For Use in American History at the University of Arkansas.
"REPUBLICANISM" from Gordon
Wood's Creation of the American Republic.
1. A NEW PEOPLE FOR A NEW WORLD
It was obviously a most exciting day for young Thomas Shippen, a Philadelphia gentleman of social prominence, when Thomas Jefferson presented him in 1788 to the French Court at Versailles. For Shippen, as a friend cautioned Jefferson, was very socially conscious, apt to "run wild after the tinsel of life," and had eagerly anticipated his Continental tour with all its opportunities for cultivating "the acquaintance of titled men and Ladies of birth," whose names, the friend regretfully observed, "he soon gets and ... will never forget." And nowhere on earth were there more tinsel and titles than at the Court of Versailles, more indeed than Shippen in his wildest fancies had imagined. So ceremonious, so luxurious was the French Court that this pretentious Philadelphian could only feel himself "a stranger" in its midst. He could not restrain himself from expressing amazement at the "Oriental splendor and magnificence" of it all. The wealth, the sophistication, the pomp dazzled him: the pictures of the royal family were "larger than life"; the members of the Court had "all separate households and distinct portions of the Palace allotted to them" and "between them they expend 36,000,000 of livres a year"; and the royal gardens -"What walks! What groves! What water works! " It was all so "superb" and so "very splendid," filled with ceremony and behavior, said Shippen, as "I had never seen." Overawed, he could only puff with pride on having "received very uncommon marks of politeness and attention" from the nobility of the Court.
Yet all the time he knew he was being snubbed. He sensed that the "oppressive . . . civilities" of the courtiers were condescending, that their polite questions only "served to shew rather a desire to be attentive to me, than to be informed of what they did not know already." The American, something of an aristocrat in Philadelphia but hardly one at Versailles, could not help feeling his difference; and that difference understandably became the shield for his self-esteem. He was, after all, as he told his father, a republican: geographically and socially he was from another world. The magnificence and elegance both impressed and repulsed him. How many thousands of subjects, Shippen asked, were doomed to want and wretchedness by the King's wasteful efforts "to shroud his person and adorn his reign" with such luxury? He "revolted" at the King's "insufferable arrogance," and was even "more mortified at the suppleness and base complaisance of his attendants." He rejoiced that he was not a subject of such a monarchy, but the citizen of a republic - "more great because more virtuous" - where there were no hereditary distinctions, no "empty ornament and unmeaning grandeur," where only sense, merit, and integrity commanded respect. He observed beneath all the splendor of the courtiers "an uneasiness and ennui in their faces." The whole wonderful and bitter experience only convinced him "that a certain degree of equality is essential to human bliss. Happy above all Countries is our Country," he exulted," where that equality is found, without destroying the necessary subordination."
For most Americans, as for Shippen, this was the deeply felt meaning of the Revolution: they had created a new world, a republican world. No one doubted that the new polities would be republics, and, as Thomas Paine pointed out, "What is called a republic, is not any particular form of government." Republicanism meant more for Americans than simply the elimination of a king and the institution of an elective system. It added a moral dimension, a utopian depth, to the political separation from England - a depth that involved the very character of their society. "We are now really another people," exclaimed Paine in 1782.
Socially, of course, they were not really another people, despite much economic unsettling and the emigration of thousands of Tories. But intellectually and culturally they were - and this is what Paine meant. "Our style and manner of thinking have undergone a revolution more extraordinary than the political revolution of the country. We see with other eyes; we hear with other ears; and think with other thoughts, than those we formerly used." Republicanism did not signal the immediate collapse of the traditional social organization; but it did possess a profound social significance. The Revolution was intended in fact to "form a new era and give a new turn to human affairs." From the moment in 1774 and 1775 when independence and hence the formation of new governments became a distinct possibility, and continuing throughout the war, nearly every piece of writing concerned with the future of the new republics was filled with extraordinarily idealistic hopes for the social and political transformation of America. The Americans had come to believe that the Revolution would mean nothing less than a reordering of eighteenth-century society and politics as they had known and despised them - a reordering that was summed up by the conception of republicanism.
2. THE APPEAL OF ANTIQUITY
When in 1807 John Adams told Mercy Warren that he had "never understood" what a republic was, and "no other man ever did or ever will," his memory was playing him badly. These repeated statements of his later years that a republic "may signify any thing, every thing, or nothing" represented the bewilderment of a man whom ideas had passed by. Back in 1776 republicanism was not such a confused conception in the minds of Americans. When Adams himself talked of "a Republican Spirit, among the People," and the eradication of "Idolatry to Monarchs, and servility to Aristocratical Pride," he seems to have understood clearly what it denoted, for the events of the 1760's and seventies had, he said, "frequently reminded" him of the "principles and reasonings" of "Sidney, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Nedham, Neville, Burnet, and Hoadly." However scorned by " modern Englishmen," these writers had a particular relevance for Adams and countless other Americans in 1776: "they will convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican."
To the radical Whigs, rooted in the Commonwealth period of the seventeenth century, the perfect government was always republican. Since a republic represented not so much the formal structure of a government as it did its spirit, pure Whigs could even describe the English mixed monarchy as ideally a republic. Consequently the principles of republicanism permeated much of what the colonists read and found attractive. In fact, "the true principles of republicanism are at present so well understood," so much taken for granted, so much a part of the Americans' assumptions about politics, that few felt any need formally to explain their origin. There was, however, for all Whigs, English and American, one historical source of republican inspiration that was everywhere explicitly acknowledged - classical antiquity, where the greatest republics in history had flourished.
For Americans, the mid-eighteenth century was truly a neoclassical age - the high point of their classical period. At one time or another almost every Whig patriot took or was given the name of an ancient republican hero, and classical references and allusions run through much of the colonists' writings, both public and private. It was a rare newspaper essayist who did not use a Greek or Latin phrase to enhance an argument or embellish a point and who did not employ a classical signature. John Dickinson lived up to his reputation for "Attic eloquence and Roman spirit" by ending each of his Farmer's Letters with an appropriate classical quotation. Such classicism was not only a scholarly ornament of educated Americans; it helped to shape their values and their ideals of behavior. "The Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribeline in some Editions of Lord Shaftsburys Works," which John Adams proposed to the Continental Congress as a seal commemorating the British evacuation of Boston, was a commonplace of the age. Man was pictured in classical terms struggling between the forces of virtue and vice, reason and passion. Rural life was celebrated not for its wild or natural beauty but for its simplicity and repose to which in Horatian fashion virtuous men could retire after a lifetime of devotion to duty and country. The traits of character most praised were the classical ones - restraint, temperance, fortitude, dignity, and independence. Washington seemed to his contemporaries to fit the ideal perfectly; and someone like Landon Carter could only lament that everyone was not as Washington was, "not so much in quest of praise and emolument to yourself as of real good to your fellow-creatures."
