lucid pen was of particular use to the Federalists because most of them were neither experienced nor skilled in the art of writing for a popular audience. After publishing a few anti-democratic pamphlets in 1795, Cobbett dramatically entered the national political scene in the spring of 1796 when he opened an explicitly pro-British political bookshop in Philadelphia, the nation’s capital. Cobbett’s description of his first day of business illustrates his intention to counter the profoundly pro-French tone of American public life. “I put up in my windows, which were very large, all the portraits that I had in my possession of kings, queens, princes and nobles. I had all the English ministry, several of the bishops and judges, the most famous admirals, and, in short, every picture that I thought likely to excite rage in the enemies of Great Britain. . . . Such a sight had not been seen in Philadelphia for twenty years.” His friends had warned him that such attempts to wind back the nation’s visual clock would excite the potentially violent animosity of Philadelphia’s democrats, but Cobbett responded: “I saw the danger; but also saw that I must set all danger at defiance, or live in everlasting subjection to the prejudices and caprice of the Democratical mob.”³⁶ In creating such a spectacle less than a block from the avowedly pro-French political bookstore of Benjamin Franklin Bache, Cobbett sought to make anti-revolutionary images and sentiments publicly legitimate in a city where people regularly wore French cockades, called each other “Citizen,” and demanded repeated choruses of French Revolutionary songs from the galleries of the city’s theaters.³⁷ Although Cobbett’s scathing pamphlets and newspaper pieces are interpreted by most American historians as products of the uniquely partisan struggles of America’s mid-1790s, they can also be read as an American outcropping of British anti-Jacobinism. Indeed, the leaders of the anti-Jacobin movement in Britain, which produced several magazines and scores of cheap pamphlets


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

and novels, saw Cobbett as a kindred spirit. In July 1798 the editors of the AntiJacobin Review chose a piece of Cobbett’s to be the first selection in their first volume, noting that he had “contributed to give a proper tone to the public spirit in America.”³⁸ Cobbett counted among his friends and correspondents some of the leading lights of British anti-Jacobinism: James Wright, John Gifford, Robert Polwhele, and Thomas Mathias. He also served as a key conduit for the writings and ideas of his conservative British friends. In June of 1799, for example, Cobbett wrote to the editor of The Anti-Jacobin, or Weekly Examiner, noting: “The things you have sent me delight me beyond measure. I think this is the most valuable parcel I ever received from you. . . . The portrait of Burke, will be gratefully received. . . . Oh! I had like to forgot to thank you kindly for the poetry of the Anti-Jacobin. It is a charming collection.”³⁹ By reprinting many key British anti-French tracts, and excerpting others in his newspaper, Cobbett served an important function for American Federalists who in late 1797 and 1798 were trying to turn the American public against all things French. One of the key themes of this anti-French discourse was that those who claimed to be cosmopolitan friends of universal justice were, in their personal lives, “vindictive, malignant, oppressive, and intolerant”—people who, “under the mask of liberty, . . . exercise the most insupportable tyranny over their families and dependents.” Unlike the paternalistic aristocrats of Britain, or, by implication, the natural aristocrats of America, these Francophiles had no genuine concern for the well-being of their fellow citizens. They practiced a sham egalitarianism, acting in a “supercilious, arrogant, insolent, and overbearing” manner toward “their inferiors; unless when, impelled by interest, or urged by ambition, they irritate their passions, with toasts and flattery, from a tavern chair, or influence their minds, by seditious discourses and treasonable insinuations, from a tribune or a scaffold.”⁴⁰ Thus, the supposed humanitarian concern of people like Paine was only “of the speculative kind,” since “it never breaks out into action.” Cobbett continued: “[Such people] stretch their benevolence to the extremeties of the globe: it embraces every living creature—except those who have the misfortune to come into contact with them. They are all citizens of the world: country and friends and relations are unworthy the attention of men who are occupied in rendering all mankind happy and free.”⁴¹ Despite its inconsistencies—Cobbett argued that cosmopolitans were both too interested in politicizing their dependents and too broad-minded to care about them— Cobbett’s critique of cosmopolitanism succeeded in framing universal benevolence and domestic affection as mutually exclusive.

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


With such accusations, Cobbett, and the scores of other writers who echoed this argument in the late 1790s, astutely drew attention to the anti-patriarchal implications of cosmopolitanism—its critique of the supposedly “natural” bonds of family, locality, and nation into which each person was born but to which they were never given the option to consent. Regardless of whether Cobbett’s cosmopolitans were tyrannical or detached, they neglected their fatherly and neighborly duties in order to meddle in international and political affairs that were none of their business. With this formulation, Cobbett identified the friend to universal justice as a “mongrel cosmopolite,” a creature of impure and unnatural lineage. Such rhetoric transformed a political or philosophical debate over the nature of national attachment—is it rational choice or the unchosen fact of birth?—into a question of biological purity. To be pure, to be human, was to be emotionally attached to a particular place and nation. To think outside the boundary of the nation was to render oneself monstrous, unnatural, untrustworthy. This transatlantic critique of Jacobin cosmopolitanism, a critique that closely resembled the rabidly chauvinistic John Bullism that flourished in the late 1790s in Britain, underlay most of Cobbett’s personal attacks. Reading his works only in the context of American partisan politics and personal rivalries thus elides the similarities and connections between American and British varieties of romantic, anti-French nationalism. In the spring and summer of 1798, as relations with France veered dangerously close to war, American orators filled the air and the presses with similar critiques of the dangers of cosmopolitanism, and supplemented them with a relatively new narrative about America’s distinctiveness. Federalist orators crafted a vision of American politics as wholly cut off from the ongoing struggle to more fully realize the political principles of the age of democratic revolutions. They framed the American system as successfully settled and as an ideal that the rest of the world should emulate. Such a narrative implied that American citizens should not be criticizing their exceptional polity, they should be thankful for it. This was Noah Webster’s goal when he stood before the citizens of New Haven on 4 July 1798: “[Asia and Africa are] overspread with ignorance and despotism; [Europe] is agitated by an inveterate contest, between the advocates of the old systems and the delirious projectors of visionary schemes of reformation.” After thus framing the rest of the world as utterly unworthy of emulation, Webster was able to claim that “America alone seems to be reserved by Heaven as the sequestered region, where religion, virtue and the arts may find a peaceful retirement from the tempests which agitate Europe.”⁴² America prospered


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

because it had neither European “kings,” “hierarchies,” and “mobs,” nor their “visionary theorists.” Webster thus situated America between two equally unattractive forms of European-ness. America’s uniqueness lay not just in its rejection of monarchy and aristocracy, but also in its refusal to “exchange our civil and religious institutions for the wild theories of crazy projectors; or the sober, industrious moral habits of our country, for experiments in atheism and lawless democracy.” America’s greatness, in other words, rested in large part upon the citizens’ rejection of cosmopolitan universalism, “of that false philosophy which has been preached in the world by Rousseau, Condorcet, Godwin and other visionaries. . . . In all ages of the world, a political projector or system-monger of popular talents, has been a greater scourge to society than a pestilence.”⁴³ In this oration, Webster mingled two different anti-cosmopolitan arguments. The most straightforward one claimed that events in Europe had demonstrated that their democratic thinkers had nothing to offer Americans who wished to live in a peaceful, ordered society. The second argument was aimed less at particular Europeans and more at the universalistic, utopian mode of political discourse that had legitimated the democratic movements throughout Europe. This cosmopolitan subjectivity, Webster argued, threatened to undermine the ties of nationhood that preserved order. Where cosmopolitans called for citizens to feel allegiance to principles of liberty, equality, and universal justice, Webster urged his fellow citizens (whom he explicitly defined as male) to identify themselves as part of a historical, blood-rooted community of patriarchs: “Our fathers were men—they were heroes and patriots—they fought— they conquered—and they bequeathed to us a rich inheritance of liberty and empire. . . . We have an excellent system of religion and of government—we have wives and children and sisters to defend; and God forbid that the soil of America should sustain the wretch, who wants the will or the spirit to defend them.”⁴⁴ On the same day, in Philadelphia, the Volunteer Company of Grenadiers made a series of toasts that echoed Webster’s call for patriarchal patriotism. These armed Federalists took a clear stand in the ongoing crisis of foreign and domestic affairs, disparaging the “crowing of the Gallic Cock,” praising Adams and Washington, imagining the day when “the Opposition” would be “crushed under [the] wheels . . . of government,” and putting forward the wish that “the soil of our country [would] become poisonous to traitors, and cease to nourish men animated by foreign predilections.” The one toast that got the most cheers, aside from the ones to Washington and Adams, was that to “the Ameri-

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


can Fair: May the leap of ten thousand swords from their scabbards, to protect them, prove that the spirit of chivalry is not gone.”⁴⁵ Such talk of taking up arms to protect “our” nation and defend “our” women, such appeals to martial manhood, had rarely appeared in American public discourse before 1798. What made this toast even more remarkable was its positive appropriation of Edmund Burke’s veneration of the “Age of Chivalry,” a phrase that had been mercilessly ridiculed and rarely defended in American print culture in the early 1790s. In the hands of the Philadelphia Grenadiers, Burke’s lamentations for the passing aristocratic order became the centerpiece of an appeal for American political mobilization. Unlike Painite forms of politicization, however, these toasts did not claim to mobilize abstract individual citizens. Rather, they invoked a nation of patriarchal, nativist men who wanted to deny citizens the right to openly oppose governmental policies. In other words, these toasts imagined a nation of passively obedient citizens and active patriotic patriarchs—and those two character types were melded inseparably together. The orations of 1798 repeatedly framed “European connections” as the primary threat to the supposedly natural ties of nationhood, “social order,” and “domestic happiness.”⁴⁶ Theodore Dwight’s July 4th oration, for example, suggested that Americans should be “ashamed” that many “foreigners” held public office. “Where is our national spirit! Where is our pride!” Such sham “patriots” had only recently emigrated to America, he pointed out. “Holding the rights of man in one hand, and the seeds of Rebellion in the other, they harrangue the mob, preach against the oppression of the laws, [and] rail at all good men.” Americans should have been wary from the start of these people, because they had learned “the principles of rational liberty . . . among the savage hordes of ‘United Irishmen’ ” and other European radicals. In contrast to these untrustworthy foreigners, “with our own countrymen, we are acquainted, and run no risque of being imposed upon by the patriotism of knaves . . . traitors, thieves, and pickpockets.” In his oration, Dwight blamed all domestic discord on the influence of foreigners. Native-born Americans, he suggested, framed “wholesome laws” and supported “our excellent Constitution,” while émigrés invariably sought to undermine them.⁴⁷ Having thus reduced the matter of political virtue to a question of the place of one’s birth, Dwight was able to claim that the survival of the nation depended upon the expulsion of foreigners and the rejection of foreign influences. Orators used such xenophobic language to encourage American citizens to root out and destroy those dangerous foreigners and American cosmopolitans


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

who were insufficiently dedicated to the preservation of their newly created nation. On a fast day in April 1799, Hezekiah Packard told his Connecticut auditors, “If you love your country, you will . . . not only discard with abhorrence French principles and French influence, but look with a frown upon those who act in character of French Americans.”⁴⁸ In Pennsylvania, Alexander Addison argued that “to remove danger, we must . . . set our faces against . . . those lying newspapers, lying pamphlets, lying letters, and lying conversations, with which the country has been filled.” Those who criticized the current administration were “vipers in our bosom, vultures preying on our bowels, and fatal instruments of . . . our enemies.”⁴⁹ In Massachusetts, Jedidiah Morse argued, “If we love . . . our country . . . let us shun the philosophists of Europe, and their hosts of emissaries in America, and discard and detest their baneful principles.”⁵⁰ Another orator offered a comparison between a Moses-like Washington who had given “us to eat of the trees of liberty, in this political paradise,” and “American Traitors and French Jacobins” who had tempted Americans with “forbidden fruit . . . which, whoso eatheth, merits literal death and perdition!”⁵¹ As this biblical language suggests, many of the arguments against cosmopolitanism linked it to a Protestant narrative about the ongoing struggle against Satan. In a May 1798 oration, for example, David Osgood described European democrats as “so many infernals, broken loose from their chains in the pit below, and now appearing in this upper world under the shape of men, but still thinking and acting as demons.” The rise of popular cosmopolitanism thus became understandable as merely the most recent manifestation of satanic deception. Osgood’s interpretation inverted Paine’s optimistic narrative about universal political regeneration and redescribed the popular politicization of the previous years as a sign of declension rather than progress: “In a manner most alluring, they professed principles of liberty and philanthropy; and invited all nations to fraternize with them in schemes of universal benevolence. By these arts they imposed upon the ignorant mass of their own nation, and upon the ignorant of all other nations, a deception similar to that of the arch fiend, when, under the delusion of making them gods, he seduced our first parents into apostasy.” Osgood ended with an injunction to his auditors and readers: “If you would not be ravished by the monster, drive her panderers from among you.” In this and many other orations in 1798, audiences were encouraged to look suspiciously upon anyone who criticized the government, for “in this good land, there are no . . . grounds for complaint or disquietude.”⁵² Such calls for patriotic obedience, which framed cosmopolitan sympa-

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


thies as a form of treason, created a climate in which American democrats felt themselves under siege. Connecticut democrat Abraham Bishop, for example, described the spirit of 1798 in this way: “If a man says to his neighbors . . . in the language of our declaration of independence, ‘that all men are created equal . . .’ he is denounced by the modern friends of order as an anarchist [or a] Jacobin.”⁵³ The leading opposition newspapers were filled with similar complaints about political persecution. The Aurora printed one report from the New London, Connecticut, Bee that noted: “A man cannot vote as he pleases, read what newspapers he pleases, or hardly think as he pleases, without being denounced by the hot heads of the federal party as a Jacobin, and enemy to his country, and every attempt made to injure him.”⁵⁴ Philadelphia’s Mathew Carey, one of the nation’s leading booksellers and an Irish democrat, received many letters in the summer of 1798 from all over the country complaining that American readers had jettisoned their critical faculties in the face of the Federalists’ rhetorical onslaught. One such letter noted that “the taste for reading that once prevailed has certainly declined very rapidly of late—notoriously discountenanced by a certain description of people; nothing except on one side, is fashionable to read, consequently the light is half put out.”⁵⁵ What legitimated this persecution, more than anything else, was the widespread assumption that cosmopolitan democrats were engaged in an international conspiracy, headed by the Bavarian Illuminati, to overthrow all government and religion.⁵⁶ The talk of an international Jacobin conspiracy began in 1797 in Europe with the publication of John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe and the Abbé Barruel’s History of Jacobinism. These exhaustive, multivolume histories arrived in America at an auspicious moment, precisely as the nation’s Federalist leaders were trying to convince their fellow citizens of the danger of French principles. On 9 May 1798, Jedidiah Morse excitedly summarized Robison’s new book on “the illuminated” for audiences in Boston and then Charlestown. According to Morse, members of this clandestine group “abjure Christianity . . . call patriotism and loyalty narrow minded prejudices, incompatible with universal benevolence— declaim against the baneful influence of accumulated property . . . decry marriage, and advocate a promiscuous intercourse among the sexes.” Morse thus found in Robison’s text all of the charges that had been leveled against American Jacobins since 1794 collected into one coherent narrative about the threat of foreign conspiracy. And Morse did not hesitate to draw the parallel between Robison’s account of European events and recent political events in America:


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

“It is not improbable that the affiliated Jacobin Societies in this country were instituted to propagate here the principles of the illuminated mother club in France.”⁵⁷ Six months later, Morse delivered a Thanksgiving speech in which he provided pages of evidence to support his claim that “the French party organized, marshaled, and instructed [American democrats] how to act against our own government, in favour of France.”⁵⁸ Robison’s book became the proof text for scores of Federalist orations in the summer of 1798 because it seemed to provide “authentic and uncontrovertible” evidence of the conspiratorial designs of supposedly patriotic democrats.⁵⁹ Not since Paine’s Rights of Man appeared in 1791 had one book garnered so much attention. When William Linn quoted Robison in his 9 May oration, he made the unusual gesture of informing his readers when and from whom they could purchase Robison’s book.⁶⁰ Likewise, Morse suggested that Robison’s book “ought to be read by every American.”⁶¹ Robison’s text so affected John Lathrop that it led him to look upon his democratic neighbors as monstrous agents of the devil: “There are multitudes of this noxious breed of frogs, (more pestiferous than those which plagued old Egypt) now scattered over the earth, croaking and spawning in every lake and fen, vexing the air with their noise, and poisoning the waters with their slime. These spirits of devils are gone into all the world, corrupting the religious principles, and breaking the political peace of the nations.”⁶² For Timothy Dwight, Robison’s text conjured up a future in which “our sons [will] become the disciples of Voltaire, and the dragoons of Marat; [and] our daughters the concubines of Illuminati.”⁶³ Robison’s comprehensive account framed the Illuminati as the group behind virtually every contemporary form of social disruption in Europe. The orators of 1798 extended this analysis to America, raising the specter of Jacobin conspiracy to tap into every fear that a property-owning patriarch could harbor—of losing one’s property, of losing control over one’s wife and children, of churches being abolished, or of seeing the nation descend into anarchy. According to the orators of 1798, American citizens could play an important role in thwarting Jacobin conspirators. They must first be wary of the means by which the Illuminati disseminated their ideas, through “the reading and debating societies, the reviewers, journalists or editors of newspapers and other periodical publications, [and] the book sellers.”⁶⁴ Second, citizens had to realize that “personal obedience and reformation is the foundation, and the sum, of all national worth and prosperity.” Citizens needed to focus less on grand matters of politics and religion in order to make themselves and their families

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


more virtuous and obedient. As Timothy Dwight put it on 4 July 1798: “Few persons can be concerned in settling systems of faith, moulding forms of government, regulating nations, or establishing empires. But almost all can train up a family for God, instil piety, justice, kindness and truth, [and] distribute peace and comfort around a neighbourhood.”⁶⁵ Dwight encouraged his audience to channel their world-changing energies toward their families and their localities and leave complicated matters of politics and religion to their leaders. When ordinary people began thinking and talking about universal justice and the rights of man, Dwight suggested, they risked being duped by foreign conspirators who sought to enlist them in an international conspiracy against all government and religion. Public orations were not the only means by which Federalists sought to foster a spirit of American unanimity by banishing the political divisions supposedly fomented by French operatives. Throughout the country, local elites organized approximately three hundred separate public meetings intended to demonstrate the extent of popular support for John Adams’s administration. At the end of each of these meetings, the organizers had the audience approve a pre-written address that was then sent to Adams. Nearly every one of these addresses commented on the need to reject foreign influence and nurture a spirit of unity among Americans. Remarkably, Adams responded personally to each of these addresses, and newspaper editors across the nation then printed these petitions and responses in great numbers. The Gazette of the United States, for example, reprinted eighty-seven of them, nearly one a day for the entire summer. One printer even went so far as to collect these highly repetitive addresses and responses into a 360-page book.⁶⁶ This barrage of patriotic print took these hundreds of discrete, well-orchestrated moments of local patriotism and reflected them back to an American audience as evidence of a preexisting spirit of national pride and unity.⁶⁷ The historian Thomas Ray, in the only extended analysis of this phenomenon, argued that the Federalist version of events was correct, that these petitions show that “a highly polarized American public began to develop a consensus on certain key issues in domestic and foreign affairs, and approached a degree of unity unknown in the previous decade.” The case could be made, however, that these petitions created new, quite shallow pockets of local unity as much as they reflected some strong, preexistent, and widely-shared spirit of nationalism. This was certainly how democratic newspapers interpreted this wave of petitions. They pointed out that many ordinary citizens were “threatened and bullied into


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

unanimity” by local Federalists who had the economic clout to back up those threats.⁶⁸ That the purpose of these addresses was to coerce as much as to reflect unity is suggested by their geographical distribution. Ray found (to his surprise) that “the generally Republican areas of the Middle Atlantic and southern states outstripped Federalist New England in numbers [of petitions].”⁶⁹ The locations of the addresses look less surprising, however, if they are taken not as a sign of unanimous local support for Adams, but as a means by which a local Federalist group could silence the previously vocal democrats in their midst. Where there was no democratic opposition (i.e., in much of Federalist-dominated New England), there was no need for a proclamation. Where unanimity really did exist, there was less need to draw up a petition attesting to it, because the gesture was about reclaiming the Federalists’ lost sense of control over local public discourse. The petitions and their frequent republication around the nation effectively created a compelling image of a spontaneously assenting nation perfectly contented with its leadership. In this way, the authors and disseminators of these petitions sought to write popular cosmopolitanism out of public discourse in favor of a pre-rational affective nationalism that had been so lacking in the preceding years. These calls for national unity, or what the democrats called (in a reference to George III) “passive obedience,” opened new space in American political discourse for a brand of conservatism that had previously found little public expression. It created a new market for cheap anti-Jacobin works like the ones British conservatives had been producing since the first appearance of Paine’s Rights of Man. Booksellers and printers like Cornelius Davis and William Cobbett tried to satisfy this new demand by bringing out American editions of some of the most effective pieces of anti-Jacobin propaganda. The key purpose of most of these productions was to model a passive, localistic version of virtuous citizenship for non-elites. These printed works mercilessly ridiculed the attempts of educated reformers to politicize the people, as well as attempts on the part of laborers to educate themselves on political matters and discuss them with their peers. Such productions merged perfectly with the pro-Adams discourse of 1798 that stressed the need for Americans to leave political decisionmaking up to their chosen leaders and to support their decisions without question. The exigencies of impending war thus made many influential Americans particularly interested in those Britons who had made a compelling case against Paine’s calls for popular politicization.⁷⁰ It was in this context that Boston printer and staunch Federalist Cornelius

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


Davis reprinted the apotheosis of British anti-Jacobinism, the Cheap Repository Tracts.⁷¹ This series of approximately sixty short stories, written primarily by Hannah More between 1795 and 1798, was inspired by the King’s Proclamation calling for the suppression of vice and immorality among the lower orders in Britain. Most British historians agree that the purpose of this proclamation and the publications it inspired and funded was to generate a Church and King backlash against Painite radicalism. The advertisement for these widely disseminated tracts freely admitted that their purpose was to improve the habits, and raise the principles of the common people, at a time when their dangers and temptations, moral and political, were multiplied beyond the example of any former period. . . . And as an appetite for reading had . . . been increased among the inferior ranks in this country, it was judged expedient . . . to supply such wholesome aliment as might give a new direction to their taste, and abate their relish for those corrupt and inflammatory publications which the consequences of the French Revolution have been so fatally pouring in upon us.⁷² As this self-description indicates, the mission of the Cheap Repository was to change the reading habits, and thereby the political practices, of ordinary Britons. The protagonists of these stories were usually the same—pious, happily poor or middling, deferential, ordinary people who did not worry about foreign or even domestic politics, but rather preferred to exercise their virtue at the familial and parish level. A frequent antagonist was the “modern philosopher” who talked about universal benevolence, or the untrustworthy, politically ambitious non-elite who prattled on about liberty and equality. One story, for example, described a Mr. Fantom, “the new fashioned philosopher,” as one of those people who “despised all those little acts of kindness and charity which every man is called to perform every day . . . and while he was contriving grand schemes which lay quite out of his reach, he neglected the ordinary duties of life which lay directly before him.” When Fantom tells his neighbor—the subtly named Mr. Trueman—that he is preparing a political essay for publication in a newspaper, Trueman replies: “I had rather not distinguish myself, unless it was by leading a better life than my neighbours. There is nothing I should dread more than being talked about. I dare say now heaven is in a good measure filled with people whose names were never heard out of their own street or village.” Fantom scorns Trueman’s provincialism: “I despise a narrow field. O


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

for the reign of universal benevolence! I want to make all mankind good and happy.” Mr. Trueman simply replies that Fantom should start with a town or parish first, and then leaves his neighbor to revel in his abstract speculations. With stories such as this, the Cheap Repository tracts saturated the world of cheap print with images of a happily localist, plebian identity, and coupled this image with arguments about the undesirability, and the practical impossibility, of cosmopolitan citizenship. A nation of Mr. Truemans would be invulnerable to the threat of Jacobin conspiracy. The first American to reprint the Cheap Repository, New York’s Cornelius Davis, freely admitted his intentions to transform the reading practices of ordinary Americans. He wrote to Mathew Carey in August 1798 offering to sell him five hundred copies, noting: “I mean to sell them low, because the work is excellent—calculated to be useful to that class of people who have little money and less inclination to buy and read good books.” It is not surprising that Davis liked the political message of these tracts, for, as he admitted to Carey, a United Irishman and outspoken democrat, “We are not well pleased with the conduct of that party in Politicks which you are said to side with.”⁷³ Like many of his Republican counterparts, Davis thought of his printing business as a means of political change. Along with three editions of the Cheap Repository, he also published Barruel and Robison. Whereas these latter two texts were written and priced for elite consumption, the Cheap Repository tracts (sold at four cents apiece) rang all of the same anti-democratic and anti-cosmopolitan changes, only several octaves lower on the socioeconomic scale. The anti-Jacobinism of 1798—the orations, the Cheap Repository Tracts, and the Federalist addresses and toasts—succeeded in demonizing all things foreign by framing them as a threat to the supposedly natural ties of nation and family. Anti-Jacobins frequently used the highly suggestive term “disorganizer” to describe their enemies, thus intimating that the nation, the family, and the locality were preexisting, natural forms of social organization. When Painite cosmopolitans urged people to measure all political institutions and relationships against the egalitarian dictates of universal justice, they challenged the supposedly natural status of all forms of authority. While their goal was to reorganize rather than disorganize, their opponents succeeded in erasing the constructive component of radical Enlightenment political theory. Accounts of French events, like Webster’s, Robison’s, and Barruel’s, claimed to demonstrate that a universalist political language could only destroy and never reconstruct social ties. The public sphere in 1798 was saturated with talk of impending

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


war, detailed accounts of foreign conspiracies against the nation, and panicked claims that foreign incendiaries and their American minions sought to eliminate all religion and break apart families. In such an atmosphere, the previously uncontroversial choice to identify as a cosmopolitan friend to universal justice became suddenly freighted with an imposing host of negative connotations. According to Timothy Dwight, “multitudes” of Americans, “heretofore attached to France with great ardour, have, from full conviction of the necessity of changing their sentiments and their conduct, come forth in the most decisive language, and determined conduct, of defenders of their country. . . . Almost all native Americans will, I doubt not, speedily appear in the same ranks.”⁷⁴ Many individual choices to scale back one’s cosmopolitan political visions may have been as rational and voluntary as Dwight suggests in this supposedly objective description of the events of 1798. But his final, insistent prescription for behavior suggests that many Americans needed to be persuaded by influential men like Dwight, men who could use their access to public forums to turn the disapproving gaze of their listeners toward their disorganizing cosmopolitan neighbors.

Elite Literary Cosmopolitanism and the Invention of the Localist Jeffersonian “Tradition” In 1800 the Jeffersonian Democrats, despite the Federalist attacks of 1798, gained control of the federal government. This does not mean, however, that the anti-cosmopolitan onslaught of 1798 failed to transform the way Americans publicly discussed politics. The romantic rhetoric of domesticity and the narrowly nationalistic conception of patriotism that emerged during the war crisis of 1798 became an even more central aspect of public political discourse in the nineteenth century, embraced by moderate Jeffersonians and Federalists alike. The orators of 1798 had succeeded in defining a delegitimated segment of the political nation as the radical fringe and had driven the most democratic components of the Jeffersonian coalition into that fenced-off area. For the Jeffersonian moderates who controlled the party, the imperatives of constructing a respectable and electable coalition rendered popular cosmopolitanism an expendable element of 1790’s Democratic-Republican ideology. Cosmopolitan language, meanwhile, did not entirely disappear, but it became relegated to the fringes of American political life. A few groups of selfconsciously marginal radicals, mostly working-class deists, kept Paine’s vision of


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

world revolution alive in their newspapers and bookshops. At the other end of the political spectrum, groups of Federalist writers began to identify themselves more forcefully as participants in an international world of letters. Their literary cosmopolitanism differed dramatically from the Painite version, for it was avowedly apolitical and staunchly anti-democratic. The triumph of American nationalism thus pushed cosmopolitanism to the margins on both the antirevolutionary right and the radically democratic left. Joseph Dennie was one of the most influential advocates of the new literary cosmopolitanism.⁷⁵ In 1800, he abandoned his attempt to change the behavior of non-elite Americans through newspaper and pamphlet writing, choosing instead to devote his energies to a new literary magazine called the Port Folio. In his prospectus for the magazine, Dennie explicitly stated that his work was not intended for popular consumption, and to ensure this, he set the subscription rate at $5 a year and refused to sell single copies. By thus shielding his work from the eyes of what he referred to as “the swinish multitude,” Dennie was free to espouse a variety of cosmopolitanism suitable only for a literary elite. He promised his exclusive audience “faithful translations from valuable French, Spanish, or German books, pamphlets or papers.” But, Dennie was quick to note, “it must be understood, that the Editor totally prohibits every thing Jacobinical.”⁷⁶ Contained within this single word, “Jacobinical,” was the previous five years’ work of constructing a naturalized distinction between an elite, who could handle trans-local thoughts, and everyone else, who should play their allotted role by concerning themselves with familial and local affairs only. Dennie’s felt need to distinguish his interest in European ideas from anything Jacobinical shows the persistence of fears of foreign influence among his Federalist audience. The caricature of the internationally minded democrat often appeared in Dennie’s magazine as comic relief, a convenient mirror image of the literary cosmopolitanism that Dennie modeled for his wealthy readers. On March 28, 1801, for example, Dennie printed a letter from “Bridget Neuter,” supposedly the disgruntled wife of a democratic tailor. Bridget complained about the economic consequences of her husband’s reading practices and cosmopolitan political convictions. “He has become . . . so newspaper mad, that things have gone very far behind with us; and, if a speedy stop be not put to his folly, it will surely end in our total ruin. The morning is entirely taken up in reading the Aurora, of which he is a violent admirer, and believes every word to be gospel. . . . [If editor William Duane has a good day, then] near one half the day is . . . lost,

can a citizen of the world be a citizen of the u.s.?


in relating the wonders, and commenting on them, to every one that passes.” Noting that people usually think events in Europe had no local effect, Bridget insists that they are wrong, because the capture of Genoa “stood us in two yards of cloth, which my husband spoiled, in the cutting out, in consequence of hearing the news; and . . . he once lost a whole day, in endeavouring to trace a report of an insurrection in England.” She ends by asking Dennie to “advise [her husband] against meddling so much with politics; and shew him the propriety of attending to his own business, in preference to that of all others.” A month after this piece appeared, Dennie published a short notice thanking “Bridget,” who had “judiciously and humorously warned the unskillful, against meddling with the edge tools of politics.”⁷⁷ Dennie’s caricature of the cosmopolitan revolutionary artisan worked, in part, because such people did indeed still exist in the America of the early 1800s. Although most moderate Jeffersonian newspapers avoided the use of cosmopolitan language and arguments, the most radically democratic did not capitulate to the anti-foreign and anti-cosmopolitan attacks of 1798. Thus, on 3 May 1798, when the United Irishman James Carey printed a deliberately ordered toast to “Mankind, our country, and ourselves” in his United States Recorder, he was taking up a self-consciously marginal position within the print culture of the day. Denis Driscol made the same move in 1800 in the first number of his deist newspaper, The Temple of Reason. He printed the “deist’s creed,” which noted that the deist “is obliged to make it their business by an universal benevolence, to promote the happiness of all others. . . . That . . . he is obliged to obey and submit to his superiors in all just and right things.” Along with this critique of 1798’s doctrine of passive obedience, Driscol also mocked the emerging nationalist cult of Washington. A year after Washington’s death, Driscol sarcastically noted that “Congress is not yet agreed whether it is best to erect Pyramids, or Tombs” to his memory. Almost as scandalous was Driscol’s favorable use of the term “Jacobin.” In December of 1800, for example, he lauded the political activism of England’s much maligned “Jacobins,” for “had it not been for [them], the English would lie down quietly, like loving subjects, and starve peaceably, pouring forth blessings on his Majesty’s happy reign.”⁷⁸ Driscol and a few other committed radicals continued to articulate the revolutionary cosmopolitanism of the early 1790s, encouraging their readers to see themselves as part of an international political movement of citizens who measured political leaders and measures against the radical Enlightenment standards of equal and impartial justice. Literary magazines like Dennie’s, mean-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

while, constructed their audience as sophisticated and polished cosmopolitans, admirers of Burke rather than Paine, and participants in an international world of letters that supposedly hovered above the sordid world of American politics. Driscol and Dennie frequently parodied each other in their texts, defining their own projects over and against one another. This circle of recriminations, however, served only to solidify their positions outside the mainstream of American political discourse. This shift in the terrain of print culture had implications for the way ordinary Americans shaped their political identities. The question of what sorts of political identities and practices would be legitimate for American citizens, particularly those who had previously not been considered part of the political nation, was a pressing one in the first years of the new nation. What should a good American act like? think like? read about? not read about? To a great extent, those who either lovingly described or scornfully derided popular cosmopolitanism were attempting to call into being a particular ideal-type of American citizen. While the line of causality from print to personal identity has never been neat and direct, the changing images of popular political behavior that ordinary readers encountered had an impact on how they went about crafting their own political identities. As the raw materials for cobbling together a plebeian cosmopolitan identity became more scarce and the mocking portrayals of such practices grew exponentially, it is not surprising that American popular politics took on a more nationalistic, localist, and nativist tint. Indeed, regardless of how Tunis Wortman’s 1796 audience or Thomas Paine’s sympathetic readers wanted to present their actions, they had difficulty competing with the powerful image of the irresponsible, self-interested, wild-eyed democrat that had become such a ubiquitous feature on the landscape of American print culture. It was in this way that cosmopolitan democrats like Bache, Oswald, Wortman, Greenleaf, Paine, and their sympathetic readers were literally written out of American politics in the waning years of the 1790s.

4 ߬ Conceptualizing Equality in a Commercial Society Democratic Visions of Economic Justice


EL AWARE’S Robert Coram had a score to settle with the man he sarcastically referred to as “Doctor Blackstone.” In the middle of his 1791 treatise advocating a publicly funded system of universal education, Coram—a self-educated, thirty-year-old librarian, newspaper editor, amateur inventor, Revolutionary War veteran, anti-slavery activist, and schoolteacher from the small port town of Wilmington—devoted a thirty-page chapter (nearly one-third of the entire pamphlet) to a refutation of Sir William Blackstone’s theory of property. He began his attack with a long excerpt from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765–69) in which “the Doctor” admitted that exclusive property rights were difficult to justify: “Pleased as we are with the possession, we seem afraid to look back to the means by which it was acquired, as if fearful of some defect in our title.” Because the historical foundations of property rights were uncertain and thus open to interpretation, Blackstone suggested that “inquiries” into their origins “would be useless, and even troublesome, in common life. It is well, if the mass of mankind will obey the laws, when made, without scrutinizing too nicely into the reasons of making them.”¹ Coram—not the sort who appreciated being told what he should and should not think about—quoted and criticized that last line of Blackstone’s twice in two pages. Why should existing property rights simply be accepted by “the mass of mankind,” ordinary citizens like Coram himself, without a second thought? After all, in another section of his Commentaries, “the Doctor” had argued that “every man” should be “acquainted with those [laws] at least with 115


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

which he is immediately concerned, lest he incur the censure of living in society without knowing the obligations which it lays him under.” Blackstone’s hypocrisy outraged Coram. Everyone subject to the laws should understand them, Blackstone seemed to be saying, except when it came to property. Or, as Coram sarcastically summarized it, “Lawyers may know the obligations of society, but the people not.” Writing in 1791 in the shadow of two revolutions fought in the name of the people and inspired by the doctrines of equality and popular sovereignty, Coram regarded Blackstone’s desire to shield property rights from public discussion as little more than “malignant sophistry and absurdity.”² Coram correctly sensed that much had changed since the 1760s to render Blackstone’s “celebrated” text highly vulnerable to attack. When Blackstone had candidly admitted that “property . . . in its origin seems to have been arbitrary,” he never imagined a potential reader like Coram.³ His book was explicitly addressed to and priced for “gentlemen of independent estates and fortunes [who are] the most useful as well as considerable body of men in the nation.”⁴ Such people would be unlikely to exploit this discomfiting observation about the arbitrary nature of property rights because they had nothing to gain from it. But the worlds of both print and politics had changed dramatically in twentyfive years. The American and French Revolutions fundamentally transformed the nature of public debate by politicizing legions of previously disenfranchised people like Coram. When such democratic reader-citizens trespassed into Blackstone’s formerly elite-dominated world of print, they interpreted what they read from the perspective of their own social cohort—those artisans or farmers of few means who, in Coram’s words, had been “cheated [of ] the bulk of their rights” and left behind in the progress of “civilization.” Thanks to the explosion of popular print in the late eighteenth century, such people now had the ability to disseminate their ideas to an increasingly broad reading public. Coram was thus Blackstone’s nightmare come true, a non-elite who insisted on publicly “scrutinizing too nicely” the undeniably ignominious origins of private property. Pulling down the wall of genteel silence that had previously cordoned discussions of property rights off from public view, Coram argued that “the right to exclusive property is a question of great importance [that] . . . deserves the most candid and equitable solution.”⁵ Like virtually all of his democratic contemporaries, Coram never advocated the abolition of private property. All the same, he spent a good portion of his life formulating a more inclusive conception of property rights that could counter the significant and widening economic

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


disparities of his day. In pursuing this vision of a society with a more equitable distribution of property, Coram was sailing into fairly uncharted intellectual waters. Since there were no well-developed schools of democratic social theory that he could draw upon to make his case, Coram cobbled his argument together from a wide range of disparate intellectual sources that revealed both his eclectic reading habits and his populist instincts. He opened his pamphlet with the claim that, contra Blackstone, large accumulations of private property did not deserve governmental protection. Starting from the assumption that God had originally given the earth in common to all and for the benefit of all, Coram argued that each person was born with a natural right to enough land to sustain his or her life. Over time, however, “human laws,” such as those encoded in Blackstone’s book, “have . . . limited this jurisdiction to certain orders or classes of men; the rest are to feed upon air if they can or fly to another world for subsistence.” Coram was surprised that anyone could attempt to defend “this parceling out to individuals what was intended for the general stock of society.” His second argument against the legitimacy of large concentrations of wealth drew upon the liberal philosopher John Locke’s labor theory of property. As most eighteenth-century readers would have known, Locke argued that labor created sacrosanct property rights. Coram extrapolated from this doctrine, however, to make the more controversial claim that labor also “define[d] the boundaries of possession,” since a person’s physical labor could only produce a limited amount of property in a lifetime. Coram’s Locke, in other words, held that in the predominantly agricultural societies of the eighteenth century, “a man has a right to as much land as he cultivates and no more.” In this interesting twist on the Lockean tradition, Coram turned the eminently respectable Whig philosopher into an advocate for breaking up and redistributing large concentrations of wealth.⁶ Having dismantled the philosophical justifications for the protection of great wealth, Coram then trained his sights on an emerging body of thought that defended economic inequality on the basis of utility. Whereas many contemporary moral philosophers and political economists argued that an unequal distribution of property generated more incentive to work, and thus greater prosperity, Coram, armed with the radical Enlightenment’s optimistic view of human nature, rejected this claim: “If the earth supports its inhabitants in the present unequal division of property, it will support them under an equal division.” In Coram’s world, labor was such a fundamental part of the human constitution that it need not be extracted from people by the threat of star-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

vation. Coram also contested a second argument from utility—one generally associated with Scottish thinkers such as David Hume, Dugald Stewart, and Adam Smith—that framed economic inequality as an inevitable and ultimately worthwhile trade-off for the advance of “civilization” over “barbarism.” Coram accepted this Scottish stage theory of historical progress, but disagreed with the normative priority generally given to the “civilized” over the “savage” state.⁷ Drawing heavily on travelers’ accounts of Native American society, Coram demonstrated that there was much to admire about the societies built by these supposed savages. They practiced complex and productive modes of agriculture. Vice and crime were rare, because “an equality of condition, manners, and privileges” encouraged a “constant and sociable familiarity amongst all members of society.” Coram contrasted the equality, productivity, and relative harmony of Native American societies with their poverty and disease-ridden counterparts in Europe and America: “Look around your cities, ye who boast of having established the civilization and happiness of man, see at every corner of your streets some wretched object with tattered garments, squalid look, and hopeless eye, publishing your lies, in folio to the world.” The “most striking contrast” and key difference between these “savage” and “civilized” states, in Coram’s mind, was the division of property: “To the one, it is the source of all his happiness; to the other, the fountain of all his misery.” Thus prefiguring the democratic critiques of commercial civilization that Thomas Paine and other European radicals would put forward in the mid-1790s, and which would become central to nineteenth-century working-class radicalism, Coram lamented: “Civilization, thy benefits are not sufficiently solid, numerous, nor splendid; we everywhere perceive that degradation and distress which thy daughter poverty has entailed upon our race.”⁸ Although Coram criticized modern civilization, he was no utopian escapist. He knew that he lived in and was speaking to an irreversibly civilized society: “I am not so visionary as to expect that the members of any civilized community will listen to an equal division of lands: had that been the object of this work, the author had infallibly lost his labor.” What Coram sought was a more equitable trade-off for the “common right of property” that humans had given up upon leaving the state of nature. This is the point at which he introduced his plan for publicly funded, universally available education. In the state of nature everyone received the training and materials necessary to sustain themselves, but “civilized man,” dispossessed of the land, “is neither instructed by nature, by government, by his parents, or oftentimes by any means at all. He is then

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


absolutely unable to procure himself subsistence without violating some law.” Because society at large supposedly benefited from its emergence out of the savage state, “society should then furnish the people with [the] means of subsistence, and those means should be an inherent quality in the nature of the government, universal, permanent, and uniform, because their natural means were so.” Coram argued that it was the government’s responsibility to ensure that every citizen possessed either sufficient trade skills or enough land to support himself. Speaking on behalf of those who had not benefited from the spread of commercial civilization, Coram sought to institutionalize a “permanent” political means by which these people could claim their fair share of the purported benefits of economic growth.⁹ Coram was a unique figure in many ways—in the breadth of his reading, his range of life experiences, and his brash insistence on debunking the leading intellectual authorities of his day—yet his vision of a democratic government that would take on the responsibility of ensuring economic justice was shared by many of his contemporaries. Several months after his pamphlet was published, for example, his fellow citizens elected him to a body of thirty people who were charged with revising Delaware’s state constitution. Until his untimely death in 1796, he was a respected (though not uncontroversial) leader in Wilmington, and he was eulogized in the New-York Journal as a “great man” whose “writings . . . have sometimes been contradicted, but never refuted.”¹⁰ Coram developed his political philosophy not only in quiet contemplation over the books of the Wilmington Library Company (which he kept in his house for a few years in the late 1780s), but also through countless conversations with the people he met during his decade of traveling around the revolutionary Atlantic world as a young sailor. The months he spent fighting under the command of John Paul Jones, and in ports in countries as far flung as Cuba, Spain, France, and the Netherlands, gave him unique insight into the aspirations of the ordinary men and women like himself who saw the revolutionary present as a time of great possibility. From his firsthand observations of Europe’s and America’s expanding commercial world, Coram developed a sophisticated analysis of this new and evolving economic system, neither rejecting it in its entirety nor celebrating it uncritically.¹¹ Rather, he and his democratic compatriots assessed the promises and perils of the commercial world expanding around them according to a set of egalitarian political criteria: How can the expansion of the market economy and long-distance trade be shaped so as to foster greater equality and enable ordinary people to lead more self-determined lives? How can the new,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

emergent forms of economic inequality in a commercial society be ameliorated so as to avoid undermining the Revolution’s promise of popular self-rule? The answers he and his contemporaries came up with were complex and ambivalent, but they all revolved around the idea that any just economic system should foster a more egalitarian, democratic, inclusive, and participatory political system. Put most simply, they began formulating a democratic theory of political economy that existed in critical tension with an emerging capitalist order.¹² In this chapter, I examine three ways in which the international political and intellectual context of the 1790s shaped an emergent body of democratic economic thought. First, the French Revolution inspired its American supporters to see the present as a uniquely propitious moment in which to put the theory of popular sovereignty into practice—to have ordinary citizens take over the reins of government, with the explicit goal of creating a more just and egalitarian society. Inchoate yet powerfully held visions of economic fairness had long been a part of American popular culture, but now the actions of the French revolutionaries pushed many non-elite citizens to reimagine themselves as part of a newly empowered populace that could at last translate their hopes of economic equity into reality. Second, as American democrats watched European events unfold in the 1790s, they became increasingly aware that truly egalitarian societies would not naturally and inevitably emerge once aristocracy and monarchy disappeared, for the power that flowed from inherited, entrenched, and protected wealth was not easily dismantled. Following in the footsteps of their European counterparts who moved toward an increasingly sophisticated analysis of the systemic relationship between economic and political power, American democrats began to interpret their new nation’s emerging forms of land speculation and finance capitalism as updated versions of old aristocratic privilege. Finally, as this transatlantic community of democrats pondered how best to pursue the goal of economic fairness under the new conditions of commercial capitalism, they proposed a wide range of pragmatic policies designed to translate the ideal of economic justice into a reality. As we have already seen, these three transatlantic themes animated the work of Robert Coram, yet he was merely one of many American democrats who sought to channel the energy of the revolutionary 1790s toward the goal of creating a society marked by an unprecedented degree of economic equality.

