After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture
Joseph J. Ellis
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Through portraits of four figures—Charles Willson Peale, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, William Dunlap, and Noah Webster—Joseph Ellis provides a unique perspective on the role of culture in post-Revolutionary America, both its high expectations and its frustrations.
Each life is fascinating in its own right, and each is used to brightly illuminate the historical context.
ordered, disciplined freedom circumscribed by the civic obligations imposed by public virtue. Sparta, not Athens, was the historic model for most republican theorists in America. On the one hand, dramatic plays, novels, and portraits were suspect because they were superflous, mere ornaments that pleased the eye or titillated the imagination at a time when the weighty business of waging war and framing constitutions deserved undivided attention. On the other hand, the fine arts were more than just
age of purported rationality, Peale found himself caught in an irrational but highly effective whipsaw: he suffered from the suspicion of artists as agents of tyranny at the same time that he stood accused of taking the rhetoric about “the Rights of Mankind” too literally; his eagerness to harness the arts to American republicanism was squelched by republican fears that artists were despotic mercenaries. • This American apprehension toward the. arts affected the art market. Peale found it
of the upsurge of interest in America’s cultural prospects that surfaced in the years immediately preceding the constitutional crisis with England. Berkeley’s verses did not cause this upsurge of interest; as the most graceful expression of the belief in American cultural ascendancy, it was simply the best remembered and most frequently cited version of an increasingly popular theme. Andrew Burnaby, who traveled through the middle colonies in 1759, reported that “an idea strange as it is
trade, and the arts. The Abbé Raynal, a French philosophe who a few years earlier had described North America as a cultural desert, confessed that the American Revolution released pent-up national energies that required him to alter his analysis. “A new Olympus, a new Arcady, a new Athens, a new Greece will perhaps give birth on the continent. . . to new Homers,” he predicted in 1778. “Perhaps there will be another Newton in New England. It is in British America, let there be no doubt,” Raynal
schoolmastering. He moved from Hartford to Sharon, where he proposed “to open a school . . . in which Gentlemen and Ladies may be instructed in Reading, Writing, Mathematics, the English Language, and if desired, the Latin and Greek Languages . . . at the moderate price of Six Dollars and two thirds per quarter per Scholar.”18 Once ensconsed in Sharon, he submitted an essay to The Clio, A Literary Miscellany, which was edited by a precocious young woman named Juliana Smith, who, it turns out, did