Yet it was not as scholarly embellishment or as a source of values that antiquity was most important to Americans in these revolutionary years. The American's compulsive interest in the ancient republics was in fact crucial to their attempt to understand the moral and social basis of politics: "Half our learning is their epitaph." Because this "treading upon the Republican ground of Greece and Rome," as Edmund Pendleton said of the Virginians in the Convention of 1776, had such a direct political purpose, the Americans' cult of antiquity cannot really be separated from their involvement in the English Commonwealth heritage, for the two were inextricably entwined. The classical world had been the main source of inspiration and knowledge for enlightened politicians at least since Machiavelli, and never more so than to the classical republicans and their heirs of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Americans therefore did not always possess an original or unglossed antiquity; they often saw a refracted image, saw the classical past as the Western world since the Renaissance had seen it. While some Americans did own and read the ancient authors in Latin and Greek, most generally preferred translations, popularizations, and secondary surveys that were often edited and written by radical Whigs - Thomas Gordon's Sallust and Tacitus, Basil Kennet's Roman Antiquities, Walter Moyle's dabblings in antiquity, and Edward Wortley Montagu's Reflections on the Rise and Fall of the Antient Republicks.
Since the aim of most of these popularizations and translations was didactic, to discover, in Montagu's words, "the principal causes of that degeneracy of manners, which reduc'd those once brave and free people into the most abject slavery," the Americans' view of antiquity was highly selective, focusing on decline and decadence. "The 'moss-grown' columns and broken arches of those once-renowned empires are full with instruction" for a people attempting to rebuild a republican world. The names of the ancient republics-Athens, Lacedaemon, Sparta - had "grown trite by repetition," and none more than Rome. There was nothing startling about Gibbon's choice of subject. "Rome," he wrote in his Autobiography, "is familiar to the schoolboy and the statesman." This familiarity was not simply the consequence of Rome's preeminence in the ancient world and its influence on Western culture but was also the result of the peculiar character of the literary legacy Rome had passed on to the modern world, a body of writing that was obsessed with the same questions about degeneracy that fascinated the eighteenth century. Enlightened men everywhere in the eighteenth century found much of what they wanted to know about antiquity from the period that has been called the Roman Enlightenment - the golden age of Latin literature from the breakdown of the Republic in the middle of the first century B.C. to the establishment of the Empire in the middle of the second century A.D. Writing at a time when the greatest days of the Republic were crumbling or already gone, pessimistic Romans - Cicero, Sallust, Tacitus, Plutarch - contrasted the growing corruption and disorder they saw about them with an imagined earlier republican world of ordered simplicity and acadian virtue and sought continually to explain the transformation. It was as if these Latin writers in their literature of critical lamentation and republican nostalgia had spoken directly to the revolutionary concerns of the eighteenth century.
From these kinds of antique writings, filtered and fused into the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, the Americans had learned "the melancholy truth" about the ancient republics "that were once great and illustrious, but are now no more" and had used their knowledge in their diagnosis of the ills of the mother country in the 1760's and 1770's. "Similar causes will forever operate like effects in the political, moral, and physical world: those vices which ruined the illustrious republics of Greece, and the mighty commonwealth of Rome, and which are now ruining Great Britain, so late the first kingdom of Europe, must eventually overturn every state, where their deleterious influence is suffered to prevail." The history of antiquity thus became a kind of laboratory in which autopsies of the dead republics would lead to a science of social sickness and health matching the science of the natural world.
It was not the force of arms which made the ancient republics great or which ultimately destroyed them. It was rather the character and spirit of their people. Frugality, industry, temperance, and simplicity - the rustic traits of the sturdy yeoman - were the stuff that made a society strong. The virile martial qualities - the scorn of ease, the contempt of danger, the love of valor - were what made a nation great. The obsessive term was luxury, not mere
wealth but that "dull animal enjoyment" which left "minds stupefied, and bodies enervated, by wallowing for ever in one continual puddle of voluptuousness," was what corrupted a society: the love of refinement, the desire for distinction and elegance eventually weakened a people and left them soft and effeminate, dissipated cowards, unfit and undesiring to serve the state. "Then slumbers that virtuous jealousy of public men and public measures, which was wont to scrutinize not only actions but motives: then nods that active zeal, which, with eagle eye watched, and with nervous arm defended the constitution.... Thus, before a nation is completely deprived of freedom, she must be fitted for slavery by her vices." Republics died not from invasions from without but from decay from within.
Out of their reading of the Latin classics and of the contemporary histories of the ancient world, like Charles Rollin's popular studies, together with diffuse thoughts drawn from the English classical republican heritage, all set within the framework of Enlightenment science, the Americans put together a conception of the ideal republican society - filled, said John Adams, with "all great, manly, and warlike virtues"- that they would have to have if they would sustain their new republics. The nostalgic image of the Roman Republic became a symbol of all their dissatisfactions with the present and their hopes for the future. "I us'd to regret," Charles Lee told Patrick Henry shortly after Independence, "not being thrown into the World in the glorious third or fourth century of the Romans." But now it seemed to Lee and to other American Whigs that these classical republican dreams "at length bid fair for being realiz'd." No one went as far as Lee did in sketching on paper a utopian plan for a republican world, simple and agrarian, free of a debilitating commerce which could only "emasculate the body, narrow the mind, and in fact corrupt every true republican and manly principle." But many in 1776 necessarily shared some of Lee's desires for a spartan egalitarian society where every man was a soldier and master of his own soul and land, the kind of society, like that of ancient Rome, where the people "instructed from early infancy to deem themselves the property of the State ... were ever ready to sacrifice their concerns to her interests."
3. THE PUBLIC GOOD
The sacrifice of individual interests to the greater good of the whole formed the essence of republicanism and comprehended for Americans the idealistic goal of their Revolution. From this goal flowed all of the Americans' exhortatory literature and all that made their ideology truly revolutionary. This republican ideology both presumed and helped shape the Americans' conception of the way their society and politics should be structured and operated - a vision so divorced from the realities of American society, so contrary to the previous century of American experience, that it alone was enough to make the Revolution one of the great utopian movements of American history. By 1776 the Revolution came to represent a final attempt, perhaps - given the nature of American society - even a desperate attempt, by many Americans to realize the traditional Commonwealth ideal of a corporate society, in which the common good would be the only objective of government.
It is not surprising that the Tory, Jonathan Boucher, in his 1775 sermon, "On Civil Liberty; Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance," should have questioned the belief that the common good was the end of all government, especially the "vague and loose" belief that the common good was simply a matter of "common feelings" and "common consent." For this conviction that "the Liberty and Happiness of the People is confessedly the End of Government," best defined by the people themselves, was central to all reformist thinking in the eighteenth century and had become crucial to most Americans by 1776. "Though," as Jacob Duché, Boucher's immediate antagonist, remarked, "no particular mode of government is pointed out" by scripture, there could be no doubt that the "gospel is directly opposed to every other form than such as has the common good of mankind for its end and aim." It was self-evident, by "both reason and revelation," said Samuel West, that the welfare and safety of the people was "the supreme law of the state, -being the true standard and measure" by which all laws and governmental actions were to be judged. To eighteenth-century American and European radicals alike, living in a world of monarchies, it seemed only too obvious that the great deficiency of existing governments was precisely their sacrificing of the public good to the private greed of small ruling groups. "Strange as it may seem," said Josiah Quincy in 1774, "what the many through successive ages have desired and sought, the few have found means to baffle and defeat."