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


The Common Sense Case for Equality: Painite Glosses on Popular Sovereignty, Property Rights, and Print in an Age of Revolution In 1794, Joseph Gerrald, a British radical who had worked as a young lawyer in Philadelphia in the 1780s, wrote a pamphlet calling for a constitutional convention of the British people. He hoped that this foundational act of popular sovereignty would extend the vote to every male Briton and create a more responsive and transparent government, but his ambitions also extended beyond political reform. Noting the “spirit of enquiry” that had swept Europe in recent years, Gerrald predicted that in his proposed convention “the foundation of the rights of property will be as accurately examined, as the foundation of the rights of persons.”¹³ As far as Painite democrats like Gerrald were concerned, reforming a nation’s political system in order to institute rule by the people necessarily involved rethinking the existing distribution of property. Throughout Europe and America in the 1790s few informed people failed to notice this presumed connection between popular political initiatives and calls for economic justice. When John Adams took the unorthodox stance of opposing the French Revolution in its earliest stages, for example, he did so on the grounds that “too many Frenchmen, like too many Americans, pant for equality of persons and property.”¹⁴ Adams accurately perceived that a protean, yet potentially transformative, economic egalitarianism lay not far beneath the surface of the political doctrines that motivated French revolutionaries and their supporters in America. As Painite democrats like Gerrald and Coram explored in print the most egalitarian implications of two central and long-standing conventions of eighteenth-century political thought—popular sovereignty and property rights—they made Adams’s fears a reality by putting questions of economic justice on the public agenda to a greater extent than ever before. American historians have tended to treat the late-eighteenth-century conversation about popular sovereignty, even in its most democratic variants, as having been solely political, with little economic content.¹⁵ Although Painite democrats imagined fundamentally restructuring the political world, this account goes, their economic vision was fairly simplistic, involving little more than the elimination of the lingering feudal impediments that blocked the emergence of laissez-faire capitalism, or what the eighteenth century called “free commerce.” The story is more complicated than this, however. As Painites like Gerrald and Coram experimented with the most inclusive and egalitarian implications of popular sovereignty, it became clear that the people, most of whom


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

owned little property, might logically seek to transform standing property relations by using their newfound political power to create governmental policies that would encourage greater equality. Utopian speculations about the power of the people animated a rhetorically powerful genre of writing that invited readers throughout the Atlantic world to imagine what an empowered yet largely unpropertied people might do. Robert Coram’s pamphlet was thus merely one meditation, although a particularly extended one, on a theme that saturated the democratic print of his era. Indeed, at the same time that Coram was beginning to formulate his populist critique of Blackstone’s defense of standing property rights, Thomas Lloyd, many miles away in New York, had a strikingly similar encounter with the same portion of the great Doctor’s text. While employed recording the debates of the First Congress, Lloyd copied into his commonplace book the identical excerpt from Blackstone that had provoked Coram’s ire. Immediately following Blackstone’s claim that “the mass of mankind” should not look too deeply into the nature of property but simply obey the laws protecting it, Lloyd scribbled: “How repugnant is this sentiment to a society of men asserting that their gov’t is founded as much on republicanism as on the principles of monarchy & aristocracy.” Like Coram, he thought that Blackstone’s acknowledgment of the shaky foundations of property rights should lead into “an examination of the principles upon which this right rests.”¹⁶ Shielding questions of property rights and economic inequality from the people was something that had been done in the past, in aristocracies and monarchies. The triumph of republicanism and the doctrine of popular sovereignty pointed to a very different future, one in which citizens could engage in a public conversation about economic issues so as to work toward a more just future. As Coram’s and Lloyd’s identical and virtually simultaneous epiphanies suggest, they were living through a particularly volatile moment in the history of ideas regarding property rights. Ever since modern rights language had emerged in the seventeenth century, it was generally used to defend the exclusive ownership of property and argue against its redistribution. Public claims about one’s right to property were almost always deployed in order to prevent another private individual or the state from taking what one already possessed. While this is still largely the case today, Painites in the late eighteenth century took the natural rights tradition in a very different direction, arguing that since the right to property was universal, every person should by right have enough of it to sustain himself. This inclusive conception of property rights, with its

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


egalitarian implications, functioned as an effective critique of the system of exclusive rights that had historically been used to justify vast economic inequalities. Granted, natural rights theorists often tempered the harsher implications of exclusive property rights by emphasizing the role of the church or other private charities in protecting those who lacked property from life-threatening privations. One of the 1790’s democrats’ key innovations, however, was to argue that such paternalistic arrangements were unsuited to modern republics. In their minds, the state should serve as the guarantor of each person’s natural right to property.¹⁷ If the current distribution of property rendered a portion of the citizenry destitute, then actions needed to be taken to restore the property rights of the poor. This seemingly radical argument about the government’s role in providing for each citizen’s universal right to property appeared with surprising frequency in the 1790s. Joel Barlow put it most forcefully in his Advice to the Privileged Orders: “It is a truth . . . that every man is born with an imprescriptible claim to a portion of the elements; which portion is termed his birthright. Society may vary this right, as to its form, but never can destroy it in substance.”¹⁸ This argument mirrored Coram’s 1791 claim of a natural right to “the means of subsistence,” and Thomas Paine’s 1795 statement that “every individual in the world is born therein with legitimate claims on a certain kind of property, or its equivalent.”¹⁹ Such ideas were also embraced and regularly articulated by rankand-file democrats, such as Denis Driscol, a United Irishman who emigrated to America in the late 1790s. When Driscol was prosecuted for treason in 1794, for example, an American newspaper reprinted the following sentiments that had provoked the British government’s ire: “The earth is the common inheritance of all men. Every man has a right to a proportionate share of the country he lives in. He, who possesses a greater share of the land he lives in, than another, is a monopolist and an usurper of the rights of his fellow citizens.”²⁰ While Driscol’s version of inclusive property rights was more literally egalitarian than that of many of his contemporaries, he shared with them the general presumption that any just society should have a roughly even distribution of property since everyone entered the world with an equal right to a share of it. Painites developed three different lines of argument to support their inclusive conception of property rights. First, some grounded this rights claim on the biblical account of the earth being given in common to all. This argument had been marshaled by Anglo-American radicals since the seventeenth century and was put to its most extreme use by the Diggers and other groups of the


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

English Civil War period. Since Paine, Barlow, Driscol, and many other 1790’s radicals were deists, however, they only occasionally employed this argument.²¹ The second, and more popular, defense of a natural right to property drew on Locke’s labor theory of property to argue that since every person labored, each person was entitled to the property that his or her labor produced. As we have seen with Coram’s use of Locke in 1791, a corollary of this argument was that one could not legitimately claim an inviolable right to more property than one could have created with one’s own labor. By the mid-1790s, in Britain, radicals like John Thelwall had begun to use the labor theory of property to make the more radical claim that wage labor infringed upon the rights of workers, because it robbed them of a portion of the value that they had produced. The third argument in defense of an inclusive conception of property rights—and the one that was most original to and commonly used in the 1790s—rested upon the idea that everyone who currently owned significant amounts of property owed a “social debt” to those who did not. As the historian Gregory Claeys has explained it, this argument asserted that, in an expanding commercial economy, “the laboring classes ought to be ensured a proportionate right to increases in society’s wealth generally.”²² Paine put forward his own version of this argument in his 1795 pamphlet Agrarian Justice: “Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make the land originally. . . . All accumulation, therefore, of private property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”²³ Paine’s support for this idea lent it much credence among American democrats, but he was by no means the first to articulate it. Six years earlier, a writer in Eleazar Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer had similarly claimed that “the accumulation . . . of property . . . must be an effect of the protection afforded to it by [the] joint strength of the society, in the execution of its laws,” and that “private property therefore is the creature of society, and is subject to the calls of that society whenever its necessities shall require it.” Just as Paine’s Agrarian Justice sought to make sense of and find remedies for the deep inequalities of wealth in France and England, this 1789 article appeared at a time when many poor farmers were facing eviction, while their wealthy creditors were successfully lobbying the new state and federal governments for policies friendly to their interests. Calling upon the government to take steps (in the name of the public good) to either curb or tax

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


the extensive profits wealthy creditors had recently accrued, this author insisted that such “contributions to the public exigencies” were merely “the payment of a just debt,” not encroachments on sacrosanct property rights.²⁴ Such arguments implied that private property—especially of the modern, commercial variety—was not natural or inviolable. Rather, property (and the right to it) was made possible by a complex network of laws, customs, and social institutions that had evolved over centuries.²⁵ Since the state and society made private property possible, every nation had an interest in creating policies that supported the economic interests and rights of every citizen, not just the portion that currently owned property. In the past, Anglo-American societies had followed the principle that political power should be confined to those who owned property. This new Painite conception of the social debt implied that the people, through the agency of the government that they created, had the power to regulate and restructure the world of property and economic exchange more broadly so as to create a society that conformed to their sense of fairness. By initiating such a frank public conversation about the unequal distribution of property, Paine and his fellow democrats broke a rule that had been central to the elite-dominated public sphere for over a century: speculations about the legitimacy of property rights and vast economic inequality were not to be aired in any forum to which non-elites might gain access. Indeed, before the 1790s, property rights were rarely a topic of discussion in printed materials that circulated beyond the constricted boundary of the political nation. Perhaps this explains why both Coram and Lloyd reacted to Blackstone’s comments as if they had suddenly, almost accidentally, pulled aside a curtain which had for centuries guarded the taboo subject of property. Ever since the English Civil War, those Britons and Americans who had access to print, whether they were Whigs or Tories, had written under the specter of “levellerism.”²⁶ The public debate about property rights and economic equality that had accompanied the political turmoil of the 1640s convinced those with a stake in the current property regime to do everything in their power to avoid the volatile potential of such open-ended conversations. Indeed, if there was one thing on which most formally educated thinkers agreed in the eighteenth century, regardless of their political affiliation, it was that questions about property rights and economic matters in general could only be safely discussed by the wealthy. This phenomenon generated a curious mode of writing about property. Philosophers and politicians comfortably endorsed the beneficence of economic inequality and admitted the shaky foundations of property rights in


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

print because they were confident that their voices did not echo beyond the confines of the severely constricted political nation. The unguarded expressions made possible by this perception of safety, however, would soon be used against these writers with great effect by people like Paine and Coram in the 1790s. For example, the chapter on property in William Paley’s Natural and Moral Philosophy (1785)—the textbook used in most British and American universities from the mid-1780s into the nineteenth century—opened with a soon to be infamous parable about “a flock of pigeons in a field of corn.” Ninety-nine of these pigeons spent all of their time “gathering all they got into a heap; reserving nothing for themselves but the chaff and the refuse; keeping this heap for one, and the weakest, perhaps worst, pigeon of the flock.” While this privileged pigeon “was devouring, throwing about, and wasting” its huge pile of corn, one of the ninety-nine laboring pigeons, “more hardy or hungry than the rest, touched a grain of the hoard.” The other pigeons instantly attacked the wayward pigeon and “[tore] it to pieces.” So that his audience of college students would not miss the meaning of the parable, Paley informed them that “if you should see this, you would see nothing more than what is every day practiced and established among men.” After such a dramatic demonstration of the “paradoxical and unnatural . . . institution” of property, one might have expected Paley to launch into a Coram-like investigation of how property arrangements could be reconfigured in a more just fashion. Instead, Paley—who in 1793 would author an anti-Painite piece of propaganda entitled Reasons for the Contentment of the Poor—went on to enumerate the number of “important advantages” which accrued from such an “inequality of property.”²⁷ Paley wrote for gentlemen scholars, men who regarded his interpretation of the pigeon parable not as a callous disregard for the poor but as a candid description of the necessary injustices that made social stability possible. Such was the discourse of statesmen and learned gentlemen, men who understood the dangerous uses to which such parables could be put by “demagogues” and “levellers.” The British radical Charles Pigott broke the rules in precisely this manner when he paraphrased the pigeon parable in his 1794 pamphlet entitled A Political Dictionary: Explaining the True Meaning of Words—a pamphlet that New York’s Thomas Greenleaf reprinted in 1796. Pigott used Paley’s parable as the new, “true” definition of “one.” Pigott wrote for a Painite audience, the ninetynine rather than the one, and this fact alone subverted the intended meaning of the story. As the only slightly ironic title of the pamphlet suggests, Pigott sought to reconfigure the language that non-elites used to understand their

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


society. To this end, he encouraged readers to identify as members of the virtuous but oppressed ninety-nine. He defined “poor,” for example, as being “selfevident”: “Search your own purse, and look round and see.” The “true meaning” of “labour,” according to Pigott, was “the occupation of the Swinish Multitude, who are kept to it twelve hours a day, though it can hardly procure subsistence,” and he added: “This same labour also is held in the utmost contempt by the useless great, though at the same time they derive all their luxuries and exclusive advantages from the exertions of the industrious poor.”²⁸ Once he had put the experiences and outlook of the ninety-nine at the center of the story and established the systemic relationship between wealth and poverty, he didn’t need to reinterpret or even argue against Paley. The same words intended to teach the Anglo-American elite how to justify economic inequality easily became, when placed in a pamphlet that sold for a few pennies and was addressed to an audience of the dispossessed, an argument for sweeping reform, or even revolution. Such public exposures of elite texts made real the worst fears of people like John Adams, who emphasized the danger rather than the promise of popular politics. Like Paley and Blackstone, Adams wrote at great length about economic inequality, and he always understood his audience to be his fellow property-owning elites. In his three volume Defense of the American Constitutions (1787), Adams argued that “the moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God . . . , anarchy and tyranny commence.”²⁹ He made this statement in the midst of a critique of Marchmont Nedham’s seventeenth-century democratic theory. The problem with democracy, in Adams’s mind, was that the rich and the poor would always exist, and the poor, if given too much political power, would inevitably call for a redistribution of wealth. To this extent, Adams agreed with his Painite contemporaries on the implications of popular sovereignty. But where many democrats embraced such possibilities, Adams thought that radically democratic politics could only result in “anarchy” or “tyranny.” The “many” without great property, in other words, were simply incapable of thinking rationally and fairly about the property regime under which they lived. Adams did not intend this statement to be condescending or mean-spirited. Like Paley, he thought that charity was an obligation the rich owed the poor, and he never argued, like Thomas Malthus soon would, that the starvation of the poor served the common good. But Adams’s sympathy for the poor turned to scorn the moment they stopped asking for charity and began to enter the political realm. Adams’s nemesis, Thomas Paine, invoked this specter in 1792 when he argued

Figure 5. “Wha Wants Me.” From the European Political Cartoon Collection, box 4, folder 1, American Antiquarian Society. This British satirical print exemplifies how Tom Paine became associated with calls for greater economic equality. In this image, a pockmarked Paine carries on his back a bundle of “levelling instruments,” and trampled beneath his feet are the “Protection [of ] Property” and “Inheritance.” Meanwhile, suspended magically in front of him is a scroll containing the words “Rights of Man” and “Equality of Property.” (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


that the poor should demand material assistance from the state not as a matter “of charity, but of right.”³⁰ In Adams’s mind, such attempts by the “many” to gain a more equitable distribution of property through concerted political action would inevitably signal the end of society itself. Quite dire consequences, Coram or Paine might have said, from a simple discussion of the “idea . . . that property is not sacred.”³¹ While Adams may have spoken for a good number of American intellectuals, voices like his were countered in the early 1790s by many who saw the revolutionary present as a time ripe with exciting egalitarian possibilities. Joel Barlow, a Yale graduate and a distinguished poet who spent the 1790s in London and Paris, thought that the political transformations of the age would inevitably result in a very different distribution of wealth. In the midst of a 1792 pamphlet celebrating the “irresistible” and “general revolution” that was “at hand,” Barlow digressed into a short discussion of property rights and economic inequality that closely resembled those in Coram’s pamphlet of the previous year. Barlow declared, as “a truth . . . not to be called in question,” that “society is bound in duty to furnish” either land or training in a trade to every person who did not possess “the means of subsistence.” Like Coram, Barlow also claimed that most vice and crime were simply the product of the gross inequalities of wealth that marked civilized society. The fault for the plight of the poor, in other words, lay not with them, but with modern society, which “has seized upon [their natural right to] property, and commenced the war against [them].” Barlow framed the revolutionary movement in France and the building resistance in Britain, at least in part, as attempts to end this war on the poor and bring them into the full enjoyment of both their political and their economic rights.³² To his mind, any legitimate government should seek to render citizens “as equal in all sorts of enjoyments, as can possibly be consistent with good order, industry, and the reward of merit.”³³ Barlow’s message to his fellow “Privileged Orders” of the world was that they had no other choice but to assent to ordinary citizens’ demands for a more equitable share of the world’s property. Barlow’s utopian radicalism emerged, in part, out of his participation in the salons of revolutionary Paris and the radical political clubs of London, where he spent many an evening in conversation with Thomas Paine, Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, and several other of the Atlantic world’s leading radicals.³⁴ By no means, however, were these ideas relegated to such circles of avant-garde intellectuals.³⁵ Indeed, their claims that government policy should help create and maintain a rough degree of economic equality were echoed re-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

peatedly in the American democratic newspapers and pamphlets of the 1790s. Sometimes the sentiment was dropped into an article as an obvious truism that one could then build an argument upon. Thus, one essayist in Benjamin Franklin Bache’s paper opened a piece with the seemingly uncontroversial claim that “It has been a favorite, and undoubtedly a just principle, that, in Republics, equality in the property of individuals should be preserved as much as possible.”³⁶ While statements like these advocated a fairly limited use of state power to encourage economic equality—framing it as something to be “preserved” rather than created—other democrats used language that implied a far stronger role for the government. At the end of an article lauding the progressive taxation policies recently adopted by the French government, a commentator in the National Gazette drew this conclusion: “In every democratical government the laws ought to destroy, and prevent too great an inequality of condition among the citizens.” A writer in the Vermont Gazette similarly suggested that it was the government’s role to “make disappear the great inequalities of fortune,” while New York’s Time Piece noted that, “In such a republic as this, men should by every fair means be legally prevented from becoming exorbitantly rich.”³⁷ Such paeans to the beneficence of economic equality appeared with greater regularity in the newspapers of the 1790s than they had earlier, but they were not an entirely new feature of American political discourse. The leading ideologues of the American Revolution had articulated their cause in a classical republican idiom that looked back to Rome as an ideal to emulate. They admired the rough equality that pertained among the sizable minority of Romans who were citizens, and contrasted it with a British aristocratic system that perpetuated vast inequalities of economic and political power. This classical republican appeal spoke most forcefully to the established landowners (and especially plantation owners) of the colonies, who liked to think of themselves as the modern-day equivalents of those public-spirited Romans, virtuous stakeholders taking up arms to defend their country against corrupt aristocrats, courtiers and their hired mercenaries. The popular appeal of such a vision, however, was limited. Considering that those who articulated these classical ideals were themselves usually among the wealthiest people in their communities, their neighbors were understandably skeptical of just how deep their commitment to economic equality really was. Indeed, few who adopted this classical republican vision ever considered expanding property ownership to include those many colonists who were renters or tenants.³⁸ So while claims about the beneficence of economic equality and the malign effects of aristocracy had suffused Ameri-

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


can political discourse since the 1770s, it was not until the 1790s that such appeals began to focus on those people who were not already economically secure and politically enfranchised. As opposed to the fairly limited popular appeal of classical republicanism, there were many in Revolutionary era America who embraced an agrarian strain of Protestant millennialism that invoked visions of a more economically just future. The 1760s and 1770s witnessed numerous conflicts that pitted small farmers against greedy landlords, land speculators, and colonial officials. When these farmers banded together to protect one another’s landholdings from the hands of creditors and government authorities, they looked to each other and to God for the strength to resist. They justified their actions by referring to the Bible’s many passages critical of money changers and rich men, and they embraced a “moral economy” that judged the well-being of ordinary families to be more important than the profit margin of landlords, even when secular law said otherwise. Theirs was a God of deliverance who would protect them against earthly powers that sought to deprive them of their livelihoods. In the minds of many colonists, the battle against Britain was part of this broader divine struggle in which God would take the side of the virtuous poor against the vicious rich.³⁹ Eleazar Oswald’s newspaper served the rural hinterlands of Philadelphia, where his readers were quite familiar with this biblically derived vision of economic fairness. Though he was not a particularly devout man himself, Oswald frequently drew upon this tradition as a way to develop his criticisms of the Federalists’ economic policies. In the first years of the 1790s, Oswald’s newspaper frequently contained pieces criticizing the new federal government for implementing policies that enriched wealthy speculators while doing nothing to improve the economic fortunes of ordinary farmers, who at that same moment were facing escalating rates of foreclosure. Though he frequently harped on how discouraging the current moment looked, Oswald fantasized about a deliverance to come—one fueled by popular excitement about the recent successes of European revolutionaries and a faith in divine retribution: That flame of liberty which is now so rapidly increasing through Europe, will reflect back to us from whence it kindled. . . . Our success inspired them—their success will inspire us with new life and the zeal of a Nehemiah. Like him they will consult among themselves, and rebuke this new nobility of speculators, landjobbers, &c. and will set a great assem-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a bly against them, and cause them to restore these engrossed lands, clear of rents, taxes, &c. See Nehemiah v. ver. 1–14.⁴⁰

Pieces like this skillfully blended the secular language of revolution emanating out of Europe with an older, religious appeal for popular action. The long promised divine deliverance from economic hardship was now at hand, but the agents of deliverance were the people themselves, in the form of “a great assembly,” inspired to action by their fellow democrats across the ocean who were continuing the pursuit of justice that Americans had initiated in the 1770s. Most democratic newspapers in the first years of the 1790s articulated a narrative of decline and potential redemption similar to that in the biblical story about Nehemiah. Hopeful pieces calling for a resurgence of popular action that would secure economic justice for ordinary citizens appeared side by side with fearful stories documenting the emergence of a new nobility of speculators and financiers that threatened the survival of the republic. To many democrats it seemed that, “since the . . . peace of 1783, artifice and deception has effected one revolution in favour of the few.” The path out of this counterrevolutionary moment, however, was clear: “Another revolution must and will be brought about in favor of the people.”⁴¹ In the first two years of the 1790s, before partisan divisions between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists fully took shape, democratic editors like Oswald, Bache, and Greenleaf regularly expressed concerns that the nation’s political leaders and economic elites had begun to betray the egalitarian promise of the Revolution. In the minds of these democrats, the problem was not a lack of civic-mindedness among the citizenry, it was that the nation teemed with a growing cohort of cunning, wealthy financiers who had found ways to shape the new state and federal governments to serve their interests over and against those of the majority of people. Boston’s Benjamin Edes, the editor of one of the few democratic newspapers that could trace its lineage back to the American Revolution, lamented in 1790 that only a few years had passed “since the papers teemed with speculations in support of the rights and privileges of the people . . . and the natural equality of our species, which were then represented as the great genuine objects of the late glorious revolution.” Idealistic talk of equality had vanished from the nation’s political discourse, only to be replaced by language that emphasized the importance of “implicit submission to the measures of our federal legislators,” no matter how contrary to the interests of ordinary citizens those measures might be. While “speculators” and other interested parties eagerly “agree[d] in this language,”

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


democrats feared that this heightened emphasis on “the dignity of government” and “the wisdom of our rulers” would distract the nation from achieving what they thought was one of the key goals of the American Revolution, a more equal society.⁴² For those democrats who sought to push back against the emerging orthodoxy that great disparities of wealth were an acceptable and unavoidable feature of the new republic, the explosion of political activism and theorizing in Europe served as a great inspiration. As we saw in chapter 1, soon after the publication of the Rights of Man in 1790, Thomas Paine became a key figure for those many Americans who thought of themselves as part of an emerging cohort of cosmopolitan democrats. When Paine’s name was invoked in the democratic newspapers of the 1790s, it was often attached to calls for greater political action to minimize the gap between the rich and the poor. In the fall of 1791, for example, one of Paine’s supporters drew the following lessons from the recently published Rights of Man: anything that tends to place the government “into the hands of the few, the rich, or the well born, is . . . contrary to the spirit of our government.—Wherever great property is, there generally is influence.— Whatever therefore tends . . . to vest in a few, so great a quantity [of property], as to make the distribution vastly and extravagantly unequal, must in a degree weaken the force and spirit of this government.”⁴³ In the second part of the Rights of Man (1792) Paine offered a host of concrete policy ideas that would foster greater economic equality, and that section of the text—which Eric Foner has referred to as Paine’s “social charter”—was excerpted and referred to countless times in America’s democratic newspapers.⁴⁴ The common sense that Paine symbolized in the early 1790s involved not only the abolition of aristocracy and monarchy as political forms, but also the need for concerted action to reduce the great disparities of wealth that these political systems had perpetuated for centuries. Democrats like Paine called for economic equity in part out of a sense of fairness, but also because they regarded great concentrations of wealth as a threat to the cherished ideal of popular sovereignty. As a writer in Oswald’s paper put it, “a great inequality of conditions and fortunes” was “entirely contrary to the spirit of a democratic government.” First, it tended “to disunite the citizens” by encouraging the “extremely opulent . . . to preserve for himself that which other men desire to have.” Second, it created incentives for the wealthy few to use their political influence to silence the many who posed such a threat to their property. This second argument—that the emergence of a wealthy elite


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

would eventually undermine the rule of the people and their “equal right to agree or dissent” to the formation of all laws—was echoed repeatedly by democrats throughout the 1790s.⁴⁵ Even though America had rid itself of monarchy, it seemed to many that the wealthy and powerful few still had greater influence over the state and federal governments. How else could one explain why “the labouring classes . . . pay a tax on all they possess, eat, drink, or wear, while the rich man pays no tax whatever, for his thousands, on interest, in private hands, or in public funds or banks . . . nor for his vast tracts of unimproved lands, rapidly doubling in value?” After detailing a host of other ways in which government policy served the interests of the wealthy few rather than the entire citizenry, the author of this 1795 piece provided a simple explanation and solution for this problem. Since most of the nation’s rulers were “of rank, situation, office or connection, such as to give them a different feeling, and bias from the body of the people,” it made perfect sense that they did not “seriously engage in reforms, favorable to the equality of justice.” A society that nurtured “an independent mediocrity and equality of circumstances,” however, would be more conducive to a politics where the common good would take precedence over the economic interests of an elite.⁴⁶ While most 1790’s democrats could agree that a rough degree of economic equality was necessary to sustain a participatory political system that served the interests and protected the rights of all citizens, the process through which a nation should pursue that goal of economic equity was more uncertain. The same author who advocated for “equality of circumstances” in 1795 was quick to follow that suggestion with the caveat that “an arbitrary leveling of estates to create such equality and mediocrity would be an outrage against the right of property.”⁴⁷ Most studies of late-eighteenth-century Painite democrats have interpreted such statements as indicative of how severely limited their commitment to economic equality was. Hamstrung by their commitment to property rights, this line of interpretation goes, all these 1790’s democrats had to offer was “a theory of . . . justified and morally acceptable inequality” hiding behind the language of radical egalitarianism.⁴⁸ Yet almost every time a democratic writer insisted that “an equality of property is not to be expected” or “wished,” he would, with his next breath, call for the government to take steps to encourage greater equality.⁴⁹ The author of the 1795 newspaper article mentioned above, for example, immediately followed his attack on leveling with the insistence that any free state must “forbear every public measure” that would “artificially” contribute to the disparity of wealth. A year earlier, John Thelwall, a leading

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


British Painite, delivered a lecture to a London tavern of working men, in which he argued, “All private property was sacred & would be so unless too unbounded & used for the oppression of the lower orders of the people & then it would & ought to be subject to their regulation.”⁵⁰ As these examples suggest, the vague conventional assertions of the sanctity of property rights that democrats frequently articulated functioned not as substantive arguments, but rather as perfunctory, preemptive strikes against the charge of levellerism. Their central intellectual aim was not to defend the existing distribution of property, but to distinguish between beneficent and harmful forms of property and to imagine what steps the new nation could take to encourage a more equitable distribution of it.⁵¹ This was not socialism, but neither was it simply a “bourgeois” defense of laissez-faire capitalism. Rather, these were some of the first exploratory steps toward a democratic theory of political economy where the central question was no longer how to protect existing property holdings against the encroachments of the people, but rather how the peoples’ government could effectively oversee, regulate, and potentially restructure economic arrangements to serve the interests of all, equally.

Democratic Diagnoses of and Remedies for Modern Forms of Economic Inequality Most 1790’s democrats had expected that the American Revolution would foster a harmonious society with a rough degree of economic equality. Instead, the end of the war unleashed a torrent of land and financial speculation and triggered bitter struggles in every state between creditors and debtors. These developments pushed significant numbers of ordinary farmers off of their land, while a few lucky and ambitious financial entrepreneurs acquired gaudy new houses and lavish carriages. How had it happened that a revolution inspired by the ideal of fundamental human equality had led to the creation of federal (and in many cases, state) governments closely attuned to the interests of the wealthy while largely deaf to the claims of small farmers and artisans, many of whom were veterans of the war? The problem involved more than just political corruption, for there appeared to be larger, extra-political dynamics at work as well in the new nation that were making it easier for some to grow wealthy while many others fell behind. As democratic advocates of economic equality struggled to make sense of their new situation, they looked across the ocean for assistance—both to European thinkers like Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, and


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

Constantin Volney, as well as to rank-and-file democrats in France, Ireland, and Britain. What emerged was a distinctively democratic diagnosis of the ills peculiar to the Atlantic world’s burgeoning commercial society, and a bundle of policy prescriptions identifying concrete steps that post-revolutionary, popularly governed states could take to foster a rough degree of economic equality. As was often the case, Thomas Paine was an intellectual bellwether for his fellow democrats. In the 1770s and 1780s, Paine had assumed that once a society abolished monarchy and aristocracy and put in their place a political system based on popular sovereignty, then economic matters would sort themselves out in such a way as to benefit everyone. The only role for the government would be for it to stay out of the way of the free exchange of goods between people and nations. As we have already seen, by the time he wrote part two of the Rights of Man in 1792 and then Agrarian Justice in 1795, Paine had become keenly aware that vast inequalities of wealth would not simply vanish over time, but instead needed to be patiently dismantled by citizens acting through the agency of the post-revolutionary state. Where the earlier Paine had been a rousing cheerleader for the ever improving future he saw just beyond the revolution’s horizon, the work of the later Paine had a slightly darker tint.⁵² In a passage that was one of the most frequently excerpted from all of his 1790’s works, Paine lamented that modern societies seemed to inevitably harbor a “hidden . . . mass of wretchedness that has scarcely any other chance, than to expire in poverty or infamy.” Clearly, “something must be wrong in the system of government” when nations failed to provide “for the instruction of youth, and the support of age” while a privileged few grew ever richer.⁵³ The problem was systemic, but not intractable. Indeed, Paine believed that the recent explosion of popular political action around the globe rendered the present a uniquely auspicious moment to bring about fundamental change. While he acknowledged that there were powerful forces working “to counteract it,” Paine prophesied that a “new system . . . now opening to the view of the world” would emerge to protect the rights of all people and usher in “universal civilization.” This ideal of “universal civilization” involved more than just the geographical spread of democratic polities knit together through commerce; it also implied the inclusion of all citizens into societies that fairly dispersed the blessings of civilization. As democratic newspapers surveyed the state of the American economy in the early 1790s, however, they saw a commercial civilization emerging that was quite partial, rather than universal, in its effects. A wide array of issues provoked the ire of democratic editors, but the one that seemed most symptomatic of the

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


inegalitarian forces at work in the early republic was the federal government’s handling of the outstanding war debt in 1790. The government decided to repay the debt in full to a small number of speculators who in the years previous to that decision had purchased debt certificates from their original holders at 10 to 20 percent of their face value. Most of those original holders were either veterans or ordinary citizens who had provided goods or labor during the war in return for these paper obligations. Democratic critics quickly pointed out that this policy—one of the first recommended by the Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton to be approved by the new Congress—would substantially redistribute wealth from ordinary citizens to a small number of already wealthy investors. There was much more to this critique than simple resentment for or envy of the rich. The problem was not that wealthy people were investing their money with the goal of making more, it was that in this case they had “accumulated property by taking advantage of the distressed part of the community.”⁵⁴ Whereas Hamilton and other Federalists prioritized the new nation’s need to honor its debts so that both foreign and domestic capital would feel safe investing in American governments and businesses, their critics stressed the importance of fulfilling the nation’s obligations to ordinary citizens who did not possess great amounts of capital. In their eyes, there was no doubt that the new nation had treated a large number of its more humble citizens unfairly. “Men who served their country in the field of blood . . . and they who supplied the country with solid property in the day of her distress” had had no other choice but to accept paper money during the Revolution. When hard times hit the nation after the war, they had then been “obliged, from indigent necessity” to sell the debt certificates “for two shilling and six-pence on the pound.” The lucky few who had access to liquid capital in the late 1780s were in a position to profit wildly from Hamilton’s policy, while the unlucky many faced the hard choice of either selling their certificates for a pittance in order to pay their debts and taxes, or losing everything to foreclosure. A good proportion of those who read democratic newspapers had very recently made the difficult decision to part with their certificates, and they undoubtedly shared the editors’ outrage that a few men, “who are not, when taken altogether, the most deserving part of the community,” could suddenly, and through “cunning and accident,” acquire large estates at the expense of their neighbors. The social logic of Hamilton’s policy seemed so self-evidently unjust, and yet “all authorities . . . and even government itself ” had become “subservient” to the interests of this small yet powerful fraction of the citizenry. To most democratic observers, such a “rapid


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

and extraordinary accumulation of property” in the hands of a few demonstrated the extent to which “wrong principles [had] gain[ed] a standing” in the new nation.⁵⁵ The correct principles that should have guided the government’s handling of the war debt seemed fairly clear to most democratic commentators. As an advertisement for one pamphlet insisted: “The Soldiers and other Public Creditors, who really and actually supported the burden of the late War, Have not been Paid! Ought to be Paid! Can be Paid! and Must be Paid!”⁵⁶ Several members of Congress, most prominently James Madison, argued that the federal government should repay part of the debt to the original holders of the certificates and a portion to the speculators who had recently purchased them. By the early spring of 1790, the idea that the government should “discriminate” between original and current holders of the debt quickly became an unquestioned truism in the democratic press. One writer in Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer, for example, recounted a recent dream of his in which he had found himself “in a vast crowd of all sorts of citizens, who were retiring from the galleries of a great hall” to a nearby field. They were led by “a gigantic female” with the scales of justice in one hand and the sword of mercy in the other. She ordered all the original and current holders of war debt certificates to “arrange themselves in two separate classes.” While “some hundred thousands” of original holders gathered on one side, “a few hundreds only of a motley appearance (some of whom I had seen in arms against the country)” stood across from them, joined by a good number of legislators who had previously been in “the great hall.” Justice commanded each group to get on the scale, “when lo!—about 4000 persons made 400,000 kick the beam.” The original holders protested this result, informing Justice that “the pockets of the Speculators are filled with gold, while ours, on the contrary, are perfectly light and empty.” Justice then told the speculators to take the gold out of their pockets, and “the prize was now adjudged to the original creditors, who accordingly shared it among themselves, amidst the applauding chorus of the millions of spectators! I threw up my hat, shouting ‘Long live’—and awoke with justice on my lips.”⁵⁷ In this case, justice demanded a policy that valued people over property, and an ethic of egalitarianism and communalism rather than one of private accumulation. What seemed like a just solution to the editors and readers of democratic newspapers, however, never came to pass. The disconnect between this democratic, commonsense conception of economic justice and the regressive policy pursued by the federal government was thematized repeatedly throughout the

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


1790s. Almost two years after the certificate issue had been resolved, an essayist “who has always considered the persons to whom the certificates of our national debt were originally issued, as grossly defrauded and injured by our government,” proposed fifteen images to be inscribed on the new debt certificates being issued by the Treasury department. These included: The bloody arm of a soldier . . . a continental colonel’s widow with six children dining on a salted herring and two potatoes . . . a continental major begging his bread with his family on his way to Kentucky . . . a speculator driving his carriage over a soldier on a pair of crutches, in the streets of Philadelphia . . . a speculator galloping thro’ the remote counties of every state and cheating the farmers out of their certificates . . . a Coffee house crowded with speculators (instead of millers and merchants) attending the sale of stock . . . [and] a sceptre, a crown, and a throne.⁵⁸ What to Alexander Hamilton were the paper signs of a mature and responsible nation, to democrats were symbols of exploitation. Refusing to accept the abstract logic of finance capitalism, democrats insisted on drawing attention to the unequally distributed human hardship that accompanied the funding of the debt. The carriages that some acquired came at the expense of those they were now symbolically driving over. As foreclosed-upon farmers left their families and friends to start over in unfamiliar locales, the speculators who had defrauded them sat comfortably in their coffee houses striking deals to make even more money. Even worse, democratic editors pointed out, those ordinary citizens who lived and worked outside the “sphere of speculation” would now be obligated to pay the taxes that would repay the war debt. Despite their best efforts, the democratic editors had failed to thwart, or even substantially shape, federal policy on a matter that resulted in the “transfer . . . [of ] the public wealth” into the hands of a small, “highly favored class” of investors.⁵⁹ Over the first few years of the 1790s, democrats developed and then refined an analysis of why their new government had assented to Hamilton’s inegalitarian economic policies. This analysis was summed up in one phrase—“the funding system”—that quickly became a shorthand way to refer to the multiple sources of ordinary Americans’ economic woes. The critics of the funding system regarded it as a “British funding-system, americanised,”⁶⁰ “a system as unjust in its operation on individuals, as it has been ruinous in its effects on the public.”⁶¹ This mysterious system, designed secretively by Alexander Ham-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

ilton, an unelected official who admitted his admiration for all things British, could hardly be expected to further the cause of equality. Indeed, those who advocated this new system openly scoffed at the idea that ordinary citizens or their elected representatives should shape the nation’s economic policy, for the levers of the new nation’s political economy were supposedly “capable of being moved by none but experienced hands, and subject to fall to pieces by the slightest attempt at improvement.”⁶² What began with democratic criticism of Hamilton’s funding of the debt in 1790 quickly matured into a broadbased critique of Federalist economic policy. By the time Hamilton proposed an excise tax, in 1793, democrats had become convinced that he had in mind for America an economic system that resembled the contemporary British system that perpetuated and even exacerbated that nation’s gulf between the rich and the poor. Hamilton imagined a future of large-scale enterprises rather than widely dispersed independent proprietorships, and according to the democrats of the 1790s, such a society was incompatible with a participatory and egalitarian political system. As the democratic opposition found its voice in the first years of the 1790s, the “funding system” became one of the central pieces in the evolving story they sought to convey to their fellow citizens. The central drama in that story involved the struggle between two camps who were identified in a variety of ways—the many and the few, speculation and labor, the well-born and the humble.⁶³ This terminology tapped into the memory of the funding of the debt in 1790, gut-level Anglophobia, and present economic hardships in order to galvanize resistance to government policies that aided those with capital and ignored or positively burdened those without it. The newspapers were so successful in their attacks on Hamilton’s economic policies that by late 1794 one well-informed commentator in western Pennsylvania noted that the funding system was “detested and abhorred by all the philosophic men and the yeomanry of America, those who hold certificates excepted.”⁶⁴ Critics of Hamilton’s economic plan developed a detailed description of this British “system of terrorism” and “usurpation” that quickly became familiar to readers of the democratic newspapers. This analysis of the British funding system was pressed into urgent service in late 1795 and early 1796 when the nation debated the Jay Treaty, an agreement that democrats regarded as a capitulation to British interests and an insult to republican France. According to “Valerius,” a writer in Greenleaf ’s New-York Journal, the Federalist’s newly explicit alignment with Britain suddenly made sense of the previous five years of Federalist

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


rule. The interlocking network of exploitation and suppression that, according to Valerius, propped up the British monarchy could now be seen in embryo in the recent actions of the Federalists. Because the “mass of the people” opposed the British funding system and engaged in “repeated and frequent . . . struggles” against it, the monarchy had spent large sums of money on displays of grandeur in order to defuse popular opposition, and they also curried favor with a sympathetic clergy, “whose temporal arrogance is only equaled by their spiritual pride.” These strategies had their American counterpart in the expensive pomp and ritual that surrounded Washington’s public appearances, and in the recent wave of sermons and pamphlets produced by New England clergymen critical of the French Revolution and its American supporters who advocated democratization at home and abroad. The British system also relied upon the support of the rich, who benefited from a tax system that was “unequal in its birth” and “rendered more so every day of its existence.” Valerius pointed out that wealthy Britons now paid fewer taxes than they had a hundred years ago, while the poor paid 13,000,000 more. Again, the connection to the contemporary situation in America seemed obvious.⁶⁵ Democrats had long complained that the paper wealth of financial speculators was not taxed. For example, a “laborer who has no property to be protected by the government” was “unjustly made to contribute as much to the public revenue, as an individual protected in the full enjoyment of an income of ten thousand dollars per annum.”⁶⁶ Ordinary Britons were poor in part because of their regressive tax system, and democrats had been levying precisely the same charge against the Federalists for years. And just as the new American nation had accrued a large national debt in order to repay wealthy speculators in the war certificates, Britain’s even larger debt served as a means through which millions of pounds had “annually been extorted from the pockets of the people, to aggrandize a body of men who may be called aliens to the interests of the people.” This system created entrenched divisions in British society and rendered “every attempt to introduce reform into the government . . . abortive.” The British government also supported a legal system that was so complicated and expensive that “the poor man, who attempts, by legal process, to obtain satisfaction of even a just claim on the rich, will soon find himself trembling on the precipice of destruction.”⁶⁷ As the historians Woody Holton and Terry Bouton have recently demonstrated, ordinary farmers had levied similar charges against the class bias of the American legal system for years.⁶⁸ All of these similarities between the British and American systems of political economy provided what seemed like indisputable proof that


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

the Federalists sought to turn the new nation into an imitation of its former colonial master, with all of its entrenched inequalities of political and economic power. Federalists at the time, and most subsequent historians of the 1790s, have tended to regard charges like Valerius’s as the hysterical misrepresentations of a few demagogues who, in bad faith, sought to use unfounded charges of aristocratic or monarchical intent to turn citizens against wise Federalist policies designed to make the new nation competitive in the international arena and more prosperous at home. How else can we explain the ludicrous suggestion that George Washington, the hero of the American Revolution, sought to turn the new republic into a monarchy? In hindsight, it is clear that only a tiny handful of Federalists actually endorsed the creation of a formal aristocracy or monarchy in America, and at the time few people took these marginal voices seriously. To explain what looks like an enormous gap between the alarmist rhetoric of 1790’s democrats and the far less alarming reality of that decade, some historians have interpreted the democrats’ response as the final gasp of a centuries-old political tradition comprised of a bundle of ideas first articulated by those who opposed the particularly corrupt administration of Prime Minister Robert Walpole in early-eighteenth-century Britain, and which historians have lumped together under the heading of “country opposition thought.” Thinkers in this country opposition tradition worried that citizens’ property and liberties were perpetually at risk from the conspiratorial machinations of the greedy aristocrats, political officials, and financiers who used the government’s powers of taxation and preferential legislation to drain money out of the populace and into their own hands. Those who embraced this conspiratorial and predominantly agrarian world view were especially skeptical about the emerging state-supported systems of modern banking and finance. It is easy to see why historians would regard American critics of the funding system as devotees of this country persuasion, for writers like Valerius articulated similar fears that corrupt city folk were lining their pockets with the assistance of a state insulated from the opposition of an oppressed populace. Those historians who depict the democrats of the 1790s as country opposition thinkers have been influential in framing that decade as a struggle between clear-eyed Hamiltonian modernizers who understood the emerging economic conditions of the coming nineteenth century, and anachronistic agrarian democrats who used the outdated intellectual tools of the early eighteenth century to criticize a commercial world that they simply did not understand.⁶⁹

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


The problem with this interpretation, however, is that it foregrounds the democrats’ rhetorical flourishes while largely ignoring the substance of their arguments and the almost exclusively contemporary intellectual sources upon which they drew. Where early-eighteenth-century country opposition writers like Bolingroke or Trenchard and Gordon focused primarily on the political power wielded by corrupt officials, the democrats of the 1790s regarded such corruption as symptomatic of a much more important dynamic—the class divisions endemic to commercial capitalism. And where country writers wrote for and on behalf of England’s growing ranks of middling land owners and merchants, the democrats of the 1790s wrote on behalf of the poor as well as the middling, and agitated for a future marked by a degree of economic equality their country opposition predecessors never imagined. These differences perhaps explain why most American democrats almost never cited any of the authors associated with the country opposition tradition, but instead looked to a host of contemporary writers like Thomas Paine, William Godwin, and Constantin Volney. Valerius’s essay, for example, relied heavily on Godwin’s recently published Political Justice to develop the argument that gross economic inequality led those without capital to regard “the state of society as a state of war, an unjust combination, not for protecting every man in his rights, and securing to him the means of existence, but for engrossing all its advantages to a few favoured individuals, and reserving for the portion of the rest, want, dependence, and misery.” While the wealthy were “encouraged to associate for the execution of the most partial and oppressive positive laws,” Godwin and Valerius argued, ordinary citizens faced prosecution when they tried to form organizations to further their own economic interests. As these 1790’s democrats saw it, the solution to the problem of modern inequality lay in the democratic empowerment of ordinary citizens, not merely the ferreting out of corrupt aristocrats, as the country opposition had suggested. Even though democrats like Valerius and Godwin criticized the state and well-connected aristocrats in language that harkened back to the early eighteenth century, there was nothing escapist or backward-looking about their understanding of political economy. Indeed, one of the most important influences on American democrats’ emerging critique of commercial capitalism was the most revered economic thinker of the late eighteenth century, Adam Smith. At first glance, Smith seems like an unlikely figure for 1790’s critics of economic inequality to embrace. His Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations is best known for its argument that unregulated commerce and an increasing division of labor


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

enabled societies to produce more goods, and that this increased productivity raised the standard of living for every member of society. This version of Smith as the naively optimistic laissez-faire capitalist has, until very recently, dominated the popular understanding of him and his impact.⁷⁰ Over the past few decades, however, work by numerous historians and political economists has undermined this simplistic vision of Smith.⁷¹ This scholarship portrays a Smith who was profoundly ambivalent about what he would have called the moral effects of economic growth. Smith was certainly no radical democrat, and he never supplemented his analysis of the detrimental effects of the division of labor and the growing inequality that it entailed with a concrete program for the amelioration of these problems. But it was his ambivalence and his insights into the systemic workings of commercial society that made Smith so easily appropriated by those who were working toward a more trenchant critique of reigning property relations than he had ever intended.⁷² Smith’s ambivalence is best illustrated by his treatment of the division of labor. He began the Wealth of Nations with a story about a pin factory where the division of labor enabled ten workers to produce 48,000 pins per day, whereas each person working on his or her own would have had difficulty producing one pin in a day. This is the Smith that has been handed down to posterity and placed at the head of a supposedly coherent tradition of capitalist economic thought. Several hundred pages later, however, Smith painted a much less attractive picture of the division of labor. Noting that people’s “understanding[s]” are “formed by their ordinary employments,” Smith lamented that the increasingly repetitious work life of the ordinary worker tended to render him “as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. . . . Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging. . . . His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless the government takes some pains to prevent it.”⁷³ Smith’s concern here was the security of the state. He worried that alienated laborers would make poor soldiers and thus render the nation vulnerable to attack. When Robert Coram silently paraphrased Smith in 1791, however—“A pin maker is dexterous at making pins, but in everything else he is as grossly stupid, his understanding is as benumbed and torpid, as it is possible for any intellectual faculty to be”—he was writing not as an advisor to leaders of state,

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


but as an advocate of the unfortunate pin makers.⁷⁴ Coram ignored Smith’s old-fashioned argument about the decline of martial virtue, while also failing to take the laissez-faire route of lauding economic growth and free exchange as unalloyed goods. Instead, Coram’s pamphlet was an extended meditation upon Smith’s undeveloped suggestion that the government should do something to make the lives of the pin makers more dignified, since their degraded state was not their fault, but rather an unavoidable side-effect of greater productivity. Like Smith, Coram and his fellow democrats valued the economic productivity that accompanied the growth of capitalism in the Atlantic world, but they had no faith that the free market alone would bring about a better society for everyone. Unlike most populist democrats of the nineteenth century, Coram’s generation agitated for a popularly controlled government that would play a perpetual role in shaping economic relations so as to ameliorate the negative effects of economic growth. Another aspect of Smith’s critique that was picked up and taken in a more radical direction was his analysis of the conflicting interests endemic to commercial society. Where more conservative thinkers of the 1790s, such as Edmund Burke, John Adams, or William Paley, argued that the rich and the poor were bound together by reciprocal ties of deference and duty (or obedience and protection), Smith rejected this organicism and spoke frankly of the various conflicts of interest that structured commercial society. Laborers sought to raise their wages, while employers colluded to lower them. Merchants sold as high as they could, while consumers desired lower prices. Smith’s philosophical triumph was to demonstrate that these conflicting interests resolved themselves, spontaneously and unintentionally, in such a way as to benefit society as a whole. In the 1790s, this last, key assumption came under severe attack. What remained of Smith’s analysis, however, was the potentially radical claim that deep, structural conflicts of interests underlay the supposed harmony of modern civilization. Painites often excerpted a section of Smith, for example, that showed how the interests of merchants were “always, in some respects different from, and even opposite to that of the public.” Because the interest of the merchant was not the same as the common good, “the proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order, ought always to be listened to with great precaution and ought never to be adopted until after having been long and carefully examined, with the most suspicious attention.” At the end of this passage Smith’s language grew even more critical. He suggested that merchants,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

by definition, have “an interest to deceive and even oppress the public.” When Thomas Greenleaf excerpted this piece in 1796, it fed into an ongoing debate in New York about what the role of the public should be in constructing the rules that governed the nation’s economic development. The correspondent who sent in this excerpt used it as a justification for his attack on the few hundreds of merchants who had successfully petitioned the president in support of the Jay Treaty.⁷⁵ For the previous two years, Greenleaf ’s paper had been reporting on and endorsing the public meetings of thousands of artisans and farmers across the nation who had submitted petitions in opposition to the treaty. The Washington administration had essentially ignored these anti-treaty petitions, and Greenleaf interpreted this as a sign that Smith’s prediction about the inevitable power of merchants had come true. In this context, Smith’s structural analysis of the conflicting interests of merchants and consumers served as justification for the radical, non-Smithian argument that those without great wealth should play a significant role in the making of economic policy. James Mackintosh, a disciple of Smith’s and a fellow Scot, pushed Smith’s analysis of the structural conflicts which underlay commercial society even further, arguing that this conflict animated many of the social and political structures that marked modern society. In Vindiciae Gallicae, his widely reprinted 1792 response to Burke’s Reflections, Mackintosh criticized “the tendency of the wealthy to combine” in such a way as to compound “the inevitable inequality of fortune.” Assuming, along with Smith, that a certain degree of economic inequality was natural and just, Mackintosh went to much greater lengths to demonstrate how the “excess” of inequality, “the great malady of civil society,” was perpetuated. “Combination” was Mackintosh’s key term and he demonstrated how the wealthy’s monopoly on power, the professions, and publicly funded titles led to their “preponderance in the political scale.” The “dispersion, indigence, and ignorance” of the poor, on the other hand, rendered them powerless to resist. Mackintosh, a fairly moderate Painite who in the late 1790s recanted his earlier statements and joined the Burkean fold, stopped short of advocating a truly popular political mobilization. Nonetheless, many people around the Atlantic world stepped into the territory which Mackintosh had sketched out, and yet refused to enter.⁷⁶ When William Manning, a western Massachusetts tavern-keeper, set out to criticize the anti-egalitarian dynamics of Federalist era society, he echoed Mackintosh’s Smithian analysis at virtually every step.⁷⁷ Manning’s Key of Liberty advocated the creation of a national society of laborers, broken into state and

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


local branches, that would enable non-elites to gain access to political information and influence government policies. Such an institution was necessary because the wealthy Few had “long enjoyed” the “privileges” of pooling their knowledge and power by joining together in “associations and correspondences or complete organization[s], by which they know each other’s minds so as to dart their plans like flashes of lightening from one end of the continent to the other.” When elites “associate[d] together” in this way, they tended to “look down with too much contempt on those that labor.” What was worse, these few generally controlled the professions, possessed a preponderance of capital, and owned the majority of land in the country. Thus, their “combinations” worked to raise the prices for their goods and services ever higher, at the expense of the many. As Manning put it, “The laborer is conscious that it is labor that supports the whole, and that the more there are that live without labor—and the higher they live or the greater their salaries and fees are—so much the harder must he work, or the shorter he must live.”⁷⁸ Like Mackintosh, Manning had no illusion that the division between the wealthy few and the laboring many would disappear, but unlike Mackintosh Manning proposed political solutions to the not entirely intractable problem of inequality in a commercial society. Since the power of the few depended upon “the ignorance and superstition of, or the want of knowledge among, the Many,” Manning called for the government to fund his “Society of Laborers” and promote cheap schools for young boys and girls.⁷⁹ Such policies would counteract the power of the combined few and reverse the anti-egalitarian dynamic of commercial society that he, along with Smith and Mackintosh, had discerned. Thus, Manning, much like Robert Coram, was no agrarian escapist calling for a return to a pre-market era, but rather an egalitarian democrat trying to imagine creative political solutions for the new problems generated by the economic changes of the late eighteenth century. Perhaps the most radical and pessimistic appropriation of Adam Smith’s ideas was by those who used him to argue that the growing wealth of a few did not spread prosperity to all, but, rather, created poverty. A writer in the Aurora in 1798 drew on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to make the argument that “in proportion as the luxuries of one part of the society are increased, the comforts of the other are diminished.”⁸⁰ As early as 1793, George Logan, a Pennsylvania Jeffersonian, had similarly argued that “the period of man’s active life is too short, and his powers too weak to afford him more than a comfortable supply of the necessaries of life,” and that “therefore the superfluities of some


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

men, whether acquired by actual plunder or unjust laws, must infringe on the rights of others.”⁸¹ This formulation framed great wealth as a form of oppression. Since labor created property, those who possessed great wealth must have acquired it by unfairly appropriating the property (i.e., labor) of others. Significantly, this argument was relatively new in 1793. Two years earlier, Logan had suggested that the good of the country lay not in “the superfluity of wealth,” but in the “ease” and happiness of “the great body of the people.”⁸² Although Logan argued that inequality was detrimental to the nation, he had no explanation for how it arose. The following year, Logan made strides toward providing such an explanation, and he turned to Mackintosh’s Vindiciae Gallicae to do so. Silently lifting, word for word, Mackintosh’s argument on the tendency of the wealthy to combine, Logan used it to attack Alexander Hamilton’s attempt to pass laws that would provide financial assistance and legal protection to the large factories that his business associates were building in New Jersey. Logan framed Hamilton’s plan as an unjust combination that would “sacrifice” the well-being of New Jersey’s middling artisans in order to enrich “a wealthy few, who have no other object in view than to add to their ill-gotten and enormous wealth.” Even worse, Hamilton’s plan would create a class of Americans who resembled the poor English laborers who existed in a “state of the most abject servitude to their employers.” While favorably citing Smith and trumpeting the benefits of “free commerce,” Logan managed to craft a sophisticated analysis of the way the wealthy combined and used their political power, “to keep the poor employed by them in a state of daily dependence and servitude.”⁸³ Over time, this argument that large-scale manufacturing benefited the wealthy at the expense of the poor evolved into a full-scale critique of wage labor. As early as 1794, Thomas Cooper, writing from Northumberland in Pennsylvania, lamented the way in which the British “manufacturing system . . . converted . . . a large portion of the people . . . into mere machines, ignorant debauched, and brutal, that the surplus value of their labour of 12 or 14 hours a day, may go into the pockets and supply the luxuries of rich, commercial, and manufacturing capitalists.”⁸⁴ Cooper’s analysis of the “manufacturing system” soon became a common feature of Jeffersonian arguments, especially in Pennsylvania. In a 1798 speech to the Tammany Society of Philadelphia, George Logan described the cruel treatment and dire poverty of linen workers in India and then made the link between their work lives and the consuming habits of Americans: “By such horrid outrages, against the rights of millions

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


of our fellow creatures, do we become furnished, at so cheap a price, with the manufactures of the British dominions.”⁸⁵ By 1800, this analysis of wage labor was such a commonplace feature of democratic discourse that Logan could confidently insert a shorthand version of it in the preamble to the constitution of the Lancaster County Society for Promoting of Agriculture, Manufactures, and the Useful Arts: “We [are not] ambitious to see a Manufacturing Capitalist, as in the great Manufacturing Towns of Europe, enjoy his Luxuries, or fill his Coffers, by paring down the hard-earned Wages of the laborious Artists he employs.”⁸⁶ As such comments suggest, Logan, Cooper, and many of their fellow democrats feared that the modern expansion of economic production would bring with it widening disparities of power and wealth. As men of the Enlightenment, Logan and Cooper valued innovation and efficiency, but not when they were made possible by new forms of exploitation and inequality. One likely inspiration for Cooper and Logan’s concerns was the widely read work of Constantin Volney, a French philosophe who was driven to America by the Reign of Terror and then forced to return to Europe when he was threatened with prosecution under the Alien Act in 1798.⁸⁷ Volney’s The Ruins: Or A Survey of the Revolutions of Empires—a simultaneously apocalyptic and utopian history of the world intended to inspire his fellow revolutionaries—was first published in France in 1791 and then appeared in multiple English translations after 1793, including three American editions between 1796 and 1799. A staunch critic of slavery and all forms of exploitation, Volney’s text offered democratic readers a succinct and compelling explanation for the emergence of what he saw as one of the greatest “evils of society,” economic inequality. Once individuals recognized the value of cooperation, left the state of nature, and began to live together productively, a small, powerful group of people became dissatisfied with “the blessings which the earth afforded them, or which their own industry produced.” This cabal of strong men began to wonder why they should “fatigue our limbs and our bodies in the acquisition of enjoyments, which we find already prepared for us in the hands of the feeble, who are unable to defend themselves against our superior strength? Let us at once unite and plunder them. We can thus oblige them to labor and toil for us, and we shall enjoy, without any trouble on our parts, the whole fruit of their exertions.”⁸⁸ Much like Paine’s account of the evolution of monarchy in Common Sense and Rights of Man, Volney traced modern forms of “oppression” to the power and ambition of an undeserving few who then passed down their positions of privilege to their descendents. Such populist inversions of the social order—framing the wealthy and powerful


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

as rapacious barbarians who have for centuries deprived the deserving many of what is rightfully theirs—resonated with those American democrats who were dismayed by the growing disparities of wealth they saw around them.⁸⁹ The democratic conversation about economic inequality reached a high point in 1796–97 with the American publication of Volney’s Ruins, William Godwin’s Political Justice, and Paine’s Agrarian Justice. These pieces were widely excerpted and provided many compelling explanations for why commercial societies tended to augment rather than dismantle existing inequalities.⁹⁰ It would have been clear to any sympathetic reader of the democratic press that a central political question of the day was how modern polities could push against this dynamic in order to cultivate more egalitarian and just societies. Despite this general consensus about the ultimate goal, it was much more uncertain what sort of steps could be taken to achieve it.⁹¹ Philadelphia’s “Citizen” Richard Lee, a recently arrived radical émigré from London, devoted a significant portion of his new periodical, the American Universal Magazine, to precisely this problem.⁹² When Lee excerpted the introduction to Paine’s Agrarian Justice in the June 1797 edition of his magazine, he touched off an extended debate over the nature of commercial society and the possibility of ameliorating its worst social effects. As we have seen, Paine’s essay lamented the way in which modern “civilization” dispensed its advantages so unequally as to reduce the vast majority of humans to a state of “hereditary” poverty. To remedy this dynamic, Paine called for a tax on the landed few that would be redistributed to those who had been stripped of their natural right to the means of subsistence. On 10 July, Lee inserted “An Essay on Luxury,” wherein the author suggested that such critics of commercial society were too pessimistic, and that their solutions were too impractical. Arguing against those who were repulsed by the excessive “luxuries” and the concomitant inequalities of wealth produced by modern civilization, the writer argued that there was no effective way to regulate economic life so as to preserve the aspects of progress that one liked and eliminate those one did not. Only the unregulated dynamics of the free market could produce greater equality. “Civilization necessarily brought along with it the progress of luxury, and the love of sensual pleasures. . . . As soon as primitive equality is interrupted, and the right of property admitted, it must be left to luxury to break down the large estates, and throw the fragments into the hands of the class worst provided for. Such is the work of luxury, which will restore some degree of equality, by making the rich perpetual contributors to the poor.” Although this author admitted that the impulse to

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


consume luxury goods could sometimes have “pernicious” effects, any attempt to restrain this impulse would lead to disastrous consequences. “The ages without luxury are remarkable in history for dreadful famines, . . . [thus] let us tolerate trinkets, that we may have cattle.” Here was the optimistic version of Adam Smith, waged against a Paine whose faith in the rising tide of prosperity had begun to wane.⁹³ On 15 November, Lee printed “Remarks on Industry, No. II,” an essay that brandished an emerging Painite critique of commercial society against luxury’s laissez-faire defense of modern civilization and its profusion of luxury goods. The key difference was that this author focused on the way luxury goods shaped the lives of those who produced them, rather than those who consumed them. Where Luxury had seen commercial society progressing toward greater equality, this author argued that “the poor, who constitute the great mass of nations, have barely dragged out a miserable existence among those nations which were celebrated for the prevalence of luxury and the unequal distribution of wealth.” Likewise, rather than the rich being the benefactors of the poor through their spending habits, this author argued that “One rich or powerful man may be compared to a whale, who daily devours hundreds of the weaker inhabitants of the ocean; for what other name does that oppression deserve, which hurries out of existence at a premature period, by immoderate labour, the larger portion of the human race, and renders them miserable while they do exist.” Like the Paine of Agrarian Justice, this author worried that the dynamic of production and consumption that drove commercial society would perpetuate and even intensify the division between the opulent few and the oppressed many. The central question was how to ensure that the benefits of commercial growth—of which this author admitted there were many—could be enjoyed by every member of society, rather than by a privileged few. When the author of the “Remarks on Industry” sought a solution to this problem, however, he ventured into uncharted territory and his arguments became exceedingly vague. He did not want to return to a pre-market society of subsistence farmers, but he did want to distinguish between those modern forms of labor and property that were beneficial to society and those that were detrimental. “The labour that furnishes the necessaries and conveniences of life is rationally directed. So far all are agreed. The acquisitions of honest industry should ever be held sacred.” The economic processes that provided better food, clothing, and shelter for ordinary people, in other words, deserved protection and encouragement. The property of large manufacturers and rich merchants


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

that stemmed from the production of unnecessaries, however, should be considered less “sacred” than the property of farmers and artisans who produced non-luxury goods. Acknowledging that this distinction between “necessary” and “unnecessary” was a difficult one to make, the author got around this problem through assertion rather than argument: “The meaning of these words is . . . distinctly understood by all men. In trusting, therefore to their common sense, there will be little danger of producing misconceptions.”⁹⁴ In the next installment of “Remarks on Industry” the author tried to clarify why he opposed the production of non-necessaries. Like Coram, he drew silently on Smith’s parable of the pin makers to demonstrate the way “excessive corporal labour . . . converted [man] from an intelligent and free agent into a passive instrument of servitude.” “The only difference” between the degraded wage laborer and “the acknowledged slave, is, that while the latter has only one master, whose plan of government is uniform, and whose interest dictates clemency, the former is subject to the oppression of ten thousand masters, every one of whom has some appropriate instrument of oppression.” Like Cooper in 1794, this author suggested that the seemingly impersonal, free workings of the labor market in fact generated an unjust, exploitative dynamic between the many who labored and the few who did not. Even the modest claim that commercial society created greater prosperity for the poorest members of society could not be defended, for the “present system” of labor in civilized nations provided a “subsistence” to most people “that only protects [them] from nakedness and famine.” Echoing arguments that British radicals like John Thelwall were just beginning to work out, this author suggested that the central problem with commercial society was the profit mechanism which undergirded it. Although “more is paid for fabricated articles than the mere price of the labour, . . . to whom is it paid? Not to the common labourer, but to the capitalist previously in the possession of considerable wealth.”⁹⁵ Small-scale manufactures distributed profits more justly, but such modes of production were inevitably of “short duration,” since “wealth, whose incessant tendency it is to increase, forms a monopoly, and the individual is compelled to enter the ranks, and place himself on a level with the common labourer.” Although this author did not call for class warfare, his bleak picture of the inevitably anti-egalitarian dynamic of commercial society certainly hinted in that direction. While this structural analysis of the intractability of class inequality would eventually become a central tenet of nineteenth-century labor radicalism, most democrats of the 1790s were more hopeful that wise legislation and policy could

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


produce a society with a roughly equal distribution of wealth. There was certainly no shortage of experimental yet pragmatic ideas about how governments could discourage the growth of inequality. Robert Coram’s visionary plan for universal, publicly funded education was merely one, and there is no indication that he regarded education as a complete solution.⁹⁶ The democratic newspapers and pamphlets of the 1790s were filled with a host of policy recommendations on topics ranging from tax policy, to the proper regulation of corporations, to the dispensation of public lands. No one in the 1790s advocated exchanging America’s emerging market economy based on private property ownership for some radically different alternative, but many politically engaged citizens, like Coram, argued for the implementation of concrete policies that would prevent citizens from becoming either immensely wealthy or desperately poor. Most of the experimental ideas advocated by 1790’s democrats would not be adopted until a century later, if at all, but their failure tells us more about the limitations of the new nation’s formal political system than about the political ideology of ordinary citizens. In that era of revolutions, it was not unreasonable to believe that something as seemingly prosaic as tax policy or public education could usher in a more just future. One idea that generated much conversation in the democratic press of the 1790s was the use of a progressive tax scale to create a more equitable distribution of wealth. Rousseau had first suggested this strategy in the 1750s, and in 1782 the British philosopher William Ogilvie wrote an extended treatise developing the idea at greater length. Thomas Jefferson, like many Enlightenment philosophes, owned a copy of Ogilvie’s pamphlet, and was most likely paraphrasing it in 1785 when he wrote a letter to James Madison suggesting that the poor should be exempted from paying taxes, while “the higher portions of property” should be taxed “in geometrical progression as they rise.”⁹⁷ Madison’s skeptical response to Jefferson suggests that these ideas had not yet permeated popular political discourse. As was the case with many new ideas, the person most responsible for popularizing the idea of progressive taxation was Thomas Paine. The egalitarian rationale Paine provided for such a policy in the second part of his Rights of Man (1792) was simple enough: “An overgrown estate . . . is a luxury . . . and as such, is the proper object of taxation. . . . Admitting that any annual sum, say, for instance, a thousand pounds, is necessary for the support of a family, consequently the second thousand is of the nature of a luxury, the third still more so, and by proceeding on we shall at last arrive at a sum that may not improperly be called a prohibitive luxury.”⁹⁸ Thus, Paine proposed a taxation


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

system for Britain where estates of 500 would be assessed at 1 percent, estates of 1,000 would pay approximately 2 percent, and so on, up to estates of 23,000 which would pay at a rate closer to 50 percent. For any estate above 23,000, the holdings in excess of that amount would be taxed at 100 percent, thus creating an upper limit for personal wealth. Progressive taxation appealed to Enlightenment thinkers as diverse as Paine, Jefferson, and Robespierre because it offered a way to eradicate extremes of affluence and deprivation without explicitly confiscating and redistributing property.⁹⁹ Paine expressed a number of unpopular ideas over the course of the 1790s, but this taxation scheme does not appear to be one of them. Several American newspapers reprinted this plan, and even more printed essays endorsing the concept behind progressive taxation.¹⁰⁰ Along with the progressive tax scale, another of Paine’s suggestions that was taken up by American democrats was the idea that taxes should be levied on one’s entire estate rather than on income or articles of consumption. Much like arguments about “social debt” discussed earlier in this chapter, this claim rested upon the assumption that those who possessed greater wealth had benefited disproportionately from living in society, and hence were obliged to shoulder a larger portion of that society’s tax burden. This position was asserted perhaps most forcefully by James Callendar, a recent émigré from Scotland to Philadelphia. In an influential 1795 pamphlet on American and British tax policy, Callendar cited Adam Smith’s “remarks that government is in reality nothing but an association to protect the rich against the poor” to support his argument that “taxes ought to be raised as nearly as possible, in proportion to the quantity of property possessed by individuals under the protection of the state.”¹⁰¹ That same year, someone writing as “Rousseau” published an essay in the NewYork Journal criticizing the most recent French constitution for apportioning taxes according to revenue rather than wealth. The author pointed out that “the rich man’s palace, furniture, attendants, menials, chariots, equipage, park, &c., &c” produced little revenue yet was protected by the state, thus throwing onto France’s less privileged citizens “the burthen of that public protection and defense. . . . Thus a citizen at ease, worth 50,000 may pay as little tax as his industrious neighbor, worth an hundred times less—how is this just?” “Rousseau” explained the existence of such an inegalitarian tax system in a professedly egalitarian society like France’s by attributing it to the political power the rich have always wielded. “Wealth artfully handled, is a commanding machine, it hath ever been held to be the parent of power; hence its successful votaries in the formation of governments and laws, have ever more than their share of

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


influence and agency; and while they are forming public arrangements, they seldom entirely forget or neglect, the particular interest of their own class or condition.” The author went on to say that he was not surprised that the rich tried to influence the shape of the new government, yet he had faith that the advocates of equality would soon reform this unjust policy.¹⁰² The charge that wealthy legislators tilted tax policy so as to serve their own interests would have been familiar to the readers of the New-York Journal and every other democratic newspaper, for critics of Hamilton’s economic proposals had been making that argument for years. In the fall of 1791, for example, newspapers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania all included outraged essays complaining that the paper wealth of financial and land speculators was not subject to taxation, while the government levied new taxes on laborers and “the cultivator[s] of the soil.”¹⁰³ It seemed unjust that “the rich man, who possesses tens of thousands in the banks and in the funds [should] contribute nothing for the protection which he and his wealth receives [while] the labourer, who toils from morning till night for a scanty subsistence, [has] a portion of his industry filched from him to support a paper system.”¹⁰⁴ It quickly became an unquestioned truism in the democratic newspapers that the holders of both bank stock and the federal certificates that funded the war debt should be subject to taxation at the same or a higher rate than small landholders and laborers. After all, went the argument, were not these abstract forms of wealth “more productive than any general description of property possessed by the farmer? Are not all the nerves of the publick strained, and their purses opened to protect it? And is nothing to be paid for that protection?”¹⁰⁵ This conversation about fair taxation was reinvigorated in late 1798 when the federal government instituted a direct tax to help fund preparations for a potential war with France. While the rates of taxation were progressive (due perhaps in part to the influence of Painite agitation on this point), democratic commentators found this to be small compensation for the fact that only physical property—houses and land—were assessed, while abstract capital was not. One oft-reprinted story expressed this critique in the form of a story about two families worth $10,000. The family that held their wealth in the form of certificates, “bought of a number of Soldiers, who were obliged to sell their notes at 2s 6d in the pound,” owed no taxes, while the family whose wealth took the form of a house and land had to pay a significant amount. The story ended with the farmer commenting that “these are strange times, when the Speculator goes free and the industrious farmer is become the object of taxation.”¹⁰⁶ Over and


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

over, essayists with monikers like “A Friend to Equal Taxation” pointed out the injustice of an ordinary farmer or tradesmen usually having to pay more taxes than “a governmental creditor, who has ten times the value of his house in the funds.”¹⁰⁷ Democratic writers also endorsed tax policies that would expand the ranks of small landholders and discourage (or bar) wealthy speculators from buying large tracts of land with the goal of reselling them for a profit. In order to push land speculators to part with their holdings, one correspondent to a New Jersey newspaper proposed taxing every acre of land in the nation on a scale ranging from one to six cents, depending upon its value, for the following eight years. He regarded this plan as the only way to guarantee that “the rich landed property [will] bear some equal proportion” of the tax burden, which at the moment fell disproportionately on “the middling and poor class.”¹⁰⁸ In James Callendar’s extensive discussion of tax policy, he likewise advocated a land tax, in this case because it would enable the country to extract some payment from the foreign investors who by his reckoning had purchased over 6.5 million acres of American land with the sole purpose of “sell[ing] the lands back again to the American yeomanry.” Considering that many of these speculators had already made “large profits” by this practice, it seemed only fair that they should pay a modicum of taxes for that privilege.¹⁰⁹ Democrats proposed an array of other policies that would discourage large landholding and disperse landed property as widely as possible. Several writers echoed the arguments put forward in a 1795 pamphlet by St. George Tucker suggesting that public lands in the west should be sold to actual settlers in parcels no larger than 200 acres.¹¹⁰ According to a like-minded essayist in the Carlisle Gazette, those investors who purchased large tracts of land in order to resell them for a profit were guilty of the traditional crime of forestalling. By allowing “a few individuals to lay warrants on vacant land to an unlimited number of acres,” the government was enabling them to withhold “the necessaries of life” until the “unhappy hour of scarcity,” when they could turn around and sell them at an inflated price “to the poor indigent purchaser.”¹¹¹ In the name of making America “an asylum for the oppressed” and a place where “multitudes may . . . find freedom and support,” writers like this one advocated dispersing the nation’s public lands “on agrarian principles.” Doing so would require the government to impose severe restrictions on the economic activities of the wealthy.¹¹² It was not that these democratic critics opposed the buying and selling of land. Their grievances focused instead on federal policies that enabled

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


“one thousand out of the five million [to] receive all the benefit of public property and all the rest no share of it.” Because the nation’s land policies privileged the profits of a few investors over the interests of the many, ordinary citizens who wanted “to settle their sons” were forced to “give 10 dollars instead of ten cents to those gentlemen that the legislature have made rich.”¹¹³ While there was no consensus on what the upper limit for landholding should be or what was a fair price for western lands, most democrats agreed that it was wrong for politically connected large landholders “to amass hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars” at the expense of those who had “an equal claim on government, and perhaps equal merit.”¹¹⁴ As the historian Terry Bouton has demonstrated, such democratic concerns about the consolidated power of wealth also lay behind opposition to the way legislatures were using their powers of incorporation. Banks were singled out for criticism more than any other form of corporation, but again, democrats did not oppose all banks. The problem was that previously incorporated banks often used their political influence to block others from forming, thus enabling a small group of people to advance their own interests at the expense of the public. Since corporations benefited from public protection and hence were obligated to serve the entire public, democrats agitated for “a competition of banks . . . under such restriction, however, as to prevent frauds; and . . . subject to the inspection of government.”¹¹⁵ Similar arguments emerged in response to a plan to allow a private corporation to build a public highway in Pennsylvania. One democratic critic found it absurd that the government would “alienate the public high-ways for the private emolument of individuals.” Highways were “a necessary, public expense, to which the citizens should contribute in a proportion to their property.”¹¹⁶ Hence it was unfair that those with the capital to buy stock could make a 15 percent profit each year, while ordinary farmers paid higher tolls to use public roads. The bundle of piecemeal changes advanced in the democratic newspapers of the 1790s—progressive taxation, land taxes, the taxation of entire estates rather than income or articles of consumption, restrictions on land speculation, policies to limit large landholdings, strict public oversight of banks and other corporations—never congealed into a fully developed platform endorsed by a coherent coalition of political leaders. All the same, the ubiquity in the democratic press of that decade of such proposals indicates that a rough intellectual consensus had emerged. At the center of this consensus lay the assumption that it was the government’s responsibility to take actions to foster a rough degree


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

of economic equality. Because the lessons of British and recent American history suggested that citizens should be skeptical about how class interests could shape the political process, democrats called for constant citizen oversight and active participation to ensure that the state acted on behalf of the interests of all citizens and not just a select group. Although most democrats advocated policies that would have restricted the economic activity of the wealthy in the name of economic justice, this did not indicate a rejection of commercial society or the market in general. Paine’s many American readers shared his hope that the revolutionary transformations of the 1790s held out the promise of what he called “universal civilization,” a world comprised of societies marked by neither excessive affluence nor widespread deprivation. Though it never came to pass, this Painite vision continued to serve as an inspiration for generations of radicals throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.¹¹⁷

The End of the Conversation Until recently, historians’ analyses of popular economic ideology in the early republic have revolved around the overly stark question of whether ordinary Americans were modern entrepreneurial capitalists in embryo or backwardlooking agrarians who resisted the economic transformations of the late eighteenth century. Though both sorts of democrats certainly inhabited the early republic, these generalizations fail to account for the community of Painite readers and thinkers who, like Robert Coram, fit neither of these descriptions. Drawing inspiration from their experimental political moment, such people saw democratic politics as a tool that could both dismantle old and entrenched forms of economic inequality and push against the more inegalitarian dynamics of the modern commercial society they saw emerging around them. As the revolutionary energies of the 1790s waned, this democratic vision of political economy drifted to the margins of American political discourse. When Denis Driscol—an Irish émigré who edited the Temple of Reason, a newspaper with a working-class readership of a few hundred committed deists— editorialized in 1801 that “the whole moral system, as far as it respects property, ought to be revised,” he was taking up a self-consciously radical position that most New Yorkers would have regarded as dangerously Jacobinical.¹¹⁸ When Robert Coram had made essentially the same claim in February 1791, his Delaware neighbors had evinced little or no disapprobation. Speculations about the nature of property rights or recommendations for ways to mildly redistribute

conceptualizing equality in a commercial society


wealth struck many democratic readers of the early 1790s as logical and potentially promising outgrowths of the egalitarian spirit of the age. By the early 1800s, all but the most radical newspaper editors and political writers would have regarded such utterances as impractical utopianism at best, wild-eyed Jacobinism at worst. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton had worried, perhaps for good reason, about “the depredations which the democratic spirit is apt to make on property.”¹¹⁹ Although the Democratic Party would dominate national politics for the first decades of the 1800s, the elements of democratic discourse that had been most threatening to standing property relations had been shorn from that protean term. Though the tension between political and economic democracy would come to play a central role in public political discourse later in the nineteenth century, this early, formative chapter in that recurring story had largely come to an end. The political economy that became dominant in the nineteenth century was, to a great extent, formulated in opposition to those who argued that popular political action should shape law and policy regarding property and economic exchange. Put most starkly, America’s propertied elite staved off what they perceived to be the most dangerous possibilities of the age of democratic revolutions by constructing a legal and intellectual firewall that cordoned off private property from the collective political will of the people. This move to construct new means of protecting property from the newly sovereign people took two discrete forms. First, in the early years of the 1800s the institution of judicial review successfully pushed questions of property rights out of the realm of political consideration and relegated them to the realm of law. The framers of this reform sought to make it impossible for the people, in the form of their legislative bodies, to pass laws which could redistribute or even substantially regulate property. The implementation of judicial review charged non-elected judges with the duty of guarding the boundary that protected existing private property from the potentially redistributive policies of legislatures.¹²⁰ The second form that this cordoning-off trend took was the rise to prominence of a moderate Jeffersonian variety of political economy that regarded the market as a self-regulating, natural system. This laissez-faire conception of economic life, based in part upon a selective reading of Adam Smith, framed any attempts to create political solutions to economic problems as unnatural. Legislating economic justice was as impossible as regulating gravity, political economists of this bent argued. While this key assumption undergirding laissez-faire capitalism was largely absent from the Jeffersonian arguments of the 1790s, soon after


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

the election of 1800 it came to occupy a central position in public economic discourse.¹²¹ The dual ascendance of judicial review and Jeffersonian political economy created an intellectual and institutional environment in which proposals like Coram’s stood little chance of being realized or even being taken seriously in mainstream prints. The contours of American political discourse had shifted so as to render virtually indefensible the inclusive public discussion of property rights and economic equality that Coram had tried to begin in 1791.


߬ “The General Will Is Always Good . . . But by What Sign Shall We Know It?” Debating the Role of the Public in a Representative Democracy


HE general will is always good . . . but by what sign shall we know it?”¹ This question’s radical Enlightenment utopianism rings rather hollow for contemporary observers. Since 1797, the year in which the man who referred to himself as Citizen Richard Lee, first asked this question in his Philadelphia magazine, such appeals to the general will have rarely evoked visions of a more democratic future. Dictators from Napoleon to Pinochet have claimed to act on behalf of the general will, just as less insidious but equally cynical modern politicians have defended their every decision as the will of the people. Such facile and blatantly strategic appeals to public opinion have their roots in the late-eighteenth-century world that Citizen Richard Lee inhabited, but one key element of Lee’s question has largely disappeared from mainstream American discourse. While many subsequent political actors have echoed Lee’s opening declaration about the omnipotence of the general will, few have seriously engaged with his open-ended question about how that will can be known. In this chapter, I seek to reconstruct the largely forgotten conversation that 1790’s democrats like Citizen Richard Lee tried to initiate about the difficult process of constructing and sustaining an incessantly deliberative, politically efficacious, and professedly inclusive mechanism for forming and discerning the general will—a mechanism that contemporary political theorists would identify as the political public sphere. In numerous pamphlets and newspaper essays, 1790’s democrats advocated for a thickly institutionalized public that could mediate between the government and the private realm, thus influencing the process of law and 161


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

policy formation by drawing non-elected citizens into discussions of political issues. These new, utopian theories about the egalitarian, integrative potential of public opinion had emerged in response to a question that had rarely been asked before the French Revolution: how should the private deliberations of the sovereign people influence the political bodies that supposedly represented them? In advocating a more substantive role for non-elected citizens, the Atlantic world’s growing number of self-described democrats explicitly rejected the long-standing notion that after the people “had made their election, they were nothing.”² Although they never reached a workable consensus on how to make “the Citizen an integral part of the State, to make him a joint sovereign, and not a subject,”³ groups of political activists around the Atlantic world—such as the French Jacobins, the United Irishmen, the London Corresponding Society, and the American Democratic-Republican Societies—took this issue to be one of the key problems of their day. In their attempts to construct a more participatory and more inclusive political system, these groups formulated a set of innovative arguments and practices that can collectively be identified as a theory of radical publicity. Radical publicity manifested itself in many different forms in the early 1790s. French Jacobins, for example, experimented with a system of small primary assemblies where all citizens could consent to laws and suggest new ones. In Ireland, the United Irishmen sought to bring Catholics and Protestants into dialogue with each other in small societies that could serve as the sites where an authentic vision of Irish, as opposed to British, interests could be articulated. Meanwhile, British laborers created scores of political associations (most prominently, the London Corresponding Society) that provided forums in which people who had been excluded from the formal channels of power could educate themselves on political theory and history. These societies regularly corresponded with each other, and printed their resolutions and essays in scores of newly founded oppositional newspapers, in the hopes of making British and Irish politics more open to the interests and opinions of middling and laboring subjects. Similar groups formed in approximately forty localities across the United States between 1793 and 1797, and their cosmopolitan resolutions rang with the same themes as those expressed by their British, Irish, and French compatriots. All of these organizations held public meetings and disseminated reams of cheap (and sometimes free) pamphlets encouraging their fellow citizens to become politically engaged. The political activists who organized the societies were often printers and/or booksellers. They were thus well-positioned to transform their

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


existing market networks of print exchange into politically charged conduits capable of sustaining a new collectivity composed of geographically dispersed yet like-minded citizens.⁴ This new, self-consciously populist strand of political activity that emerged throughout the Atlantic world in the 1790s drew much of its legitimacy and inspiration from a compelling new narrative about how politics could work in a post-monarchical and post-aristocratic nation. In their tentative and experimental articulations of this emerging politics of radical publicity, Painite democrats began to place great emphasis on the political role of the public sphere, framing it as an entity that could incorporate the interests and opinions of all citizens and thus function as a channel through which the people could continuously assert their sovereignty between elections. These theories and practices of radical publicity have dropped out of modern interpretations of 1790’s American political thought. Gordon Wood’s brief discussion of public opinion in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, for example, acknowledges that Americans in the 1790s regarded it as the “vital principle underlying American government, society, and culture.” Although it was such an important concept, Wood argues that no one ever seriously thought about public opinion; rather, it “was like vegetation, it was like sunshine: no one knew how it worked.” This interpretation fits neatly into Wood’s depiction of democracy as an untheorized, anti-intellectual, individualistic, and essentially amoral impulse.⁵ The democrats of the 1790s, according to Wood, had abandoned the orienting, unified republican vision of the common good for a liberal, laissez-faire pursuit of their own, various goods. In contrast to this account, I argue that many democrats did consciously seek to bring order out of the chaos of proliferating self-interests, only they looked to an active public sphere, rather than supposedly disinterested leaders, to define the common good. Indeed, for those many Americans who had rejected the republican ideal of rule by a virtuous elite, it was precisely the vague but inspiring notion of public opinion that held out the possibility of putting the doctrine of popular sovereignty (in its most literal sense) into operation. In the process of forming their state constitutions in the late 1770s and 1780s, a few Americans had explored some of the more democratic implications of popular sovereignty. After the perceived crisis of the Confederation period, however, many sought to bring that period of experimentation to an end. To a great extent, the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was an attempt to restrain the perceived excesses of popular sovereignty that had led to pro-debtor policies and popular uprisings in several states.⁶ The French, British, and Irish popu-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

lar radicalism of the 1790s worked at counterpurposes to this constitutional settlement, encouraging Americans to reopen the conversation about popular sovereignty and consider new meanings for three protean concepts that had been central to their understanding of it—representation, public opinion, and citizenship. As unprecedented numbers of ordinary citizens around the Atlantic world began joining political groups and avidly seeking out political writings aimed explicitly at non-elites, they rendered plausible the radically active and inclusive visions of the public (or the people) that pro-French revolutionary writers like Thomas Paine espoused. In the early 1790s, buoyed by the initial success of Europe’s democratic revolutions, Painite democrats saturated the world of print with utopian ideas about how political representation could be made more actual and authentic, how public opinion could play a larger role in the day-to-day decision-making of politics, and how citizens could exert their sovereignty in between elections. Whereas the voluntary political organizations that had emerged during the American Revolution (such as the Sons of Liberty and the Committees of Correspondence) had framed themselves as temporary institutions designed to defend the polity against a rising tide of corruption, the political groups of the 1790s and the democratic newspapers that supported them began to see themselves as potentially permanent features of the political system. The British radical David Williams captured this new aspect of popular political action in 1791 when he noted that even though modern philosophers like Locke and Rousseau had discovered some of the key truths of political theory, they had stopped short of engaging with “the problem most important to the happiness of mankind”—that is, the problem of “governing all by all.”⁷ For the democrats of the 1790s, public opinion, or what we might call an active political public sphere, promised to solve the problem of how a polyvocal society could be authentically represented by a singular entity. At the center of this emerging variety of democratic theory lay the utopian idea that the unified voice can never legitimately exclude any portion of the populace. As one New York democrat put it in 1796: “Every attempt [to] silence the speculative voice of any small part of the people on subjects relating to the public interest, upon the ground of their being but a minority, is . . . a treasonable attempt to stifle the voice of the sovereign whole.”⁸ Painite reformers sought to bolster institutions such as the free press, voluntary societies like the Democratic-Republican Societies, and public education in the hopes of making the process of publicopinion formation as open and inclusive as possible. Most importantly, the concept of public opinion appealed to these reformers because it was both capa-

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


ble of changing along with the times, and of providing a unifying center to the nation. It lent the actions of the governing body a contingent authenticity, thus keeping the government in a state of what Paine called “constant maturity.”⁹ It was the process of approaching authentic representation that counted, and a rich public sphere served as the institutional embodiment of this process. Foregrounding the abstract, remarkably universalistic, and inclusive language that 1790’s democrats used to articulate their visions of the political future risks obscuring the real exclusions and inequalities that marked 1790’s American political culture. It is important to note that the egalitarian and inclusive language employed by 1790’s democrats did not result in the empowerment of women, blacks, or Native Americans, and indeed, it was rarely intended to do so. This new ideal of radical publicity did, however, introduce crucial instabilities into American political discourse, raising issues and generating utopian visions of the future with which moderates and conservatives had no choice but to engage. In the end, the critics of radical publicity, drawing on the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of the Whiskey Rebellion and the French Terror, succeeded in truncating some of the most radical conversations and experiments of the 1790s by framing them as too destabilizing, too threateningly participatory to enable a nation to persist. Thus, the story here is one of experimentation and unrealized possibilities, of paths not taken. Although the democrats of the 1790s failed to construct radical theories and practices of the political public sphere that could persist into the nineteenth century, we misapprehend the limitations of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian America’s democratic political discourse if we do not see it as the product of both the failure and the explicit rejection of this earlier period of experimentation.