To make the people's welfare - the public good - the exclusive end of government became for the Americans, as one general put it, their "Polar Star," the central tenet of the Whig faith, shared not only by Hamilton and Paine at opposite ends of the Whig spectrum, but by any American bitterly opposed to a system which held "that a Part is greater than its Whole; or in other Words, that some Individuals ought to be considered , even to the Destruction of the Community, which they compose." No phrase except "liberty" was invoked more often by the Revolutionaries than "the public good." It expressed the colonists' deepest hatreds of the old order and their most visionary hopes for the new.
From the logic of belief that "all government is or ought to be, calculated for the general good and safety of the community," for which end "the most effectual means that human wisdom hath ever been able to devise, is frequently appealing to the body of the people," followed the Americans' unhesitating adoption of republicanism in 1776. The peculiar excellence of republican government was that it was "wholly characteristical of the purport, matter, or object for which government ought to be instituted." By definition it had no other end than the welfare of the people: res publica, the public affairs, or the public good. "The word republic," said Thomas Paine, "means the public good, or the good of the whole, in contradistinction to the despotic form, which makes the good of the sovereign, or of one man, the only object of the government." Its most exact English equivalent was commonwealth, by which was meant, as Edmund Pendleton suggested, a state belonging to the whole people rather than the Crown. While several of the new states, as John Adams urged, took this "most consistent style" of commonwealth manfully and explicitly in 1776, all of the states shared in its meaning.
Since in a free government the public good was identical with the people's welfare, a "matter of COMMON FEELING" and founded on the "COMMON CONSENT" of the people, the best way of realizing it in the Whig mind was to allow the people a maximum voice in the government. "That the great body of the people," as even the Tory William Smith of Philadelphia admitted, "can have any interest separate form their country or (when fairly understood) pursue any other, is not to be imagined," "unless," as John Sullivan said, "we suppose them idiots or self-murderers." Therefore any government which lacked a "proper representation of people" or was in any way even "independent of the people" was liable to violate the common good and become tyrannical." Most Whigs had little doubt of the people's honesty or even of their ability to discern what was good for themselves. It was a maxim, declared by a New York patriot, "that whatever may be the particular opinions of Individuals, the bulk of the people, both mean, and think right." Was there ever any fear, James Burgh had gone so far as to ask, that the people might be "too free to consult the general good?" Of course even the most radical English Whigs admitted that the people might sometimes mistake their own interest and might often be unable to effect it even when they did correctly perceive it. Most Americans therefore assumed that the people, in their representational expression of their collective liberty in the houses of representatives, could not run the whole government. "Liberty, though the most essential requisite in government," Richard Price had written, "is not the only one; wisdom, union, dispatch, secrecy, and vigour are likewise requisite" - qualities best supplied by a magistracy and a senate.
Yet such governors and upper houses, however necessary, must be electively dependent on the people. Republicanism with its elective magistracy would not eliminate the problems of politics and the threat of power, but it did promise a new era of stability and cooperation between rulers and ruled. The chronic divisiveness of colonial politics ("the denominations Of WHIG and TORY ... distinctions that properly belong only to the subjects of Great Britain") would now disappear in the unhindered and engrossing pursuit of only the people's welfare. For decades, and especially in recent years, the Crown's presence in America had played havoc with the colonists' political life and was the real source of that factious behavior of which royal officials had so repeatedly and unjustly accused them. "Every man that has lived any time in America, under regal government, knows what frequent, and almost continual opposition there is between the country interest and those in power." "By keeping clear of British government," the Americans could at last be rid of those "jars and contentions between Governors and Assemblies." By allowing the people to elect their magistracy, republicanism would work to "blend the interests of the people and their rulers" and thus "put down every animosity among the people. In the kind of states where "their governors shall proceed form the midst of them" the people could be surer that their interests exclusively would be promoted, and therefore in turn would "pay obedience to officers properly appointed" and maintain "no discontents on account of their advancement.
What made the Whig conception of politics and the republican emphasis on the collective welfare of the people comprehensible was the assumption that the people, especially when set against their rulers were a homogeneous body whose "interests when candidly considered are one." Since everyone in the community was linked organically to everyone else, what was good for the whole community was good for all the parts. The people were in fact a single organic piece (for god hath so tempered the body that there should be no Schism in the body, but that the Members should have the same care for one another") with a unitary concern that was the only legitimate objective of governmental policy. This common interest was not, as we might today think of it, simply the sum or consensus of the particular interests that made up the community. It was rather an entity in itself, prior to and distinct from the various private interests of groups and individuals. As Samuel Adams said in 1776, paraphrasing Vattel, the state was "a moral person, having an interest and will of its own." Because politics was conceived to be not the reconciling but the transcending of the different interests of the society in the search for the single common good, the republican state necessarily had to be small in territory and generally similar in interests. Despite sporadic suggestions in the press for "a simple government" of a strong continental congress chosen "by the people, (not by their representatives)," and uniting all the people "in one great republick," few Americans thought that such an extensive continental republic, as distinct from a league of states, was feasible in 1776 - however much they may have differed over the desirable strength of the expected confederation.
No one, of course, denied that the community was filled with different, often clashing combinations of interests. But apart from the basic conflict between governors and people these were not to be dignified by their incorporation into formal political theory or into any serious discussion of what ought to be. In light of the assumption that the state was "to be considered as one moral whole" these interests and parties were regarded as aberrations or perversions, indeed signs of sickness in the body politic. Although some eighteenth-century thinkers were in fact beginning to perceive the inevitability, even the desirability, of faction in a free state, most continued to regard division among the people as "both dangerous and destructive," arising "from false ambition, avarice, or revenge." Men lost control of their basest passions and were unwilling to sacrifice their immediate desires for the corporate good. Hence, "party differences," however much they may infect the society, could never ideally be admitted into the institutions of government, but "would be dropped at the threshold of the state house." The representatives of the people would not act as spokesmen for private and partial interests, but all would be "disinterested men, who could have no interest of their own to seek," and "would employ their whole time for the public good; then there would be but one interest, the good of the people at large."'