William Manning and Democritus’s Theory of Radical Publicity In the 29 March 1796 edition of Greenleaf ’s New-York Journal, a writer who identified himself as “Democritus” articulated the high-water mark of the radical democratic case for the role of the political public sphere in the early American republic. He began his summary of the “fundamental principles” that should govern “republican society” with the uncontestable assertion that all power flows from the people and should be exercised for their “impartial benefit.” Democritus acknowledged that the continued exercise of popular sovereignty in the strictest sense was “impracticable,” due to the “numbers, local diffusion, &c.” of the people. Yet, despite these obstacles, he insisted that the “general


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

political will is necessarily impartial and incorrupt,” and thus should not be thought wanting just because it must exercise its power through representatives “who may have a sinister bias.” Whenever the general will did “deviate from the pursuit of the common good,” it resulted only from “want of further or more general knowledge; hence appears the necessity of a thorough diffusion of information in a state, and of research, vigilant inspection, and communication.” According to Democritus, the best means “for calling forth the declaration of the popular sentiment [were] small assemblies of citizens, frequently combining their researches on subjects relating to the public good, and publishing the result of their deliberations for approbation or correction. . . . The more generally such social combinations are distributed in a state, the more impartial and efficacious will be the operation.”¹⁰ In this vision of politics, ideas do not emanate out from the center, but rather emerge slowly out of an inclusive and incessant conversation among citizens. Politics can still be local and embodied (in the form of public meetings), but it is also dispersed and disembodied (in the form of printed accounts issued and read by those local bodies). Most arrestingly perhaps, Democritus’s take on the fundamentals of republican government had almost nothing to say about elections or officeholders. Democritus’s essay merits attention because of its lack of originality. He said nothing that would have surprised or upset the thousands of people who read the New-York Journal, though Federalist New Yorkers, like Noah Webster, would have regarded it as dangerously Jacobinical. To understand how one essay could be the common sense of the matter within one community of readers and frighteningly radical in another, we must situate Democritus within the quickly shifting contours of 1790’s political discourse. Democritus’s essay worked because he had implicitly placed himself on the democratic side of three ongoing debates about public opinion, citizenship, and representation. Thanks to editor Thomas Greenleaf, the readers of the New-York Journal were quite aware of these debates, and thus well prepared to comprehend and sympathize with Democritus’s vision of an active, inclusive, and politically efficacious public. What we may read today as an abstract, rather vague paean to the people would have appeared to readers of the 1790s as part of a broader plan to construct the concrete mechanisms of the political public sphere. The failure of Democritus’s radical vision has made it difficult for modern observers to recapture the charged political valence he lent to a range of relatively uncontroversial terms that have since come to have far less radical connotations. Take “public opinion” for example. Democritus put to new, controversial

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


use the widely held assumption that all governments relied upon public opinion for their stability and legitimacy. His radical appropriation of “public opinion” differed significantly from the way moderates such as James Madison used the term in the 1790s. Madison, like Hume before him, argued that “public opinion sets bounds to every government.”¹¹ Madison’s point was a pragmatic one. Nations could no longer rely on physical force to extract loyalty from their citizens. Rather, rulers must pay some respect to “the sentiments of the people” and maintain their power by crafting policies that excited voluntary admiration and allegiance in the citizenry. In this Madisonian model, public opinion played a constraining rather than a constitutive role in governing the nation.¹² A few delegated rulers did the constructive work of generating laws and policies to govern the nation, while the role of the general public was to vote their rulers into office and occasionally express their approval or disapproval of the political decisions worked out inside the houses of Congress. Only in times of crisis, when the government seriously infringed upon the people’s rights, could the broader public legitimately take on an active, shaping role. Democritus, in contrast to Madison, imagined a public that was continually active and deliberating. In his essay—and in scores of others like it in the opposition press of the early 1790s—the public sought to do more than merely agree or disagree with governmental acts; it claimed the right to shape them. This experimentation with such active conceptions of public opinion led Democritus into a radical rethinking of the role of the citizen in a representative democracy. Those who sought to end America’s period of revolutionary experimentation regarded this conversation as a dangerous one. As Benjamin Rush explained it in 1787: “It is often said that the sovereign and all other power is seated in the people! This idea is unhappily expressed. It should be—all power is derived from the people. They possess it only on the days of their elections. After this, it is the property of their rulers.”¹³ In contrast to those who sought to limit the day-to-day political role of ordinary citizens, democratic writers in Greenleaf ’s paper insisted that if the people were “competent to decide upon a form of government, [they] must be equally, if not more capable to judge of those regulations made under it.”¹⁴ As the opposition papers of the early and mid-1790s self-consciously asserted the right of ordinary citizens to form and express opinions about political matters, they brought into question older assumptions about the profoundly different roles played by elected rulers and private citizens. News from revolutionary Europe helped them make this case. Editors printed story after sympathetic story about French, Irish, Scottish, and


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

English reformers who were forming debating societies and imagining governments in which ordinary citizens played an important role in actively constructing and literally consenting to the laws to which they were subject. Opposition editors like Thomas Greenleaf, Benjamin Bache, and Thomas Adams provided their own American glosses on these stories about other active publics, framing them as inspirational examples of the people exercising their citizenship in a myriad of exciting ways. This creative conversation about how citizens could shape law and policy formation raised difficult questions about the anti-democratic possibilities inherent in a government based on representation. Should yearly elections provide the only means through which the people expressed their sovereignty? Were electoral results, in other words, an authentic sign of the general will? Democritus was just one among many in the 1790s who answered no to these questions.¹⁵ For such thinkers, only a vocal, deliberative public could ensure that the representation of the people which ruled over them would be as accurate and authentic as possible. Having rejected a vision of society in which the few decided for the many, 1790’s democrats followed David Williams’s suggestion that “the only skill and knowledge of any value in politics, is that of governing All by All.”¹⁶ In this conception of politics, elections functioned as a necessary but imperfect means to discern the general will. This cardinal principle for early 1790’s democrats departed significantly from the theorizing of most American leaders during the founding era. In Federalist No. 10, for example, Madison framed the election of representatives not as a necessary evil, but as a useful mechanism which could “refine and enlarge the public views by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens.”¹⁷ Indeed, in Federalist No. 63 Madison argued that the “superiority” of the American Constitution over those of the ancient republics lay in its “total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity” from the process of law-making. This skepticism about the possibility of public reason informed much of the opposition to radical theories of publicity. For Democritus, the vision of a rational republic, where every person had a right to shape the laws under which they lived, made the necessity of what Paine called “representation ingrafted upon democracy” palatable.¹⁸ His opponents reversed this formulation, arguing that the “refining” and “enlarging” function of representation tempered the more radical, destabilizing possibilities of a government of the people. As we saw in the previous chapter, William Manning’s Key of Libberty (1797) put forward a theory of radical publicity that closely resembled Democritus’s.

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


The question that most vexed Manning was how the few had managed to maintain their power over the many in the new republic, despite the fact that Americans had just fought a revolution against such unjust political arrangements. For Manning, the problem was that elites had a highly developed network of social, professional, and literary clubs that knit them together, while the many remained divided, because no institutions existed that could enable them to pool their knowledge and opinions. Thus, the only way the humble majority could counter the power of the exalted few and establish a more truly democratic government was by forming a national system for the dissemination of political information to ordinary citizens. Manning mapped out a detailed plan for a national Society of Laborers, broken down into state, county, and town divisions. Membership was open to “all the free male persons in the United States who are twenty-one years of age, who labor for a living,” as well as “all persons of any other denominations, provided they subscribe to its funds and submit to the regulations of the society.” Each division would be supplied (ideally at the federal government’s expense) with copies of the organization’s monthly magazine, and would then periodically meet to read and discuss it along with other political texts. The ultimate goal of the society was “to establish as cheap, easy, and sure conveyance of knowledge and learning for a laborer to have as possible.”¹⁹ Although his arguments did not start from the same universalistic principles as Democritus’s, Manning came up with a similar solution—the formation of political societies of non-elected citizens—to the same problem—the limitations of the representative system. While most historians regard Manning as a product of a uniquely American style of politics, the specifics of his plan echo all of the key themes of the transatlantic discourse of radical publicity. In one of the few lengthy modern analyses of Manning’s work, Sean Wilentz and Michael Merrill cite two sources of inspiration for his Laborers Society: the Committees of Correspondence of the 1770s and the Methodists’ regional, national, and international method of organization. While these sources were undoubtedly influential, Manning’s essay can also be read as an extended engagement with the uniquely cosmopolitan, oppositional print culture of the 1790s.²⁰ His newspaper of choice, Boston’s Independent Chronicle—with its excerpts from the Atlantic world’s other leading democratic papers (like Democritus’s New-York Journal ), as well as its sympathetic accounts of English, Scottish, Irish, and French radicals’ attempts to operationalize democratic theories of popular sovereignty—functioned as a primer of sorts for the political public sphere. Like Manning, the Chronicle’s


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

editor, Thomas Adams, sought to marshal opinion against power, a vocal public against elites who thought themselves uniquely qualified to govern. And like Democritus and other democrats throughout the Atlantic world, Manning sought a solution through small popular associations that could channel local opinions into a national public discussion. Democritus’s and Manning’s visions of how politics should work were products of the particular intellectual and political context of the 1790s. Although they drew to an extent on long-standing Anglo-American political traditions— the appeal to public opinion and public meetings, for example—they crafted a uniquely late Enlightenment, French-inflected theory of participatory democracy out of these older ideas. Like their compatriots in the London Corresponding Society, they sought to “awake” their fellow citizens “to a sense of their rights & duties” so that they would “interest themselves in the welfare of their Country” and “investigate the principles of Government.” This British call for the dissemination of “political knowledge” so as to create an “enlightened” populace imbued with “active energy” appeared at precisely the same moment that Democritus and Manning articulated their own visions of a more politically engaged and efficacious public.²¹ The convergence of European and American political language suggests that we must not look solely to the history of American politics to understand their appeals; we must also discover how the radical experimentation of the age of democratic revolution led American democrats like Manning and Democritus to ask new questions. How could the people ensure that their government accurately and fairly represented the good of the whole? What was the active political role of citizens between elections? What should the relationship be between public opinion and the process of political decision-making? The revolutionary events of the Atlantic world’s 1790s brought these challenging questions to the fore, and many people who had been traditionally excluded from the political nation stepped forward to provide new answers to them. Thus, the route to understanding Democritus and Manning begins not only in the American Revolutionary past, but also in the European events of 1789 and the years that followed.

The Debate over Radical Publicity: From the Beginning of the French Revolution to the Whiskey Rebellion and the Terror A few months before Thomas Paine began writing the Rights of Man, his proRevolutionary riposte to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


Paine held forth in a London tavern on a topic about which he would soon change his mind. Insisting that “the majority of mankind are . . . most prone to errour,” Paine argued that “if we atchieve the right, the minority ought in all cases to govern.” This favored minority was composed of the “men of sense,” and Paine estimated that such men numbered no more than “twenty, thirty, or even forty-nine, to an hundred.” The majority of “ignorant” people, Paine implied, required improvement before they would be capable of participating effectively in the political process as citizens.²² Although part 1 of Rights of Man contained no explicitly exclusionary comments like these, the French Lafayettists whom Paine supported held similar ideas about only partially extending the franchise and the powers of citizenship, insisting upon property requirements both for the vote and to hold political office. As he wrote the first part of the Rights of Man in late 1791, before popular political organizations like the ones espoused by Manning and Democritus had formed in Britain, Ireland, or America, Paine never considered the possibilities of radical publicity in his conception of what the politics of a democratic republic should look like. By the time Paine was writing part 2 of the Rights of Man, in mid-1792, however, French and British politics had taken a more participatory and inclusive turn and Paine had altered his thinking to reflect these changes. Never again would he argue for the exclusion of certain portions of the citizenry from the political process.²³ As Paine’s opinion about the political capacities of the people changed in line with the French Revolution and the radicalism it inspired in Britain, his American supporters followed him down the unknown path toward a more active and inclusive conception of citizenship. Increasingly vocal demands for a more inclusive and participatory political system raised difficult questions about how a political system could accurately represent the opinions and interests of such a large, conversing citizenry. In the early 1790s, tentative answers to such questions began to emerge in revolutionary Europe, as political activists—most prominently the French Jacobins, the members of the London Corresponding Society, and the United Irishmen—experimented with popular institutions that could more effectively incorporate the actions and opinions of non-elected citizens into the political process. Groups of politically minded Americans formed similar institutions, the Democratic-Republican Societies, with the express purpose of creating a venue in which ordinary citizens could form and articulate opinions about political matters. They thus self-consciously entered into a transatlantic movement dedicated to the proposition that public opinion, rather than the deter-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

minations of a few leaders or the interests of any particular segment of the population, should be the object of political representation. These new theories and practices of citizenship, representation, and public opinion created the conditions in which Democritus and Manning would formulate their radical theories of publicity. Americans began rethinking the concept of citizenship in the late 1780s as they sought to differentiate their new political system from Britain’s. In the first few paragraphs of his 1789 pamphlet A Dissertation on the Manner of Acquiring the Character and Privileges of a Citizen of the United States, David Ramsay summarized what he considered to be the most important and dramatic change that the American Revolution had wrought. He argued that it had changed the “political character of the people” from subjects to citizens, and he perceived an “immense” difference between these two categories. Whereas subjects were passive and “under the power of another,” citizens were active, “an unit of a mass of free people, who, collectively, possess sovereignty.”²⁴ Although citizens possessed, “by nature and the constitution, as much of the common sovereignty as another,” Ramsay left vague the specific forms of political activity that this new, egalitarian concept of citizenship implied. Indeed, the “immense” transformation he described was more abstract than practical. While all power now theoretically flowed from the people to their governors, this did not mean that Ramsay had any interest in incorporating the mass of citizens into the process of political decision-making. His pamphlet, like Paine’s 1790 statements in the London tavern, still assumed that the polity would be divided into an active minority who ruled and a generally passive majority who were ruled. Although a portion of this majority now possessed the vote and the abstract right to consent to the government under which they lived, the transition from subjecthood to citizenship had not significantly changed their role in the daily practice of politics. Ramsay’s brief discussion of citizenship and sovereignty, however, contained many undeveloped implications and internal tensions that the French Revolution would soon bring to the fore. Having distinguishing citizenship from passive subjecthood, Ramsay failed to enumerate any active role for the citizen, apart from voting. Although he himself avoided it, the notion of active citizenship inevitably begged the question of just how politically active citizens should be between elections. Likewise, in defining the rights of citizenship as something obtained both by “nature and the constitution,” Ramsay finessed the question of whether these rights preexisted government or were the product

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


of it. If people possessed citizenship rights by nature, then this meant that all people could claim them and that governments could not legitimately deprive anyone of them. If it was the Constitution that granted the rights of citizenship, however, then whoever possessed the power to interpret the Constitution could decide who was merely an “inhabitant,” entitled only to “security for his person and property,” and who was a citizen, someone who possessed the right to vote and “many other privileges not enjoyed by those who are no more than inhabitants.” Ramsay specified only “Negroes” as belonging to this degraded category of “inhabitants,” though as the restrictive voting requirements in his home state of South Carolina suggest, the vast majority of those who lived in that state would not have been considered citizens.²⁵ Ramsay’s discussion of citizenship, perched as it was on the cusp of the French Revolution, has much to tell us about the limitations of the discourse of citizenship that Americans inherited from their Revolutionary struggle. The dominant Whig rhetoric of the American Revolution had been largely defensive. Writers appealed to Americans not as rational agents engaged in constructing a radically new political system, but as taxpayers and property-owning “patriots” (generally, not “citizens”) who needed to resist the encroachments of tyrants and protect their rights from those who sought to corrupt the political system for their own selfish ends. Such language was neither necessarily inclusive nor suggestive of radical democratization. It still implied that citizens were those with substantial property to protect, and it suggested that popular action was necessary only in moments of crisis. The French Revolution, on the other hand, generated a more universalistic rhetoric about rational citizens actively constructing a more inclusive and participatory political system. Where American revolutionaries spoke of preserving and defending, the French and their supporters in Britain and America described their political movement as a progression into an unknown but exciting future populated by increasingly empowered citizens. While they used many of the same terms as their British and American predecessors—“rights,” “citizenship,” “equality,” “popular sovereignty”—the supporters of the French Revolution used these terms in new ways. For a brief moment during the height of French success in 1792 and 1793, the limitations of the earlier discourse of citizenship became a matter of concern and conversation among the Atlantic world’s quickly cohering community of Painite democrats. The intellectual journey of Thomas Cooper between 1787 and 1792 provides one clear example of how French events and ideas radicalized older, Whig


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

notions of citizenship and popular sovereignty. Cooper was raised and educated in Britain’s community of dissenting Whigs, a community composed of people, like Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, who had supported the American Revolution in the 1770s and who looked favorably upon the French Revolution. As a young reformer in 1787, Cooper wrote and published a long list of political propositions that followed from the initial insight that all political power derived from the consent of the governed. At two key moments in the evolution of his theory, Cooper acknowledged some potential exceptions to the seemingly universalistic theory of popular sovereignty. In his Proposition 2, he briefly broached the possibility that men unjustly “exercise[d] power [and] authority” over unmarried, and “perhaps” even married, women. Likewise, in Proposition 26 he argued that although it seemed to be an exception to the doctrine of popular sovereignty, the poorest members of society should not be allowed to vote. Spinning out the implications of popular sovereignty in 1787, Cooper perceived the issues of inclusion and exclusion it raised, but he did not yet feel the need to resolve them.²⁶ The rights of citizenship inhered in one’s gender and in one’s ownership of property, despite the seeming hypocrisy of these limitations. In 1792, two years before he emigrated to America, Cooper found he could no longer justify these exclusions to himself, so when he reprinted his five-yearold list of propositions, he made a few telling changes. In those intervening years, Cooper had traveled to France, where he had been affectionately received by the leaders of the Jacobin clubs. He had also spent many days discussing politics with Mary Wollstonecraft, Thomas Paine, Joel Barlow, and other British and American radicals who had taken up residence in Paris. Cooper allowed most of his 1787 theoretical treatise to stand untouched, but with respect to the rights of women and the poor, he had now changed his mind. After conversations with several French women and with “Miss Wollstonecraft,” Cooper had concluded that he could devise no argument “in support of the political superiority so generally arrogated by the Male Sex, which will not equally apply to any System of Despotism of Man over Man.” Popular sovereignty implied that every person who was subject to a form of power must have the right to consent to it. According to Cooper, “male Despotism” worked in much the same way, as the rich maintained their despotic power over the poor: “We first keep their Minds, and then their Persons in Subjection. . . . We say they are not fit to govern themselves, and arrogate the right of making them our Slaves thro’ Life.” Further down the list, at Proposition 26, regarding denying poor people

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


the right to vote, Cooper similarly recanted his earlier stance, calling instead for universal suffrage. In a footnote, he noted that he had reprinted his sentiments of 1787 in the revised pamphlet so that the reader could recognize the earlier position that he had come to reject.²⁷ Most pro-French democrats of the 1790s followed Cooper in exploiting the inclusive possibilities inherent in the concept of popular sovereignty and in the term “citizen.” Throughout the Atlantic world, political writers couched their claims for political inclusion not in the classical republican language of the independent freeholder, but in the Enlightenment language of the universally shared ability to reason. Cognitive, not economic, independence was what gave a person the right to political efficacy. This new thinking differentiated the selfdescribed democrats of the 1790s from their American Revolutionary predecessors, for they grounded the right to be represented not upon property ownership, but rather upon what they considered to be the natural and inalienable capacity to articulate and represent one’s opinions and interests. While one of Paine’s primary goals was to reduce the burden of taxation, he never argued that taxpaying was the activity that entitled one to the privileges of citizenship. The ideal reader described and constructed in Paine’s pamphlets and in the democratic press was the man who “thought for himself,” expressed his opinions in public, and sought out the latest political information and ideas.²⁸ Ironically, when he disparaged the “swinish multitude,” Edmund Burke provided one of the key terms that radicals seized upon to make their democratic claims. One can scarcely read a democratic pamphlet or newspaper from the early 1790s without encountering a sarcastic appropriation of Burke’s anti-democratic epithet. Essays on political theory in journals with title’s like Pig’s Meat or Salmagundi for Swine, or signed by “the Rabble,” inverted Burke’s attempt to constrict the political public. Virtually any attempt to circumscribe the power of the people, or to single out a segment of the population as incapable of rational deliberation, was instantly equated with a Burkean elitism and thus rendered an object of popular ridicule. The understood obverse of “the swinish multitude” was the rational citizen, and as democrats rendered elitism like Burke’s marginal in public political discourse, they cleared more and more space for a discussion of the possibilities of rational citizenship. Before news of the Terror filtered across the Atlantic in 1794, Frenchinspired excitement about the possibility of extending the rights and powers of citizenship suffused the pages of American newspapers. In 1791 and 1792, for example, editors across the political spectrum inserted scores of similar, almost


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

formulaic statements asserting the right of citizens to express their opinions on public matters. These were usually not part of any sustained analysis of political theory; rather they were inserted almost as non sequiturs at the ends of essays, or sandwiched in between paragraphs reporting on foreign battles or domestic affairs. On 19 December 1792, for example, an anonymous writer in the National Gazette criticized a recent legislative decision regarding the payment still due to Revolutionary soldiers, ending his essay with a sentence that had no discernable connection to the essay’s earlier content: “We have reserved to ourselves the right of thinking speaking and writing upon the proceedings of the servants of the people; and we will exercise this, our natural as well as our political right, freely whenever just occasions offer.”²⁹ Such defenses of the right of ordinary citizens to speak out did not just usher out of a libertarian, anti-authoritarian ethic. What was being claimed was more than just the right to state an opinion without being molested by the political authorities; the writer was asserting the people’s right to be heard, to have their opinions registered with a public larger than the group of people who might happen to hear their spoken commentaries on political matters. The next essay in that same paper demonstrates how this seemingly abstract and uncontroversial defense of the right of free speech was nested in a much broader, potentially radical critique of social and political inequality. The anonymous writer of the second essay argued that in every country, including the United States, there existed “a natural aristocracy, haughty, aspiring, ambitious, enemies to freedom, scorning the idea of Equality, looking down upon the people as an inferior order of beings, and improving every opportunity . . . to exalt themselves above their fellow citizens.” It was essential that the people defend themselves against such characters by publicly exposing and countering their efforts. According to this writer, the Revolution had not settled the question of who “should enjoy the fruits of the victory, the people, or their leaders?”³⁰ The American Revolutionary struggle continued, but the present stage did not involve physical violence; rather, as was the case in William Manning’s vision of the future, it involved the incorporation of previously excluded voices into an evolving political process. Such calls for augmenting the power of the many tapped into the growing sense of class resentment that motivated much of the emerging opposition to the Washington administration. As Walter Brewster, a Connecticut artisan, put it in 1792: “It is to be regretted that the laws of all countries tend more or less to

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


assist those who have property and power against those who have none.” While Brewster called for more mechanics to be elected to the legislature, he harbored doubts that his own actions could work against “the iron sway of custom and habit.” He knew that many of the readers of his local newspaper were “of those sort of people with whom the idea of a Mechanick, and that of the ignorant, vulgar and partial, are synonymous.” Most democrats in the early 1790s suspected that their leaders felt “that public affairs should only be discussed by ‘men of property,’ or what with them is a synonymous term, ‘reputation.’ ” In the early 1790s, opposition editors aggressively countered this idea, filling their newspapers with statements asserting that “the poorer class of people . . . should have [a] share in the government.”³¹ Those who articulated these experimental ideas expected to be denigrated by the nation’s leaders and elites, yet they could rely on the international political climate of the early 1790s to lend an unprecedented degree of legitimacy to their innovative claims for inclusion. Arguments like Brewster’s rested upon the late Enlightenment’s optimistic understanding of human nature, on the assumption that virtually all humans possessed the rational capacity to understand political matters. Where past governments had excluded the mass of people from the political process by keeping them ignorant, the American and French Revolutions seemed to promise a very different future. Even the conservative Gazette of the United States, one of the first newspapers to denounce the French Revolution and soon to become one of the most vehemently anti-Painite papers in the nation, was swept up for a brief moment in the utopian spirit of the early 1790s. In May of 1791, for example, the editor, John Fenno, printed an unattributed extract lamenting that “the lower classes of mankind are generally injured by being deprived of the means of education, and then insulted for not being intelligent and orderly.” This phenomenon was even more troubling in a republican government, the writer explained, since “the supreme power derives from the people.” A populace kept intentionally ignorant could never effectively wield power; rather, they would always be subject to the control of “the enlightened and wealthy few.” Framing the present as the ideal time “to correct our ideas concerning government,” the author made the case for a more educated citizenry, by arguing that “good government is not best supported by ignorant people.” In Europe, for example, kings “corrupt the enlightened few, in order to enslave the ignorant many, but were the mass of the people enlightened, it would be impossible to corrupt them.”³² Less than two weeks later, Fenno included a long excerpt from John


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

Adams’s Defense of the American Constitutions, in which Adams similarly argued in favor of the salubrious political effects of a universally available and publicly funded educational system. There was a key difference, however, between Fenno’s and Adams’s understanding of the political role of education, and that of the emerging Painite opposition. Fenno followed the seemingly democratic extract he had printed on education with a sarcastic paragraph on what he called one of the “more surprising . . . discoveries of modern times.” It seemed, according to Fenno, that “the business of legislation, which in all ages has been arduous and infinitely perplexing, is now found to be one of the easiest and simplest things in nature; and this simplicity and perspecuity is applicable to all inferior objects of discipline and government—not only good citizens, but Patriots, Lawyers, and Divines may now be formed without a tedious process of orders, rules, and gradations.”³³ Whereas many American populists, like Brewster and Manning, had begun criticizing the elite composition of the professions and the federal and state legislatures, Fenno treated such egalitarian appeals for greater inclusivity and accessibility as laughable. For Fenno and Adams, only an educated and well-trained elite was suited to carry out the complex business of governing. The majority of the people should be educated, but only so that they could detect conspiracies against their liberties and elect the best men to govern them. Fenno and Adams could laud universal education on one hand, and make fun of the pretensions of non-elite aspirants to political office on the other, because, like good Whigs, they thought there was a huge gulf between the role of the citizen and the role of the legislator. As the French Revolution progressed, this long-standing distinction between the passive many and the active few—or put another way, between the nation and the political nation—came under severe attack throughout the Atlantic world. These attacks frequently took the form of calls for a more open, publicly visible political decision-making process. “Mirabeau,” writing in the Independent Chronicle, criticized the Senate’s refusal to open its doors so that all citizens could follow that body’s deliberations. “Are you freemen who ought to know the individual conduct of your legislators, or are you an inferior order of beings, incapable of comprehending the sublimity of senatorial functions, and unworthy to be entrusted with their opinions?” he asked. This call for legibility rested upon an egalitarian and inclusive conception of the political nation: “Can there be any question of Legislative import, which freemen should not be acquainted with?” “Mirabeau” continued his critique by linking senato-

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


rial secrecy to a recrudescence of anti-democratic, British political forms: “The peers of America disdain to be seen by vulgar eyes; the music of their voices is harmony only for themselves, and must not vibrate in the ravished ears of an ungraceful and uncourtly multitude.” As these efforts to set themselves apart from their fellow citizens suggested, the Senate did not truly “represent . . . a free people,” for if they did “they would hold themselves bound to listen to their opinions, and attend to their instructions.”³⁴ As opposition newspapers repeated the argument that elected officials were servants of the people, required to pay heed to their opinions, they carved out a new political role for themselves as the medium through which an emerging and increasingly vocal public could articulate its desires on a daily basis. By deemphasizing the difference between the political roles of citizens and elected officials, American democrats undermined the long-standing assumption, central to Anglo-American Whig constitutionalism, that the goal of politics was to balance the virtues and vices of three distinct political/social elements: the one, the few, and the many. While many Americans, most prominently John Adams,³⁵ argued that this was the key problem with which any political system must grapple, in 1792, an anonymous writer in the National Gazette contended that this understanding of politics was now obsolete. It was time to move beyond the outdated notion that the theoretical virtues of monarchies or aristocracies were even worth thinking about, and move into the uncharted territory of undiluted democracy. If the people were indeed sovereign, then the key question was not how balanced a government was, but simply who controlled it and whose interests it represented. With these new criteria in mind, the writer divided the world’s then existing governments into three types. The first type was the one most common in contemporary Europe, and operated solely by “permanent military force.” The second type worked through “corrupt influence . . . , accommodating its measures to the avidity of a part of the nation instead of the benefit of the whole,” and represented “a real domination of the few, under an apparent liberty of the many.” The final and ideal type derived its energy “from the will of the society, and operating by the reason of its measures, on the understanding and interest of the society.” “Such is the Government for which philosophy has been searching, and humanity been fighting,” the author concluded.³⁶ The concept of equal and active citizenship had rendered irrelevant the questions about how to balance the virtues and vices of the different social orders—questions that people like Montesquieu and John Adams had obsessed over. The task of political philosophy now was to transcend the idea


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

that authority could only be effectively exercised by one man or an elite few. It was calls like this one, for a model of politics that rested upon “the will of the society,” that made Citizen Lee’s question about the general will—“By what sign shall we know it?”—so pressing. The democrats of the 1790s knew that Rousseau had asked a similar question several decades earlier about how the body politic could make its will known, but they rejected his answer as too impractical and undemocratic. As David Williams put it, Rousseau “wishes deities to regulate affairs which are allotted only to mortals.”³⁷ In the context of the popular politicization of the early 1790s, it seemed absurd to claim that only a “superior intelligence” that could stand apart from “the passions of men” could determine the general will. In opposition to Rousseau’s elitism, Painite democrats imagined a future where the general will would emerge out of inclusive, public discussions. As the British democrat John Thelwall put it in 1795, “[The] aggregate opinion of a nation, is the best way of securing general happiness, fortifying the virtue, and expanding the intellects of mankind: and he who devises the method of collecting the opinion with the greatest purity . . . will confer the greatest possible benefit upon the human race.”³⁸ Such a vision of politics deemphasized the discussions carried on inside the formal halls of power and placed the focus more firmly on the wide range of informal political practices that were emerging throughout the Atlantic world. The messiness of the new politics made it seem all the more promising—it was ubiquitous, carried on in newspapers, town meetings, debating societies, and taverns. Most of all, the new politics inspired the growing number of Painites because it promised inclusion and legitimated the interests and opinions of those citizens who had previously been excluded from the political process. This redefinition of politics to include the actions of non-elite and non-elected citizens was perhaps the early 1790’s democrats’ most radical and lasting accomplishment. Advocates of this new politics framed themselves as the champions of neverending “enquiry, criticism, and scrutiny.” They thus appropriated the language and method of Enlightenment science to reimagine the state as a constantly deliberative, more literally self-governing entity. Whereas the editor of the conservative Gazette of the United States thought that his allotted role was to “conciliate the minds of our citizens, to the proceedings of the Federal Legislature,”³⁹ opposition editors argued that newspapers should do much more than elaborate on the ideas worked out inside the halls of Congress. As one writer put it in Philip Freneau’s National Gazette, “The action of laws upon public opinion,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


and the re-action of that opinion upon government, is the criterion, by which to judge of the wisdom, the policy, or the folly of political measures.” In the age of democratic revolutions, the government was no longer the only proactive political entity. The key problem was to rethink the impact “of the government upon the people, and of the people upon the government.” In other words, it was about how these two separate but intimately connected entities could shape each other, yet not be dissolved into one entity.⁴⁰ It was this perceived dilemma that drove many Americans to begin thinking about concrete institutions that could serve the function of collecting and articulating the opinions of those people who did not happen to occupy an official position in the government. All of this talk about incorporating the voices of non-elected citizens into the political process made the act of electing representatives appear less like the centerpiece of democratic government and more like simply a convenient means of governing a large nation. As James Mackintosh explained in his 1792 reply to Burke, “The law is the deliberate reason of all guiding their occasional will. Representation is an expedient for peacefully, systematically, and unequivocally collecting this universal voice.”⁴¹ In the early 1790s, few writers claimed that democracy and representation were the same thing. While Painites called for universal manhood suffrage and what they called “equal representation,” they did not argue that the rights and duties of citizenship lay only in electing representatives. Only when a society encouraged a “continued expression of the public will” could the law be said to reflect the “universal voice” rather than the interests of a few, potentially partial representatives.⁴² It was in part this sensitivity to the limitations of representation that informed the efforts of democrats throughout the Atlantic world to establish voluntary societies devoted to the discussion of political matters. In America, the first public call for the formation of explicitly political voluntary societies appeared in 1792, on a day that was becoming increasingly symbolic for democrats and increasingly disliked by Federalists: July 4th, Independence Day.⁴³ A correspondent of the National Gazette observed that political societies had been formed in Britain, and he sent along an extract “from a London publication” illustrating the principles of one of them, the Friends of the People. In defense of their entrance onto the public stage, this British group declared that “equal active citizenship, is the unalienable right of all men—minors, criminals, and insane persons excepted.” With this open-ended, French-inflected rhetoric of citizenship, the group situated itself firmly in the utopian present: “We contemplate with pleasure the progress which this nation,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

and mankind in general, are now making in the hitherto mysterious science of government. We see a spirit of calm rational enquiry arising and diffusing itself among all orders of people, of a nature totally different from the tumultuous malevolence of party, and the artful policy of statesmen.” Its members thus distinguished their project from the way politics had traditionally been conducted by a constricted governing elite. Although their claim that they were not a party was standard fare in eighteenth-century British politics, their alternative vision of how the nation should be governed departed significantly from the arguments traditionally adopted by opposition groups. They did not simply frame themselves as the outs who saw the ins as irretrievably corrupt. Instead, they called for a structural transformation of British politics that would permanently render it more inclusive and participatory. In pursuit of this new politics, they announced their desire to unite “with several societies already formed in various parts of the nation,” and went on to “call upon our fellow citizens of all descriptions, to institute similar societies, for the same great purpose, and we recommend a general correspondence with each other.” The American who submitted this extract shared the group members’ enthusiasm, recommending “that societies should be formed in every county of the United States upon similar plans.” Making the link between French, British, and American politics even more explicit, he ended by suggesting that “the 14th day of July would be a good time for annual meetings of those Societies.”⁴⁴ A few weeks later, in the same paper, editor Philip Freneau included two more pieces that used foreign events to justify a call for the creation of political societies in America. After the paper had reprinted yet another address from the Friends of the People in London, one of Freneau’s correspondents wrote to say: “From the spirit and tenor of the above address, it is most presumeable . . . that the late proclamation of the British king, against what are termed seditious publications and associations, is . . . pointed at the friends of the people, and other societies now forming in England.” The article that followed provided an American democrat’s gloss on this news, suggesting that the repression of an emerging British public carried lessons for American democrats: “At the dawn of the present glorious revolution in France, political clubs frequently met at the coffeehouses; the king issued an edict prohibiting such meetings—The kings of Europe are at this moment using every effort to prevent their subjects from investigating the principles of religion or government: And a junto of American aristocrats, influenced by the same spirit, are pursuing similar measures.” Even worse, the pro-administration newspapers in America (such as the Gazette of the

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


United States) were contributing to this backlash and acting much the same way as the anti-democratic prints in Europe: “A venal press, considered as a necessary appendage to the general government, is constantly employed in bestowing fulsome commendations on the most unwarrantable acts of government; and in abusing those free citizens who presume to come forward with their opinions on public measures.”⁴⁵ This writer thus framed the political present, in Europe and America, as a battle between two forces: the people who were increasingly demanding a greater role in politics, and those who opposed the new forms of publicity being expressed in voluntary societies and newspapers throughout the Atlantic world. This transatlantic story about the emergence of a more powerful public and the resistance against it was a central part of the justification for the Democratic-Republican Societies that formed in the summer of 1793. While most historical accounts of these societies contain a sentence or two noting that similar political clubs had emerged in Britain, Ireland, and France only a few years earlier, the relationship between those groups and the American societies has remained largely unexplored. Those historians who discuss American interpretations of foreign politics at any length generally focus on how Anglophobia and Francophilia provided the emotional push, the guttural energy, that fueled the partisan hatreds of the 1790s.⁴⁶ Opposition papers like Freneau’s suggest, however, that Americans appropriated the words and actions of their European compatriots for more intellectually substantive and politically radical purposes than simply arousing partisan passions. American democrats worked out their own theories of publicity in constant dialogue with Europe’s changing intellectual and political scene. Opposition newspaper editors used news from Europe to define their political vision against what they saw as a British model of politics, a model in which the non-elected public played no role in the process of law and policy formation. Indeed, what editors like Benjamin Bache, Thomas Greenleaf, Thomas Adams, and Philip Freneau chose to see when they looked across the ocean were ordinary British, Irish, and French citizens working out innovative theories and practices of publicity. On a daily basis, opposition newspapers offered up inspiring stories about European democrats who were forming unprecedentedly inclusive and participatory institutions dedicated to the discussion of political issues. Editors wove this foreign news into an analysis of domestic politics, framing the Democratic-Republican Societies as an American expression of an international movement on behalf of the people, and framing the societies’


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

enemies as part of a similarly transatlantic, British-led effort to turn back the tide of popular politics. The future of the newly forming American public, in other words, was intimately bound up with the future of the various European publics struggling into existence against the resistance of the world’s monarchists and aristocrats. This transatlantic narrative saturated the public pronouncements of the Democratic-Republican Societies. These clubs rarely linked their efforts to their American Revolutionary predecessors, like the Sons of Liberty or the Committees of Correspondence, choosing instead to identify with their fellow democrats across the ocean.⁴⁷ In 1794, for example, a writer who identified as “A Democrat” credited the French Revolution for reinvigorating American popular politics: “It is well known that, after the adoption of the federal constitution, a general negligence of their political affairs seemed to pervade almost every class of citizens. It appeared as if they had said . . . ‘our constitution is formed and adopted, and our general government established; let the respective officers of it act as they please, as for us, we will give ourselves no further trouble.’ . . . Had not the French revolution commenced, we know not to what lengths this spirit might have been carried. But that glorious revolution has awakened us from our stupidity.”⁴⁸ This narrative of the French Revolution enabled American democrats to frame themselves not as dangerous innovators, but as participants in a virtuous political movement that had begun in America in the 1770s, had dissipated in the late 1780s, but had now been resuscitated in Europe. When Americans across the new nation raised their glasses to the ubiquitous 1790’s toast to “the Democratic Societies throughout the world,”⁴⁹ they were declaring their allegiance to an international movement that sought to expand the political role and power of ordinary citizens. The utopian and experimental political atmosphere of the early 1790s made it relatively easy for the Democratic-Republican Societies to legitimate their innovative organizations. They claimed to advocate nothing more than the rights of rational citizenship, and argued that those who opposed their project must be aristocratic and counterrevolutionary elitists. In May of 1794, for example, one defender of the societies sarcastically suggested that the Federalists hated them only because they encouraged a critical attitude in a populace that was supposedly “well disposed to submit to any thing that they were told was for their good.” This author confidently mimicked the Federalists’ disdain for those ordinary citizens who admired the French revolutionaries: “The people are running crazy with the idea of citizen, and citizen implies the right to think, and the

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


right to think implies an analysis of governmental doctrines and measures, and oh! horrid to relate, an analysis of this sort——.”⁵⁰ Federalist fear of the societies, this democrat argued, was nothing more than fear of having their actions exposed to the people at large. The societies thus claimed to advocate openness, not revolution as their enemies charged. Repeatedly, American democrats played the role of the innocent inquirer, seeking only to “banish mystery from politics, open every channel of information, call for investigation, [and] tempt a discussion of measures.” They defended such public inquiry and discussion on the seemingly unobjectionable basis that in the ideal republic, “the public sentiment will be the best criterion of what is right and what is wrong in government.”⁵¹ As the Canaan Democratic Society put it in their constitution: “The political happiness of every enlightened people depends on their observance of the Democratical form of republican government, which is untenable without social union and communication.” The societies claimed to reject crass partisanship, arguing instead that their purpose was merely to provoke public discussions of political matters so that “the real public opinion [could be] known, as much as possible, by those in power.”⁵² With such rhetoric about the legibility of government and the desire to collect and articulate public opinion, the societies described themselves as utterly unthreatening to any legitimate government. A writer in the Independent Chronicle of 15 September 1794 asked: “Why are these people so alarmed at these societies? Are they afraid to have measures of government considered by the citizens? Do they wish to keep all public transactions within a particular circle[?]” In Britain, George III’s repression of similar political societies provided ample ammunition for those American democrats who sought to resist Federalist criticisms. When Congress began debating whether the DemocraticRepublican Societies should be censured or outlawed, the German Republican Society of Pennsylvania drew attention to “the most extraordinary fact . . . that patriotic societies were the objects of denunciations in the same year, in Great Britain, France and the United States of America!! ” The society framed these denunciations as an attempt to squelch one of the key aspects of any legitimate polity: freely formed public opinion. “Men are the creatures of opinion, and it is by means of opinion alone that laws in all well regulated societies can and ought to be enforced,” it argued. Opinion was so important because representatives could never be entirely trusted: “Rulers have no more virtue than the ruled, the equilibrium between them can only be preserved by proper attention and association; for the power of government can only be kept within its constituted


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

limits by the display of a power equal to itself, the collected sentiment of the people. . . . To obtain a connected voice associations of some sort are necessary, no matter by what names they are designated.”⁵³ While later political actors could use the term “public opinion” as if such a thing already existed and as if they had uniquely authentic access to it, the democrats of the early 1790s recognized, at least to some extent, the complexity of how public opinions were formed. For this reason, one of the centerpieces of their political project was the formation of concrete institutions in which substantive opinions could be formed, collected, and articulated. Publics could not merely be invoked, they had to be constructed and sustained. While such arguments about collecting the peoples’ voice enabled the Democratic-Republican Societies to appear both constitutional and innocuous, the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in the spring of 1794 raised some difficult problems for them. The Whiskey rebels shared the societies’ critique of the Washington administration, and Federalist newspapers immediately attributed their armed resistance to the influence of the Democratic-Republican Societies. This widely disseminated charge forced American democrats to explain how their criticisms of the government differed from outright rebellion. In December of 1794, a Democratic-Republican Society member tried to defend his group’s actions, arguing: “A great distinction lays between opinion and action, should any citizen really and conscientiously believe that any particular act of government was either oppressive or injurious to the public good, he has an unquestionable right to publish that belief to his fellow-citizens, but at the same time it would be criminal in him to take up arms and forcibly resist the operations of a constitutional law.”⁵⁴ Institutions dedicated to the exercise of public reason, in other words, differed widely from groups that used physical violence. At the same time American democrats were making this argument, however, the news from France was beginning to suggest that the Jacobin clubs, one of the models for the American societies, had been responsible for the widespread violence of Robespierre’s Terror. Thus, on the same day that the above-quoted article distinguishing opinion from physical violence appeared in the New-York Journal, editor Thomas Greenleaf had to respond to reports in the Federalist press claiming that the French government had declared the Jacobin clubs a threat to the nation and had outlawed them. Greenleaf defensively argued that “the National Convention have asserted, and we pledge our reputation to prove it, that the Popular Societies have saved the Republic of France; they have also

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


said that these Societies, are among the main pillars of the revolution; and we are happy to find, that the Convention have further declared . . . that they will never suffer these societies, or any other to govern the Convention; nor on the other hand shall they be suppressed by any means whatever.”⁵⁵ As it turned out, Greenleaf was wrong about events in France, but his defense of the societies reflects a key aspect of the emerging American argument about how such clubs fit into the American political system. The combination of the Whiskey Rebellion and the Jacobin Terror forced the American DemocraticRepublican Societies to stress their private or non-political nature. They had to emphasize, in other words, that they did not seek to “govern.” Yet, this diminution of their ability to effect change worked at counter purposes to their goal, which was indeed to influence the process of political decision-making. Thus, there was a key ambiguity at the heart of the emerging discourse of radical publicity: the societies were private, voluntary, and not an official part of the governing structure, yet they publicized their actions and explicitly sought to bring about concrete political changes. This contradiction had remained fairly hidden until the Whiskey Rebellion and the French Terror brought it to public attention. The foreign and domestic events of 1794 brought the initial, utopian stage of the discussion about radical publicity to an end. The discussion had begun with democrats throughout the Atlantic world exploring the implications of a radically active and theoretically inclusive conception of citizenship. The idea that the rights of the citizen resided in one’s capacity to reason and did not terminate at the moment when one cast a vote for one’s political representative raised the question of how a constantly representing citizenry could be represented. Skeptical of the notion that elite representatives were uniquely disinterested or rational, and thus able to better determine the public good, democrats argued instead that public opinion should be the guiding force behind the process of political decision-making. This explains why they began to form popular political societies that were defined by their efforts to collect and articulate this public opinion—to create, in other words, a public that could communicate across space, generate ideas about the public good, and watch over the actions of elected officials. Such efforts were hard to criticize or contradict, until the Terror and the Whiskey Rebellion raised the possibility that these societies would create permanent oppositional groups that would seek to overthrow and transform the standing government. As the violent potential of radical publicity became increasingly apparent, the Democratic-Republican Societies had to


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

defend their emerging forms of popular politics on new terms not of their own choosing. They had to triangulate their project against the twin specters of French violence in the name of the people, and British repression in defense of the government. Their attempts to construct a viable vision of an efficacious yet non-tyrannical public became more difficult, however, for they could no longer draw unproblematically on the universalistic rhetoric of equal and active citizenship that had given their previous appeals such weight. In the increasingly ominous political climate of late 1794 and early 1795, Federalists capitalized on foreign and domestic news about popular violence to frame democratic utopianism as dangerous rather than inspiring. It took some time and a great deal of intellectual work, however, for Federalists to come up with a convincing alternative vision of a “democratic” polity that explicitly excluded groups like the Democratic-Republican Societies and their experimental ideas about citizenship, representation, and public opinion.