There was nothing really new about these republican principles; John Winthrop would have found them congenial. In fact, republicanism as the Americans expressed it in 1776 possessed a decidedly reactionary tone. It embodied the ideal of the good society as it had been set forth from antiquity through the eighteenth century. This traditional conception of the organic community was still a cliché, although an increasingly weakening cliché, of the eighteenth century. Rousseau's "general will" was only one brilliant effort among many more pedestrian attempts to discover somehow above all the diverse and selfish wills the one supreme moral good to which all parts of the body politic must surrender. The very fact that the social basis for such a corporate ideal had long been disintegrating, if it ever existed, only accentuated its desirability in American eyes. Despite, or perhaps because of, the persistence of social incoherence and change in the eighteenth century, Americans creating a new society could not conceive of the state in any other terms than organic unity. Although by mid-century the peculiar Filmerist emphasis on monarchical paternalism was decidedly moribund (despite Boucher's efforts to revive it), the compelling theory of order characteristic of Western thought for centuries was not. Whatever differences may have existed among the Whigs, all those committed to revolution and republicanism in 1776 necessarily shared an essentially similar vision of the corporate commonwealth - a vision of varying distinctness fed by both millennial Christianity and pagan classicism. Enlightened rationalism and evangelical Calvinism were not at odds in 1776; both when interpreted by Whigs placed revolutionary emphasis on the general will of the community and on the responsibility of the collective people to define it. The contracts, balancing mechanisms, and individual rights so much talked of in 1776 were generally regarded as defenses designed to protect a united people against their rulers and not as devices intended to set off parts of the people against the majority. Few Whigs in 1776 were yet theoretically prepared to repudiate the belief in the corporate welfare as the goal of politics or to accept divisiveness and selfishness as the normative behavior of men. The ideal which republicanism was beautifully designed to express was still a harmonious integration of all parts of the community.
Yet ironically it was precisely internal discord and conflict for which republics were most widely known. Throughout history "free republican governments have been objected to, as if exposed to factions from an excess of liberty." But this was because liberty had been misunderstood and falsely equated with licentiousness or the liberty of man in a state of nature which was "a state of war, rapine, and murder." True liberty was "natural liberty restrained in such manner, as to render society one great family; where every one must consult his neighbour's happiness, as well as his own." In a republic "each individual gives up all private interest that is not consistent with the general good, the interest of the whole body." For the republican patriots of 1776 the commonweal was all-encompassing - a transcendent object with a unique moral worth that made partial considerations fade into insignificance. "Let regard be had only to the good of the whole" was the constant exhortation by publicists and clergy. Ideally, republicanism obliterated the individual. "A Citizen," said Samuel Adams, "owes everything to the commonwealth." "Every man in a republic," declared Benjamin Rush, "is public property. His time and talents - his youth -his manhood - his old age - nay more, life, all belong to his country." "No man is a true republican," wrote a Pennsylvanian in 1776, "that will not give up his single voice to that of the public."
Individual liberty and the public good were easily reconcilable because the important liberty in the Whig ideology was public or political liberty. In 1776 the solution to the problems of American politics seemed to rest not so much in emphasizing the private rights of individuals against the general will as it did in stressing the public rights of the collective people against the supposed privileged interests of their rulers. "Civil Liberty," as one colonist put it, was not primarily individual; it was "the freedom of bodies politic, or States." Because, as Josiah Quincy said, the people "as a body" were "never interested to injure themselves," and were "uniformly desirous of the general welfare," there could be no real sense of conflict between public and personal liberty." Indeed, the private liberties of individuals depended upon their collective public liberty. "The security to justice," said one American in 1776, "is the political liberty of the State." "In every state or society of men," declared Benjamin Church in 1773, "personal liberty and security must depend upon the collective power of the whole, acting for the general interest." The people were the best asylum for individual rights. "All property," declared Thomas Paine, "is safe under their protection." Government which the people had a proper share, wrote Richard Price, "therefore, does not infringe liberty, but establish it. It does not take away the rights of mankind, but protect and confirm them." Whatever conflict existed was due to selfish individuals who asserted privileges against the common interest of the people. The Americans, wrote Landon Carter in 1760, could never allow a minority of individuals to differ from the majority when the very well-being of the society was at stake. "One or a few" could never "be better Judges" of the communal "Good than was the multitude." In truth, the suspension of "Private justice" or the suppression of minority rights for the sake of the public good was "a Thing absolutely necessary to be done" and "therefore just in itself." Since the American Whigs, like Locke before them, regarded the people as a unitary, property-holding, homogeneous body - not "the vile populace or rabble of the country, nor the cabal of a small number of factious persons, but," said John Adams quoting Pufendorf, "the greater and more judicious part of the subjects, of all ranks" - few found it necessary or even intelligible to work out any theoretical defense of minority rights against the collective power of the majority of the people. Although some Americans, like the Tory Daniel Leonard, were grappling with the problem before the Revolution, charging that the people were the real source of despotism, their arguments were quickly rebuffed by rabid Whigs. In the Whig conception of politics a tyranny by the people was theoretically inconceivable, because the power held by the people was liberty, whose abuse could only be licentiousness or anarchy, not tyranny. As John Adams indignantly pointed out, the idea of the public liberty's being tyrannical was illogical: "a democratical despotism is a contradiction in terms."
Thus in the minds of most Whigs in 1776 individual rights, even the basic civil liberties that we consider so crucial, possessed little of their modern theoretical relevance when set against the will of the people. This is why, for example, throughout the eighteenth century the Americans could contend for the broadest freedom of speech against the magistracy, while at the same time punishing with a severe strictness any seditious libels against the representatives of the people in the colonial assemblies. Anyone who tried to speak against the interests of the people "should be held in execration. . . . Every word, that tends to weaken the hands of the people is a crime of devilish dye"; indeed, "it is the unpardonable Sin in politics." Thus it was "no Loss of Liberty, that court-minions can complain of, when they are silenced. No man has a right to say a word, which may lame the liberties of his country." It was conceivable to protect the common law liberties of the people against their rulers, but hardly against the people themselves. "For who could be more free than the People who representatively exercise supreme Power over themselves?"
This same celebration of the public welfare and the safety of the people also justified the very severe restrictions put on private interests and rights throughout the Revolutionary crisis. The coercion and intimidation used by public and quasi-public bodies, conventions and committees, against various individuals and minority groups, the extent of which has never been fully appreciated, was completely sanctioned by these classical Whig beliefs. As David Ramsay later recalled, "the power of these bodies was undefined; but by common consent it was comprehended in the old Roman maxim: 'To take care that the commonwealth should receive no damage.'" But it was not simply a matter of invoking the Ciceroian maxim, Salus Populi suprema Lex est. The extensive mercantilist regulation of the economy, the numerous attempts in the early years of the war to suppress prices, control wages, and prevent monopolies, reaching from the Continental Congress down through the states to counties and towns, was in no way inconsistent with the spirit of '76, but in fact was ideally expressive of what republicanism meant. In the minds of the most devoted Commonwealthmen it was the duty of a republic to control "the selfishness of mankind ... ; for liberty consists not in the permission to distress fellow citizens, by extorting extravagant advantages from them, in matters of commerce or otherwise." Because it was commonly understood that "the exorbitant wealth of individuals" had a "most baneful influence" on the maintenance of republican governments and "therefore should be carefully guarded against," some Whigs were even willing to go so far as to advocate agrarian legislation limiting the amount of property an individual could hold and "sumptuary laws against luxury, plays, etc. and extravagant expenses in dress, diet, and the like."
Even at the beginning, however, there were some good Whigs who perceived the inherent conflict between individual liberty and traditional republican theory. Ancient Sparta, William Moore Smith told the members of the Continental Congress in the spring of 1775, had demonstrated the problem. Knowing that luxury was the great enemy of republicanism and liberty, Lycurgus had sought to avoid the evil by eliminating wealth itself. But in doing so he undermined the very basis of freedom. "He seems not to have reflected that there can be no true liberty without security of property; and where property is secure, industry begets wealth; and wealth is often productive of a train of evils naturally destructive to virtue and freedom!" "Here, then," said Smith, "is a sad dilemma in politics." If the people "exclude wealth, it must be by regulations intrenching too far upon civil liberty." But if wealth is allowed to flourish, "the syren luxury" soon follows at its heels and gradually contaminates the whole society. "What is to be done in this case?" Must the society, "to secure the first of blessings, liberty," strangle wealth, the first offspring of liberty, in its birth and thus in effect destroy liberty as well? "Or, is there no proper use of wealth and civil happiness, the genuine descendants of civil liberty, without abusing them to the nourishment of luxury and corruption?" Smith, like other Whigs in 1776, thought there was an answer to the dilemma in the more enlightened policy and "purer system of religion" of this modern age - "to regulate the use of wealth, but not to exclude it."
The dilemma was not new, but was actually the central issue Americans had wrestled with since the seventeenth century. Nearly every intellectual movement from Puritanism to Quakerism to Arminianism had struggled with the problems involved in the social maturation of the American body politic, in a continuing effort to find the means of controlling the amassing and expenditure of men's wealth without doing violence to their freedom. American intellectual life was an intensive search for an ever-renewed compression of tensions for the aspiring Americans who were allowed prosperity but denied luxury. The republicanism of 1776 actually represented a new, more secular version of this same steel spring, a new mode of confronting and resisting the temptations and luxury of the world, a new social restraint to which, said Smith, "all systems of education, all laws, all the efforts of patriotism, ought to be directed."
4. THE NEED FOR VIRTUE
Perhaps everyone in the eighteenth century could have agreed that in theory no state was more beautiful than a republic, whose whole object by definition was the good of the people. Yet everyone also knew that it was a fragile beauty indeed. It was axiomatic that no society could hold together without the obedience of its members to the legally constituted authority. In a monarchy the complicated texture of the society, "the magnificence, costly equipage and dazzling splendors" lavished on the prince, the innumerable titles, the degrees and subordination of ranks, the pervading sense of honor, the "multitude of criminal laws, with severe penalties," the very vigor of the unitary authority often with the aid of a standing army and an established religious hierarchy, all worked to maintain public order, even though in the eyes of a good Commonwealthman it was an order built on show, where "respect and obedience" were derived "only from the passion of fear." But in a republic which possessed none of this complicated social texture, where the elected rulers were merely "in fact the servants of the public" and known by all "to be but men," and where the people themselves shared in a large measure of the governing - in such a state, order, if there was to be any, must come from below." The very greatness of republicanism, its utter dependence on the people, was at the same time its source of weakness. In a republic there was no place for fear; there could be no sustained coercion from above. The state, like no other, rested on the consent of the governed freely given and not compelled. In a free government the laws, as the American clergy never tired of repeating, had to be obeyed by the people for conscience's sake, not for wrath's.
As Jonathan Boucher warned, by resting the whole structure of government on the unmitigated willingness of the people to obey, the Americans were making a truly revolutionary transformation in the structure of authority. In shrill and despairing pamphlets the Tories insisted that the Whig ideas were undermining the very principle of order. If respect and obedience to the established governments were refused and if republicanism were adopted, then, admonished Thomas Bradbury Chandler, "the bands of society would be dissolved, the harmony of the world confounded, and the order of nature subverted." The principles of the Revolutionaries, said Boucher, were directed "clearly and literally against authority." They were destroying "not only all authority over us as it now exists, but any and all that it is possible to constitute." The Tory logic was indeed frightening. Not only was the rebellion rupturing the people's habitual obedience to the constituted government, but by the establishment of republicanism the Whigs were also founding their new governments solely on the people's voluntary acquiescence. And, as Blackstone had pointed out, "obedience is an empty name, if every individual has a right to decide how far he himself shall obey."
The Whigs were well aware of the hazards involved in the revolution they were attempting. Many knew with Hamilton that when the people were "loosened from their attachment to ancient establishments" they were apt "to grow giddy" and "more or less to run into anarchy." Even Samuel Adams warned in 1775 that "there may be Danger of Errors on the Side of the People." Sensing the risk of licentiousness in the throwing off of British authority, many Whig leaders urged the people from the outset to "have their hearts and hands with the magistrates," for as long as their appointed rulers acted lawfully and for the public good "they are bound to obey them." But despite Tory charges that the Whig principles were "cutting asunder the sinews of government, and breaking in pieces the ligament of social life," the Americans in 1776 did not regard their republican beliefs as inherently anti-authoritarian. The Revolution was designed to change the flow of authority-indeed the structure of politics as the colonists had known it - but it was in no way intended to do away with the principle of authority itself. "There must be," said John Adams in 1776, "a Decency, and Respect, and Veneration introduced for Persons in Authority, of every Rank, or We are undone." The people would naturally be more willing to obey their new republican rulers; for now "love and not fear will become the spring of their obedience." The elected republican magistrate would be distinguished not by titles or connections but by his own inherent worth and would necessarily "know no good, separate from that of his subjects." But such a change in the nature of authority and the magistracy, the Whigs realized, only mitigated the problem of obedience in a republican system. The people themselves must change as well.
In a monarchy each man's desire to do what was right in his own eyes could be restrained by fear or force. In a republic, however, each man must somehow be persuaded to submerge his personal wants into the greater good of the whole. This willingness of the individual to sacrifice his private interests for the good of the community - such patriotism or love of country - the eighteenth century termed "public virtue." A republic was such a delicate polity precisely because it demanded an extraordinary moral character in the people. Every state in which the people participated needed a degree of virtue; but a republic which rested solely on the people absolutely required it. Although a particular structural arrangement of the government in a republic might temper the necessity for public virtue, ultimately "no model of government whatever can equal the importance of this principle, nor afford proper safety and security without it." "Without some portion of this generous principle, anarchy and confusion would immediately ensue, the jarring interests of individuals, regarding themselves only, and indifferent to the welfare of others, would still further heighten the distressing scene, and with the assistance of the selfish passions, it would end in the ruin and subversion of the state." The eighteenth-century mind was thoroughly convinced that a popularly based government "cannot be supported without Virtue." Only with a public-spirited, self-sacrificing people could the authority of a popularly elected ruler be obeyed, but "more by the virtue of the people, than by the terror of his power." Because virtue was truly the lifeblood of the republic, the thoughts and hopes surrounding this concept of public spirit gave the Revolution its socially radical character - an expected alteration in the very behavior of the people, "laying the foundation in a constitution, not without or over, but within the subjects."