Constructing an American Alternative to Radical Publicity, 1794–1798 Just as the arguments for radical publicity had rested upon an interpretation of European events, opponents of the Democratic-Republican Societies crafted their own counternarrative about the relationship between American politics and the Atlantic world’s age of democratic revolution. As French Revolutionary ardor turned to terror in the American newspapers of 1794, a new Federalist interpretation of history emerged that stressed the unique merits of American politics and left no space for radical publicity and groups like the DemocraticRepublican Societies that espoused it. According to this new narrative, America had had its democratic revolution, unlike Britain; but its revolution had ended, unlike France. In Europe, organizations like the Jacobin clubs were perhaps needed to destroy the vestiges of monarchy, but destruction was the only purpose they served. In a settled state with a fixed constitution, political clubs inevitably led to popular violence. Federalists thus insisted that the major questions of American politics had been settled. This depiction of America’s unique situation enabled them to acknowledge the revolutionary origins of their own nation without having to embrace the Painite vision of the nation as continually in the process of reconstruction. The Sons of Liberty were appropriate in their historical moment, just as the Democratic-Republican Societies were out of place in theirs. This attempt to delegitimate emerging forms of popular politics, however,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


left the Federalists susceptible to the charge that they were Anglophilic counterrevolutionaries. The Federalists’ difficult task in the mid-1790s was to retain the key terms of American political debate—“citizenship,” “representation,” and “public opinion”—yet craft new definitions of these terms capable of supplanting the democrats’ radical interpretations of them.⁵⁶ Thus, the mid- and late 1790s witnessed the emergence of a new, moderate discourse of citizenship that stressed voting as virtually its only legitimate expression. The good citizen, Federalists argued, voted in elections, but then let his chosen representatives take on the complicated business of policy and law making undisturbed. Likewise, Federalist newspaper editors, orators, and pamphleteers began to emphasize the extent to which the formal political process authentically represented all Americans. They claimed that Americans did not need institutions like the Democratic-Republican Societies that were supposedly devoted to making representation more actual or authentic. Finally, they argued that election results accurately registered the verdict of public opinion. With such claims, the Federalists attempted to redefine American politics by reconstructing the wall between the governing few and the governed many that the Atlantic world’s democrats had been so successfully assailing. When they were done, Americans still spoke of themselves as citizens of a representative democracy that drew its support and legitimacy from public opinion, but the more radically democratic conceptions of representation, citizenship, and public opinion that had emerged in the early 1790s had been cast out of mainstream American political discourse and figured as dangerously Jacobinical and foreign ideas. Beginning in the summer of 1794 and continuing for the rest of the decade, the Federalist press eagerly exploited French news about the violent potential of popular political clubs and used it as a means to argue for their abolition. One writer in the Gazette of the United States asked incredulously whether “the Constitution countenances, much less acknowledges, that any set of men . . . shall set themselves up, as umpires between the people and the government the people themselves have established?” Unlike representatives who periodically returned to the general public, the democratic societies were permanent entities that threatened to “act with more energy and effect, and thereby encrease the momentum of their influence.” According to this writer, the “good sense of the people” had until recently acted as a “shield” against the democratic societies, and they were “not yet sufficiently strong to assume the powers of government openly.” The future did not look promising, however, for the Jacobin clubs, which had provided “the model” for the American societies, had changed the


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

French form of government four times in recent years. This demonstrated that these clubs were inconsistent with a “fixed form of government.” While this writer admitted that “clubs may answer excellent purposes in destroying a bad government, . . . they were enemies to a settled state of things. . . . If our government is to be overturned, these societies are the best instruments to effect the work, they can answer no other purpose.”⁵⁷ In his widely disseminated and excerpted American Minerva, Noah Webster consistently rang the changes on this same theme, printing almost daily pieces devoted to the idea that the salvation of the American political system lay in rejecting the French example. In October 1794, for example, he noted gleefully that “the hall of the Jacobins in Paris” had “been found equally inimical to the liberty of the people, as the Bastile.” He suggested that the key to their meeting place “be sent to the celebrated washington” and placed “beside that of the Bastile,” which Washington had received from Lafayette in 1790. Just as Lafayette’s celebrated gesture had symbolically linked the American and French Revolutions at the outset of the decade, Webster used the downfall of the Jacobins in 1794 to argue that Americans should learn from French failures and sever any remaining ties of political sympathy. Where the French Revolution had simply replaced the “despotism of absolute monarchy” with “the despotism of the Jacobin Clubs,” Americans had the opportunity to avoid this fate, as long as they shunned the political clubs that Webster claimed had done so much damage.⁵⁸ Indeed, one of the central themes of Webster’s 1794 newspaper pieces on the French Revolution and the Democratic-Republican Societies was that such movements, built upon the fantasy of public reason, could easily edge into the catastrophe of collective violence. Over the course of the next several years, this initially controversial argument about the inevitable destructiveness of political clubs would become one of the central unquestioned conventions of American political debate. The most trying moment for America’s advocates of radical publicity came in November 1794, when President Washington denounced the DemocraticRepublican Societies in his address to Congress. Washington blamed “certain self-created societies” for the Whiskey Rebellion, describing the clubs as “combinations of men, who, careless of consequences . . . have disseminated . . . suspicions, jealousies, and accusations, of the whole Government.” In previous years, the Congress had simply echoed the president’s words back to him in its formal response, but in the House of Representatives, James Madison, who was chairman of the committee responsible for drafting the House’s reply,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


sought to avoid any mention of “self-created societies.” When Representative Thomas FitzSimons of Pennsylvania protested this omission, he began a debate that was to last almost a week. There was something about these clubs that struck a nerve inside the halls of Congress, and within days the congressional deliberations became the focus of innumerable newspaper and tavern debates throughout the country. FitzSimons captured the problem in his amendment to Madison’s Address to the President. While the congressman held the “self-created societies” responsible for “deceiving and inflaming the ignorant and the weak,” and thereby “stimulat[ing] and urg[ing] the insurrection,” FitzSimons acknowledged that such institutions were “not strictly unlawful, yet not less fatal to good order and true liberty.”⁵⁹ Indeed, throughout the debate, those in favor of censuring the Democratic-Republican Societies frequently expressed the same sentiment— that, as one representative argued, “the question . . . was not whether these societies were illegal or not, but whether they have been mischievous in their consequences.”⁶⁰ The concept of popular sovereignty that underlay the Constitution and the broader political philosophy of the founding era made it impossible for the nation’s leaders to outlaw the new forms of radical publicity that were emerging around them. Their only recourse was to express “the opinion of the House” in order to offer “advice” that could stem the “disorganizing spirit which had gone abroad in the shape of resolutions from these societies.”⁶¹ Even this seemingly mild action struck many in the House as an illegitimate use of the Congress’s power and influence. The societies’ defenders argued that the Congress was “neither authorized by the Constitution, nor paid by the citizens of the United States, for assuming the office of censorship.” The House had no business declaring certain opinions legitimate and others dangerous. “If the Democratic societies spoke nonsense, people would despise them. If they spoke otherwise, the people would esteem them, in defiance of any vote of censure of that House.” William Branch Giles, one of the staunchest defenders of the societies, declared that he was proud to have “come forward to oppose the very first step made in America to curb public opinion.” Drawing on the stories of Muir and Palmer—two of the “martyrs of Scotch despotism” whose trials had been reprinted in several American editions and excerpted in most opposition papers—Giles argued that the American Congress was now similarly trying to curb “the right of thinking, of speaking, of writing, and of printing.” While no congressman explicitly defended the societies as a positive good (indeed, only a handful of them had any formal links to the societies), they defended


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

the political clubs by arguing that the legislature was the servant of the people and thus had no right to censure or even express opinions about their private behavior. As Giles explained it, “If these people acted wrong the law was open to punish them; and if they did not, they would care very little for a vote of that House.”⁶² In their opposition to the clubs, Federalists tried to shift the grounds of the argument, avoiding the question of whether the Congress had the right to state an opinion about the clubs and focusing instead on crafting an argument for why these clubs posed a legitimate threat to the nation’s political system. Fully aware that the newspaper-reading public would be following their debate, Federalist congressmen used the occasion to explain why their fellow citizens should reject the forms of radical publicity that their democratic opponents condoned. Their appeal rested heavily on a newly emerging critical interpretation of the French Revolution that had been most clearly and forcefully articulated by Noah Webster in his 1794 pamphlet The Revolution in France. One Federalist congressman, for example, echoed Webster’s argument about the uniqueness of the American situation: “In France, where a Despotism, impregnable to public opinion, had reigned—where no channel opened a sympathy by Representation with the great body of the nation—[political clubs] were admirably adapted to break down and subvert the old bulwark of habitual authority. But in America the case was widely different.” Political societies may have been useful during the Revolutionary era, this Congressman granted, but under the present constitutional order, “the whole country is full of well-constituted organs of the People’s will,” and “ it would not be easy to organize the nation into a more multifarious shape.”⁶³ The formal structures of the American government, in other words, accurately represented the people’s will, and thus the DemocraticRepublican Societies’ attempts to imagine ways to more accurately and fully gather public opinion were entirely unnecessary. Another Federalist, Fisher Ames, took this point one step further, arguing that the Democratic-Republican Societies’ vision of public reason was philosophically incoherent and little more than a smokescreen for their sinister plans to undermine “the social order and the authority of the laws.” According to Ames, the only way “this great people, so widely extended . . . could form a common will and make that will law” was by temporarily resigning their sovereignty to their chosen representatives. The democrats seemed to imagine their national network of political societies as “a substitute for representation,” and, according to Ames, such visions of a truly self-governing nation were absurd:

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


“Shall the whole people be classed into clubs? Shall every six miles square be formed into a club sovereignty?” In their most utopian moments, people like William Manning and “Democritus” may have answered yes to these questions, but they would not have agreed with Ames’s claim that a nation populated with such institutions of public reason would inevitably succumb to either tyranny or anarchy. Whereas the defenders of political clubs emphasized the inevitable gap between the will of the people and the government that was to temporarily represent it, Ames saw the election of representatives as the primary, if not the only, active political duty of American citizens. The election of representatives “puts [the people] into full possession of the utmost exercise of . . . their rights.” In this vision of American politics, there were only two operating entities—the people (in their individual capacities as voters) and the government. An active politicized public, that nebulous community that the Atlantic world’s democrats had sought to call into more forceful existence, had no place. Even worse, those who sought to strengthen it threatened the survival of the nation: “If the clubs prevail, they will be the Government.”⁶⁴ Although Federalists criticized the new forms of public politics emerging around them, they never argued that political leaders should disregard public opinion. Rather, they claimed that the Democratic-Republican Societies articulated a degraded and partial version of it. Critics of the clubs went to great lengths to demonstrate that these societies met in secret, under the cover of darkness, and thus appeared to be secretly plotting against the government. The Federalists granted that the people could legitimately gather to express their opinions on political matters, and that legislators should pay heed to public opinion, but they insisted that the permanent organizations that had formed in the past few years to collect and articulate that opinion did so in an inappropriate manner. According to the Federalist theory of public opinion, sporadically called town meetings and spontaneous gatherings to write and sign petitions were the only legitimate expressions of public opinion. Anything more routinized and permanent, however, threatened to usurp the deliberative role assigned to properly elected officials. As the historian Todd Estes has shown, the Federalists had no qualms about appealing to public opinion during the controversy over the Jay Treaty in 1795, but their notion of what public opinion was and how it worked differed dramatically from that of the democrats. Federalists claimed that it was “improper and dangerous for the public to organize or demonstrate” only when they spoke “against duly chosen government leaders or the policies they enacted.” One pro-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

Treaty newspaper, for example, had urged its citizen-readers “to exercise a right we undoubtedly have of instructing our Representatives in Congress”—but only if they would do so in support of the government’s actions. In opposition to those democrats who argued that citizens should be constantly expressing their opinions in public forums, Federalists insisted that only in “extraordinary” circumstances was it “proper and necessary for [citizens] to speak.”⁶⁵ This notion of public opinion explains why Federalists did not see it as contradictory that they organized public meetings and petition drives to gather public support for the treaty, while at the same time criticizing their democratic opponents for taking the same actions on the other side of the issue. Just as they sought to counter the most radical implications of concepts like “representation” and “public opinion” by retaining the terms yet redefining them, the Federalists followed the same strategy in regard to “citizenship.” In the tumultuous summer of 1794, a Federalist discourse of citizenship began to emerge that emphasized that citizens resigned their sovereignty (or their rights to political efficacy) at elections. When David Ramsay wrote his 1789 pamphlet on the difference between American citizenship and British subjecthood, he did not mention any restrictions upon the power of sovereign citizens. Five years later, Ramsay revisited the theme of subjecthood and citizenship in a July 4th oration, only this time he had a different purpose in mind. In the heated political climate of 1794, Ramsay the Federalist did not leave the political role of citizens so open for interpretation. According to Ramsay, the proper role of the citizen was to participate in constitutional conventions, vote in elections, and be elected to office. Having thus enumerated the parameters of the proper exercise of citizenship, Ramsay went on to laud the American system of representation, which “collects and transmits the real sentiments of the represented.”⁶⁶ Missing from Ramsay’s 1794 pamphlet was any account of what citizens did between elections. The open-endedness of his definition of citizenship in 1789 had been replaced by an unequivocal assertion that elections were sufficient means to procure a real representation of the peoples’ will. The absence of any mediating institutions between the people and their elected representatives in Ramsay’s theory of citizenship is particularly glaring, since 1794 was the year that the Democratic-Republican Societies were at the height of their influence and power. It is important to note that Ramsay’s attempt to contain the possible meanings of citizenship did not emerge out of an elitist disdain for the people either. Like Painite democrats, he called for the government to “multiply and facilitate the means of instruction” for the poor “as well as the rich.” But

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


unlike Paine or Manning, Ramsay did not see this as a means to politicize the poor and better incorporate their voices into the process of law making. Rather, nations that supported “the instruction of youth and the public preaching of the gospel” were less susceptible to “daring demagogues” (probably a reference to the Democratic-Republican Societies) who would attempt to deceive the people into supporting their selfish, political designs.⁶⁷ Contra Manning and Paine, Ramsay saw education not as a means to politicize and empower citizens to participate in shaping laws, but rather as a way to render them virtuous and law-abiding. Both sides self-described as champions of the idea that the people were capable of governing themselves, but their visions of what the actual process of self-government looked like were quite different. In 1795, Federalist orators began articulating a conception of passive citizenship that was even more explicit than Ramsay’s. Hezekiah Packard, for example, told his Chelmsford, Massachusetts, congregation in February 1795 that those citizens who spoke out against the standing administration had no legitimate reasons for doing so. Such people were either frustrated because they had “no share in [the government’s] administration,” disappointed that “the laws happen to be unfavorable to their particular interests,” or “deceived . . . for want of information and want of virtue.” The disputes of the day thus had no legitimate foundation; they were the work of “pernicious . . . combinations of men” who set “themselves up as a check upon government” and thus “disturb[ed] and agitate[d] the public mind.” Like Ramsay, Packard argued that “the proper work of citizens” was “to form their constitution of government and to chuse men to effectuate and enforce its laws.” Thus, a successful polity was composed of “not only good laws and good rulers,” it also required “good subjects,” who did not seek to exercise their power in combination with each other for explicitly political purposes. Packard’s choice of the word “subjects” to describe the American people indicates just how charged the word “citizen” still was in 1795.⁶⁸ Democrats countered such arguments for a more passive citizenry, grounding their claims in interpretations of both American political principles and the counterrevolutionary course of European events. According to a writer in the New-York Journal, at the moment of ratification the Constitution “was universally understood” to be “a system the merits or demerits of which, would be found in experiment—That, it would at all times be in the power of the people to alter and modify such parts of it as might in practice operate inimically to their liberties and welfare. And also, that they retained the right of instructing their representatives to abrogate such systems and establishments as should, from their


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

mischievous tendency, become obnoxious to them.” In other words, while particular groups of men might be appointed to temporarily administer the government on the basis of their interpretation of the Constitution, no one in 1789 thought a standing administration should have the right to discourage ordinary citizens from publicly debating the meaning and merits of particular policies or constitutional provisions. In a thinly veiled reference to Pitt’s persecution of British and Irish democrats, the author of the article hoped that “this early introduction of transatlantic governmental policy” in America might invite “a candid discussion” of the policies adopted by the Washington administration. This democrat ended his defense of the non-elected public’s political role by insisting that the true spirit of the Constitution could only be “supported and realised” if the government ceased its harassment of those who exercised their “right of examining into the nature and influence of certain systems and establishments practiced upon under this constitution.” Indeed, the writer asked, “If the citizens of the United States, are inhibited from the right of enquiry—how are they ever to direct a reform in their government?”⁶⁹ Such previously uncontroversial visions of ordinary citizens collectively exercising their “right of enquiry” in order to “direct a reform in their government” increasingly became an object of ridicule in the Federalist press and pamphlet literature. The circulation of such explicitly anti-democratic print contributed greatly to the changing tone of American public political discourse in the years following the Terror and the Whiskey Rebellion. Beginning in 1795, and continuing until his departure from America in 1799, William Cobbett, the most influential and controversial of these anti-democrats, produced over a dozen satirical pamphlets, targeted at particular people and events, for popular consumption. Along with them Cobbett also issued a monthly “Review of the Most Interesting Political Occurrences,” which offered readers a mixture of ad hominem attacks and detailed political analysis aimed at undermining the Democratic-Republican Societies and their supporters. All of these productions framed the societies as mere Trojan horses, as a cynical means of getting ambitious and disgruntled “Jacobins” into office. Cobbett’s voluminous and incessant attacks in his pamphlets, monthly reviews, and newspaper had a powerful effect on American political discourse, forcing democrats to rebut charge after charge in order to salvage their political reputations. More than anyone else, Cobbett cemented the discursive link between radical publicity and Jacobinism that would persist into the nineteenth century.⁷⁰ Several more-literary texts appeared in American bookshops in 1795 as well,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


making many of Cobbett’s same points, only in a more polite, quasi-Augustan manner. J. S. J. Gardiner’s Jacobiniad, for example, lampooned the efforts of the Boston Democratic Society, describing its debates as ludicrous exercises in rhetorical posturing and mutual misunderstanding. Gardiner unfavorably contrasted the democrats’ futile efforts to form substantive opinions on complicated political matters with the sober and judicious behavior of the men who comprised Washington’s administration. According to Gardiner, popular politics was undesirable because it encouraged ordinary people to act in a manner not suited to their station in life. Thus, after pointing out that “the former president of [Boston’s] jacobin club was a cobbler,” Gardiner went on to note that “however well qualified such a person may be, for mending shoes, we cannot think him equally well qualified for mending laws.” While a “cobbler may doubtless be an honest man and useful citizen,” the “prudent” working man “will leave the task of legislation and reformation, to more skillful workmen.”⁷¹ Similar assertions appeared across American print culture in 1795—most notably in the newly founded Farmers’ Weekly Museum, edited by Gardiner’s correspondent and friend Joseph Dennie, and in Joseph Rivington’s edition of Henry James Pye’s anti-Jacobin novel, The Democrat; or Intrigues and Adventures of Jean Le Noir.⁷² Such texts offered their American readers extended meditations on the proposition that ordinary citizens should give up their pretensions to political influence and instead content themselves with their private pursuits of happiness, under the protection of their wise Constitution and its virtuous guardians. Where in 1794 the case against the Democratic-Republican Societies had largely been made by linking them with the potential for physical violence as exhibited in the Whiskey Rebellion, the new genre in which Dennie, Cobbett, and Gardiner wrote sought to evoke a dismissive and complicit laugh as much as fear. Their texts redescribed the tentative efforts of ordinary citizens to educate themselves and participate in political discussions as pathetic rather than inspirational. While such humorous accounts of misguided and overaspiring farmers and artisans had been a common element of Anglo-American literary culture since the early eighteenth century, they had been notably absent from the newspapers and pamphlet literature of the early 1790s. Many Americans who may have shared John Adams’s trepidation about the course of democracy in Europe nonetheless recognized that mocking popular politics in an America so taken with the possibilities of the age of democratic revolution would simply not repay the effort. By 1795, however, the political context had changed so as to make Federalists like Gardiner and Cobbett more confident that an American

Figure 6. Political cartoon. From Gardiner, Remarks on the Jacobiniad, plate facing page 31. According to their Federalist critics, the popular political clubs of the 1790s were laughably cacophonous spaces in which uneducated men tried unsuccessfully to emulate the rational conversational habits of their social betters. This caricature was just one of several that appeared in a 1795 pamphlet parodying the Democratic Republican Societies of the day. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


audience had emerged that would receive their anti-democratic tracts favorably. Indeed, stories of the French Terror, fears of slave rebellions like the one that had occurred in Haiti, and concerns about armed insurrection in the backcountry made the image of the cobbler, content to work in his shop and leave politics up to his social betters, quite attractive to many Americans. In many ways, the barrage of anti-democratic print in 1795 was the beginning of what would become an American conservative tradition of framing calls for participatory democracy as dangerous and unnatural “innovation,” rather than as one logical implication of the nation’s founding principles. If the year 1795 brought an initial trickle of pamphlets and newspaper essays, like Gardiner’s, that were critical of radical publicity, this stream turned into a flood during the war scare of 1798–99, as Federalist orators and printers churned out increasingly hysterical accounts of the supposedly tyrannical designs of the nation’s democrats. Convinced that the French were poised to invade, Federalists framed all opposition to the nation’s chosen leaders as treason. Orator after orator insisted that obedience, rather than critical engagement, was the primary duty that all citizens owed their government. Not surprisingly, in virtually all of these performances, the Democratic-Republican Societies played the role of the critical foil, the model of citizenship that Americans should avoid if they wanted their nation to survive. Thus, Hezekiah Packard both lauded the unique virtues and extreme piety of the nation’s current leaders, and reminded his auditors that “citizens have a place and a sphere in which to act as well as their rulers.” He lamented “the conduct of those men who wontonly undertake to decide upon the constitutionality of laws and treaties,” when the Constitution itself had provided an appropriate “tribunal for such trial and decision.”⁷³ In Wrentham, Massachusetts, Nathanael Emmons echoed this sentiment, insisting that “the People have nothing to do, in the affairs of government, but merely to chose [their leaders.]” Indeed, Emmons argued that the more active a nation’s citizens were, the more unstable that nation would be: “Just so far as any civil constitution allows the people to assist or control their Rulers; just so far it is weak, deficient, and contains the seeds of its own dissolution.”⁷⁴ At Harvard College, John Thornton Kirkland made a similar claim, distinguishing “between the right to protection and the right to govern the state,” explaining that “the share which each member shall have in the management of public affairs, is a matter of convention and expediency, and not an original universal right of man.”⁷⁵ Because their auditors feared that American democrats would join the French in overthrowing the Adams administration, Federalists were


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

able to make increasingly explicit arguments about passive citizenship and the unavoidably exclusionary nature of American politics, yet without appearing to advocate a return to an aristocratic system. As they called on their fellow citizens to protect the American republic, they also sought to legitimate a more nonparticipatory and exclusive vision of that republic’s political system. The least subtle argument against radical publicity that appeared in 1798–99 framed it as an American outcropping of the Bavarian Illuminati’s international conspiracy against all government and religion. As we saw in chapter 3, John Robison and the Abbé Barruel’s reactionary accounts of Europe’s secret clubs of radicals were imported to America in late 1797 and early 1798 and appeared in American editions almost immediately. American Federalists embraced these texts, one Scottish and the other French, as useful tools for understanding the American political societies. Robison and Barruel’s lengthy descriptions of the Jacobin International suggested that plebeian political organizations should not simply be mocked, as Gardiner had done, for these European works seemed to prove that these clubs were part of a well-knit conspiracy with a clear goal. Federalists saw in the Democratic-Republican Societies what Barruel saw in the Illuminati: “[Every tyrannical manifestation of the French Revolution] was foreseen and resolved on. . . . They were the offspring of deep-thought villainy, since they had been . . . produced by men, who alone held the clue of those plots and conspiracies, lurking in the secret meetings, where they had been conceived, and only watching for the favorable moment of bursting forth.”⁷⁶ Barruel’s work enabled American Federalists to frame political clubs not as forums where ordinary citizens rationally discussed political and philosophical matters, but as breeding grounds for treason. Federalists like Timothy Dwight eagerly used the European example to explain why Americans should curtail their practices of radical publicity and give unqualified obedience and affection to their chosen rulers. Indeed, the primary lesson that Dwight drew from Barruel’s text was that “existing rulers must be the directors of our public affairs, and the only directors.” America’s system of “universal suffrage” rendered passive citizenship even more necessary, because each person possessed so much “personal consequence” and thus posed a greater threat to the stability of the nation than the degraded subject of a monarchy. Thus, Dwight simultaneously overstated the democratic nature of the American nation—many states did not extend suffrage universally in 1798, even to white men—and diminished the role of ordinary citizens, claiming that the American government, more than any other, particularly depended upon “the

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


harmonious and cheerful co-operation of the citizens” and “the hearty concurrence of the community.” His work neatly encapsulated two of the main threads of the case against radical publicity: America was already a thoroughly democratic country in no need of further reformation by political clubs; and what made the American political system work was the voluntary refusal on the part of ordinary citizens to publicly criticize their leaders and meddle in formal politics.⁷⁷ Just as Federalists redescribed conceptions of active citizenship as subversive rather than patriotic, they also argued that unregulated public opinion often functioned as a dangerous infection polluting American politics. In this way, they countered the democrats’ claim that public opinion served as a uniting force that could render the nation’s politics more inclusive and more authentically representative. Fears of international conspiracy lent much credence to the Federalists’ negative evaluation of public opinion. The threat of foreign invasion made opposition newspaper editors and political organizers appear as more than just selfish demagogues; they could now plausibly be seen as foreign agents out to deceive the people and destroy their government. These new fears about the infectious danger of public opinion legitimated the Sedition Act’s efforts to outlaw criticisms of the nation’s leaders. As Hezekiah Packard put it, those who disseminated opinions critical of the actions of the legislature and “our beloved President” were extremely “poisonous to our American soil.” Where democrats saw public opinion as the fluid that would sustain the legitimacy of the government and allow ordinary citizens to play a political role, Packard drew on the work of Barruel to demonstrate how “evil communications corrupt good governments.”⁷⁸ According to Alexander Addison, a leading proponent of the Sedition Act, the nation’s central problem in 1798 was that “clubs, societies, and the press” had been taken over by selfish, unvirtuous men. Analogizing the recent yellow fever epidemic, which was fresh in his readers’ minds, Addison re-described “dissemination” (one of the democrats’ most cherished strategies) as “contamination”: “Every one who reads their productions with approbation, sucks in disease upon his mind; and every one who repeats them to others, spreads the infection.” His pithy, two-word footnote—“Sinners repent”—made it clear how his fellow Americans should regard the reams of oppositional print that democrats had produced in the preceding years. Advocates of radical publicity had rhapsodized about the messy process through which information and opinion flowed through the press and the minds of the people, seeing in this imperceptible


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

yet powerful process the fluid that would bind the nation together and create a more responsive and just government. Addison and his fellow Federalists, on the other hand, sought to control and regulate the flow of information through government action, for the conduits that carried invigorating information could also bring poisonous deceptions. With the news of diabolical French agents at work in the new nation, such frightening accounts of the danger that radical print posed to the nation appeared quite rational to many of Addison’s readers.⁷⁹ The crisis of 1798 generated a final genre of text that functioned as a critique of radical publicity: the morality tale that sought to shame citizens into relinquishing their political aspirations. The year 1798 witnessed the publication of Hannah More’s anti-Painite chapbook series, the Cheap Repository Tracts,⁸⁰ as well as Look before ye Loup; or, A Healin’ sa’ for the Crackit Crowns of Country Politicians, by Tam Thrum, an Auld Weaver. This latter text had first appeared in Edinburgh in 1793, in an effort to combat the political clubs that had formed there, and in the political climate of 1798 printer Richard Dobson found it appropriate to offer it to an American audience. Whereas Gardiner and Cobbett had simply mocked the actions of plebeian democrats, this text foregrounded characters who offered a more attractive alternative. The narrator, Tam Thrum, for example, attends a meeting of the local political club, only to find himself utterly unpersuaded by their efforts to turn ordinary people into political activists: “To be plain wi’ ye, lads, you have ta’en us aw frae our ploughs, our shuttles, an’ our needles, to mak’ constitutions, an’ mend governments; you’ve deprived us of our innocence, our happiness an’ contentment.” In his thick Scottish burr, Tam calls for his fellow laborers to “renounce Tam Paine, and a’ his seditious crew, an’ tell common fo’k to gae hame, be dilligent, an’ industrious, an’ thank their Maker for the blessin’s they enjoy beyond ony people i’ the warld.” Throughout the pamphlet, wise commoners chastise their compatriots for abandoning their duties to their wives and children in pursuit of something that is beyond their ken. Harry Heeltap’s “rusty-cat” wife Jenny, for example, intrudes into one of his political meetings, asking him to come home and make money to help support his starving family: “Leave your speeches an’ your nonsense about the rights o man to them that can afford to fool awa their time in sic a way. Come awa home, an’ mind your family.” In the same vein, Tam Thrum tells his readers the tragic story of Davie Deal, the Wright, who had a beautiful wife and children and lived in a clean house with plenty of work. Then he started going to clubs and reading Tom Paine, however. “Now, if I gang to

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


Davie wi’ ony little job, O, ’tis club night, Davie has the affairs o’ the nation to settle.” Meanwhile, Davie’s wife sits at home crying while his children go hungry.⁸¹ The moral of this tale was unmistakable: political deliberation should be left up to those with the wisdom and wealth to undertake it responsibly. Texts like this one and the Cheap Repository Tracts framed domestic bliss as the more virtuous alternative to radical publicity. Where earlier criticisms of the political activity of ordinary citizens had focused solely on the foolishness or dangerousness of such activities, tracts like Tam Thrum argued that that plebeian political activity distracted men from their duties as fathers and husbands, as providers for those who were dependent upon them. Such portrayals offered ordinary citizens an important role to play in preserving social harmony and national prosperity—only that role was a profoundly non-political one. The collective life envisioned in these texts involved the family and the church. When men strayed into other venues—the tavern, the coffee house, or the political club—they risked being pulled into a world where they could become the tools of powerful demagogues, and where their productive energies would be channeled in irresponsible, socially disintegrative directions. It is in these anti-Jacobin juxtapositions of politics and virtuous domesticity that we can find some of the origins of a relatively new vision of the model American citizen that emerged in the early nineteenth century: the modest farmer or artisan who minded his own business (literally and figuratively), enjoyed domestic tranquility, and picked the proper leaders to govern him. This image meshed perfectly with a discursive shift that occurred throughout the Atlantic world as the age of revolutions faded into memory: to whit, the rebifurcation of the world into an active “political nation” and a passive “nation.” With the heightened talk of popular sovereignty inspired by the French Revolution in the early 1790s, this distinction (that had been so important to Edmund Burke and had provided one of the major themes of his Reflections) came under severe attack. The events of 1798 gave new life to this beleaguered distinction, which was then reasserted and naturalized in the figure of the virtuous locallyminded yeoman, a figure to which both Jeffersonians and New England Federalists appealed, although to different ends. The hyperbole and hysteria that marked the Federalist backlash against radical publicity becomes more understandable when we appreciate both how essential and how difficult it was for the Federalists in the late 1790s to craft an intellectually satisfying distinction between dangerously active and virtuously passive forms of citizenship. Having recourse to few widely accepted argu-


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

ments against utopian visions of a perpetually participatory citizenship, Federalists repeatedly returned to salacious stories about bloodthirsty and immoral Jacobins in order to take what was once an inspirational vision of the people reconstituting their political institutions so as to, more literally, govern themselves, and turning it into a nightmare scenario which would result, instead, in the destruction of all “natural” forms of social order. The Harvard orator John Thornton Kirkland, for example, suggested that ideas like “liberty and equality,” or universal manhood suffrage, “contributed . . . to pull down the fabric of social order” because they disregarded “the gradations and distinctions of nature and society . . . placing the young on a level with the old, the child with the parent, and the pupil with the instructor, annul[ing] the claim of age to respect, and of authority to submission.” Preserving a place for these “natural” ties of hierarchy and submission in the American political language of the late 1790s, however, still required some rhetorical manipulation. Indeed, Kirkland admitted that every citizen equally possessed certain rights, such as “the right to life and personal security, the right to acquire, hold, and transmit property, the right to liberty of action, the right to reputation, the right to liberty of opinion, of speech, and of religious profession and worship.” His task was to explain why this list did not contain the equal right to participate actively in political matters. To make this claim, Kirkland shifted the tone of his discussion, turning to a playful discussion of “the new theory of the Rights of Women,” intended to draw complicit laughs from the Harvard men who made up his audience. Kirkland insisted that although the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft had made the exclusion of women from the political process seem “selfish, illiberal, and tyrannical,” the American women he knew were happy to play their allotted role as the governors of “society,” thus leaving the “drudgery and vexation” of politics to the men. So while “modern philosophers” may have spoken about liberty and equality in expansive and radical ways, Kirkland assured his audience that the objects of liberation were quite content to let the traditional rulers of society continue to govern the political world unmolested.⁸² Kirkland’s speech partook of a powerful configuration in American political discourse that had existed since the Revolution but that had been reconfigured and newly crystallized into an easily referenced, conservative orthodoxy in the late 1790s—that is, the distinction between two theoretically discrete realms, denoted “politics” and “society,” that roughly corresponded with the distinction between the “political nation” and the “nation.” Whereas the world of “politics”

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


was composed of only those theoretically equal (i.e., white, male, and in most states, propertied) citizens who had a right to participate actively in the deliberative process, “society” included everyone; yet the terrain of the “social,” unlike that of the “political,” was decidedly uneven. Indeed, as used by the Federalists of the 1790s and their nineteenth-century heirs, the category of the “social” became the repository of the supposedly natural hierarchies of race, class, and gender that were so frequently glossed over by the seemingly universalistic and inclusive language of late-eighteenth-century politics. This radical separation of the “social” from the “political” differed dramatically from how American Revolutionaries had used the terms in the 1770s. In one of the most familiar lines from Common Sense, Thomas Paine had denoted “society” as a “blessing,” and “government” as a “necessary evil.” This veneration of “society” over “politics” may at first seem comparable to Kirkland’s and other Federalists’ use of those concepts, but one crucial difference remains. Whereas Paine evoked “society” as a means to inspire citizens to engage in political action against an unjust government—to, in essence, reclaim their natural right to govern themselves— the Federalists in 1798 used the concept to encourage citizens to avert their eyes from political matters. Indeed, by the late 1790s, more and more Americans regarded the realm of society not as the seedbed of politics, but rather as a refuge from it. Perhaps because the political valence of the term “society” was in the midst of this transformation in the mid-1790s, Painite democrats in that decade rarely used the concept of the “social,” tending instead to interpret most social relations (and especially those between white men) as “political” and hence subject to renegotiation. For such thinkers, the public sphere provided the arena in which these negotiations over just and unjust authority should be contested. Wanting to squelch what they perceived to be Paine’s calls for endless conversations about the implications of republican political ideology for household, neighborhood, and workplace relations, Federalists like Kirkland chose to view “society” as a fairly static realm of life set apart from the political changes of the late eighteenth century. Encompassing religious institutions, education, the market, manners, and morals, this vision of society appealed to such thinkers because it provided them with a compelling way to frame existing inequality as a function of supposedly natural social differences. These differences theoretically preceded political arrangements, and were thus not subject to change through collective human action or rational investigation. Used this way, the notion of “society” gave ordinary citizens, men and women, an important though indirect part to play in sustaining political tranquility, for their actions as fathers,


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

mothers, and economic producers indirectly benefited the nation by generating virtuous and law-abiding citizens.⁸³ If citizens agreed to think of themselves as social actors rather than political actors, this would also serve the purpose of muting the rancorous partisan divisions of the late 1790s. Kirkland’s was just one of many anti-Painite tracts that used this strategy of dividing the “social” from the “political” as a means to justify a highly passive and exclusive conception of American citizenship. While such people often used humorous discussions of women’s rights or of bumbling apprentices to blunt the force of their explicitly exclusionary arguments, behind their jovial tone lay a degree of legitimate anxiety about their ability to control the course of popular politics in the midst of worldwide revolution.

Conclusion: Parties and the Public The French Revolution forced Americans in the 1790s to confront some of the key instabilities in the political language that they inherited from the radical Enlightenment. While democrats articulated a conception of radical publicity that explored some of the most inclusive and participatory implications of these ideas, their opponents cobbled together alternative answers to the same questions. What was the daily role of citizens when not everyone could be a legislator? Could ordinary citizens be incorporated into the political process without collapsing the distinction between the people and the government? Beginning in 1794, and accelerating rapidly during the war scare of 1798–99, Federalists offered their fellow Americans a different solution to these problems of inclusion and representation. The notion of society enabled Federalists to argue that the private actions of individuals in the market, the home, and in church had a crucial, if delayed impact upon the political process. The ideal American citizen produced economically so as to make the nation more prosperous; and the ideal citizen reproduced the virtue of the nation’s inhabitants through his (and now her) activities in the private world of the home and the church. In such a model, political action took on a secondary role as politics itself was defined as the proper preserve of duly chosen leaders. While this move away from utopian visions of radical publicity throughout the Atlantic world was in hindsight a predictable by-product of the failure of the French Revolution, the Americans of the late 1790s did not experience this political transformation as an inevitable process. Indeed, both “Democritus” and William Manning had formulated their ideas at least a year after news of

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


the Terror had reached America, and even into the early nineteenth century, few Americans believed that the battle was over. Federalists continued to demean working-class activism and plebeian forms of political and religious organization as Jacobinical threats to the American nation. At the same time, working-class radicals and deists continued to form debating clubs, publish their own newspapers, and sponsor public lecture series. Over time, however, talk of American Jacobins came to appear increasingly hysterical and ungrounded. Soon after Jefferson’s election it became clear that fears about his Jacobinical tendencies were unfounded, as he distanced himself from the most radically democratic elements in his electoral coalition.⁸⁴ Meanwhile, the Painite radicals who had once seemingly posed such a great threat to national stability were pushed further and further outside the mainstream of American political discourse. Mainstream democrats continued to imagine more active and inclusive conceptions of politics, yet these visions departed significantly and intentionally from the heights of democratic aspiration articulated in the early and mid-1790s by the Democratic-Republican Societies and their compatriots in Europe. Indeed, whereas democrats like “Democritus” and William Manning had imagined the dispersed institutions of radical publicity as the mediating force between the people and the government, the majority of rank-and-file Jeffersonian Democrats embraced a much more concrete and pragmatic mediating mechanism—the political party. The creation of an increasingly coherent Democratic Party apparatus in the years preceding the election of 1800 drew unprecedented numbers of ordinary citizens into the political process, especially newly arrived Irish immigrants. While the party made politics more inclusive, it tended to constrict the meaning of citizenship. The primary goal of the party was to win elections; thus, it framed voting as the ultimate expression of citizenship. Partisan competition gave political leaders an incentive to extend the franchise, and it gave citizens the ability to choose between candidates in an increasing number of contested elections. But by defining popular politics as electoral politics, parties rendered illegitimate a wide range of other definitions of citizenship that had emerged in the 1790s. Talk of institutional transformations to ensure greater citizen participation in the day-to-day process of governing ended, as citizens were encouraged to look to election day as the primary moment when they had an active role to play in the nation’s politics. Partisan competition had a similar effect on the role of public opinion, both expanding its importance and constricting its meaning. As political parties competed for voters through an increasing number of newspaper essays and


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

pamphlets, more and more political issues were hashed out before the tribunal of public opinion. The two-party system, however, polarized and thus delimited the parameters of public debate. As newspapers became mouthpieces for one party or the other, party leaders gained more power to define what issues would be discussed by the public and what the range of the politically possible would be. Opinion formation became a process that occurred largely within the confines of the party hierarchy, and this transformation gave tremendous power to a few leaders. This top-down mode of organization differed dramatically from the vision of Manning and “Democritus,” which involved independent political clubs dispersed throughout the nation and linked up only through the mechanism of impartial newspapers. While parties institutionalized and made permanent the possibility of political debate and disagreement without resort to physical violence, they also made the messy process of public-opinion formation seem far neater and easier than it actually was. Finally, the two-party system tended to elide the theoretical difference between electing representatives and participating in a democratic political process. Parties constructed partisan subjects who articulated their political aspirations not in abstract terms, but in terms of their allegiance to a set of leaders. While voters may not have agreed with every element of a party’s platform, the party system forced them to choose the best of two options. Parties thus tamed the chaos of contending interests and opinions by channeling them into a bipolar competition with clear winners and losers. Although many voters would remain disgruntled with the policies adopted by the nation’s rulers, the results of elections came to be seen as the only authentic and legitimate expressions of the people’s will. If one had voted, one was represented. While this configuration legitimated calls for expanded suffrage throughout the nineteenth century, it also delegitimated future American democrats’ efforts to articulate alternative means of representing the will of the people. The party system of the early republic was America’s unique response to the perils and promises implicit in the radical theories of popular sovereignty that circulated in the Atlantic world’s age of democratic revolutions. The politics of America’s nineteenth century retained the eighteenth-century language of public opinion, citizenship, and representation, but the more radical implications of those terms largely vanished from public discourse. Thus, the emergence of Jeffersonian and Jacksonian democracy was not a linear progression into an increasingly democratic future. Indeed, the American definition of a democratic system—one in which parties, organized in a top-down fashion,

“ t h e g e n e r a l w i l l i s a lway s g o o d ”


competed for votes among a slowly expanding electorate—was to a great extent a successful retreat from the most inclusive and participatory visions articulated by the democrats of the 1790s. This step back from the most radical implications of late-Enlightenment Painite political thought quite possibly saved the nation from a French-style dissolution. We can not fully comprehend the version of democracy that survived the 1790s, however, without appreciating the democratic visions that Americans explicitly rejected in that decade.

This page intentionally left blank

Epilogue Reports are circulated that Thomas Paine intends to visit New England. The name is enough. Every person has ideas of him. . . . He never appears but we love and hate him. He is as great a paradox as ever appeared in human nature. —Diary of William Bentley, 23 August 1803


N 1802 Thomas Paine returned to an America governed by a party that proudly embraced the name of “Democrat.” Paine expected a hero’s welcome upon his return. But as he was denied service in one Baltimore tavern after another, received in a curt and formal manner at the White House by his former ally Thomas Jefferson, and publicly humiliated in town after town as he traveled up the eastern seaboard, Paine slowly came to realize that he and his American admirers were perceived as an embarrassment by party leaders. Indeed, from the day Jefferson took office, the nation’s most powerful Democrats began aggressively distancing themselves from the most radically democratic elements within their own coalition. Rather than immediately purging the federal government and the judiciary of the Federalists who had forcefully resisted Jefferson’s candidacy, party leaders sought to soothe the partisan passions that had emerged during the previous four years. They did so by joining with their former Federalist enemies in the campaign against “Jacobinism,” the radical émigrés who supposedly espoused it, and the American democrats who sympathized with their cause. Indeed, Jefferson’s pronouncement in his inaugural address that “We are all republicans, we are all federalists,” had left unspoken a third proposition that would soon become obvious to American Painites. While the new American leaders were now all republicans and federalists, they were adamantly not Jacobins. The leading Jeffersonians’ desire to distance themselves from the supposed Jacobins in their ranks was clear from the first day of Jefferson’s administration. On Inauguration Day, 6 March 1801, Philadelphia’s democrats celebrated with 211


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

a grand procession through the city and an evening of festivities. Not surprisingly, the city’s Federalist newspapers described the day’s events with derision: “A strange concourse of men and boys of various colours, and different nations, were seen passing through certain streets in this city. . . . Some of this throng carried guns, others sticks, and others nothing—On enquiry, we find that their object was to honour the president—yea to honor him!!!” Such dismissive accounts of the democratic rabble were predictable from a Federalist editor like John Fenno, but Fenno also noted that many of the Democratic leaders seemed to share his distaste for the motley group of celebrants. Indeed, after the grand procession, the most prominent and wealthy Jeffersonian leaders had adjourned to the elegant Union Hotel for what the Gazette of the United States described as an evening of “innocent hilarity,” where they “drank to toasts dictated by benevolence and a spirit of conciliation.”¹ While the conduct of this respectable group did “much honor to the gentlemen present,” the “Jacobins” formed their own gatherings, where they issued toasts which “breathed nought but the foul breath of sedition and insurrection.” Editor John Fenno noted that these Jacobins sang “Ça Ira, The Rights of Man, Marseilles hymn, etc.,” and proposed toasts that “might be relished by any United Irishmen, French Jacobins, and fugitive members of the English Corresponding Society,” but were hardly the type that “might be drunk by Americans.”² Fenno the Federalist accurately perceived the extent to which the fragile Jeffersonian coalition was already beginning to fracture along lines of class, ethnicity, and political ideology. As the respectable Democrats drank Madeira and toasted George Washington at the Union Hotel, hundreds of Irish émigrés and other laboring democrats gathered on the banks of the Schuykill to drink whiskey and sing French Revolutionary songs. From the outset of Jefferson’s administration, nationally oriented Democrats like Albert Gallatin and Alexander James Dallas joined forces with leading Federalists to downplay the divisions between the parties. They did this by emphasizing the differences between the nation’s new Democratic leaders and the “Jacobinical” rabble who had once been a crucial part of their coalition. On the Democratic side, leaders like Jefferson systematically distanced themselves from the radical newspaper editors who had most forcefully trumpeted his praises during the campaign of 1800. Editors like William Duane in Philadelphia, Charles Holt in New London, Phineas Allen in Pittsfield, and Aaron Pennington in Newark were all passed over for government printing contracts in favor of more moderate, even Federalist, printers. While Democratic leaders indicated their desires for reconciliation through their distribution of patronage,



the Federalist press offered the olive branch by legitimating the distinction that respectable Democrats sought to establish between themselves and the dangerous Jacobins to their political left. Four days after Jefferson’s conciliatory inauguration speech appeared in the Gazette of the United States, a regular correspondent to the paper commented favorably upon it—quite a gesture for a paper that had not uttered a positive word about Jefferson for years. The Gazette’s correspondent noted that Jefferson’s election coalition had been comprised of two very different “classes of men . . . Democrats and Jacobins.” While Democrats were “all the well informed, well disposed citizens” who opposed the Federalists for legitimate reasons, the Jacobins were “the rubbish of our community, consisting chiefly of United Irish fugitives, anglo-democratic outlaws, and . . . the refuse of our native vulgar.”³ Moderate Jeffersonians like Gallatin and Dallas could not have been more pleased. The Federalists, who still held a significant number of state and appointed offices and controlled a large proportion of the nation’s wealth, agreed to ratify the moderate Democrats’ claim that they differed from the radical democrats who had supported them in the election. To a great extent, the crusade to save the country from Jacobinism functioned as the rhetorical glue that prevented the two parties from viciously turning on each other after the election. After the election of 1800, the category of “Jacobinism” quickly became the repository for a range of political ideas that had once comfortably existed under the banner of “democracy.” Cosmopolitan conceptions of citizenship, visions of a government which would take actions to ensure a rough measure of economic equality, and plans to create a more inclusive, participatory, and politically efficacious public sphere became increasingly marginal in American public political discourse, and were figured as foreign principles, manifestations of an un-American ideology that could prove the undoing of the nation. Prone to seeing American political thought in precisely this manner, as uniquely anti-theoretical and non-ideological, American historians have tended to replicate this post-1800 account of the internationalist democratic radicalism of the 1790s. These Painite ideas about economics and politics, however, did not become Jacobinical and un-American until the leaders of the Jeffersonians and Federalists sought a rapprochement and found common ground in their banishment of 1790s radicals from the mainstream of American political life. To frame their election as the realization of the democratic strivings of the previous years, Jeffersonians had to position their critics on the left as part of an alien political tradition. And no term better encapsulated dangerous outsiderness in the early


t o m pa i n e’s a m e r i c a

1800s than “Jacobin.” Perhaps this explains why that term continued to carry significant rhetorical weight for years after Jefferson won the presidency, and why moderate and conservative Jeffersonians used it almost as frequently as the Federalists they had defeated. So while the election of 1800 made “democracy” a word that respectable leaders could use without apology, this transformation came at a cost. Together, leading Jeffersonians and Federalists sheared the word “democracy” of its previously revolutionary, deistical, and even levelling implications. Such ideas were transformed into perversions of democracy; they became “Jacobinical.” Those people who had identified themselves as Painite friends to the Rights of Man in the 1790s responded in a variety of ways to the new political climate of the 1800s. Some of the more prosperous, pious, or respectable democrats— men like Matthew Carey, Thomas Cooper, Joseph Gales, George Logan, Tench Coxe, and many others—recanted their earlier radicalism and joined in the fight against Jacobinism. Not surprisingly, many of these men later became Whigs in the 1830s. Other 1790s radicals—mostly more-obscure men such as William Duane, Joseph Fellows, and David Dennison—tried to keep the spirit of Paine alive, but with little large-scale success. In the final years of his life, Thomas Paine could still find a few groups of people who admired him and would eagerly gather to discuss politics with him.⁴ After his humiliating return to Baltimore, Paine was feted in New York by a small group of committed radicals at John Lovett’s modest hotel.⁵ It was no coincidence that Lovett had been a member of the London Corresponding Society in the 1790s. In 1808, when Daniel and William Constable, two English Painites, decided to take a tour of America, they tracked down Paine in New York and were delighted to find him in good health and eager to walk around the city discussing religion and politics with them. Their journal notes a small network of associates which Paine maintained there, a network which included men like William Carver, the blacksmith, and a “Mr. Segar,” the proprietor of the Globe Tavern, who “seemed a true Painite” to the Constable brothers.⁶ Although Paine still had a few friends and supporters in America, his last years were spent in poverty and general obscurity. When he died, only a handful of people showed up for his funeral, and few Americans mourned the passing of a Revolutionary hero who had strayed off the proper course toward atheism and Jacobinism. It would remain for another generation of laborers and political activists to resuscitate Paine’s reputation and reinvigorate the popular, democratic political tradition that he did so much to inaugurate and inspire.



Abbreviations American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia Mathew Carey Correspondence, Lea & Febiger Records, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Mathew Carey Letter Books, Lea & Febiger Records, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Public Records Office, London

Introduction 1. James Perhouse to John Perhouse, undated, James Perhouse Papers, APS. 2. See, e.g., Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism; Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution; and Miller, The Federalist Era. 3. For accounts of the American response to Paine’s return, see Keane, Tom Paine, 455–63; and Hawke, Paine, 353–56, 365–71. 4. Paine, Letters from Thomas Paine to the Citizens of the United States, 21. 5. John Perhouse to James Perhouse, 8 April 1803, 4 May 1804, John Perhouse Papers, APS. 6. Saxton, Indispensable Enemy. 7. See Wilentz, Chants Democratic; and Lause, “Unwashed Infidelity.” 8. The best account of Paine’s place in American political life during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. 9. Goodrich, Recollections of a Lifetime, 117–21. 10. Appleby, Inheriting the Revolution; Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, pt. 3. 11. For an account of the 1790s that stresses the dystopian elements of pro-French politics in America, see Cleves, The Reign of Terror in America, chaps. 1–2. 12. See, e.g., Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution; Wood, The Creation of the American Republic; and Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment. 13. Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order, 53. 14. See Durey, Transatlantic Radicals in the Early American Republic; Wilson, United Irishmen, United States; Bric, Ireland, Philadelphia, and the Re-Invention of America; Twomey, Jacobins and Jeffersonians. 15. On immigration, see Carter, “Naturalization in Philadelphia”; and Bric, Ireland, Philadelphia, and the Re-Invention of America, 123–24.



n o t e s t o pa g e s 8 – 1 4

16. Joel Barlow to the London Corresponding Society, 6 October 1792, London Corresponding Society Papers,, TS 11/953, PRO. In his widely read description of the French Revolution, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, Barlow described the popular movements of the day in very similar terms. 17. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 23. 18. Darnton quoted in Davis, Revolutions, 35. 19. See, e.g., McDonnell, The Politics of War; Kars, Breaking Loose Together; Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution; and Bouton, Taming Democracy. 20. Merrill and Wilentz, The Key of Liberty, 73. 21. Schudson, The Power of News, 40–42. See also Carey, Communication as Culture. 22. The editorial careers of several key figures from the 1790s are detailed in Daniel, Scandal & Civility. 1. Imagining a Nation of Politicians 1. Davis, Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America, 70. 2. Moreau de St. Méry’s American Journey, 298. 3. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, Travels through the United States of North America, 1:25, 399. 4. Wansey, Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794, 56, 61. The quotations in this paragraph offer but a small sampling of travelers’ descriptions of newspapers and politics. See also Pierre Dupont de Numours’s comment in 1800 that “a large part of the nation reads the Bible, [and] all of it assiduously peruse[s] the newspapers. The fathers read them aloud to their children while the mothers are preparing breakfast” (quoted in Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Era, 630). John Drayton also noted with some surprise that most American farmers read “religious books, the public laws, and the newspapers” (Drayton, Letters Written during a Tour through the Northern and Eastern States of America, 65–67). 5. The most notable exceptions are Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York; Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers; Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes; Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street; Koschnik, Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together; and Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash. Despite this substantial body of work attesting to the vibrancy and complexity of popular politics in the 1790s, the leading syntheses and popular biographies that cover this period still tend to portray popular politics from the perspective of the elite leaders, who almost without exception regarded such aspirational activity as laughable at best and dangerous at worst. 6. The use of the word “politician” to describe non-elites who were interested in politics is impossible to trace systematically, but its usage turns up enough in the newspapers and archives of the 1790s to suggest that this was a generally understood meaning of the term. See, e.g., Nathaniel Hazard to Mathew Carey, 23 September 1790, MCC: “I have occasionally sported in the News Papers for my own amusement, unknown, and unanxious; and been amused by Remarks I have heard made upon my Squibs. . . . A dutch Neighbour of mine, a marvellous Politicianer and Street Orator, told me too, of ‘dat Piece into childs Paper,’ and said ‘it was a dam high-flowing Piece of nonsense; dat common

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 4 – 1 6


sense was de Ting; and he’d be dam, if he could not write a more sensible Ting, himself.’ This is literally my Neighbours Criticism” (emphasis in original). Like many European travelers, Hazard used the term “politicianer” with derision, yet his comments revealed a degree of discomfort with an emerging political world in which his neighbors felt authorized to become street orators and comment critically on the pieces that gentlemen like Hazard contributed to the newspapers. 7. Whereas R. R. Palmer, in The Age of Democratic Revolution, identified this era as one containing a (singular) “democratic revolution,” I use the plural “revolutions” to signify the substantial differences that existed between those political events and ideologies that Palmer lumped into one movement. 8. National Gazette, 1 May 1793. Similar statements calling upon ordinary citizens to follow political matters appear with great frequency in the democratic newspapers of the early 1790s. Only a few months after Paine’s Rights of Man first appeared in the United States, a writer for Boston’s Independent Chronicle (8 September 1791) extrapolated from Paine’s pamphlet the idea that it was “the duty of every one . . . to keep a watchful eye on all the acts and doings of their servants [by which he meant elected officials], carefully and critically examine all the laws and ordinances, their objects and probable consequences . . . [and] attend to every principle and opinion advanced in public.” 9. Niles’ Weekly Register, 15 February 1823. 10. See Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street; Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash; Koschnik, Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together; and Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes. 11. See maps 2.2, 2.4, and 2.5 in Pred, Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information, 37–42, for a visual representation of how dramatic improvements in the nation’s transportation system made it possible for information to travel more rapidly across space. In just the four years between 1790 and 1794, for example, the time it took for information to get from Philadelphia to New York was reduced by 60 percent (from 4 days to 1.6 days), and the time lag between several other coastal cities was decreased by more than 40 percent. A major factor in expanding the national reach of newspapers and other forms of print was the substantial investment in extending and improving the postal roads, which made transporting goods and people far more efficient. The total miles of postal routes was expanded by over 1,100 percent in the 1790s, going from 1,875 miles in 1790, to 20,817 miles in 1800 (ibid., 80). 12. Mathew Carey to Patrick Byrne, 25 May 1793, MCLB. This extensive demand for European texts in 1793 contrasts sharply with the picture Carey had painted for Byrne just five years earlier. In 1788, Carey complained that “money is scarce” in the new nation, hence “even the best books sell slowly, and at low rates.” Carey thus asked for only sure sellers, such as bibles, law books, and dictionaries (Carey to Patrick Byrne, 22 October 1788, MCLB). According to Carey’s account books, he received books worth 1,486 from Byrne between 1793 and 1795, and books worth over 900 from one of London’s leading democratic booksellers, G. G. & J. Robinson (who was prosecuted for printing Paine’s Rights of Man in 1794) (Mathew Carey Account Books, AAS). 13. Other printers/publishers who produced a significant number of texts aimed at


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 7 – 2 1

democratic readers included: in New York City, James Fellows, John Tiebout, James Lyon, Levi Wayland, Thomas Greenleaf, and the partnership of Thomas and James Swords; in Baltimore, George Keatinge and the partnership of Henry and James Rice; in Albany, George and Charles Webster; in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin Bache, the partnership of John Snowden and William McCorkle, and the partnership of Francis and Robert Bailey; as well as Mathew Carey’s brother James, who worked as a printer in several different cities between 1792 and 1801. 14. Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? 15. Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers, 106. 16. This number is deceptively small since it has been estimated that each copy of an eighteenth-century newspaper was probably read by scores of people. Like newspapers, pamphlets were also frequently read in taverns and coffee houses, which meant that a typical print run of 1,000 would reach several times that number of readers. 17. See Winans, “The Growth of a Novel-Reading Public in Late-Eighteenth-Century America,” for a fuller discussion of these transformations. 18. When Mathew Carey’s brother James was establishing a newspaper in Richmond, Virginia, he asked Mathew to send him as many recent newspapers as possible, but especially Bache’s. According to James, Bache’s paper seemed to mysteriously not make it through the mails as regularly as those of his more conservative counterparts. Bache’s reputation as a democratic editor even extended to the Caribbean. Henry Kendall, in St. Croix, wrote to Mathew Carey in 1795 asking him to cancel his subscription to a mildly democratic Philadelphia paper and instead send him “Bache’s paper, which is certainly more interesting both in respect to the Politics of Europe and America.” A year later, he wrote again, to request a copy of the French Republican Calendar and to renew his subscription for Bache’s paper, for “He is a good Republican and I love a man of spirit and principle” (Henry Kendall to Mathew Carey, 20 October 1795, 27 May 1796, MCC). 19. Bache described his business this way in a letter to Charles Debrett, a British bookseller with whom he did business: “I am not absolutely in the book selling line. I publish a newspaper and have connected with it pamphlets and books of a political cast.” He asked Debrett to send him “any thing of merit in the line of political novelty or a republican cast” (Bache to Charles Debrett, 3 December 1796, Franklin-Bache Papers, APS). The best biographical study of Bache is Tagg, Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora. See also Daniel, Scandal & Civility, chap. 3. 20. John Hench develops this argument in regard to the Adams brothers in “The Newspaper in a Republic,” 56. 21. This phrase was used by one of the democrats’ most avid enemies, William Cobbett, as a way to describe what he wanted his own newspaper office to be—“a rallying point for the friends of government” (Cobbett, Porcupine’s Works, 5:6–7). He coined the phrase in 1797, at a time when Federalists like himself were adopting many of the same strategies of popular mobilization that democrats had pioneered in the first part of that decade. 22. Prentiss, “Autobiographical and Historical: Recollections of Eighty-eight Years,” John Prentiss Papers, AAS. 23. In part, this is because their 1790s opponents tended to lump these three editors

n o t e s t o pa g e s 2 3 – 2 9


together as the leaders of a national coalition of democratic printers. See the satirical poem in the Federal Orrery of 8 January 1795 that imagines a scene in a dirty tavern where Greenleaf, Bache, and Adams lament the effectiveness of their Federalist counterparts, Benjamin Russell (Boston), John Ward Fenno (Philadelphia), and Noah Webster (New York). 24. Coram wrote a radical pamphlet on property and education in 1791 that is discussed in chapter 4. When Coram died in 1796, at the age of thirty-five, Greenleaf published an obituary noting his contributions to the democratic cause. 25. Occasionally, the decentralized nature of the printing industry worked to the detriment of individual printers. In 1794, for example, James Carey, who had just moved to New York City, decided to publish an account of Scottish radical Maurice Margarot’s trial for treason. On 23 July, his brother Mathew had the unfortunate task of informing him that a Philadelphia printer already had Margarot’s trial in press, thereby undercutting the demand for James’s text. In November, Mathew chastised his brother for sending him 283 copies of Margarot’s trial, when “from 60 to 80 is the full extent of all my sales” (MCLB). Considering that five different editions of that trial had been produced in late 1794, it is probably the case that James was trying to unload unsold copies onto his brother in the hopes that Mathew could find a market for them with his booksellers in the countryside who had not yet gotten access to the text. 26. New-York Journal, 21 January 1792, 18 January 1794. 27. Mathew Carey to Patrick Byrne, 4 November 1794, MCLB. 28. The letters between Carey and Keatinge are in MCC and MCLB. 29. The hundreds of letters that Mathew Carey exchanged with these printers are in MCC and MCLB. 30. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, title page. 31. James Carey to Mathew Carey, 10 September 1792, MCC. The quoted passage comes from James Carey to Mathew Carey, 2 November 1794, MCC. 32. New-York Journal, 23 April 1791. On 4 May, he reprinted another report that had first appeared in the Leyden Gazette on 1 February, suggesting that he may have had firsthand access to the paper. It is worth noting that most accounts of newspapers in the 1790s credit Thomas Jefferson for identifying the Leyden Gazette as the most reliable source of information about European affairs and for passing his copies along to Philip Freneau to be used in the preparation of Freneau’s National Gazette. Freneau did not begin publishing the National Gazette, however, until late October of 1791, a full six months after Greenleaf had begun using the Leyden Gazette in his New York newspaper. This suggests that Jefferson may have been a follower and not an initiator in this particular case, or that Freneau learned about the National Gazette from his fellow editors and not from his more famous and powerful benefactor. 33. Carey’s United States’ Recorder, 14 August 1798. 34. William Cobbett to Mathieu, 19 July 1793, MS 22842, Huntington Library, San Merino, Calif. 35. Conway, The Life of Thomas Paine, 457–59. This description comes from Madame de Bonneville, who had been friends with Paine in France in the mid-1790s and then resided with him in New York upon his return from Europe in 1802.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 2 9 – 3 5

36. John Hall Diary, entries of 29 July and 2 August 1786, Library Company of Philadelphia. Approximately ten other times during the fall of 1786 Hall mentioned going to a coffee house with Paine to read newspapers. On 13 September 1786, he commented on passing by a coffee house and seeing Paine “thru the window,” sitting with another acquaintance “reading the news.” 37. Perrin, The Pioneer Press of Kentucky, 13. See also Sonne, Liberal Kentucky. 38. Freneau, Letters on Various Interesting and Important Subjects, 128. 39. Jones, Growing Up in the Cooper Country, 66–68. 40. Ibid., 73. On Peck, see also Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York; and Taylor, William Cooper’s Town. 41. For the fullest discussion of David Brown’s activities, see Smith, “The Federalist ‘Saints’ versus ‘The Devil of Sedition.’ ” Reports of David Brown reading the works of Joel Barlow and Tom Paine appear in the coverage of his trial (see Independent Chronicle, 17, 20 June 1799). 42. See the New-York Journal for 14 January 1795 (Greenleaf noted that his subscription list had increased by one-third); the Independent Gazetteer for 15 February 1794 and 1 March 1794 (Oswald noted that his subscription list had increased by two hundred names, and then corrected that to three hundred on the later date); and the Aurora for 28 January 1794 (Bache noted that he had added a hundred new subscribers). 43. Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers. Because Pasley’s focus is on the partisan role of printers in the electoral process, he says little about the democratic printers who operated in the years before 1798 and who are the focus of this chapter. There is an additional, more prosaic reason to regard the democratic press of the 1790s as distinct from the partisan press of the 1800s. Almost all of the most important printers of that earlier decade— Benjamin Bache, Thomas Greenleaf, Thomas Adams, Eleazar Oswald, Benjamin Edes, and James Carey—died before the turn of the century, and hence did not live to see the solidification of the partisan press. 44. Ibid., 96 (quotation, 108). 45. General Advertiser, 20 April 1793. 46. New-York Journal, 19 February 1794. 47. Pennsylvania Gazette, 13 July 1791. 48. Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae, 65. 49. Paine himself was fond of formulating the process of democratization as an unstoppable and inevitable one: “The opinions of men with respect to government, are changing fast in all countries. The revolutions of America and France have thrown a beam of light over the world, which reaches into man. . . . Tho a man may be kept ignorant, he cannot be made ignorant. The mind, in discovering truth, acts in the same manner as it acts through the eye in discovering objects; when once any object has been seen, it is impossible to put the mind back to the same condition it was in before it saw it. Those who talk of a counter revolution in France, shew how little they understand of man. . . . It has never yet been discovered how to make man unknow his knowledge, or unthink his thoughts” (excerpt from Rights of Man, reprinted in the Gazette of the United States, 7 May 1791). 50. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, title page.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 3 5 – 4 2


51. New-York Journal, 11 January 1792. 52. Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 16 January 1787, in The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 11:48–49. 53. Argus, 20 December 1791. This quote comes from a paean to newspapers that was reprinted by at least six different editors within a month. Clearly, such self-justifying accounts of the magical social power of the newspaper appealed to the editors who chose the material for their papers. The other newspapers in which this piece appeared were the New-York Journal (4 January 1792); the Federal Gazette (6 December 1791); the Gazette of the United States (3 December 1791); The Mail; or, Claypoole’s Daily Advertiser (5 December 1791); and the Connecticut Courant (26 December 1791). 54. General Advertiser, 1 October 1790. 55. New-York Journal, 18 May 1791. 56. Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser, 3 January 1795. 57. Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae, 155, 20. 58. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 23. 59. National Gazette, 12 December 1792. 60. Paine, Tom Paine’s Jests, 36–37. 61. Paine accused Silas Deane, an agent of the Continental Congress who had been sent to Paris, of being a war profiteer. Deane’s supporters viciously attacked Paine in the press, even accusing him of being a foreign agent who was working to undermine the American cause. A full account of Paine’s role in the Silas Deane Affair can be found in Hawke, Paine, 80–94. 62. For a full account of Paine’s fluctuating reputation in America from the Revolution to the present, see Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. 63. On the printing history of the Rights of Man in America, see “Common Sense and the Rights of Man in America: The Celebration and Damnation of Thomas Paine,” in Young, Liberty Tree, 265–95. 64. One common genre of story about Paine was the rumor about his death or imprisonment, the latter turning out not to be a rumor. Such barely substantiated stories about the fate of individuals in Europe rarely appeared in American newspapers, but when it came to Paine, opposition editors would print such stories because they knew of the overwhelming sympathy which their readers felt for him. This is just one of many indicators of Paine’s magnetism, of the way he could galvanize fervent support and, as we will see, equally fervent hatred. For discussions of Paine’s supposed death and imprisonment, see, e.g., the New-York Journal for 19 November 1794, and the Independent Chronicle for 4 February 1796 65. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 41. 66. Bayard, Travels of a Frenchman in Maryland and Virginia, 61. 67. Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, 87–88. 68. The following trials of British Painite radicals were reprinted in America between 1793 and 1796: Tom Paine for publishing the Rights of Man (three editions); London bookseller Daniel Isaac Eaton (one edition); Scottish lawyer Thomas Muir (four editions); United Irishman Archibald Hamilton Rowan (one edition); English lawyer and former


n o t e s t o pa g e s 4 3 – 5 0

resident of Philadelphia Joseph Gerrald (one edition); English reformers Thomas Watt and David Downie (two editions); Thomas Walker and five other Manchester radicals (two editions); and Scottish radical Maurice Margarot (two editions). 69. New-York Journal, 29 April 1796. 70. This genre of story, in which a non-elite confidently speaks back to his or her supposed better, appeared quite frequently in the democratic press of the 1790s. The Independent Gazetteer of 12 March 1794, for example, ran a story about an English prince’s visit to Williamstown, Vermont. He condescendingly turned to the woman seated next to him, asking her whether she read the bible, psalm-books, and hymn books. She nodded in agreement. “You read no other books, ere in the woods so, I suppose, Madam?—ha? Ha? Madam? Ha?’ ‘No, Sir, replied she, my reading is not extensive—I have, however, read one English author—peter pindar!!” Pindar, as the readers of the newspaper would have undoubtedly known, was popular with democrats in the 1790s for his scathing exposés of aristocratic corruption in Britain. Prince Edward was one of his frequent targets of abuse. 71. National Gazette, 13 March 1793. 72. New-York Journal, 21 May 1791; Independent Chronicle, 28 May 1791. 73. Rights of Man quoted in the National Gazette, 7 July 1792. 74. Excerpt from the Farmers Weekly Museum, printed in Tocsin, 18 August 1797. 75. Dennie, The Lay Preacher, 37, 92–94, 10. 76. This moderation did not occur in the three central democratic newspapers— Philadelphia’s Aurora, Boston’s Independent Chronicle, and the New-York Journal. Where it is most apparent is in the second-tier of democratic newspapers, many of which began to temper their coverage of foreign radicalism and include an increasing number of pieces critical of Painites both at home and abroad. This transformation can be most clearly discerned in the pages of the Norwich Packet in 1794. Several other similar cases are documented in Link, Democratic-Republican Societies, 203n136. 77. New-York Journal, 25 October 1794. This piece was excerpted from the General Advertiser. 78. For example, Thomas Greenleaf complained about how his subscribers were not receiving the papers he sent them, and threatened, “If these things are not enquired into, serious consequences may ensue” (New-York Journal, 15 January 1796). 2. The Politics of Popular Cosmopolitanism 1. Mushkat (Tammany, 24–25) found that of the 112 identified members of the Tammany Society between 1797 and 1801, over 60 percent of them were artisans or mechanics. 2. Wortman, Oration, 8–9, 20. 3. New-York Journal, 6 December 1794, extra edition. 4. On popular politics in New York in the 1790s, see Young, The Democratic Republicans of New York. 5. Wortman, Oration, 8–10. 6. Quoted in Heater, Citizenship and World Government, 226. 7. Jacob, in Strangers Nowhere in the World, identifies the late eighteenth century and

n o t e s t o pa g e s 5 1 – 5 3


the 1790s in particular as the high point in the evolution of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism. Hunt, in Inventing Human Rights, argues that the discourse of human rights that rose to preeminence in the late eighteenth century was premised upon the universality of those rights and generated new forms of “empathy [that] could work against even the longest held prejudices.” Rights implied radical forms of empathy because the concept compels the “recognition that all others are equally self-possessed” of those rights (28–29). See also Rosenfeld, “Citizens of Nowhere in Particular.” 8. Independent Gazetteer, 5 January 1793. See Anderson, “Cosmopolitanism, Universalism, and the Divided Legacies of Modernity,” for a contemporary discussion of cosmopolitanism that squares with how the eighteenth-century figures under consideration here used the term: “In general, cosmopolitanism endorses reflective distance from one’s cultural affiliations, a broad understanding of other cultures and customs, and a belief in universal humanity” (72). 9. Wortman, Oration, 28. 10. Webster, Dissertations on the English Language, 397. 11. Independent Chronicle, 22 October 1795. Similarly cosmopolitan toasts can be found throughout the democratic newspapers of the 1790s. For example, the New-York Journal on 8 July 1795 reprinted a series of July 4th toasts from North Hempstead on Long Island, one of which was “He whose country is the world.” On 24 December 1794, the same newspaper printed a toast from a meeting of Scottish Patriots which included the following toast: “May the Tree of Liberty be planted all over the world, and may every nation taste its fruit.” 12. The best accounts of these public celebrations are in Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes, and Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Street. 13. Carlisle, July 26, 1793: Proceedings, at a Meeting of Subscribers of Flour for the Use of the French Republic. On Carlisle’s history of anti-Federalism, see Cornell, “Aristocracy Assailed.” 14. Jones, America and French Culture. 15. The Statutes at Large of Virginia, November 1796, chap. 21, sec. 3. I thank David Rawson for pointing me to this reference. 16. William Bentley of Salem, Massachusetts, noted in his diary on 18 January 1793 that someone had proposed to “drop Honour, reverend, &c. titles, for that of citizen in Massachusetts.” Four days later he noted that “some are industrious to introduce the french language of Citizen into Boston, & the newspaper of Edes, has absolutely published in this manner” (Bentley, Diary, 2:2–3; Benjamin Edes was the editor of the democratic Boston Gazette). Branson (Those Fiery Frenchified Dames) discusses Philadelphia women’s appropriation of the term “citess.” In New York City, the term “citizen” was adopted as the dominant form of address by a debating club known as the Calliopean Society for seven months in 1794 (on the Calliopean Society, see Eastman, A Nation of Speechifiers). 17. Michael Forrest to Mathew Carey, 10 September 1796, MCC. In similar fashion, the Democratic Republican Society of Pennsylvania decided on 3 July 1793 “that the word ‘Sir’ be struck out throughout [a circular letter being sent out to other political societies] and the words ‘humble Servants’ from the subscription thereof, and that the words:


n o t e s t o pa g e s 5 3 – 5 4

‘fellow Citizens’ and ‘fellow Citizens’ be substituted in lieu thereof ” (cited in Foner, The Democratic-Republican Societies, 67). 18. Mathew Carey to “Citizen James Craft,” 18 June 1793, MCLB. Even Mason “Parson” Weems, the future author of the famously filiopietistic biography of George Washington, was so swept up by the utopian internationalism of the 1790s that he closed some of his 1796 letters to Mathew Carey with salutations like “Friend and Fellow Democrat” and “Health and Fraternity” (see Weems to Carey, 24 October and 10 November 1796, MCC). 19. On 4 July 1792, Philip Freneau reprinted in his National Gazette a paragraph from the Boston Centinel announcing “a plan for raising a body of American volunteers, to embark as soon as possible for France” in order to help that nation defend “the rights of human nature.” This story remarked that the federal and state governments would undoubtedly “make ample provision for the support and transportation of these patriot volunteers.” On 21 July 1793, the National Gazette similarly printed an article announcing that a group of riflemen, looking to volunteer in the French army, would soon be assembling in Providence. It is unclear who formulated these plans and whether anything ever came of them. 20. Many historians have noted the international dimension of America’s 1790s, but this story is generally nested in an interpretation about the derivative nature of American politics or the persistence of a colonial mentality in the early republic. Such interpretations have contributed to the tendency not to take popular cosmopolitanism seriously, framing it as a symptom of a national weakness that would soon be remedied. This interpretation has less to do with the 1790s and more to do with the emergence of American nationalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Americans in the 1790s, not knowing what form the nation would eventually take, did not perceive their cosmopolitanism as a form of national immaturity. 21. A significant proportion of these sailors were of African descent, and as the historians Jeffrey Bolster and Julius Scott have shown, black sailors were key transmitters of information and opinions about the French and Haitian Revolutions (see Bolster, Black Jacks; and Scott, “The Common Wind”). 22. General Advertiser, 9 September 1793. A few months later, the Virginia Gazette (27 February 1794) reported on a series of dinners at which democrats in Norfolk, Virginia, and a group of French republicans resident in that town hosted each other. 23. Moreau de St. Méry’s American Journey, 125. These Jacobins presumably came from the community of French radicals that lived in the area of Philadelphia known as “French Town.” One aristocratic French émigré described this community soon after her arrival in America: “Ordinary people: tradesmen who had been ruined, workmen seeking jobs. They all seemed to us more or less in sympathy with the Revolution, and they, in their turn, looked on us as aristocrats fortunate to have escaped the death which, according to them, we fully merited” (quoted in Furstenberg, “U.S. and French Atlantic Connections,” 4). 24. A useful theoretical discussion of popular cosmopolitanism can be found in Cheah and Robbins, Cosmopolitics. For a more explicitly historical account that examines the

n o t e s t o pa g e s 5 4 – 5 9


links between cosmopolitanism and citizenship in the late eighteenth century, see Rosenfeld, “Citizens of Nowhere in Particular.” 25. Centinel of Freedom, 19 October 1796. The full toast, offered at New York’s Hunter Hotel during a celebration of the “late glorious intelligence from Italy and Germany,” is: “Patriotism—may it be the growth of sentiment and not of the soil, and may the period soon arrive when mankind with one voice shall proclaim, where liberty dwells there is our country.” 26. Cheah argues that “cosmopolitanism may in fact precede the popular nation-state in history and nationalism in the history of ideas” (Cheah, “Cosmopolitanism,” 489). Cosmopolitan ideals and nationalist ideals in the late nineteenth century were often indistinguishable because early “pre-stated nationalism had an unbounded and cosmopolitan extensiveness” that would dissipate only later in the nineteenth century. 27. Boston Gazette, 1 February 1790. 28. Columbian Centinel, 26 June 1790. This piece lauded the change in public sentiment over the previous fifteen years in favor of gradual emancipation, while simultaneously expressing concerns about the “industry and honesty” of free blacks. 29. Letter from Thomas Hardy to unnamed British Corresponding Society, 18 April 1792, Place Papers, ADD MS 27811, British Library. 30. Independent Gazetteer, 24 September 1791. 31. National Gazette, 29 December 1792. The piece originally appeared in the Augusta Chronicle of 1 December 1792. 32. The most dramatic example of this transformation in 1791 can be found in the pages of the New-York Journal. In the late 1780s up to early 1791, this paper printed, sometimes on a weekly basis, pieces that were either openly hostile to the free blacks of New York City or simply mocking. Such pieces cease appearing in the paper in the middle of 1791 and, with only a few exceptions, the tenor of the newspaper from that point on became sympathetic to abolition. Likewise, the overtly racist pieces that were so common before 1791 largely disappeared from the pages of Greenleaf ’s paper, and in 1796 he printed a series of radical articles that espoused immediate and uncompensated emancipation in the state of New York. 33. General Advertiser, 2 February 1791; Independent Chronicle, 17 February 1791. 34. General Advertiser, 6 September 1791. 35. Argus, 22 November 1791. 36. Independent Chronicle, 5 January 1792. 37. Argus, 3 January 1792. On Bishop, see Waldstreicher and Grossbart, “Abraham Bishop’s Vocation.” A few other democratic newspapers echoed Bishop’s call when they similarly asked their readers to identify with the plight of Native Americans on the American frontier. See, for example, a piece in the Providence Gazette of 28 January 1792 (reprinted from Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser) that criticized recent attacks on Indians in Ohio: “Have they not the same right to their hunting grounds (which afford them their only means of subsistence) that we have to our houses and farms? Do we not commit the same offence against reason and justice, in attempting to take these hunting grounds from them without their consent, that Great Britain committed against the American colo-


n o t e s t o pa g e s 5 9 – 6 2

nies?” (emphasis in original). Also see the Independent Chronicle, 14 June 1792, for a piece that similarly espouses Native American land rights, trying to square the ongoing war on the American frontier with the American espousal of “the rights of man.” 38. Independent Gazetteer, 11 December 1790; Bouton, Taming Democracy. 39. General Advertiser, 27 February 1792. The democratic critique of excessive wealth is discussed at length in chapter 4. 40. Independent Gazetteer, 27 November 1790. 41. General Advertiser, 12 September 1791. This piece was reprinted in two other democratic newspapers, the Norwich Packet (15 September 1791), and the Argus (16 September 1791). 42. New-York Journal, 9 February 1796. 43. New-York Journal, 7 May 1794. The same piece had appeared in the Boston Gazette of 5 May 1794, although the translation was slightly different, suggesting that Greenleaf excerpted his article from a different newspaper. 44. National Gazette, 31 July 1793. An author in the New-York Journal of 26 January 1796, who called himself “an invariable Friend to the equal Rights of Man, from the year 1768 to the year 1796,” similarly linked the nation’s founding principles (in this case, the Declaration of Independence) to the cause of anti-slavery: “Are negroes, men? And did God create them? And are we but men, and created by God? Then, as to life, liberty, and happiness they are our equals, . . . [hence] Every negro in America is this moment of right, a freeman.” 45. General Advertiser, 28 June 1794. A writer in the Independent Gazetteer, 27 November 1790, used the issue of the Algerine captives to support his argument against the idea that God had created separate and unequal races, for if this was true, then “the Algereens with equal propriety might argue Providence in their capturing Europeans and others, and condemning them to slavery.” 46. Independent Gazetteer, 11 June 1791. 47. Other leading democrats who were involved in abolitionist activity include Alexander McKim and Archibald Buchanan of Baltimore; George Logan, Peter Du Ponceau, Dr. James Hutchinson, and Absalom Baird of Pennsylvania; and James Nicholson, Tunis Wortman, Samuel L. Mitchell, Melancton Smith, and Philip Freneau of New York City. 48. Several translated excerpts from Frossard’s La cause des esclaves negres et des habitans de la Guinee, portee au tribunal de la justice, de la relition, de la politique (Lyon, 1789) appeared in Greenleaf ’s paper in the fall of 1790. The pamphlet was never translated in full, but a French version of it was available for purchase in Philadelphia at this time. A more moderate Philadelphia newspaper had published a few short excerpts in August of 1790, and then for some reason Oswald’s paper became the primary outlet for Frossard’s work later that year. David Brion Davis notes that Frossard’s work was most distinctive for the way in which it “analyzed the psychology of sympathy and commitment.” Since “Negro slaves” lived so far away, Frossard argued, “their sufferings could not arouse an immediate and authentic compassion” (see Davis, The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, 258). 49. Independent Gazetteer, 23 June 1792.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 6 3 – 7 0


50. General Advertiser, 3 March 1792. 51. Independent Gazetteer, 24 December 1791. 52. Piggott, A Political Dictionary, 160–61. 53. General Advertiser, 24 February 1794. 54. See the General Advertiser for 14 June 1792 for an example of an anti-slavery petition. The quotes come from a mock conversation between “Father Gerard” and “A Countryman” that appeared in the General Advertiser for 24 July 1792. 55. American Minerva, 11 April 1794. 56. Gazette of the United States, 2 February 1793. 57. Columbian Centinel, 16 January 1793. 58. City Gazette, 6 September 1796. This piece originally appeared in the Farmers Weekly Museum. It was just one of many Federalist pieces in the mid-1790s that lamented the extent to which July 4th had become a day dominated by what they perceived to be unruly public celebrations organized and attended by democrats (see Travers, Celebrating the Fourth). 59. Independent Chronicle, 5 November 1798. 60. Independent Gazetteer, 16 April 1791. 61. General Advertiser, 12 February 1795. 62. Boston Gazette, 25 September 1797. This piece was reprinted from John Holt’s Bee, published in New London, Connecticut, one of the first of a new generation of explicitly partisan Democratic newspapers that were founded in 1797–98. On this new cohort of Democratic editors, see Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers, chaps. 6–7. 63. For a fuller treatment of this changing relationship between Jeffersonian Democrats and slavery, see Riley, “Northern Republicans and Southern Slavery.” 64. Wortman, A Solemn Address, 21–22. 65. The classic and enduring discussion of such anti-party sentiment is Hofstadter, The Idea of a Party System. 66. Cunningham, “The Language of Patriotism,” 9–10. Cunningham discusses a third source of patriotism, “the belief that the English were an Elect Nation,” but notes that this patriotic argument was “of relatively minor importance” by the late eighteenth century. On patriotism as an oppositional discourse in eighteenth-century Britain, see Samuel, Patriotism. On the place of the Ancient Constitution in British political culture, see Pocock, The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law. 67. New-York Journal, 8 April 1795. 68. Pigott, A Political Dictionary, 123. This text was first printed in London in 1794. 69. Price, A Discourse on the Love of Our Country, 8–13. Mary Wollstonecraft, in one of the first critical responses to Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France, similarly referred to national pride as a “selfish principle” to which “every nobler one is sacrificed” (see Vindication of the Rights of Men [1790], 2nd ed., in The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, 5:14–15). 70. This critique of nationalism as prejudice was a prominent feature of the proFrench discourse of the early 1790s on both sides of the Atlantic. On the contested place of universal benevolence in 1790s transatlantic democratic discourse, see Radcliffe,


n o t e s t o pa g e 7 1

“Revolutionary Writing, Moral Philosophy, and Universal Benevolence in the Eighteenth Century.” 71. Ramsay, Extracts of Ramsay’s Oration in Charleston, 4 July 1794, 2. This piece was paired with the Scottish radical James Callender’s Letter to Farmers and Manufacturers of Scotland in a bound pamphlet which appears in the Rebellion Papers (620/21/13) in the National Archives of Ireland, Dublin. Although the printer did not identify himself or the place of publication, the location of this pamphlet in the Rebellion Papers indicates that it was confiscated by government officials in Ireland and thus was probably printed there. 72. National Gazette, 1 August 1792. 73. Hale, “Neither Britons Nor Frenchmen,” 47–48. Hale argues that before 1792 support for the French Revolution was “at best a moderate initiator and predictor of partisan loyalties.” 74. Columbian Centinel, 26 November 1791. 75. John Adams’s Discourses on Davila appeared in the Gazette of the United States in 1790, and John Quincy Adams’s Publicola essays were printed as a pamphlet in 1791. The decidedly pro-French tone of American print culture before 1794 stands in stark contrast to the effect that the French Revolution had on the British world of print. Those Britons who entered into the public debate begun by Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) and Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, parts 1 and 2 (1791–92), overwhelmingly sympathized with Burke’s conservative condemnation of the French reformers. Of the more than 150 pamphlets which appeared on the topic of the French Revolution between 1790 and 1795, three times as many took Burke’s side as Paine’s. This remarkable divergence ceased in the late 1790s as American printers brought out anti-French and anti-Painite works at a rate more closely resembling their British contemporaries (see Pendleton, “Towards a Bibliography of the Reflections and Rights of Man Controversy”). 76. Congressman William Maclay noted one such moment in his diary, when John Adams privately admitted his admiration for Burke and his misgivings about the French Revolution. Adams, wrote Maclay, “told how many late pamphlets he had received from England; how the subject of the French Revolution agitated the English politics; that for his part he despised them all but the production of Mr. Burke, and this same Mr. Burke despised the French Revolution. Bravo, Mr. Adams! I did not need this trait of your character to know you” (Maclay, Diary, 254). See also Graydon, Memoirs of a Life, 329–30, in which he refers to the shocked response he got from a clergyman when he criticized the French Revolution during its early stages. Graydon also noted that while all of his contemporaries were relishing Paine’s attack on Burke, he found Burke’s arguments more compelling, though he did not feel free to say so at the time, even to his closest friends. 77. New-York Journal, 18 January 1792. See also a piece that appeared in the New-Jersey Journal of 13 October 1790 and the General Advertiser of 14 December 1790, in which the author put forward a lengthy comparison of England and France in order to demonstrate the greater kinship between American and French political values: “France has caught and improved on the principles of Whigism.” 78. Philadelphia Gazette, 22 June 1791.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 7 2 – 7 6


79. In their influential synthesis The Age of Federalism, Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick provide a different account of the American impact of the French Revolution. They argue that it bolstered “Americans’ own opinion of themselves” and served “as a major point of reference for domestic political partisanship,” and that “without these two uses, the French Revolution’s impact upon Americans’ attention and sensibilities would probably not have been very great” (309.) Pro-French Americans, in other words, did not have any authentic interest in European events or learn anything from European democrats; rather, according to Elkins and McKitrick, they simply used foreign events as rhetorical gloss to justify their already formulated American sentiments and actions. 80. New-York Journal, 24 February 1791. 81. Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Vaughn, 11 May 1791, Benjamin Vaughan Papers, APS. 82. General Advertiser, 10 May 1791. 83. New-York Journal, 4 January 1792; Columbian Centinel, 14 January 1792. 84. New-York Journal, 25 February 1792. 85. Ibid. 86. Joel Barlow coined the term “privileged orders” in his influential 1792 pamphlet, Advice to the Privileged Orders. Democrats throughout the Atlantic world quickly embraced this term as a way to highlight the injustice of all forms of inherited power, be it political or economic. 87. Independent Gazetteer, 23 June 1792. 88. Quoted from Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser in the National Gazette for 26 December 1792. 89. Logan, Five Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States, 8. 90. National Gazette, 21 July 1792. 91. The Democratic-Republican Societies, formed in 1793 and 1794 as groups of disgruntled Americans in some forty localities, joined together to discuss and make public their opposition to the domestic and foreign policies of the Washington administration. These voluntary societies were composed of white men from across the ethnic and socioeconomic spectrum—artisans, farmers, mechanics, laborers, professionals, landed elites, and a few merchants. Joined together by committees of correspondence and frequent intervisitation, the societies, in both their public meetings and in the declarations they published in newspapers across the country, articulated a vision of politics in which citizens would play a more substantive role than merely electing representatives, in which public opinion would have a greater impact on the shaping of political policies, and in which opinion formation would be more open, inclusive, and rational. By 1796, however, a mere three years after the first societies appeared, they had virtually disappeared from the nation’s political landscape, and a compelling critique of the danger that they posed to the new nation had become a dominant feature of public political discourse. The best overview of these societies is still Link, Democratic-Republican Societies. For a thorough list of the major work on the Democratic-Republican Societies, see Schoenbachler, “Republicanism in the Age of Democratic Revolution,” 238n3. The societies are discussed at greater length in chapter 5.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 7 7 – 8 3

92. For a discussion of how French revolutionaries constructed a similarly “mythic present,” see Hunt, Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. 93. New-York Journal, 8 March 1794. 94. New-York Journal, 19 February 1794. Benjamin Bache sold copies of the radical French Constitution of 1793 for six cents in his Philadelphia bookshop, and his fellow opposition editors advertised it for sale in their papers. The primary way in which the literature surrounding the Edinburgh Convention got to America was in the transcripts of the leaders’ trials. These texts contained more than just trial transcripts; they also included long passages of evidence—in other words, excerpts from the radical texts which these reformers had circulated. Thus, the documents teemed with ideas and concrete models of how to politicize the people by disseminating cheap pamphlets, holding public meetings, and organizing reading and debating societies for laborers. 95. Quotes are from the New-York Journal for 9 July 1794. The New-York Journal of 7 January 1795 contained an even more explicit parallel: “The British government have sent several members of their constitutional societies to Botany Bay; would the agents of a free people do the same? The butchers of George the IIId have embezzled and torn in quarters, by wild horses, Watt and Downie, for speaking against the abuses of government; would the administrators of America commit such horrid outrages against humanity in this country?” 96. New-York Journal, 15 November 1794. 97. The demand for these trial transcripts—most of which ran to more than one hundred pages—must have been quite substantial, considering how many editions of them were produced. Thomas Muir’s trial went through four New York editions in 1794; the trials of Watt and Downie (one pamphlet) and of Maurice Margarot were both reprinted in New York and Philadelphia; Gerrald’s and Eaton’s were reprinted in New York; and Thomas Walker’s appeared in Philadelphia. There is much evidence that opposition editors also imported large numbers of British imprints of these and other trials. In 1794, Mathew Carey was exchanging these trial transcripts with other booksellers in numbers greater than fifty throughout the year (see, e.g., Mathew Carey to James Carey, 23 July 1794, MCLB; Mathew Carey to George Keatinge, 24 November 1794, MCLB; George Keatinge to Mathew Carey, 26 January 1795, MCC; and Samuel Campbell to Mathew Carey, 22 October 1794, MCC). Carey distributed and received most other books (including novels) in numbers between four and twelve. 98. Aurora, 2 March 1793. 99. New-York Journal, 25 February 1792. 100. These toasts were offered at Philadelphia’s Civic Feast and reported in the NewYork Journal, 10 May 1794. 3. Can a Citizen of the World Be a Citizen of the United States? 1. Gazette of the United States, 23 May 1795. 2. On the emergence of this non-British and non-French conception of American nationalism, see Hale, “Many Who Wandered in Darkness.” The democratic Centinel of Freedom, in Newark, New Jersey, noted on 21 December 1796, for example, that it had

n o t e s t o pa g e s 8 3 – 8 5


become “fashionable” to refute those “who advocate the principles of the French Revolution” by arguing that “we ought to be Americans, and not regard either the English or the French.” 3. My account of the Federalist origins of an ideology of American exceptionalism runs counter to the usual interpretations that frame the Jeffersonians as the leading exceptionalist nationalists. See Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order, for one representative statement of the conventional interpretation. 4. There was a parallel discussion about the desirability of cosmopolitanism in the realm of moral philosophy that followed much the same trajectory as the debate in the periodicals and newspapers of the time. Whereas universal benevolence had been considered the central moral duty by many thinkers in the early 1790s, by the end of the decade such ideas had become associated with immorality, infidelity, and anarchism. The publication of Godwin’s memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft unintentionally played an important role in generating this backlash against the universalism of the early 1790s. Edmund Burke and other conservative writers were quite influential in using Wollstonecraft as an example of how universal benevolence was “unnatural” and led to disastrous consequences for those who tried to practice it. For such thinkers, justice was not an abstract principle that required daily, rational investigation. Rather, it simply involved caring for one’s family, obeying the magistrate and the parson, and respecting one’s social superiors. This ethical position, which became a common one in Anglo-American moral philosophy in the nineteenth century, made popular cosmopolitanism appear more than just dangerous— it seemed to render it metaphysically impossible. By naturalizing the primacy of both nationalism and domestic attachments, nineteenth-century moral philosophy claimed to have solved the complicated problem to which 1790s radicals had sought a very different solution: “Is private affection inconsistent with Universal Benevolence?” For an excellent discussion of this transformation in the realm of moral philosophy, see Radcliffe, “Revolutionary Writing, Moral Philosophy, and Universal Benevolence in the Eighteenth Century.” See also Brown, “Mary Wollstonecraft, or, the Female Illuminati.” 5. Likewise, Americans in the nineteenth century began to weave increasingly exceptionalist, congratulatory narratives about their history, representing American developments as entirely independent of events around the globe. In such stories, the 1790s were figured as a time of national immaturity and partisan enthusiasm, rather than as an American variant of an international story about political change. 6. For one of the most influential statements of this theme, see Murrin, “A Roof without Walls.” 7. On nationalism as a response to cosmopolitanism in the British context, see Radcliffe, “Burke, Radical Cosmopolitanism, and the Debates on Patriotism in the 1790s”: “[During the debates over the French Revolution,] conservative discourse on patriotism was in large part a reaction to radical cosmopolitanism. On either side, when controversialists defined a proper love of country, they almost always had to do so by stating its relationship to the ideal of universal benevolence or (as it was often formulated) the figure of the citizen of the world” (313). 8. Democratic cosmopolitanism persisted in small groups of committed radicals,


n o t e s t o pa g e s 8 6 – 9 4

mostly Universalists and working-class deists, until the emergence of a radical labor movement in the late 1820s. In the years around 1848, cosmopolitan democracy also returned to a more central place in American political discourse (see Messer-Kruse, The Yankee International). 9. For more thorough treatments of Genet’s mission, see Ammon, The Genet Mission; and Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, 330–54. 10. Quoted in Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism, 347. 11. Webster, The Revolution in France Considered in Respect to Its Progress and Effects, preface. Excerpts from Webster’s pamphlet appeared in one of the nation’s most successful magazines, The New York Magazine; or, Literary Repository, in March of 1794. In the fall of 1794, the nation’s most important Federalist newspaper, Philadelphia’s Gazette of the United States, ran an extended series of articles on the French Revolution that Webster had written for his American Minerva. 12. Webster, The Revolution in France Considered in Respect to Its Progress and Effects, 36. 13. Much like Webster, the influential historiographical tradition that has flowed from the work of François Furet emphasizes the tyrannical (even genocidal) logic inherent in the ideology that motivated the French Revolution. Woloch, “On the Latent Illiberalism of the French Revolution,” provides a good critique of Furet’s work. 14. Webster, The Revolution in France Considered in Respect to Its Progress and Effects, 37, 8. 15. Ibid., 59–62. 16. Ibid., 45. 17. Osgood, The Wonderful Works of God Are to be Remembered, 29. 18. In a letter to Oliver Wolcott on 17 December 1794, Jedidiah Morse noted that Osgood’s “sermon is now the general topic of conversation—it has grievously offended the Jacobins.—Poor fellows! they seem to be attacked on all sides.” Morse also remarked with glee that the same sentiments were echoed by virtually all of “the Thanksgiving sermons in Boston & its vicinity, with only two or three exceptions . . . though their manner was not so particular & pointed as Mr. Osgood’s” (quoted in Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, 114). 19. Osgood, The Wonderful Works of God Are to be Remembered, 16. 20. Ibid., 18–23; Sullivan, The Altar of Baal, 28. 21. Osgood, The Wonderful Works of God Are to be Remembered,15–16. 22. This was a reference to Benjamin Franklin Bache, the Philadelphia democrat who obtained a copy of the Jay Treaty and traveled up and down the eastern seaboard disseminating it and encouraging his fellow democrats to organize protests against it. On Bache’s trip, see Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers, 91–94; and Tagg, Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora, 239–74. 23. Pye, The Democrat, 1:v–viii. The author of the preface to the American edition is not named, but since this was the only American edition of this novel, Rivington presumably either commissioned it or wrote it himself. 24. Ibid., 3, 8.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 9 4 – 1 0 1