This public virtue, "this endearing and benevolent passion," was "the noblest which can be displayed" and that men of the eighteenth century sought in social behavior. "Its grand source" lay in the attitudes and actions of the individuals who made up the society, "in that charity which forms every social connection." In other words, public virtue, the willingness of the people to surrender all, even their lives, for the good of the state, was primarily the consequence of men's individual private virtues. While some men of the eighteenth century could see public virtue arising out of the individual's pride and need for approbation, few endorsed Mandeville's paradoxical view that private vices produced public virtue." For most Americans in 1776 vicious behavior by an individual could have only disastrous results for the community. A man racked by the selfish passions of greed, envy, and hate lost his conception of order; "his sense of a connection with the general system-his benevolence - his desire and freedom of doing good, ceased." It seemed obvious that a republican society could not "be maintained without justice, benevolence and the social virtues." Since at least the seventeenth century, enlightened intellectuals had been fascinated with the attempt to replace the fear of the hereafter as the basis for morality with a more natural scientific psychology. The Earl of Shaftesbury in particular had tried to convince men of the exquisite happiness and pleasure that would flow from self-sacrifice and doing good. Somehow, as a Boston writer argued in the manner of Francis Hutcheson, the individual's widening and traditionally weakening circles of love - from himself to his family to the community - must be broken into; men must be convinced that their fullest satisfaction would come from the subordination of their individual loves to the greater good of the whole. It was man's duty and interest to be benevolent. "The happiness of every individual" depended "on the happiness of society: It follows, that the practice of all the social virtues is the law of our nature, and the law of our nature is the law of God." "Public good is not a term opposed to the good of individuals; on the contrary, it is the good of every individual collected." "The public good is, as it were, a common bank in which every individual has his respective share; and consequently whatever damage that sustains the individual unavoidably partake of that calamity." Once men correctly perceived their relation to the commonwealth they would never injure what was really their personal interest to protect and sustain.
That the Americans would come to perceive correctly their relation to the state was not simply a matter of faith. The revolutionary change in the structure of political authority involved in their adoption of republicanism was to be matched and indeed ultimately sustained by a basic transformation of their social structure. Henceforth their society would be governed, as it had not been in the past, by the principle of equality - a principle central to republican thinking, the very "life and soul," said David Ramsay, of republicanism.
The doctrine possessed an inherent ambivalence: on one hand it stressed equality of opportunity which implied social differences and distinctions; on the other hand it emphasized equality of condition which denied these same social differences and distinctions. These two meanings were intertwined in the Americans' use of equality and it is difficult to separate them. Many might agree that "if there could be something like an equality of estate and property, it would tend much to preserve civil liberty," since, as everyone knew, "Luxury is always proportional to the inequality of fortune." Yet despite some sporadic suggestions for leveling legislation, most Whigs generally "acknowledged" that it was "a difficult matter to secure a state from evils and mischiefs from . . . wealth and riches." A real equality just "Cannot be expected."
Equality was thus not directly conceived of by most Americans in 1776, including even a devout republican like Samuel Adams, as a social leveling; it would not mean, as Thomas Shippen emphasized, the destruction of "the necessary subordination." Rather it was considered to be an "equality, which is adverse to every species of subordination beside that which arises from the difference of capacity, disposition, and virtue." By republicanism the Americans meant only to change the origin of social and political preeminence, not to do away with such preeminence altogether. "In monarchies," commented David Ramsay, "favor is the source of preferment; but, in our new forms of government, no one can command the suffrages of the people, unless by his superior merit and capacity." In a republican system only talent would matter. It was now possible "that even the reins of state may be held by the son of the poorest man, if possessed of abilities equal to the important station." The ideal, especially in the southern colonies, was the creation and maintenance of a truly natural aristocracy, based on virtue, temperance, independence, and devotion to the commonwealth. It meant, as John Adams excitedly put it, that in the choice of rulers "Capacity, Spirit and Zeal in the Cause, supply the Place of Fortune, Family, and every other Consideration, which used to have Weight with Mankind." The republican society, said Charles Lee, would still possess "honour, property and military glories," but they now would "be obtain'd without court favour, or the rascally talents of servility." Only such an egalitarian society, declared young John Laurens, the son of the famous Charleston merchant, could permit "the fullest scope for ambition directed in its proper channel, in the only channel in which it ought to be allowed, . . . for the advancement of public good."
Certainly most Revolutionaries had no intention of destroying the gradations of the social hierarchy by the introduction of republicanism. The Livingstons of New York, for example, were as acutely conscious of degrees of rank and as sensitive to the slightest social insult as any family in America; yet, much to the anger and confusion of William Smith, they took the transformation to republicanism in stride. Smith in frustration pleaded with them to recognize the consequences of republicanism: "that there would soon be Land Tax and no Room for an Aristocracy." But they only laughed at him and predicted that he would eventually become "a Republican too." Amazingly, Smith noted, the Livingstons "seemed to be reconciled to every Thing" that had been done." Yet Smith should have realized that the only aristocrats the Livingstons expected to see destroyed were those like the De Lanceys - parasitic sycophants of the Crown. The Livingstons, after all, had always been true Whigs, the spokesmen for and defenders of the people.
Even the most radical republicans in 1776 admitted the inevitability of all natural distinctions: weak and strong, wise and foolish - and even of incidental distinctions: rich and poor, learned and unlearned. Yet, of course, in a truly republican society the artificial subsidiary distinctions would never be extreme, not as long as they were based solely on natural distinctions. It was widely believed that equality of opportunity would necessarily result in a rough equality of station, that as long as the social channels of ascent and descent were kept open it would be impossible for any artificial aristocrats or overgrown rich men to maintain themselves for long. With social movement founded only on merit, no distinctions could have time to harden. Since, as Landon Carter said, "Subjects have no Pretence, one more than another," republican laws against entail, primogeniture, and in some states, monopolies, would prevent the perpetuation of privilege and the consequent stifling of talent." And projected public educational systems would open up the advantages of learning and advancement to all.
Great consequences were expected to flow from such an egalitarian society. If every man realized that his associations with other men and the state depended solely on his merit, then, as former Massachusetts Governor Thomas Pownall told the Americans, there would be an end to the jealousy and the contentions for "unequal Dominion" that had beset communities from time immemorial. Indeed, equality represented the social source from which the anticipated harmony and public virtue of the New World would flow. "It is this principle of equality . . ." wrote one Virginian in 1776, "which alone can inspire and preserve the virtue of its members, by placing them in a relation to the publick and to their fellow-citizens, which has a tendency to engage the heart and affections to both."
It was a beautiful but ambiguous ideal. The Revolutionaries who hoped for so much from equality assumed that republican America would be a community where none would be too rich or too poor, and yet at the same time believed that men would readily accede to such distinctions as emerged as long as they were fairly earned. But ironically their ideal contained the sources of the very bitterness and envy it was designed to eliminate. For if the promised equality was the kind in which "one should consider himself as good a man as another, and not be brow beaten or intimidated by riches or supposed superiority," then their new republican society would be no different from that in which they had lived, and the Revolution would have failed to end precisely what it was supposed to end. Indeed, although few Americans could admit it in 1776, it was the very prevalence of this ambivalent attitude toward equality that had been at the root of much of their squabbling during the eighteenth century.