25. Ibid., 112. 26. Pye, The Democrat, 2:139, 162. 27. Ibid., 1:18–19. 28. Elihu Hubard Smith to Uriah Tracy, 31 March 1797, in Cronin, The Diary of Elihu Hubbard Smith, 303–4. 29. Many other Federalists shared Smith’s sense that Americans did not yet believe that they shared a national character. In early 1796, for example, Chief Justice Francis Dana of the Massachusetts Supreme Court lauded his fellow New Englanders for being “uniform in their manners, habits and principles in government.” But this was only the case because they were “as yet unadulterated by an influx of foreigners.” Dana built his “hopes of our political salvation, I mean the preservation of our Federal Government,” on the continued existence of this “national character, if I may be allowed the expression.” With this last phrase, Dana, like Smith and Webster, acknowledged that the notion of a unique and unified American character was a controversial one (Dana is quoted in Tocsin, 3 June 1796). 30. Independent Chronicle, 26, 22 September 1796. 31. For a thorough account of foreign relations in 1797–98, see DeConde, The QuasiWar. 32. M’Keen, Two Discourses, 16–17. 33. Kirkland, An Oration, 13. 34. Gazette of the United States, 2 July 1798. 35. Cobbett eventually went too far, criticizing popular Federalist newspaper editors like Noah Webster and Benjamin Russell in the summer of 1798 for refusing to unequivocally support the British in their battle against the French. By 1799, all but the most Anglophilic Federalists had rejected Cobbett, and he soon returned to England. The quote from a “Letter to My Dear Sister,” Philadelphia, 13 March 1798, is from Adams, New Letters of Abigail Adams, 143–44. 36. Westcott, A History of Philadelphia, 626. 37. On the pro-French popular culture of Philadelphia in the 1790s, see Newman, Parades and the Politics of the Streets. 38. Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine, July 1798, 7. 39. William Cobbett to J. Wright, 10 June 1799, William Cobbett Correspondence Typescripts, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. 40. Excerpt from William Cobbett, The Democratic Judge, reprinted in the AntiJacobin Review and Magazine, July 1798, 10. 41. William Cobbett, An Antidote for Tom Paine’s Theological and Political Poison, 10–11. 42. Several orations in 1798 replicated this story about the unique blessings of America’s government. See, e.g., Dunham, An Oration on the Fourth of July, 1798, 6–8: “Where, then, shall we look for true national liberty and individual happiness? Shall we find it in impoverished Holland?—Among the petty tyrants of Germany?” Dunham continued in this manner through Italy, Turkey, Greece, Prussia, and ten other countries, with each nation receiving a one-sentence description, before he finally concluded: “O Liberty! O


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 0 2 – 1 0 8

Humanity! Fair Liberty! Hast thou fled forever? . . . Is Liberty not a reality? Is it but an empty name? The sport of tyrants? The dream of enthusiasts and false philosophers?— No—it is a Reality!—and (blessed be God) it is realized in america.” 43. Webster, An Oration Pronounced before the Citizens of New Haven, 6–7, 15, 12. 44. Ibid., 16. 45. Gazette of the United States, 5 July 1798. 46. Miller, A Sermon, Delivered May 9, 1798, 40. 47. Dwight, An Oration Spoken at Hartford, 20–22. 48. Packard, Federal Republicanism, 19. 49. Addison, An Oration on the Rise and Progress of the United States of America, 22. 50. Morse, A Sermon Preached at Charlestown, 21–22. 51. Dunham, An Oration on the Fourth of July, 1798, 12. 52. Osgood, Some Facts Evincive of the Atheistical, Anarchical, and in Other Respects, Immoral Principles of the French Republicans, 10–11, 13, 22. 53. Bishop, Oration Delivered in Wallingford, 19. 54. Aurora, 26 November 1798, reprinted from the Bee of 21 November 1798. 55. Robert Maxwell to Mathew Carey, 25 July 1798, MCC. See also Carey’s United States Recorder for 10 May 1798, where “Humanitas” criticized the means by which the Federalists squelched public debate: “Instead of resorting to reason they have recourse to threat, and instead of endeavouring to convince they endeavour to enforce their dogmas upon those who differ from them. Is union to be obtained by means like these? Are freemen to be bullied into certain opinions? . . . The massacres in Paris and the revolutionary carnage in France, have been dwelt upon among us with abhorrence; do we know what scenes of the same kind may not take place here, unless an immediate stop is put to the beginning excesses?” 56. The best account of the Illuminati scare of 1798 is still Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati. 57. Morse, A Sermon, Delivered at the North Church in Boston, 20–21, 24–25. 58. Morse, A Sermon Preached at Charlestown, 67–68. 59. Lathrop, A Sermon on the Dangers of the Times, 13. 60. Linn, A Discourse on National Sins, 23. 61. Morse, A Sermon, Delivered at the North Church, 25. 62. Lathrop, A Sermon on the Danger of the Times, 20. 63. Dwight, The Duty of Americans, 21. 64. Morse, A Sermon, Delivered at the North Church, 20. 65. Dwight, The Duty of Americans, 15, 17. 66. Austin, A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses. The subscribers to this book had their names printed in the front of it as tangible evidence of their patriotism as well as their commitment to encouraging patriotism in others. 67. My reading of these addresses has been greatly influenced by David Waldstreicher’s analysis of print and nationalism in his work, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes. 68. Aurora, 8 May 1798. 69. Ray, “Not One Cent for Tribute,” 393, 400.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 0 8 – 1 1 7


70. The pamphlet literature of 1798 is rife with calls for a more passive conception of American citizenship—a conception in which voting is virtually the only legitimate action left for non-elected citizens to take. See, e.g., Emmons, A Discourse, Delivered May 9, 1798. The debate over active versus passive citizenship is discussed in chapter 5. 71. American histories of the 1790s rarely note that these highly effective pieces of Tory propaganda were reprinted in four separate editions in America between 1798 and 1800. On the print history of this text in America, see Weiss, “Hannah More’s Cheap Repository Tracts in America.” 72. This quote is from the advertisements that More wrote for the Cheap Repository (see The Works of Hannah More, 190). For secondary works on the politics of the Cheap Repository Tracts, see Altick, The English Common Reader, 73–77; Eastwood, “Patriotism and the English State in the 1790s”; Hole, “British Counter-revolutionary Popular Propaganda in the 1790s”; and H. T. Dickinson, “Popular Conservatism and Militant Loyalism, 1789–1815.” 73. Letter to Mathew Carey, 23 August 1798, MCC. 74. Dwight, The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis, 25. 75. On this stage of Dennie’s career, see Kaplan, Men of Letters in the Early Republic; Dowling, Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson; and Ellis, Joseph Dennie and His Circle. 76. Prosepectus of a New Weekly Paper, Submitted to Men of Affluence, Men of Liberality, and Men of Letters, bound with vol. 1 of the Port-Folio, at the Library Company of Philadelphia. 77. Port Folio, 28 March 1801, 28 April 1801. 78. Temple of Reason, 8 November 1800, and 28, 20 December 1800. 4. Conceptualizing Equality in a Commercial Society 1. Coram, Political Inquiries, 23. 2. Ibid., 23, 24, 51. 3. Ibid., 50–51. 4. Quoted in Horne, Property Rights and Poverty, 127. 5. Coram, Political Inquiries, 47, 23, 25. 6. Ibid., 21–22, 49–50. This use of Locke will probably strike American historians, accustomed to reflexively associating him with “possessive individualism” and “capitalism,” as odd. British historians, however, long ago repudiated this simplistic view of Locke, which derives largely from C. B. MacPherson’s 1962 book, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. For example, Thomas A. Horne explains the eighteenth-century uses of Locke in this way: “The natural law discussion of property, especially as it appeared in John Locke’s works, was the intellectual foundation for the defenders of welfare rights. There is no evidence from the early nineteenth century that Locke’s idea of a natural right to property led to possessive individualism and a defense of the property rights of the wealthy” (Horne, Property Rights and Poverty, 176). For a thorough critique of the notion of “possessive individualism” and its relative uselessness for understanding pre-nineteenthcentury political thought, see Miller, “The MacPherson Version.” One American historian


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 1 8 – 1 2 2

who has written against this caricature of Locke is James Kloppenberg. See, especially, his article, “The Virtues of Liberalism: Christianity, Republicanism, and Ethics in Early American Political Discourse.” 7. On Scottish economic thought, see Hont and Ignatieff, Wealth and Virtue. 8. Coram, Political Inquiries, 27, 17, 47, 21, 74. 9. Ibid., 22, 55, vii, 56. Coram drew on Beccaria—a major influence on the Painite radicals of the 1790s—in making the argument that the poor have no choice but to break the laws regarding property in order to survive. For Coram, Beccaria’s work had conclusively demonstrated that poverty, not the inherent vice of the poor, was the cause of most crime: “It is a melancholy reflection that in almost all ages and countries men have been cruelly butchered for crimes occasioned by the laws and which they never would have committed, had they not been deprived of their natural means of subsistence” (55). In this vein, Coram noted that Beccaria had described the “right of exclusive property” as “a terrible and perhaps unnecessary right” (55). See also Joel Barlow’s reference to Beccaria’s “little treatise . . . [which] is getting to be a manual in all languages,” in his Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe (93). Barlow noted that Beccaria’s ideas about the injustice of most extant criminal codes had been, in recent years, “pursued much farther than the benevolent philosopher . . . has dared to pursue it” (93). 10. New-York Journal, 11 March 1796. 11. For a fuller account of Robert Coram’s life, see Cotlar, “Every Man Should Have Property.” 12. See Wood, Democracy against Capitalism. A work that convincingly explores the analytical space between democracy and capitalism in the early republic is Shankman, Crucible of American Democracy. A brief, though compelling exploration of democratic critiques of capitalism in the early republic can be found in Merrill and Wilentz, “The Key of Libberty.” 13. Gerrald, A Convention the Only Means of Saving Us from Ruin, 61. 14. John Adams to Richard Price, 19 April 1790, quoted in Hazen, Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution, 153. 15. One of the more straightforward expressions of this common assumption can be found in Twomey, Jacobins and Jeffersonians: “Eighteenth-century republicanism was simply not an ideology suited to confront socio-economic reality head on. It was incapable of such analysis in the first place because it was primarily a political ideology, holding that equal representation and universal suffrage were its proper concerns . . . ; and in the second place because its adherents—even its radical adherents—did not question the socio-economic premises of private property, ‘possessive individualism,’ and ‘market society’ ” (9). 16. Thomas Lloyd Commonplace Book, [1789], APS. The only substantive secondary work on Lloyd is Tinling, “Thomas Lloyd’s Reports of the First Federal Congress.” At some point in the early 1790s Lloyd made his way to London, where he became actively involved with the London Corresponding Society and was imprisoned after being accused of plotting to overthrow the British monarchy. The spy reports on his British activities can be found at TS 11/965, PRO. Abraham Bishop also mentioned Blackstone’s surprising

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 2 3 – 1 2 9


account of the origins of property rights (see Bishop, The Georgia Speculation Unveiled, 67). 17. For a detailed examination of Paine’s inclusive theory of property rights, see Seaman, “Thomas Paine.” 18. Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, 86. 19. Coram, Political Inquiries, 23. The quote from Tom Paine appeared in the introduction to the French edition of Agrarian Justice, but was not included in the American edition of the pamphlet (see The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine, 606–7). 20. Philadelphia Gazette, 20 November 1794. 21. It should be noted, however, that many backcountry Americans used this biblical argument in order to legitimate their claims to the land on which they squatted and had labored. See, e.g., Taylor, Liberty Men and Great Proprietors; and McConville, Those Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace. 22. Claeys, “Paine’s Agrarian Justice and the Secularisation of Natural Jurisprudence.” 23. Paine, Agrarian Justice, 25. The Scottish Painite James Mackintosh had invoked this concept of a social debt as early as 1792, when he argued that each person was born with “a right to a fair portion of all that society, with all its combinations of skill and force, can do for him” (Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae, 107). It is significant to note that this inclusive-rights formulation followed the more conventional statement that “Whatever a man can do without trespassing on others, he has a right to do for himself.” For Mackintosh, rights claims functioned both to protect individuals from the power of the state but also to invoke society’s responsibility to ensure that the benefits of progress were distributed equitably. 24. Independent Gazetteer, 4 December 1789. 25. The question whether property was considered a natural or a civil right, posed by Jefferson and other founders, is discussed in White, The Philosophy of the American Revolution, 213–38. 26. Ingersoll, “Riches and Honor Were Rejected by Them as Loathsome Vomit.” 27. Paley, Works, 67–77. 28. Pigott, A Political Dictionary, 121, 80. 29. Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 3:216–17. 30. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 65. 31. Adams’s candor in his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America came back to haunt him when he was president. In 1798, for example, the radical Irish émigré James Carey, writing as “Quixote,” published a series of critiques of Adams’s text (Carey’s United States Recorder, 7 June 1798). One of the passages of Adams’s work that Quixote targeted was this one: “The distinctions of poor and rich are as necessary in states of considerable extent, as labour and good government. The poor are destined to labour; and the rich, by the advantages of education, independence, and leisure, are qualified for superior stations.” Quixote paraphrased the passage thus: “Here then is the happy balance of . . . crimes . . . ; a people envying and hating their insolent masters, yet meanly laying their mouths in the dust before them. A people basely yielding up their


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 2 9 – 1 3 5

proper rank in the scale of beings, confessing that they are not men with intelligence to guide themselves, but brute beasts, fitly destined to labour for, and be governed by beings more artful and not less vicious than themselves.” See also the Centinel of Freedom, 9 November 1796, for similar criticism of Adams’s ideas about economic inequality. 32. Barlow, Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, 86–88. It is almost certain that Barlow had not read Coram’s pamphlet. Their similarity suggests just how widespread and uncontroversial such ideas were in the enlightened circles in which both men traveled. 33. Barlow quoted in Lee, The Excellence of the British Constitution, &c. &c., 1. 34. For an excellent discussion of Barlow’s intellectual life in 1790s Paris, see Ziesche, Cosmopolitan Patriots. 35. When Robert Coram took over as the editor of the Delaware Gazette in the fall of 1795, he brought his readers into this ongoing radical conversation by printing extensive excerpts from Godwin’s Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness, which appeared twice a week for three months. 36. General Advertiser, 7 July 1791. 37. National Gazette, 18 September 1793; Vermont Gazette, 1 August 1794; Time Piece, 5 May 1797. 38. For a discussion of the tensions between Patriot leaders who espoused republican ideals and their less-well-off neighbors, see McDonnell, The Politics of War. 39. For a sympathetic and compelling discussion of this economically egalitarian variety of Protestantism, see Kars, Breaking Loose Together. 40. Independent Gazetteer, 10 April 1790. 41. National Gazette, 4 July 1792. 42. Boston Gazette, 7 September 1790. 43. Independent Chronicle, 8 September 1791. 44. Foner, Tom Paine and Revolutionary America, 228. 45. Independent Gazetteer, 15 February 1794. 46. New-York Journal, 22 July 1795. 47. Ibid. 48. Kramnick, Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism, 14. This argument, that lateeighteenth-century Painite democrats uncritically embraced free market capitalism, can also be found in Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order; Durey, Transatlantic Radicals and the Early American Republic; Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution; and Wood, “The Enemy Is Us.” 49. New-York Journal, 8 November 1796. The full sentence is worth quoting: “An equality of property is not to be expected; indeed it is not to be wished, but wealth ought not to create an undue preponderance. It ought not to furnish the means of oppression. . . . It ought neither to engross the offices of the Country, or to give law to the community.” 50. John Taylor, a government spy, reported that Thelwall had made this statement (see TS 11/955, PRO). Similar statements can be found in Thelwall’s printed works. 51. Another example of this phenomenon can be found in a handbill distributed

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 3 6 – 1 4 1


throughout the Irish countryside by the United Irishmen in 1793: “Yes, countrymen, we do wish for an equality of rights which is constitutional, not an equality of property which is impossible. Yes, countrymen, we do long for another equality, and we hope yet to see it realized: an equality consisting in the power of every father of a family to acquire by labour either of mind or body, something beyond a mere subsistence, some little capital to prove in case of sickness, old age, or misfortune, a safeguard for his body and for his soul, a hallowed hoard that may lift him above the hard necessity which struggles between conscience and corruption. . . . Yes, Irishmen, we do proclaim it our dearest wish, to see a more equal distribution of the benefits and blessings of life through the lowest classes of the community” (“The Society of United Irishmen of Dublin, to the Irish Nation,” handbill, 25 January 1793, T/965/4, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland). 52. Perhaps in response to those who would use his earlier writings against him, Paine noted in 1792, “I have been an advocate for commerce because I am a friend to its effects. . . . As to mere theoretical reformation, I have never preached it up” (Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 43). 53. Ibid., 46–47. Some examples of American newspapers that reprinted these passages are the National Gazette (7 July 1792), the Norwich Packet (19 July 1792), and the General Advertiser (4 September 1792). 54. Argus, 16 August 1791. 55. Ibid. Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer ran weekly essays critical of this funding plan from the moment it was introduced, in January 1790, and throughout that summer. On 23 August 1792, an author who called himself “Justice” argued: “Those men, who earned this property, at the peril of their lives . . . have never yet received an adequate consideration . . . either from the public, or from those who are enjoying it. . . . Their hard earned dues, in many instances, they were compelled to dispose of for a trifle, to save themselves and their families from starving.” 56. Advertisement for P. Webster’s pamphlet entitled Plea for the Poor Soldiers, in Independent Gazetteer, 30 January 1790. 57. Independent Gazetteer, 20 March 1790. 58. National Gazette, 7 May 1792. For other newspaper pieces that reminded readers of the injustice of how the debt was repaid, see Carey’s United States’ Recorder for 12 June 1798; the Boston Gazette for 17 September 1798; and the New-York Journal for 30 March 1791, 4 October 1794, and 21 February 1795. 59. National Gazette, 15 March 1792. 60. Bishop, Oration Delivered in Wallingford, 59. 61. National Gazette, 15 March 1792. 62. Baltimore Daily Intelligencer, 6 August 1794. This piece was originally printed in the General Advertiser. 63. The democratic press’s use of such terminology is richly documented in Stewart, The Opposition Press of the Federalist Era, chap. 10. 64. Henry Brackenridge quoted in Terry Bouton, Taming Democracy, 239. 65. New-York Journal, 23 September 1795. 66. Baltimore Daily Intelligencer, 6 August 1794.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 4 1 – 1 4 8

67. New-York Journal, 23 September 1795. 68. See Bouton, Taming Democracy; and Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. 69. See Elkins and McKitrick, The Age of Federalism; and Kramnick, Bolingbroke and His Circle. 70. This perception of Adam Smith as an unambivalent capitalist still appears in much scholarship. One study, for example, claims that Smith would have thoroughly approved of the shape that industrial capitalism took in the nineteenth century, because “he endorsed full-blown capitalism—everywhere” (McNamara, Political Economy and Statesmanship, 92). 71. Representative samples of this literature are Winch, Adam Smith’s Politics; Rothschild, Economic Sentiments; Hont, “Commercial Society and Political Theory in the Eighteenth Century”; Haakonssen, The Science of a Legislator; Haakonssen, Natural Law and Moral Philosophy; Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests; and Evensky, “Adam Smith on the Human Foundation of a Successful Liberal Society.” 72. See Merrill, “The Anticapitalist Origins of the United States.” Although Merrill overstates his case by calling Smith and his American adherents “anticapitalists,” he effectively demonstrates that Smith’s work could easily be used by those who harbored doubts about the beneficence of commercial development. 73. Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 3:157. The laudatory section on the pin makers is in 1:14–15. 74. Coram, Political Inquiries, 74. 75. New-York Journal, 29 April 1796. The excerpt was taken from Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, 1:330. 76. Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae, 35–36. 77. We will never know if he was actually influenced, directly or indirectly, by Mackintosh’s text. We know that Manning read Boston’s opposition paper, the Independent Chronicle, and that this paper excerpted Mackintosh. Also, the proprietors of the paper advertised Vindiciae Gallicae for sale in their bookshop. Manning may have also encountered Mackintosh’s arguments in George Logan’s widely disseminated and excerpted series of newspaper essays, collected together in three pamphlets published between 1791 and 1793. Manning’s text also suggests that his analysis was informed by European news. He noted that “combinations of the Few are not confined to America or to Europe. For since the American and French revolutions, the Few are alarmed and combining all over the world. . . . And unless there are similar exertions among the Many in favor of liberty, I fear it will yet fall a prey to their superior arts and cunning” (Wilentz and Merrill, The Key of Liberty, 146). 78. Merrill and Wilentz, The Key of Liberty, 157, 136, 144, 136. 79. Ibid., 138. 80. Aurora, 27 February 1798. 81. Logan, Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States (1793), 24. 82. Logan, Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States (1791), 32. 83. Logan, Five Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States (1792), 11–12, 21.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 4 8 – 1 5 3


The passage on pp. 11–12 in Logan is identical to the one in Mackintosh’s Vindiciae Gallicae at pp. 35–36. 84. Cooper, Some Information Respecting America, 77. 85. Logan, An Address on the Natural and Social Order of the World, 11. 86. Logan, Letter to the Citizens of Pennsylvania, 17–18. 87. For a brief summary of Volney’s life, see Rediker and Linebaugh, The ManyHeaded Hydra, 341–44. 88. Volney, The Ruins, 55–56. 89. Volney’s work was excerpted in numerous magazines and newspapers in the late 1790s. When Vermont’s Matthew Lyon was imprisoned under the Sedition Act in 1799, he proudly informed his supporters that he kept himself occupied by reading Volney’s Ruins, the only book he took to jail with him. Morgan John Rhys, a Welsh radical who emigrated to Philadelphia in the late 1790s, had first provoked the ire of the British authorities by publishing a translation of Volney’s work in 1793. 90. Articles about the publication of Paine’s Agrarian Justice and excerpts from it appeared in The Diary; or, Loudon’s Register, 20 April 1797; the New-York Journal, 22 April 1797; the Connecticut Gazette, 27 April 1797; the Rising Sun, 9 May 1797; the Time Piece, 21–28 July 1797; and the American Mercury, 31 July 1797, and 7, 14, and 21 August 1797. 91. One of the Atlantic world’s more radical experiments, Gracchus Babeuf ’s attempts to set up a French commune where there would be “neither rich nor poor,” also garnered much attention in the American press in the late summer of 1796 (see the Salem Gazette, 15 July 1796; the Courier, 2 August 1796; and the Rutland Herald, 17 July 1796). The Rising Sun published a biography of Babeuf on 30 August 1796 that was only mildly critical of his plan. 92. The best discussion of Lee’s political career is Mee, “The Strange Career of ‘Citizen’ Richard Lee.” 93. American Universal Magazine, 10 July 1797, 27–31. 94. American Universal Magazine, 15 November 1797, 403–5. 95. American Universal Magazine, 5 December 1797, 30–33. This critique of profit echoed a point made by Thomas Paine in a pamphlet published that same year: “The accumulation of private property is, in many instances, the effect of paying too little for the labor that produced it; the consequence of which is that the working hand perishes in old age, and the employer abounds in affluence” (Paine, Agrarian Justice, 25). 96. The idea that every citizen has a right to a free education may not strike modern readers as radical, but it is important to remember that this right was not guaranteed to all white Americans until the 1840s in most places, and not guaranteed to all Americans, regardless of color, until after the Civil War. 97. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, 8:681–82. By 1816, Jefferson had changed his mind and considered progressive taxation a violation of natural law. 98. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 70. In the National Gazette, 18 September 1793, Philip Freneau published an extract “from the late French Papers” that sketched out a similar rationale for an estate tax: “If the most common necessaries of life were freed from tax, and all taxes whatever collected from the rich and voluptuous, from superfluities and


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 5 4 – 1 5 6

the artificial necessities of life; we should then see taxation the cause of little or no evil, and vastly less of inequality among citizens.” 99. For a good account of French experiments with progressive taxation, see Gros, “Progressive Taxation and Social Justice in Eighteenth-Century France.” 100. New York Daily Advertiser, 1, 25 August 1792. Another extended argument on behalf of progressive taxation appeared in Cooper, Political Essays, Originally Inserted in the Northumberland Gazette, a pamphlet that was also widely excerpted in democratic newspapers. 101. Callendar, A Short History of the Nature and Consequences of Excise Laws, 4–6. 102. New-York Journal, 25 July 1795. American democrats frequently used the same arguments about the power of class to explain the inequities of the British tax system as well. For one example, see Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser for 15 August 1791: “The reason . . . why the middling and the poorer classes of people are, in proportion, heavier loaded than the rich is pretty evident. The members of parliament are mostly people of fortune and the taxes are laid on by them.” 103. New-York Daily Advertiser, 27 September 1791 (this letter from a correspondent in Pittsburgh was reprinted in the Connecticut Courant, 3 October 1791; the Argus, 16 August 1791; and the New-Jersey Journal, 5 October 1791). 104. City Gazette, 5 June 1794. 105. Western Star, 12 March 1793. In the Argus, 25 December 1792, an author suggested that Congress should “impose a tax on transfers” of bank stock in order to “accommodate its present immoderate profits to the public necessity and convenience.” The author justified this policy by pointing to the huge public expense incurred in paying the clerks, the “sole purpose” of which was “to accommodate gentlemen Speculators.” 106. Aurora, 12 January 1799. This article was reprinted from the Independent Chronicle. 107. Independent Chronicle, 4 October 1798. This article seems to have been particularly popular with democratic editors. It was “Republished by Particular Desire” in the same newspaper on 31 December 1798, and appeared in at least two other publications— the Centinel of Freedom, 16 October 1798, and the Alexandria Times, 6 November 1798. On 11 October 1798, Boston’s leading Federalist newspaper, Russell’s Gazette, published a scathing attack on “A Friend to Equal Taxation” that associated the author’s ideas with murderous Jacobinism. 108. New-York Journal, 17 December 1794. 109. Callendar, A Short History of the Nature and Consequences of Excise Laws, 114. 110. Tucker, Cautionary Hints to Congress Respecting the Sale of Western Lands. A writer in the Independent Chronicle for 14 March 1796 was most likely referring to Tucker’s pamphlet when he endorsed a plan to sell land only to “actual settlers,” in order to “restrain as far as laws can do it, [the] vast and increasing evil” of land speculation. See also a letter from the “Inhabitants of Cheshire” to the Connecticut Courant, 26 January 1795, insisting that the state not sell its western lands “in a body,” because it would encourage “the accumulation of enormous wealth in the hands of over grown land jobbers and greedy speculators.” 111. Carlisle Gazette, 9 July 1794.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 5 6 – 1 6 2


112. Frothingham’s Long Island Gazette, 25 October and 13 December 1791. 113. These were some of the comments that led David Brown to be prosecuted for treason in 1798. These quotes come from the excerpts from David Brown’s writings that were used against him in court (quoted in Anderson, “The Enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Laws”). 114. Philadelphia Gazette, 24 August 1797. 115. New-York Journal, 21 January 1792. 116. Independent Gazetteer, 20 July 1793. 117. The best account of Paine’s egalitarian legacy is Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, especially chap. 6. 118. Temple of Reason, 3 June 1801. 119. “Conjectures about the New Constitution,” September 1787, in The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, 4:275–76. 120. The clearest statement of this argument is Nedelsky, “Confining Democratic Politics.” As Nedelsky notes, most students of judicial review agree that one of John Marshall’s major goals was to insulate existing property rights from the pro-debtor redistributive goals of the state legislatures. Where Marshall scholars tend to laud this effort and describe it as the crowning achievement of American constitutionalism, Nedelsky emphasizes the extent to which judicial review was a defensive, counterrevolutionary move which people like Marshall thought could contain the more democratic implications of the American and French Revolutions. 121. This argument differs from Joyce Appleby’s in her work on Jeffersonian economic thought only in terms of timing. Appleby effectively brings to light the modern, pro-commercial aspects of Jeffersonian ideology, but by assuming that the laissez-faire variety of this discourse was present from the start, she overlooked the struggle between different visions of how economic development should happen. The extreme free-market proponents of the early 1800s came from the moderate and conservative wings of the Jeffersonian coalition, and, to a great extent, they situated themselves in opposition to the more egalitarian and pro-regulation radicals, those people who wrote with the interests of laborers and poor farmers in mind rather than national prosperity and geopolitical concerns. In other words, Appleby’s eloquent exposition of laissez-faire doctrine is accurate for the post-1800 period, but far less so for the 1790s (see Appleby, Capitalism and a New Social Order). 5. “The General Will Is Always Good . . . But by What Sign Shall We Know It?” 1. This quote appeared in “An Essay on Man” in American Universal Magazine (24 July 1797, 101–3), which was published by Richard Lee. Lee, an English printer, was a member of the London Corresponding Society until he had to flee England in 1795 under threat of prosecution for sedition. Upon arrival in Philadelphia, he resumed his printing business. 2. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, 40. Williams’s scathing critique of Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France went through at least six editions in England and two in the United States.


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 6 2 – 1 6 8

3. Yorke, Thoughts on Civil Government, 68. Yorke was a close compatriot of Joseph Gales, a co-founder of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information and editor of the Sheffield Weekly Register, the most important radical newspaper published outside of London. Gales immigrated to the United States in 1795, where he eventually took over Eleazar Oswald’s Independent Gazetteer. For more biographical information on Gales, see Cotlar, “Joseph Gales and the Making of the American Middle Class.” 4. The dual emphasis on local organization and national print was a product of the particularly transitional nature of print culture in the 1790s. In America, democrats sought a way to integrate different embodied publics—as represented in local, face-to-face meetings of citizens—into a more national, disembodied public that was conjured into being in the increasingly interconnected national network of newspapers. This explains why the American Democratic-Republican Societies formed concrete organizations in specific localities, yet also insisted that the different clubs should publish their proceedings for other societies to read and respond to. They could not yet imagine a disembodied national public, because the disconnected state of print culture in the 1790s could not sustain such a public, yet they did not simply call for the construction of stubbornly local, explicitly non-national, publics. Indeed, the essence of their project was to create a national public from the ground up, through their local yet nationally publicized actions. For the best treatment of the relationship between print culture and local vs. national publics, see Loughran, The Republic in Print. 5. Quotes are from Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution, 363–64. Joyce Appleby describes Wood’s version of democracy as “a lot of elbowing competitors in a capitalist economy and no participants in a public debate about what is natural, what is just, and what is true” (Appleby, “The Radical Recreation of the American Republic,” 683). 6. Holton, Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. 7. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, 30. 8. New-York Journal, 29 March 1796. 9. Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 21. 10. New-York Journal, 29 March 1796. 11. National Gazette, 19 December 1791. I thank Albrecht Koschnik for bringing this article to my attention. 12. Sheehan, “The Politics of Public Opinion.” 13. Rush, “Address to the People of the United States,” 9. Jeremy Belknap expressed this frequently repeated sentiment in a private letter to a friend: “Let it stand as a principle that government originates from the people, but let the people be taught . . . that they are not able to govern themselves” (quoted in Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition, 6–7). 14. New-York Journal, 25 August 1795. This article was authored by a writer calling himself “Hancock.” 15. The most radical critiques of the insufficiency of representation came out of France. For example, John Oswald, an “Anglo-Franc,” argued in 1793 against those who claimed that “the people . . . cannot deliberate except by their Representatives.” Oswald elaborated: “Now, if the nation can deliberate by proxy, they may also assemble by proxy, and

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 6 8 – 1 7 5


decide by proxy, and thus the whole Sovereignty of the People will dwindle down to . . . a voice and nothing more; sound without sense. . . . I confess that I have never been able to consider this representative system, without wondering at the easy credulity with which the human mind swallows the most palpable absurdities. Were a man seriously to propose, that the nation should piss by proxy, he would doubtless be regarded as a madman; and yet, to think by proxy, is a proposition which we hear not only without astonishment, but even with approbation” (John Oswald, “The Government of the People . . . ,” in The Political Writings of the 1790s, 4:95–103). 16. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, 29–30. 17. As many commentators have noted, one of the key goals of the Federalist Papers was to contain the more radical implications of the concept of popular sovereignty. The debate over the public described in this chapter occurred before the range of possible meanings and applications of this vague concept had constricted. 18. The quoted phrase comes from Rights of Man. Part the Second, 20. The distinction between representation and democracy was a frequent topic of discussion in the opposition press of the time, with representation usually described as a diluted form of democracy. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the gap between these two concepts became a much less frequent object of analysis. 19. Wilentz and Merrill, The Key of Liberty, 167. 20. My account of Manning also differs from the one put forward in Brooke, “Ancient Lodges and Self-Created Societies,” 311–12. Whereas Brooke situates Manning in the context of the popular politics of the 1780s, I would argue that his plan also bears the powerful stamp of the utopian and universalistic ideas about communication, rights, reason, and popular sovereignty that marked the radical movements in France, Britain, and Ireland. 21. London Corresponding Society to Perth Corresponding Society, Francis Place Papers, ADD MS 27815, British Library, London. The letter is not dated, but internal evidence locates it in late 1796, most likely September. 22. Paine quoted in Keane, Tom Paine, 302. This story originated with Royall Tyler. 23. Kates, “From Liberalism to Radicalism.” 24. Ramsay, A Dissertation on the Manner of Acquiring the Character and Privileges of a Citizen, 3–4. 25. Ramsay had been raised in the North and educated at Princeton. He thus had a very different relationship to slavery than most of his fellow South Carolinians. For an investigation of Ramsay’s tentative and fading anti-slavery sentiments, see Shaffer, “Between Two Worlds.” 26. See the appendix, entitled “Propositions respecting the Foundation of Civil Government; by Thomas Cooper. Read at the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester, on March 7, 1787,” in Cooper, A Reply to Mr. Burke’s Invective, 93–109. 27. Ibid. 28. As this phrase suggests, the figure of the intellectually independent citizen was always implicitly gendered as male. It was not until the late 1790s, however, that Painite democrats began to explicitly define themselves against the figure of the inherently irrational woman. There was thus an intentional vagueness to the universalistic discourse of the


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 7 6 – 1 8 2

early 1790s that was replaced by more unapologetic exclusion in the late 1790s. Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash, contains an excellent discussion of this process. 29. National Gazette, 19 December 1792. 30. Ibid. 31. Norwich Packet, 4 April 1792; National Gazette, 14 August 1793. 32. Gazette of the United States, 14 May 1791. 33. Ibid. 34. Independent Chronicle, 29 February 1793. This piece was excerpted from the National Gazette. 35. This association of Adams with the “British” argument that society would always be divided into the one, the few, and the many became cemented over the course of the 1790s, and democrats frequently used it against him. On 9 April 1798, for example, an anti-Adams writer in Carey’s United States’ Recorder claimed that Adams wrote his Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America “for the sole and avowed purpose of proving to the citizens of America, that neither they, nor any other nation have been, or ever will be virtuous, or wise enough, to live under a form of government recognizing but one order of citizens.” 36. National Gazette, 18 February 1792. This article was reprinted by Benjamin Franklin Bache in the General Advertiser for 21 February 1792. 37. Williams, Lessons to a Young Prince, 31–32. 38. “The Natural and Constitutional Right of Britons to Annual Parliaments, Universal Suffrage, and the Freedom of Popular Association,” in Thelwall, The Politics of English Jacobinism, 28–29. In 1792, Paine similarly argued, that “there ought . . . to be in every nation a method of occasionally ascertaining the state of public opinion with respect to government” (Paine, Rights of Man. Part the Second, 81). 39. Quoted in Pasley, The Tyranny of Printers, 52. 40. This same 19 December 1792 issue of the National Gazette featured a poem which saluted “the democratic cause” in Europe and America. This early use of the unmodified term “democratic” in this particular context demonstrates the extent to which people like Freneau associated “democracy” with the argument that the role of ordinary citizens in the daily business of politics should be augmented. 41. Mackintosh, Vindiciae Gallicae, 167–68. 42. Baltimore Daily Intelligencer, 24 May 1794. 43. This call for the formation of explicitly political voluntary societies occurred almost nine months before the first American Democratic-Republican Society was formed. 44. National Gazette, 4 July 1792. It is important to note that the Friends of the People was actually a moderate organization, founded by elite British reformers. The Americans who read contemporary newspaper descriptions of their project, however, had no way of knowing that. While the intentions of the Britons who founded organizations like the Friends of the People may have been only moderately democratic, the American opposition press chose to excerpt only those portions of their public proclamations that used highly universalistic and utopian language. On the Friends of the People, see Goodwin, The Friends of Liberty.

n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 8 3 – 1 9 4


45. National Gazette, 21 July 1792. 46. See Smelser, “The Federalist Period as an Age of Passion”; and Howe, “Republican Thought and the Political Violence of the 1790s.” 47. The Democratic-Republican Societies may have been reluctant to identify themselves with earlier, Revolutionary examples of collective political action because groups like the Sons of Liberty probably conjured up, for some Americans, visions of mob rule and a lack of tolerance for opposing viewpoints. American democrats wanted to identify their project as dedicated to abstract reason rather than embodied, collective force. For this reason, the actions of their Revolutionary predecessors raised some problematic issues for them that they probably preferred to avoid. 48. General Advertiser, 4 August 1794. 49. New-York Journal, 15 March 1794. 50. General Advertiser, 16 May 1794. 51. New-York Journal, 18 October 1794. 52. New-York Journal, 8 March 1794, 14 January 1795. 53. Independent Chronicle, 15 September 1794. This address appeared in the Philadelphia Gazette and Universal Daily Advertiser on 29 December 1794, and in the New-York Journal on 31 December 1794. 54. New-York Journal, 27 December 1794. 55. Ibid. Compare this fairly timid defense of the Jacobin clubs (which Greenleaf perhaps intentionally did not mention by name) to his confident claim, made in the NewYork Journal on 1 October 1794, that the Jacobins were “at this moment in a higher reputation than ever. . . . All good citizens are Jacobins and all true Jacobins are good citizens.” 56. For a different, though compatible, treatment of the ways in which opposition to the Democratic Societies was justified, see Koschnik, “The Democratic Societies of Philadelphia.” 57. Gazette of the United States, 21 July 1794. 58. Gazette of the United States, 21 October 1794. This piece was excerpted from Noah Webster’s American Minerva. 59. Annals of Congress, 3rd Cong., 2nd sess., 899. 60. Ibid., 902. 61. Ibid., 906. 62. Ibid., 918, 915, 919, 918, 901. 63. Ibid., 906–7. 64. Ibid., 923–28. Ames’s argument about the impossibility of public politics closely resembles that which the Abbé Barruel would put forward in his 1797 Memoirs of the History of Jacobinism, one of the key texts of both the European counterrevolution and America’s anti-Jacobin hysteria of the late 1790s. On Barruel’s argument about public politics, see Hoffman, “Opinion, Illusion, and the Illusion of Opinion.” 65. Albany Gazette, 25 April 1796. For a full exploration of this Federalist argument, see Estes, The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture. 66. Ramsay, An Oration, Delivered in St. Michael’s Church (quotations are on pp. 15–19).


n o t e s t o pa g e s 1 9 5 – 2 1 4

67. Ibid. 68. Packard, The Plea of Patriotism, 17–21. 69. New-York Journal, 31 January 1795. 70. Aside from his newspaper essays, Cobbett also issued numerous political pamphlets in the mid-1790s, including The Bloody Buoy, Thrown Out as a Warning to the Political Pilots of America (Philadelphia, 1796); A Bone to Gnaw for the Democrats (Philadelphia, 1795); History of the American Jacobins, Commonly Denominated Democrats (Philadelphia, 1796); A Little Plain English, Addressed to the People of the United States (Philadelphia, 1796); A New Year’s Gift to the Democrats (Philadelphia, 1796); Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley (Philadelphia, 1795); and The Political Censor, or Monthly Review of the Most Interesting Political Occurrences, Relative to the United States of America (Philadelphia, 1796). 71. Gardiner, Remarks on the Jacobiniad, 17. 72. For a fuller description of Dennie and Pye’s texts, see chapter 3, this volume. 73. Packard, Federal Republicanism, 28. 74. Emmons, A Discourse, Delivered May 9, 1798, 15, 6. 75. Kirkland, An Oration, Delivered, at the Request of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa, in the Chapel of Harvard College . . . July 19, 1798, 10. 76. Abbé Barruel quoted in Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, 216–17. 77. Dwight, The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis, 23–24. 78. Packard, Federal Republicanism, 28–29. 79. Addison, Liberty of Speech and of the Press, 12–15. 80. For a description and analysis of the Cheap Repository Tracts, see chapter 3, this volume. 81. Thrum, Look before Ye Loup, 5–9. 82. Kirland, An Oration, Delivered, at the Request of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa, 5–21. For fuller discussions of the relationship between gender, the political, and the social in the late eighteenth century, see Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash; and Lewis, “Of Every Age, Sex, & Condition.” 83. With the rise of women’s reform movements in the 1830s and 1840s, this notion of women’s “social” role became the launching pad for more explicitly political activity. In the 1790s, however, the unintended democratic possibilities of “the social” were still a long way off. 84. For an excellent account of how this process worked out in post-1800 Pennsylvania, the state with the most vocal and persistent community of Painite radicals, see Shankman, Crucible of American Democracy. Epilogue 1. Gazette of the United States, 11 March 1801. 2. Gazette of the United States, 9 March 1801. 3. Gazette of the United States, 11 March 1801. 4. On Paine’s final years in America, see Keane, Tom Paine, 455–536.

n o t e s t o pa g e 2 1 4


5. For an account of this celebration, as well as the community of democrats and deists who welcomed Paine to New York, see Lause, “The ‘Unwashed Infidelity.’ ” 6. Extracts from the Journals of Daniel Constable . . . [and] the Memorandum Book of Thomas Clio Rickman, sent to Moncure Conway in 1891, MS 7427, Huntington Library, San Merino, Calif.

This page intentionally left blank


Manuscript Collections American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Mass. Mathew Carey Account Books John Prentiss Papers American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Pa. Franklin-Bache Papers Thomas Lloyd Commonplace Book James Perhouse Papers Benjamin Vaughan Papers British Library, London Francis Place Papers, ADD MS 27811 Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Lea & Febiger Records Matthew Carey Correspondence Mathew Carey Letter Books William Cobbett Correspondence Typescripts Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. HM 7427 MS 22842 Library Company of Philadelphia John Hall Diary Port Folio, vol. 1 National Archives or Ireland, Dublin Rebellion Papers Public Record Office, London Treasury Secretary Reports TS 11/953 TS 11/955 TS 11/965 Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Belfast T/965/4




Newspapers and Magazines Federal Gazette (Philadelphia) Alexandria (Va.) Times Federal Orrery (Boston) Anti-Jacobin Review and Magazine; or, Frothingham’s Long Island Gazette Monthly Political and Literary Censor Gazette of the United States (Philadelphia) American Mercury (Hartford) General Advertiser (Philadelphia) American Minerva (New York) Independent Chronicle (Boston) American Universal Magazine Independent Gazetteer (Philadelphia) Argus (Boston) National Gazette (Philadelphia) Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle New-Jersey Journal (Elizabethtown) Aurora (Philadelphia) New-York Daily Advertiser Baltimore Daily Intelligencer New-York Journal Bee (New London, Conn.) Niles’ Weekly Register Boston Gazette Norwich (Conn.) Packet Carey’s United States’ Recorder Philadelphia Gazette (Philadelphia) Providence (R.I.) Gazette Carlisle (Pa.) Gazette Rising Sun (Keene, N.H.) Centinel of Freedom (Newark, N.J.) Russell’s Gazette (Boston) City Gazette (Charleston, S.C.) Rutland (Vt.) Herald Columbian Centinel (Boston) Salem (Mass.) Gazette Connecticut Gazette (New London) Temple of Reason (Philadelphia) Connecticut Courant (Hartford) Time Piece (New York) Courier of New Hampshire (Concord) Tocsin (Hallowell, Me.) The Diary; or, Loudon’s Register (New Vermont Gazette (Bennington) York) Virginia Gazette (Richmond) Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser Western Star (Stockbridge, Mass.) (Philadelphia) Farmers Weekly Museum (Walpole, N.H.) Other Sources Adams, Abigail. New Letters of Abigail Adams, 1788–1801. Edited by Stewart Mitchell. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1947. Adams, John. A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. 3rd ed. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1797. Addison, Alexander. Liberty of Speech and of the Press. Vergennes, [Vt.], 1799. ———. An Oration on the Rise and Progress of the United States of America, to the Present Crisis; and On the Duties of Citizens. Philadelphia, 1798. Altick, Richard D. The English Common Reader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957. Ammon, Harry. The Genet Mission. New York: Norton, 1973. Anderson, Amanda. “Cosmopolitanism, Universalism, and the Divided Legacies of Modernity.” In The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006.



Anderson, Frank Maloy. “The Enforcement of the Alien and Sedition Laws.” Annual Report of the American Historical Association (1912): 113–26. Appleby, Joyce O. Capitalism and a New Social Order: The Republican Vision of the 1790s. New York: New York University Press, 1984. ———. Inheriting the Revolution: The First Generation of Americans. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. ———. “The Radical Recreation of the American Republic.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 51 (October 1994): 679–83. Austin, William, ed. A Selection of the Patriotic Addresses, to the President of the United States, Together with the President’s Answers. Boston, 1798. Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1967. Barlow, Joel. Advice to the Privileged Orders in the Several States of Europe, Resulting from the Necessity and Propriety of a General Revolution in the Principle of Government. New York, 1792. Barruel, Abbé. Memoirs of the History of Jacobinism. Hartford, Conn., 1799. Bayard, Ferdinand Marie. Travels of a Frenchman in Maryland and Virginia. Translated by Ben C. McCary. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Edwards Brothers, 1950. Bentley, William. The Diary of William Bentley, Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts. 4 vols. Boston: Essex Institute, 1905–14. Bishop, Abraham. The Georgia Speculation Unveiled: Second Part. Hartford, 1798. ———. Oration Delivered in Wallingford on the 11th of March 1801, before the Republicans of the State of Connecticut, at their General Thanksgiving, for the Election of Thomas Jefferson. New Haven, Conn., 1801. Bolster, W. Jeffrey. Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997. Bouton, Terry. Taming Democracy: The People, the Founders, and the Troubled Ending of the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Branson, Susan. Those Fiery Frenchified Dames: Women and Political Culture in Early National Philadelphia. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 2001. Bric, Maurice. Ireland, Philadelphia, and the Re-Invention of America, 1760–1800. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2008. Brooke, John. “Ancient Lodges and Self-Created Societies: Voluntary Association and the Public Sphere in the Early Republic.” In Launching the “Extended Republic”: The Federalist Era, edited by Ronald Hoffman and Peter J. Albert. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996. Brown, Chandos Michael. “Mary Wollstonecraft, or, the Female Illuminati: The Campaign against Women and ‘Modern Philosophy’ in the Early Republic.” Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Fall 1995): 389–424. Burke, Edmund. Reflections on the Revolution in France. Philadelphia, 1792. Callendar, James. A Short History of the Nature and Consequences of Excise Laws; including Some Account of the Recent Interruption to the Manufactories of Snuff and Refined Sugar . . . Philadelphia, 1795.



Carey, James. Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989. Carlisle, July 26, 1793: Proceedings, at a Meeting of Subscribers of Flour for the Use of the French Republic, Held at the Court House of This Borough. Doctor Gustine in the Chair. Carlisle, [Pa.]: Printed by George Kline, [1793]. Carter, Edward C., II. “Naturalization in Philadelphia, 1789–1806: A ‘Wild Irishman’ under Every Federalist’s Bed—Revisited Twenty Years Later.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 133, no. 2 (1989): 175–89. Cheah, Pheng. “Cosmopolitanism.” Theory, Culture & Society 23 (March–May 2006): 486–96. Cheah, Pheng, and Bruce Robbins, eds. Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998. Claeys, Gregory. “Paine’s Agrarian Justice and the Secularisation of Natural Jurisprudence.” Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, 52 (1987): 21–31. Cleves, Rachel Hope. The Reign of Terror in America: Visions of Violence from AntiJacobinism to Antislavery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Cobbett, William. An Antidote for Tom Paine’s Theological and Political Poison. Philadelphia, 1796 ———. Porcupine’s Works. 12 vols. London, 1801. Conway, Moncure. The Life of Thomas Paine. New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1908. Cooper, Thomas. Political Essays, Originally Inserted in the Northumberland Gazette. Northumberland, 1799. ———. A Reply to Mr. Burke’s Invective. London, 1792. ———. Some Information Respecting America. London, 1794. Coram, Robert. Political Inquiries, to Which is Added a Plan for the Establishment of Schools throughout the United States. Wilmington, 1791. Cornell, Saul. “Aristocracy Assailed: The Ideology of Backcountry Anti-Federalism.” Journal of American History (March 1990): 1148–72. Cotlar, Seth. “ ‘Every Man Should Have Property’: Robert Coram and the American Revolution’s Legacy of Economic Populism.” In Revolutionary Founders: Radical Crusaders and the Promise of the American Revolution, edited by Gary Nash, Ray Raphael, and Alfred Young. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2011. ———. “Joseph Gales and the Making of the American Middle Class.” In The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, edited by James J. Horn, Jan E. Lewis, and Peter S. Onuf. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002. Cronin, James E., ed. The Diary of Elihu Hubbard Smith. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1973. Cunningham, Hugh. “The Language of Patriotism, 1750–1914.” History Workshop Journal 12 (1981): 9–10. Daniel, Marcus. Scandal & Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Davis, David Brion. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.



———. Revolutions: Reflections on American Equality and Foreign Liberations. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Davis, John. Travels of Four Years and a Half in the United States of America: During 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, and 1802. London, 1803. DeConde, Alexander. The Quasi-War: The Politics and Diplomacy of the Undeclared War with France, 1797–1801. New York: Scribner, 1966. Dennie, Joseph. The Lay Preacher; or, Short Sermons, for Idle Readers. Walpole, N.H., 1796. Dickinson, H. T. “Popular Conservatism and Militant Loyalism, 1789–1815.” In , Britain and the French Revolution, 1789–1815, edited by H. T. Dickinson. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Dowling, William C. Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson: Joseph Dennie and “The Port Folio,” 1801–1812. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. Drayton, John. Letters Written during a Tour through the Northern and Eastern States of America. Charleston, 1794. Dunham, Josiah. An Oration on the Fourth of July, 1798. 2nd ed. Hanover, N.H., 1798. Durey, Michael. Transatlantic Radicals in the Early American Republic. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997. Dwight, Theodore. An Oration Spoken at Hartford . . . on the Anniversary of American Independence, July 4th, 1798. Hartford, 1798. Dwight, Timothy. The Duty of Americans, at the Present Crisis. New Haven, 1798. Eastman, Carolyn. A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Eastwood, David. “Patriotism and the English State in the 1790s.” In The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, edited by Mark Philp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Elkins, Stanley, and Eric McKitrick. The Age of Federalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. Ellis, Harold. Joseph Dennie and His Circle: A Study in American Literature from 1792–1812. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1912. Emmons, Nathanael. A Discourse, Delivered May 9, 1798. Being the Day of Fasting and Prayer throughout the United States. Wrentham, Mass., 1798. Estes, Todd. The Jay Treaty Debate, Public Opinion, and the Evolution of Early American Political Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2006. Evensky, Jerry. “Adam Smith on the Human Foundation of a Successful Liberal Society.” History of Political Economy 25, no. 3 (1993): 395–412. Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980. Foner, Eric. Tom Paine and Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976. Foner, Philip, ed. The Complete Writings of Thomas Paine. New York: Citadel Press, 1945. ———, ed. The Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800: A Documentary Sourcebook of Constitutions, Declarations, Addresses, Resolutions, and Toasts. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976.



The French Revolution and British Popular Politics. Edited by Mark Philp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Freneau, Philip. Letters on Various Interesting and Important Subjects; Many of Which Have Appeared in the Aurora. Corrected and Much Enlarged. By Robert Slender. O.S.M. Philadelphia, 1799. Furet, François. The French Revolution. Translated by Antonia Nevill. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1996. ———. Interpreting the French Revolution. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Furstenberg, François. “U.S. and French Atlantic Connections: The Case of French Emigrés in Philadelphia, c. 1789–1803.” Paper presented at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, University of Pennsylvania, 11 November 2005. Gardiner, John Sylvester John. Remarks on the Jacobiniad: Revised and Corrected by the Author; and Embellished with Carricatures [sic].; Part first. [Eight lines of verse]. Boston, 1795. Gerrald, Joseph. A Convention the Only Means of Saving Us From Ruin, in a Letter Addressed to The People of England. London, 1794. Godwin, William. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness. London, 1793. Goodrich, Samuel. Recollections of a Lifetime, or, Men and Things I Have Seen. Vol. 1. New York, 1856. Goodwin, Albert. The Friends of Liberty: The English Democratic Movement in the Age of the French Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979. Graydon, Alexander. Memoirs of a Life, Chiefly Passed in Pennsylvania, Within the Last Sixty Years. Harrisburgh, 1811. Gros, Jean-Pierre. “Progressive Taxation and Social Justice in Eighteenth-Century France.” Past and Present, 140 (August 1993): 79–126. Haakonssen, Knud. Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ———. The Science of a Legislator: The Natural Jurisprudence of David Hume and Adam Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981. Hale, Matthew Rainbow. “ ‘Many Who Wandered in Darkness’: The Contest over American National Identity, 1795–1798.” Early American Studies 1 (Spring 2003): 127–75. ———. “Neither Britons Nor Frenchmen: The French Revolution and American National Identity.” Ph.D. diss., Brandeis University, 2002. Hamilton, Alexander. The Papers of Alexander Hamilton. Edited by Harold C. Syrett. 26 vols. New York: Columbia University Press, 1961–87. Hawke, David Freeman. Paine. New York: Harper and Row, 1974. Hazen, Charles. Contemporary American Opinion of the French Revolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1897. Heater, Derek. Citizenship and World Government: Cosmopolitan Ideas in the History of Western Political Thought. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996. Hench, John. “The Newspaper in a Republic: Boston’s ‘Centinel’ and ‘Chronicle,’ 1784– 1801.” Ph.D. diss., Clark University, 1979.



Hirschman, Albert O. The Passions and the Interests: Political Arguments for Capitalism before Its Triumph. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977. Hoffman, Amos. “Opinion, Illusion, and the Illusion of Opinion: Barruel’s Theory of Conspiracy.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 27 (Fall 1993): 27–60. Hofstadter, Richard. The American Political Tradition and the Men Who Made It. 1948; reprint, New York: Vintage Books, 1954. ———. The Idea of a Party System: The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780–1840. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969. Hole, Robert. “British Counter-revolutionary Popular Propaganda in the 1790s.” In Britain and Revolutionary France: Conflict, Subversion, and Propaganda, edited by Colin Jones. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 1983. Holton, Woody. Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution. New York: Hill and Wang, 2007. Hont, Istvan. “Commercial Society and Political Theory in the Eighteenth Century: The Problem of Authority in David Hume and Adam Smith.” In Main Trends in Cultural History, edited by Willem Melching and Wyger Velema. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. Hont, Istvan, and Michael Ignatieff, eds. Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Horne, Thomas A. Property Rights and Poverty: Political Argument in Britain, 1605–1834. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. Howe, John R. “Republican Thought and the Political Violence of the 1790s.” American Quarterly 19 (Summer 1967): 147–65. Hunt, Lynn. Inventing Human Rights: A History. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. ———. Politics, Culture, and Class in the French Revolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Ingersoll, Thomas. “ ‘Riches and Honor Were Rejected by Them as Loathsome Vomit’: The Fear of Levelling in New England.” In Inequality in Early America, edited by Carla Gardina Pestana and Sharon V. Salinger. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1999. Jacob, Margaret. Strangers Nowhere in the World: The Rise of Cosmopolitanism in Early Modern Europe. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2006. Jefferson, Thomas. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Edited by Julian P. Boyd et al. 35 vols. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1950– . Jones, Howard Mumford. America and French Culture, 1750–1848. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1927. Jones, Louis C., ed. Growing Up in the Cooper Country: Boyhood Recollections of the New York Frontier. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1965. Kaplan, Catherine O. Men of Letters in the Early Republic: Cultivating Forms of Citizenship. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2007. Kars, Marjoleine. Breaking Loose Together: The Regulator Rebellion in Pre-Revolutionary North Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. Kaye, Harvey. Thomas Paine and the Promise of America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2005.



Kates, Gary. “From Liberalism to Radicalism: Tom Paine’s Rights of Man.” Journal of the History of Ideas 50 (October–December 1989): 569–87. Keane, John. Tom Paine: A Political Life. Boston: Little, Brown, 1995. Kirkland, John Thornton. An Oration, Delivered, at the Request of the Society of Phi Beta Kappa, in the Chapel of Harvard College . . . July 19, 1798. Boston, 1798. Kloppenberg, James. “The Virtues of Liberalism: Christianity, Republicanism, and Ethics in Early American Political Discourse.” Journal of American History 74 (June 1987): 9–33. Koschnik, Albrecht. “The Democratic Societies of Philadelphia and the Limits of the Public Sphere, circa 1793–1795.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 58 (July 2001): 615–36. ———. ‘Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together’: Associations, Partisanship, and Culture in Philadelphia, 1775–1840. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2007. Kramnick, Isaac. Bolingbroke and His Circle: The Politics of Nostalgia in the Age of Walpole. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992. ———. Republicanism and Bourgeois Radicalism: Political Ideology in Late EighteenthCentury England and America. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1990. La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt, François-Alexandre-Frédéric, duc de. Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, in the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797; with an Authentic Account of Lower Canada. Vol. 1. London, 1799. Lathrop, John. A Sermon on the Dangers of the Times, from Infidelity and Immorality; and Especially from a Lately Discovered Conspiracy against Religion and Government. Springfield, 1798. Lause, Mark. “The ‘Unwashed Infidelity’: Thomas Paine and Early New York City Labor History.” Labor History 27, no. 3 (1986): 386–409. Lee, ‘Citizen’ Richard, ed. The Excellence of the British Constitution, &c. &c.: Consisting of Extracts from Pigott, Barlow, &c. London, 1795. Lewis, Jan. “ ‘Of Every Age, Sex, & Condition’ ”: The Representation of Women in the Constitution.” Journal of the Early Republic 15 (Autumn 1995): 359–87. Link, Eugene. Democratic-Republican Societies, 1790–1800. New York: Columbia University Press, 1942. Linn, William. A Discourse on National Sins: Delivered May 9, 1798. New York, 1798. Logan, George. An Address on the Natural and Social Order of the World. Philadelphia, 1798. ———. Five Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States. Philadelphia, 1792. ———. Letter to the Citizens of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1800. ———. Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States. Philadelphia, 1791. ———. Letters Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States. Philadelphia, 1793. Loughran, Trish. The Republic in Print: Print Culture in the Age of U.S. Nation Building, 1770–1870. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007. Mackintosh, James. Vindiciae Gallicae. Defense of the French Revolution and Its English Admirers against the Accusations of the Right Hon. Edmund Burke. Philadelphia, 1792.



Maclay, William. The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates. Edited by Kenneth R. Bowling and Helen E. Veit. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988. MacPherson, C. B. The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962. McConville, Brendan. Those Daring Disturbers of the Public Peace: The Struggle for Property and Power in Early New Jersey. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003. McDonnell, Michael. The Politics of War: Race, Class, and Conflict in Revolutionary Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007. McNamara, Peter. Political Economy and Statesmanship: Smith, Hamilton, and the Foundation of the Commercial Republic. DeKalb: Northern Illinois Press, 1998. Mee, John. “The Strange Career of ‘Citizen’ Richard Lee.” In British Literary Radicalism, 1650–1830: From Revolution to Revolution, edited by Timothy Morton and Nigel Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Melching, Willem, and Wyger Velema, eds. Main Trends in Cultural History. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994. Merrill, Michael. “The Anticapitalist Origins of the United States.” Review: Fernand Braudel Center 13 (Fall 1990): 465–97. Merrill, Michael, and Sean Wilentz. “ ‘The Key of Libberty’: William Manning and Plebeian Democracy, 1747–1812.” In Beyond the American Revolution, edited by Alfred F. Young. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1993. Merrill, Michael, and Sean Wilentz, eds. The Key of Liberty: The Life and Democratic Writings of William Manning. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. Messer-Kruse, Timothy. The Yankee International: Marxism and the American Reform Tradition, 1848–1876. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998. Miller, David. “The MacPherson Version.” Political Studies 30, no. 1 (1982): 120–27. Miller, John C. The Federalist Era. New York: Harper, 1960. Miller, Samuel. A Sermon, Delivered May 9, 1798. New York, 1798. M’Keen, Joseph. Two Discourses, Delivered at Beverly, on the Day of the National Feast, May 9, 1798. Salem, 1798. More, Hannah. The Works of Hannah More. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1848. Moreau de Saint-Méry, M. L. E. Moreau de St. Méry’s American Journey. Translated and edited by Kenneth Roberts and Anna M. Roberts. Garden City, N.J.: Doubleday, 1947. Morse, Jedidiah. A Sermon, Delivered at the North Church in Boston, in the Morning, and in the Afternoon at Charleston, May 9th, 1798. Boston, 1798. ———. A Sermon Preached at Charlestown, November 29, 1798. Boston, 1798. Murrin, John. “A Roof without Walls: The Dilemma of American National Identity.” In Beyond Confederation: Origins of the Constitution and American National Identity, edited by Richard Beeman, Stephen Botein, and Edward C. Carter II. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987. Mushkat, Jerome. Tammany: The Evolution of a Political Machine, 1789–1865. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1971.



Nedelsky, Jennifer. “Confining Democratic Politics: Anti-Federalists, Federalists, and the Constitution.” Harvard Law Review 96 (December 1982): 340–60. Newman, Simon. Parades and the Politics of the Street: Festive Culture in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997. Osgood, David. Some Facts Evincive of the Atheistical, Anarchical, and in Other Respects, Immoral Principles of the French Republicans, Stated in a Sermon Delivered on the 9th of May, 1798. Boston, 1798. ———. The Wonderful Works of God Are to be Remembered: A Sermon Delivered on the Day of Annual Thanksgiving, November 20, 1794. Boston, 1795. Packard, Hezekiah. Federal Republicanism, Displayed in Two Discourses, Preached on the Day of the State Fast at Chelmsford, and on the day of the National Fast at Concord, in April, 1799. Boston, 1799. ———. The Plea of Patriotism. A Sermon, Preached in Chelmsford, on the Day of General Thanksgiving, February 19, 1795. By Hezekiah Packard, A.M. Minister of Chelmsford. Boston, 1795. Paine, Thomas. Agrarian Justice, Opposed to Agrarian Law. Philadelphia, 1797. ———. Letters from Thomas Paine to the Citizens of the United States, on His Arrival from France. Washington City, 1802. ———. The Life and Major Writings of Thomas Paine. Edited by Philip S. Foner. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1948. ———. Rights of Man. Part the Second. Combining Principal and Practice. New York, 1792. ———. Tom Paine’s Jests: Being an Entirely New and Select Collection of Patriotic Bon Mots, Repartees, Anecdotes, Epigrams, Observations, &c. on Political Subjects. Philadelphia, 1796. Paley, William. The Works of William Paley. Edited by D. S. Wayland. London: George Cowie and Co., 1837. Palmer, R. R. The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of America, 1760–1800. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959. ———. The Age of Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1776–1800. Vol. 2, The Struggle. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1964. Pasley, Jeff. ‘The Tyranny of Printers’: Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001. Pearson, Edward A. Designs against Charleston. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999. Pendleton, Gayle. “Towards a Bibliography of the Reflections and Rights of Man Controversy.” Bulletin of Research in the Humanities 85, no. 1 (1982): 65–103. Perrin, William Henry. The Pioneer Press of Kentucky. Louisville, Ky.: J. P. Morton, 1888. Piggott, Charles. A Political Dictionary: Explaining the True Meaning of Words. New York, 1796. Pocock, J. G. A. The Ancient Constitution and the Feudal Law: A Study of English Historical Thought in the Seventeenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1957. ———. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the American Republic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975.



The Political Writings of the 1790s. Edited by Gregory Claeys. 8 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1995. Port Folio [literary journal]. Edited by Joseph Dennie. 1800–1803. Pred, Alan. Urban Growth and the Circulation of Information. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1973. Price, Richard. A Discourse on the Love of Our Country. Boston, 1790. Pye, Henry James. The Democrat; or Intrigues and Adventures of Jean Le Noir. 2 vols. New York, 1795. Radcliffe, Evan. “Burke, Radical Cosmopolitanism, and the Debates on Patriotism in the 1790s.” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 28 (1999): 311–39. ———. “Revolutionary Writing, Moral Philosophy, and Universal Benevolence in the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the History of Ideas 54 (1993): 221–40. Ramsay, David. Extracts of Ramsay’s Oration in Charleston, 4 July 1794. [Ireland], 1794. ———. A Dissertation on the Manner of Acquiring the Character and Privileges of a Citizen. Charleston, 1789.. ———. An Oration, Delivered in St. Michael’s Church. Charleston, 1794. Ray, Thomas M. “ ‘Not One Cent for Tribute’: The Public Addresses and American Popular Reaction to the XYZ Affair, 1798–1799.” Journal of the Early Republic 3 (Winter 1983): 389–412. Rediker, Marcus, and Peter Linebaugh. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. New York, 2000. Riley, Padraig. “Northern Republicans and Southern Slavery: Democracy in the Age of Jefferson, 1800–1819.” Ph.D. diss., University of California at Berkeley, 2008. Rosenfeld, Sophia. “Citizens of Nowhere in Particular: Cosmopolitanism, Writing, and Political Engagement in Eighteenth-Century Europe.” National Identities 4, no. 1 (2002): 25–43. Rothschild, Emma. Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Rush, Benjamin. “Address to the People of the United States.” American Museum 1 (1787): 8–11. Samuel, Raphael. Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity. London: Routledge, 1989. Saxton, Alexander. The Indispensable Enemy: Labor and the Anti-Chinese Movement in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. Schoenbachler, Matthew. “Republicanism in the Age of Democratic Revolution: The Democratic-Republican Societies of the 1790s.” Journal of the Early Republic 18 (1998): 237–61. Schudson, Michael. The Power of News. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1995. Scott, Julius S. “The Common Wind: Currents of Afro-American Communication in the Age of the Haitian Revolution.” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1986. Seaman, John W. “Thomas Paine: Ransom, Civil Peace, and the Natural Right to Welfare.” Political Theory 16 (February 1988): 120–42.



Shaffer, Arthur H. “Between Two Worlds: David Ramsay and the Politics of Slavery.” Journal of Southern History 50 (May 1984): 175–96. Shankman, Andrew. Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism & Capitalism in Jeffersonian America. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004. Sheehan, Colleen. “The Politics of Public Opinion: James Madison’s ‘Notes on Government.’ ” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 44 (October 1992): 609–27. Smelser, Marshall. “The Federalist Period as an Age of Passion.” American Quarterly 10 (Winter 1958): 391–419. Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Philadelphia, 1789. Smith, James Morton. “The Federalist ‘Saints’ versus ‘The Devil of Sedition’: The Liberty Pole Cases of Dedham, Massachusetts, 1798–1799.” New England Quarterly 28 (June 1955): 198–215. Sonne, Niels H. Liberal Kentucky, 1780–1828. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939. Stauffer, Vernon. New England and the Bavarian Illuminati. New York: Columbia University Press, 1918. Stewart, Donald. The Opposition Press of the Federalist Era. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1969. Sullivan, James. The Altar of Baal Thrown Down: Or, The French Nation Defended against the Pulpit Slander of David Osgood. Boston, 1795. Tagg, James. Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia Aurora. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. Taylor, Alan. Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Main Frontier, 1760–1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990. ———. William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1995. Thelwall, John. The Politics of English Jacobinism: Writings of John Thelwall. Edited with an introduction and notes by Gregory Claeys. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. Thrum, Tam [William Brown]. Look before Ye Loup; or, A Healin’ Sa’ for the Crackit Crowns of Country Politicians, by Tam Thrum, an Auld Weaver. Printed for Thomas Dobson, at the Stone House, no. 41, South-Second Street, 1798. Tinling, Marion. “Thomas Lloyd’s Reports of the First Federal Congress.” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 18 (October 1961): 519–45. Travers, Len. Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. Tucker, St. George. Cautionary Hints to Congress Respecting the Sale of Western Lands. Philadelphia, 1795. Twomey, Richard. Jacobins and Jeffersonians: Anglo-American Radicalism in the United States, 1790–1820. New York: Garland Publishing, 1989. U.S. Congress. Annals of the Congress of the United States, 1789–1824. 42 vols. Washington, D.C., 1834–56. Virginia. The Statutes at Large of Virginia: From October Session 1792, to December Session



1806, Inclusive, in Three Volumes, (New Series,) being a Continuation of Hening, by Samuel Shepherd. 3 vols. Richmond, 1836. Volney, Constantin-François. The Ruins: or A Survey of the Revolutions of Empires. Philadelphia, 1799. Waldstreicher, David. In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776–1820. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. Waldstreicher, David, and Stephen Grossbart. “Abraham Bishop’s Vocation; or, the Mediation of Jeffersonian Politics.” Journal of the Early Republic 18 (Winter 1998): 617–57. Wansey, Henry. Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794. Salisbury, 1796. Webster, Noah. Dissertations on the English Language. Boston, 1789. ———. An Oration Pronounced before the Citizens of New Haven on the Anniversary of the Independence of the United States, July 4th 1798. New Haven, 1798. ———. The Revolution in France Considered in Respect to Its Progress and Effects. New York, 1794. Weiss, Harry B. “Hannah More’s Cheap Repository Tracts in America.” Pts. 1 and 2. Bulletin of the New York Public Library 50 (July 1946): 539–49; 50 (August 1946): 634–41. Westcott, Thompson. A History of Philadelphia, from the Time of the First Settlements on the Delaware to the Consolidation of the City and Districts in 1854. Philadelphia, 1886. White, Morton. The Philosophy of the American Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978. Wilentz, Sean. Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984. Williams, David. Lessons to a Young Prince from an Old Statesman on the Present Disposition in Europe to a General Revolution. New York, 1791. Wilson, David. United Irishmen, United States: Immigrant Radicals in the Early Republic. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998. Winans, Robert B. “The Growth of a Novel-Reading Public in Late-Eighteenth-Century America.” Early American Literature 9 (Winter 1975): 267–75. Winch, Donald. Adam Smith’s Politics: An Essay in Historiographic Revision. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Wollstonecraft, Mary. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Philadelphia, 1794. ———. The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft. Edited by Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler. 7 vols. London: William Pickering, 1989. Woloch, Isser. “On the Latent Illiberalism of the French Revolution.” American Historical Review 95 (December 1990): 1452–70. Wood, Ellen Meiskins. Democracy against Capitalism: Renewing Historical Materialism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Wood, Gordon. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787. New York: W. W. Norton, 1969. ———. “The Enemy Is Us: Democratic Capitalism in the Early Republic.“ Journal of the Early Republic 16 (Summer 1996): 293–309. ———. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992.



Wortman, Tunis. Oration on the Influence of Social Institutions upon Human Morals and Happiness. New York, 1796. ———. A Solemn Address to Christians and Patriots upon the Approaching Election of a President of the United States. New York, 1800. Yorke, Henry Redhead. Thoughts on Civil Government: Addressed to the Disfranchised Citizens of Sheffield. London, 1794. Young, Alfred. The Democratic Republicans of New York; The Origins, 1763–1797. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967. ———. Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. New York: New York University Press, 2006. Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. Ziesche, Phillip. Cosmopolitan Patriots: Americans in Paris in the Age of Jefferson. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010.


Italicized page numbers refer to illustrations. Adams, John, 71, 107–8, 127–29, 145, 178, 179, 197, 228n76, 237–38n31, 246n35 Adams, Samuel, 91–92 Adams, Thomas, 17, 19–20, 29, 97, 170 Addison, Alexander, 104, 201–2 Alien and Sedition Acts, 31, 39, 98, 149, 201–2 American exceptionalism, 7, 54, 101–4, 188– 89, 192, 233–34n42 American Revolution: conservative appropriations of, 72, 88, 190; contrasted with French Revolution, 184, 190; economic hardship resulting from, 137, 176; ideology of, 6, 67, 130–31, 173, 175, 205; political mobilization during, 164, 169–70, 247n47; radical appropriations of, 131–33, 135; social changes caused by, 18 Ames, Fisher, 192–93 anti-federalists, 21, 67 anti-Jacobinism, 7, 83–84, 93–95, 99–101, 108–11, 112, 196–99, 204 anti-slavery, 10, 25, 49, 55–67 Appleby, Joyce, 4–5, 7, 243n121 Argus (Boston), 21, 28, 58–59 aristocracy: American rejection of, 102, 130, 133; democratic criticisms of, 122, 143, 222n70; economic aspects of, 120; Federalist support for a “natural” version of, 89, 103; worries about resurgence of, in America, 72–73, 76, 176, 184 artisans. See laborers Aurora, 19, 112 Bache, Benjamin Franklin, 19, 99, 130; death of, 17; editorial decisions of, 33–34, 36, 69; involvement in the book trade, 218; on Thomas Paine, 73; on slavery, 57–58, 60, 63 banks, 157

Barlow, Joel, 31, 41–42, 123, 129, 174, 236n9 Barruel, Abbé, 105, 200–201, 247n64 Bavarian Illuminati, 105–6, 200–201 Bayard, Ferdinand, 39–41 Beardsley, Levi, 30 Beccaria, Cesare, 236n9 Bishop, Abraham, 21, 58–59, 105 Blackstone, William, 115–17, 122, 125 book trade, 15–16, 18, 24–27, 99, 217n12, 219n25 Brewster, Walter, 37–38, 176–77 Britain, criticisms of, 64, 70, 77, 79, 140–41, 148–49, 185–86 British radicalism, 173–75, 246n44; economic dimensions of, 121; influence on American democrats, 146–48, 169, 181–84, 230n94; monarchical suppression of, 79–80, 221–22n68, 230n97; sympathetic American discussions of, 33–34, 78, 163–64, 167–68 Brown, David, 30–31 Burke, Edmund, 7, 100, 114, 145; democratic criticisms of, 71, 175, 203; influence on American conservatives, 84, 90, 103; Reflections on the Revolution in France, 24, 69, 170, 228n75–76 Byrne, Patrick, 16, 24, 217n12 “Ça Ira” (song), 41, 53, 212 Callendar, James, 154, 156 Carey, James, 23, 24, 28, 113, 218n18, 219n25, 237–38n31 Carey, Matthew, 38, 53, 105, 214; and the domestic book trade, 24–27, 110, 219n25, 230n97; and the transatlantic book trade, 16, 53, 214, 217n12 citizen-readers, 13–17, 42–48, 116 citizenship, 164, 168, 171–209; passive conceptions of, 103–5, 108, 195–202


266 civilization, 118–19, 129, 136, 145, 150, 158 Claeys, Gregory, 124 class, 205; backgrounds of 1790s radicals, 5; democrats’ analysis of, 76, 133–34, 136– 43, 145–58; inflected language of 1790s democrats, 43, 74, 176–77; and newspaper readership 13–14 classical republicanism, 130–31, 175 Cobbett, William, 29, 84, 98–101, 108, 196, 218n21, 233n35 coffee houses, 29, 31, 44, 139, 182, 220n36 combinations, 146–47, 148, 166 commercial society, 119–20, 125, 136, 142, 144–55, 158 Connecticut, 37–38, 105, 176 Constitution, the, 5–6, 67, 163–64, 168, 173, 195–96 consumption, 63, 150–52 Cooper, Thomas, 148–49, 173–75, 214 Coram, Robert, 21, 62, 115–22, 123, 124, 125, 126, 129, 144, 147, 153, 158, 160 corporations, 157 cosmopolitanism, 80–81, 119, 222–23n7, 223n8, 231n4; contrasted with nationalism, 67–71, 84–86, 89–91; Federalist criticisms of, 100–105; literary version of, 112–14; manifestations of, in popular political culture, 50–55, 162; and opposition to the Washington Administration, 74–75; and print culture, 33; and slavery, 63 counterrevolution: fears of, 46–47, 75; democratic associations of Federalists with, 79, 105, 132, 179, 184, 234n55; responses to, 132, 195–96 country opposition thought, 142–43 Dallas, Alexander James, 212–13 Davis, Cornelius, 25, 84, 108–10 Davis, John, 13 debt certificates, 137–39, 141, 155 deism, 113, 124, 158 Delaware, 115, 119 democracy: constriction in the meaning of, 11, 158–60, 188–89, 207–9, 212–14; and economics, 119–22, 133–35; Federalist criticisms of, 127, 198; impact of the French Revolution on the meaning of, 3–6, 37, 246n40; and public opinion, 184–85; and representation, 168, 179–81 democratic printers, 16–28, 212–13, 217– 18n13, 218–19n23, 220n43; criticisms of

index the Washington Administration, 75, 132; editorial strategies of, 32–33, 72, 168, 183–84, 230n97; response to revolutionary setbacks in Europe, 46–47 Democratic-Republican Societies, 171, 183–93, 194–95, 207; cosmopolitanism of, 77, 223–24n17; criticisms of, 92, 93, 106, 196, 198, 199, 200; democratic defenses of, 78–79; democratic editors as members of, 76; ideological rationale for, 162, 164, 229n91; use of print culture, 244n4 Democrats. See also Jeffersonian Democrats Dennie, Joseph, 44–46, 84, 112–14, 197 Dobson, Richard, 202 domesticity, 98, 100, 105–7, 110, 202–6, 231n4 Driscol, Denis, 113–14, 123, 158 Duane, William, 112, 212, 214 Dwight, Theodore, 103 Dwight, Timothy, 106, 111, 200–201 Edes, Benjamin, 132, 223n16 education, 118–19, 147, 153, 164, 177–78, 241n96 election of 1800, 3, 66–67, 160, 207, 211–14 elections, 14, 32, 47, 168, 177, 181, 194 émigrés. See radical émigrés Emmons, Nathanael, 199 Enlightenment, the, 175, 180; and cosmopolitanism, 69; and human nature, 117, 177; moderate variants of, 36; and nationalism, 90; radical variants of, 3, 50, 78, 161, 170; reaction against, 11, 110, 206, 209; Scottish, 118 family. See domesticity Farmers Weekly Museum, 44–45, 197 Federalist Papers, 4, 245n17 Federalist printers, 19, 25, 84, 108–11, 202, 218–19n23 Federalists, 11, 44–46, 64–65, 82–84, 95–114, 140–41, 186–87, 188–206, 211–14 Fellows, John, 27, 214 Fenno, John, 177–78, 212 FitzSimons, Thomas, 191 French Revolution, 5–6, 7, 8, 14–15, 16, 17, 21, 24, 25, 28, 46–47, 50, 56, 64, 67, 82–83, 120, 171, 173, 178, 206, 229n79; celebrations of, 49, 51–53, 69–71, 86, 87; criticisms of, 71, 88–89, 91–95, 109, 111, 121, 177, 189–90, 192–93, 228n76; positive

index commentary on, 36–37, 71–78, 131–32, 184 Freneau, Philip, 30, 180, 182, 219n32 Frothingham, David, 23 funding system, 139–43, 239n55 Gaine, Hugh, 25 Gales, Joseph, 244n3 Gallatin, Albert, 212–13 Gardiner, J. S. J., 197–99 Gazette of the United States, 64, 107, 177, 180, 182–83, 212, 213 gender, 103, 174, 202–6, 245–46n28 Genet, Edmund, 86–87, 92 Gerrald, Joseph, 79, 121, 221–22n68 Giles, William Branch, 191–92 Godwin, William, 7, 129, 143, 150, 238n35 Greenleaf, Thomas, 19–20, 49; connections with other printers, 21, 23; death of, 17; editorial practices of, 28, 34, 36, 73, 77–79, 146, 166, 219n32; on slavery, 60, 225n32; participation in book trade, 24, 126 Hall, John, 29 Hamilton, Alexander, 74, 76, 137, 139–40, 148, 159 Hume, David, 167 humor, 61, 112–13, 197, 204 Illuminati. See Bavarian Illuminati Independent Chronicle, 20, 58 Independent Gazetteer, 28, 57, 59, 62, 124, 138 independent proprietorship, 59 interpretive community, 10, 11, 17 Irish radicalism, 34, 43, 79–80, 83, 123, 228n71, 238–39n51 Jacobinism, 174; association with economic radicalism, 159; contrasted with democracy, 3, 211–14; Federalist criticism of, 45, 89, 105–6, 188–90; in America, 54; sympathetic commentary on by American democrats, 113, 186–87, 247n55 Jacobin novels, 27 Jay Treaty, 66, 93, 140, 146, 193–94 Jefferson, Thomas, 35, 66, 73, 153, 211, 219n32 Jeffersonian Democrats: contrasted with democrats, 17, 207–9; contrasted with Jacobins, 11, 211–14; economic ideology of, 159–60; and localism, 203; and national-

267 ism, 83–84, 111; and newspaper editors, 47–48; and race, 10, 55, 66–67 journeymen. See laborers Keatinge, George, 24–25, 27 Kentucky Gazette, 30 Kirkland, John Thornton, 199, 204, 205 laborers: cosmopolitanism of, 51, 74–75; democrats’ identification with, 116, 126– 27, 148–50, 176–77; elitist commentary on, 112–13, 197–99, 202–3, 212; identification with Thomas Paine, 37–38, 214; political culture of, 49, 72, 146–47, 169, 224n23; as readers, 9, 16 laissez-faire capitalism, 121, 135, 144, 150–51, 159–60, 163 Larkin, Ebenezer, 26 law, 141, 159, 161 Lee, “Citizen” Richard, 150, 161, 243n1 levellers, 125, 126, 128, 134–35 Leyden Gazette, 219n32 Liancourt-Rochefoucault, duke de La, 13 libraries, 18, 119 Lloyd, Thomas, 122, 125, 236n16 Locke, John, 68, 117, 124, 164, 235–36n6 Logan, George, 76, 147–48, 214, 226n47 London Corresponding Society, 7, 34, 162, 170, 171, 214, 236n16, 243n1 Lyon, Matthew, 241n89 Mackintosh, James, 24, 37, 146–47, 148, 181, 237n23, 240n77 Madison, James, 138, 153, 167, 168, 190–91 Manning, William, 9, 146–47, 168–70, 176, 193, 195, 206–8 Massachusetts, 19–23, 25, 26, 29, 30–31, 58, 105, 132, 195, 199 mechanics. See laborers moral economy, 131 More, Hannah, 109–10, 202 Morse, Jedidiah, 104, 105, 232n18 nationalism: and conservatism, 107–8, 110–11; contrasted with cosmopolitanism, 50–51, 54, 68, 112–14, 224n20, 225n26; democratic criticisms of, 70; Federalist espousal of, 72, 90–91, 96–98, 102; transatlantic dimensions of, 83–85 Native Americans, 58–59, 118, 225–26n37 newspaper editors, 10, 28–29, 31–32

268 newspapers, 7–10, 15, 16–23, 217n11; and partisanship, 32–33, 208; readers of, 13–14, 28–31, 218n16 New York City, 19–20, 27, 34, 42–43, 49, 72–74, 77–78, 93, 122, 165–66, 214 Ogilvie, William, 153 oppression, 59–60, 148, 149, 151 Osgood, David, 91–92, 104 Oswald, Eleazar, 17, 21, 22, 53, 62, 63, 131 Packard, Hezekiah, 104, 195, 199, 201 Paine, Thomas, 37–44, 41, 135–36, 221n64; The Age of Reason, 2, 25, 42; Agrarian Justice, 124, 136, 150–51; Common Sense, 16, 38, 44, 60, 149, 205; criticisms of, 1–2, 44–46, 100, 128; dissemination of his writings in the United States, 24, 27, 31; life in America after his return in 1802, 1–3, 211, 214; reading habits, 29–30; Rights of Man, 16, 27, 34, 38–39, 42, 43–44, 56–58, 73–74, 77, 106, 108, 133, 136, 149, 153–54, 170–71; satirical commentary on, 202; toasts to, 71 Paley, William, 126–27, 145 partisanship, 14–15, 32–33, 100–101, 183, 185, 207–9 Pasley, Jeffrey, 32, 47 passive citizenship, 103–5, 108 patriarchy, 102, 106 patriotism, 54, 68, 69, 90–91, 96–97, 102–4, 107–8 Peck, Jedidiah, 30–31 Perhouse, James, 1–2 Philadelphia, 19, 24, 53–54, 62, 76, 99, 102, 121, 131, 150, 211–12 Pigott, Charles, 69, 126 political societies, 171–72, 181–93, 202, 208 politicization, 14, 180, 220n49. See also Democratic-Republican Societies; London Corresponding Society popular political culture, 13–15, 17, 20–21, 39–44, 51–53, 180–86, 212, 216n5; Federalist critique of, 89, 104–5, 197, 201–3, 207 popular sovereignty, 36, 78, 116, 120–35, 163–65, 167–68, 172–209 Port Folio, 112–14 Post Office Act, 15, 35 poverty, 117–18, 123–24, 127, 129, 146, 150–53, 174–75 Powars, Thomas, 21 Prentiss, John, 20, 29

index Price, Richard, 27, 69–70, 174 Priestley, Joseph, 9, 174 print culture, 15–37, 107–8, 114, 116, 125–29, 162–63, 169, 201–2, 244n4 printers. See democratic printers; Federalist printers progressive taxation, 153–54 property, 94, 106, 115–35, 148, 150, 154–56, 158–60, 173, 174–75, 238n49, 241n95 public lands, 156–7, 242n110 public opinion, 161–63, 164–65, 166–68, 180–81, 189, 192–93, 201–2, 207–8 public sphere, 161–63, 164–65, 166, 187–88, 193, 205 Pye, Henry James, 93–95, 197 race, 55–56, 59–67, 173, 205, 225n32, 226n44 radical émigrés, 7, 53, 103–4, 154, 224n23 radical publicity, 162–63, 165–70, 187–88, 191–92, 196, 199, 203, 207–9 Ramsay, David, 172–73, 194–95 readers, 8–10, 16–17, 34–38, 41–42, 126–27; boys, 29, 30; maids, 13, 14; mechanics, 16, 37; negative commentary on, 105, 106, 109–10, 112–14, 175; rural, 17, 30–31, 36, 59 reason, 175, 177, 187, 190, 192–3 religion, 2, 102, 104, 105–6, 117, 123–24, 131– 32, 169, 205, 206 representation, 164–65, 168, 181, 189, 192–93, 194, 244–45n15 Rhys, Morgan John, 241n89 rights, 61, 69, 117, 122–25, 129, 172–73, 176, 204, 222–23n7, 237n23 Rivington, James, 25, 84, 93–95, 197 Robison, John, 105–6, 110 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 102, 153, 180 Rush, Benjamin, 167 sailors, 25, 53, 94, 119, 224n21 St. Domingue, 56, 58–59 Saint-Méry, Moreau de, 13, 54 Shays’s Rebellion, 35 slave trade, 59–60 Smith, Adam, 118, 135, 143–46, 147, 151, 152, 154, 159 Smith, Elihu Hubbard, 96 Society of the Cincinnati, 72 speculators, 131–32, 137–39, 155–56, 242n105 Sullivan, James, 92 Sydney, Algernon, 68, 69

index Tammany Society, 49, 72, 74, 148 tavern, 1, 3, 9, 30, 53, 94, 100, 171, 180, 202–3, 218–19n23 taxation, 134, 139, 141, 150–51, 153–56, 175, 241–42n98, 242n105 Temple of Reason, 113 Terror, the, 31, 46, 83, 165, 186–87, 188, 207 Thelwall, John, 7, 124, 134–35, 152, 180 Thomas, Isaiah, 20, 25, 44 toasts, 49, 51, 54, 69, 72, 73, 74, 80, 184, 212, 223n11, 225n25 Tucker, St. George, 156 United Irishmen: criticized by Federalists, 103, 212, 213; as a model for American democrats, 162, 171; in the United States, 7, 24, 27, 113, 123 Virginia, 23, 41, 53 Volney, Constantin-François, 7, 136, 149–50, 241n89 voting, 14, 172–73, 207–9

269 wage labor, 148–49, 152 Wansey, Henry, 13 Washington, George, 39, 96, 113, 141, 142, 190, 212 Webster, Noah, 64, 166; and nationalism, 51, 101–2; on the French Revolution, 88–91, 190, 192, 232n11 Weems, Mason Locke, 25 Whiskey Rebellion, 31, 79, 165, 186–87, 190–91 Wilentz, Sean, 169 Williams, David, 27, 34–35, 164, 168, 180 Wollstonecraft, Mary, 7, 24, 27, 129, 174, 204, 227n69, 231n4 Wood, Gordon, 4–5, 163 Wortman, Tunis, 49–51, 66 xenophobia, 103–7, 200–202, 212 XYZ Affair, 97–98