By the middle of the eighteenth century the peculiarities of social development in the New World had created an extraordinary society, remarkably equal yet simultaneously unequal, a society so contradictory in its nature that it left contemporaries puzzled and later historians divided. It was, as many observers noted, a society strangely in conflict with itself. On one hand, social distinctions and symbols of status were highly respected and intensely coveted, indeed, said one witness, even more greedily, than by the English themselves. Americans, it seemed, were in "one continued Race: in which everyone is endeavoring to distance all behind him - and to overtake or pass by, all before him." Yet, on the other hand, Americans found all of these displays of superiority of status particularly detestable, in fact "more odious than in any other country." Men in both northern and southern colonies, but particularly in New England, repeatedly expressed their disgust with the "certain Airs of Wisdom and superiority" and the "fribbling Affectation of Politeness," of those groups and families, particularly those "Insolent minions" Surrounding the royal governors. "The insults they, without any provocation under Heaven, offer to every person who passes within their reach, are insufferable."
Such conflict was not simply social; it was often intensely personal: the simultaneous hunger for and hatred of social pretension and distinction could be agonizingly combined in the same persons. Although, as Jefferson later reminded Joel Barlow, "A great deal of the knolege of things [about the Revolution] is not on paper but only within ourselves," some of this personal tension, some of what John Adams called "the secret Springs of this Surprizing Revolution," was occasionally revealed in writing. John Dickinson, like Thomas Shippen a generation later, was thoroughly disgusted with the corrupt and foppish nobility he saw in his travels abroad; yet at the same time he, like Shippen, "could not forbear looking on them with veneration." The parvenu minister, Jonathan Mayhew, who had risen from the wilds of Martha's Vineyard to the richest parish in Boston, remained throughout his life a tortured man, garishly displaying his acquired status and boasting of the wealth of his mercantile acquaintances, while simultaneously defending his rankling social obscurity by preferring to be the poor son of a good man than the rich son of a sycophant and flatterer. New England lawyer and a Virginia planter both could fill their diaries with their private struggles between the attractions and repulsions of the world of prestige and social refinement. This kind of tension and ambivalence of attitude, when widespread, made for a painful disjunction of values and a highly unstable social situation, both of which the ideology of republicanism was designed to mitigate.
6. WHIG RESENTMENT
The American Revolution was actually many revolutions at once, the product of a complicated culmination of many diverse personal grievances and social strains, ranging from land pressures in Connecticut to increasing indebtedness in Virginia. All the colonies, said John Adams in 1776, "differed in Religion, Laws, Customs, and Manners, yet in the great Essentials of Society and Government, they are all alike." What helped to make them alike, what brought together the various endemic strains and focused them, and what in fact worked to transform highly unstable local situations into a continental explosion was the remotely rooted and awkwardly imposed imperial system. Since the provincial governors, and ultimately the distant authority of the English Crown, were the principal source of power and prestige in the society - of preferment and office, of contracts and favors, of support for Anglican orthodoxy, and even of standards of social and cultural refinement -they inevitably had become the focal points for both aspiration and dissatisfaction among the colonists. The resultant political and social divisions were generally not based on class distinctions; indeed they were fomented by feelings of similarity, not difference. The Pinckneys and Leighs of South Carolina, the Carrolls and Dulanys of Maryland, the Livingstons and De Lanceys of New York, or even the Orises and Hutchinsons of Massachusetts scarcely represented distinct social classes. Because the various groups and factions were held together largely by personal and family ties to particular men of influence, politics was very fractionalized and personal. As Charles Carroll told his father in 1763: "Tis impossible for all men to be In place, and those who are out will grumble and strive to thrust themselves in." As long as politics remained such a highly personal business, essentially involving bitter rivalry among small elite groups for the rewards of state authority, wealth, power, and prestige, the Whig distinction between country and court, legislature and executive, people and rulers, remained a meaningful conception for describing American politics.
However, despite the elitist nature of American politics, larger interest groups within the population, both economic and religious, had entered politics sporadically throughout the eighteenth century to mitigate a specific threat or need. By the middle of the century there were increasing signs, even in so stable a colony as Virginia, that more and more groups, with more broadly based grievances and more deeply rooted interests than those of the dominating families, were seeking under the prodding of popular spokesmen a larger share in the wielding of political authority, a process that would in time work to shape a fundamentally new conception of American politics. "Family-Interests," like the Livingstons and De Lanceys in New York, observed Ambrose Serle in 1776, "have been long in a gradual Decay; and perhaps a new arrangement of political affairs may leave them wholly extinct." Yet by freezing factional politics ("the Guelphs and Gibellines") around the issue of British authority, the controversy with the mother country at first tended to obscure these developments and to drown out the quarrels Americans had among themselves. British policy and the Whig ideology worked in tandem to blur America's internal jealousies, jealousies between North and South, between city and country, and "jealousies naturally arising from the variety of private interests in the Planter, the Merchant, and the Mechanic." For a moment in 1774-76 the imperial contest absorbed and polarized the various differing groups as never before in the eighteenth century and made the Americans a remarkably united people. As Lieutenant-Governor William Bull of South Carolina saw, by 1774 the English government had lost all its power to exploit these different interests by "design." The best it could do now was to allow "chance" to "occasion distrust, disunion, confusion, and at last a wish to return to the old established condition of government." Any hint of British "design" would only "put the discontented up on their guard, and prevail on them to suspend any animosities and cement in one common cause those various interests, which are otherwise very apt to break into parties and ruin each other." In the minds of revolutionary Whigs the problem of British authority had become the single problem of colonial politics. In fact by 1776 the English Crown and the imperial system had come to stand for all that was wrong with American society.
Hence it seemed entirely credible to the Revolutionaries that the elimination of this imperial system would decisively change their lives. For too long America had suffered from a pervasive disorder. Its politics, as Jefferson indicated in A Summary View, had been repeatedly disrupted by the wanton interference from abroad, the delaying and negativing of laws for the benefit of remote and often unknown interests. Indeed, "the single interposition of an interested individual against a law was scarcely ever known to fail of 'success, tho' in the opposite scale were placed the interests of a whole country." For too long had the monarch or governor, as the sole fountain of honors, offices, and privileges, arbitrarily created social distinctions, advancing, said John Jay, "needy and ignorant dependants on great men ... to the seats of justice, and to other places of trust and importance." But all this, predicted Philip Freneau in 1775, would soon change.
"The time shall come when strangers rule no more,
Nor cruel mandates vex from Britain's shore."
No longer would a distinguished public office, like that of chief justice in South Carolina, be filled through the influence of some English lord's mistress. No longer would the honors of the state be "at the disposal of a scepter'd knave, thief, fool, or Coward." The exasperating separation of political and social authority at the highest levels of American life would at last be ended." Now merit and virtue would alone determine a man's political position. The rewards of the state would depend only on a man's contribution to the people, not on whom he knew or on whom he married. "There is," said John Adams in May of 1776, "something very unnatural and odious in a Government 1000 Leagues off. An whole Government of our own Choice, managed by Persons whom We love, revere, and can confide in, has charms in it for which Men will fight."
Nothing was more despicable to a Commonwealthman than a "Courtier," defined as "one who applies himself to the Passions and Prejudices, the Follies and Vices of Great Men in order to obtain their Smiles, Esteem and Patronage and consequently their favours and Preferments." And in the eyes of the Whigs America possessed too many of these "fawning parasites and cringing courtiers," too much soothing and flattering of great men - "perhaps the blackest Crimes, that men can commit." It was these courtiers within the colonies, "whether supported by place or pension, or only formed to slavish principles by connection and interest," declared a Carolinian in 1774, who were "more to be feared than the arms of Britain herself." Indeed, on the eve of the Revolution it seemed to some Whigs that the Crown's influence was turning the social world upside down: "Virtue, Integrity and Ability" had become "the Objects of the Malice, Hatred and Revenge of the Men in Power," while "folly, Vice, and Villany" were being everywhere "cherished and supported." Whatever the social reality prior to the Revolution may have been - and the evidence indicates that social mobility was considerably lessening - American Whigs sensed a hardening of the social mold, aggravated by the influx of new royal officials since 1763. Many, like Charles Carroll of Maryland, intuitively felt that the avenues to political advancement were becoming clogged; their Whiggish rhetoric voiced their profound fears that "all power might center in one family," and that offices of government "like a precious jewel will be handed down from father to son."
Beneath all the specific constitutional grievances against British authority lay a more elusive social and political rancor that lent passion to the Revolutionary movement and without which the Americans' devotion to republicanism is incomprehensible. The Whigs' language suggest widespread anger and frustration with the way the relationships of power and esteem seemed to be crystallizing by the middle of the eighteenth century, under the apparent direction of the Crown. Among all the grievances voiced against executive power, what appears to have particularly rankled the colonists, or at least was most directly confronted in their Whig literature, was the abuse of royal authority in creating, political and hence social distinctions, the manipulation of official appointments that enabled those creatures with the proper connections, those filled with the most flattery, those "miniature infinitessimal Deities" John Adams called them, to leap ahead of those equally - if not better-qualified into lucrative positions of power and prestige. As one Whig recorder of American complaints charged, too many "improper men, from sinister designs, because of family connexions, and to serve a turn, have been chose, put into, or continued in places of trust or power," while too many "proper ones have been opposed and kept out, . . . because they would not be so the slaves of a party." The American Whig spirit, said George Clinton, who knew what he was speaking of, was a "Spirit of Resentment," an angry hatred of pretentious sycophants who strutted in display of a social superiority nobody believed they deserved." American writings, in both North and South, were filled with outcries against the "insolence of office, and the spurns that patient merit" had to bear at the hands of the "unworthy" who sought "to lord it over all the rest." "None of us, when we grow old," South Carolinians complained bitterly to Josiah Quincy in 1773, "can expect the honours of the State - they are all given away to worthless poor rascals." Young James Otis was incensed by the dignities and grandeur awarded to those in government who had, he said, "no natural or divine right to be above me." John Adams's fury with Thomas Hutchinson knew no bounds: the Hutchinson clan had absorbed almost all the honors and profits of the province - "to the Exclusion of much better Men." Even ten years after the Revolution Americans could not forget how the diffusion of royal authority had affected their social structure: "Every twentieth cousin of an ale-house-keeper who had a right of voting in the election of a member of Parliament," recalled John Gardiner in a Fourth of July oration in 1785, "was cooked up into a gentleman, and sent out here, commissioned to insult the hand that gave him daily bread."
William Livingston (about whom John Adams once said there was "nothing elegant or genteel") in one of his typically brilliant satires explored the sense of political and social deprivation that lay behind the bitterness of many of the Whigs. Posing as a befuddled Tory, Livingston exposed the personal meaning republican equality possessed for Americans, and he showed as well how little fear most Whigs had of the social forces they were unleashing. Whatever doubts they may have had were smothered in their resentment of what was felt to be an unmerited aristocracy.
Livingston's Tory was confused: "That the vulgar should be flattered by our muggletonian, tatterdemalion governments, is not to be wondered at, considering into what importance those whimsical raggamuffin constitutions have elevated the heretofore dispicable and insignificant mobility." But he was
astonished that men of fashion and spirit should prefer our hotchpotch, oliverian, oligargical anarchies, to the beautiful, the constitutional, the jure divino, and the heaven-descended monarchy of Britain. For pray how are the better sort amidst our universal levelism, to get into offices? During the halcyon days of royalty and loyalty, if a gentleman was only blessed with a handsome wife or daughter, or would take the trouble of informing the ministry of the disaffection of the colonies, suggesting at the same time the most proper measures for reducing them to parliamentary submission .... he was instantly rewarded with some lucrative appointment, his own disqualifications and the maledictions of the rabble notwithstanding. But how is a gentleman of family, who is always entitled to a fortune, to be promoted to a post of profit, or station of eminence in these times of unsubordination and fifth monarchyism? Why, he must deport himself like a man of virtue and honor.... He must moreover pretend to be a patriot, and to love his country, and he must consequently be a hypocrite, and act under perpetual restraint, or he is detected and discarded with infamy. Besides ... the comparative scarcity of offices themselves ... must make every man of laudable ambition eternally regret our revolt from the mother country: For the present governments being manufactured by the populace, who have worked themselves into a pursuasion of I know not what, of public weal and public virtue, and the interest of one's country, it has been ridiculously imagined that there ought to be no more offices in a state than are absolutely requisite for what these deluded creatures call the benefit of the commonwealth. Under the old constitution, on the contrary, whenever the crown was graciously disposed to oblige a gentleman, . . . an office was instantly invented for the purpose; and both land and water, earth and sea should be ransacked, but his Majesty would create a Surveyor of Woods and a Sounder of Coasts. Thus every humble suitor who had a proper introduction was always sure of being genteely provided for, without either consulting a mob, or losing time about the wild chimera of public utility.
Furthermore, continued Livingston's distraught Tory, America had lost more than offices by separating from Great Britain. No longer could atheism flourish -, no longer could women wear their three-foot hats. America had crudely cut off the influx of gallantry and politeness from the Court of London.
While we received our governors and other principal officers immediately from the fountain-head of high life and polish'd manners, it was impossible for us to degenerate into our primitive clownishness and rusticity. But these being now unfortunately excluded, we shall gradually reimmerse into plain hospitality, and downright honest sincerity; than which nothing can be more insipid to a man of breeding and politesse.
What was felt by a Livingston, an Adams, or a Carroll at the uppermost levels of American society could be experienced as well throughout varying layers of the social structure, all generally concentrated by 1776, however, into a common detestation of the English imperial system. Thus a justice of the peace or militia officer in some small western New England town, or a petty Virginia rum merchant with a government permit, both far removed from and ignorant of the forces at work in Whitehall, could awake in the heat of the crisis to find himself labeled a parasitic tool of the Crown, the object of long-suffering and varied local resentments." Whatever the actual responsibility of royal authority for the dissatisfactions and frustrations in American society, by 1776 the English Crown had come to bear the full load, and men could believe, although surely not with the same vividness as John Adams, that the whole royal juggernaut was designed to crush them personally." The Crown had become, in a word, a scapegoat for a myriad of American ills.