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David Hume and Eighteenth-Century America

David Hume and Eighteenth-Century America

Mark G. Spencer
Volume: 10
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 546
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  • Book Info
    David Hume and Eighteenth-Century America
    Book Description:

    This book explores the reception of David Hume's political thought in eighteenth-century America. It presents a challenge to standard interpretations that assume Hume's thought had little influence in early America. Eighteenth-century Americans are ofte

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-633-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)

    Writing to Benjamin Franklin in 1772, David Hume said he was keen to see an American edition of his works, remarking “I fancy that I must have recourse to America for justice.” Sadly, modern scholars have been less than attentive to Hume’s reception in early America. It frequently is supposed that early Americans ignored Hume’s philosophical writings and, even more so, that they rejected out-of-hand his “Tory” History of England. Scholars have long assumed that Hume’s books had insignificant influence on American political writers. James Madison, if he used Hume’s ideas in Federalist No. 10, it is commonly argued, thought...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Mark G. Spencer
  5. Chapter One Hume’s Works in Colonial and Early Revolutionary America
    (pp. 1-28)

    If one wants, systematically, to investigate the reception and impact of Hume’s thought in eighteenth-century America, then it makes sense first to think about the availability and dissemination of Hume’s works there. Were Hume’s works available in eighteenth-century America? If so, which ones? Where? When? And to whom? Surprisingly, modern scholarship lacks satisfactory answers to those basic empirical questions — a deficiency the present study will attempt to remedy. Having determined parameters for the dissemination of Hume’s works, one may then better consider how his thought was received and what impact it had in eighteenth-century America. Existing scholarship on American book...

  6. Chapter Two Historiographical Context for Hume’s Reception in Eighteenth-Century America
    (pp. 29-52)

    Finding evidence that Hume’s History of England and his Essays and Treatises on Several Subjects frequently were on American bookshelves in colonial times is a step towards understanding the degree and nature of Hume’s impact in eighteenth-century America. Given that past commentators have often misconstrued the wide dispersal of Hume’s books, that preliminary step is an essential one. Since Hume’s works were readily available in colonial America as early as the mid 1760s, new questions arise. How was Hume read? What was Hume’s reputation in colonial America? How did his reputation change over time? How did Hume’s ideas figure in...

  7. Chapter Three Hume’s Earliest Reception in Colonial America
    (pp. 53-81)

    Not all colonial American contact with the works and thought of David Hume was a product of printed matter being transferred from Britain to America. A number of colonists traveling in Britain made a point to look Hume up. Records of those encounters offer a measure of Hume’s escalating celebrity with early Americans of the Revolutionary era. As recorded by his American visitors, Hume’s growing reputation prefigures the increased diffusion of his works in the colonies in the 1760s and, as we shall see, mirrors the reception of Hume and his thought in books, pamphlets, private papers, journals, and newspapers...

  8. Chapter Four Hume’s Impact on the Prelude to American Independence
    (pp. 82-118)

    Establishing direct and unambiguous connections between any book’s availability, reading and reception, and its subsequent impact is difficult. Basic questions pertaining to the influence of books on readers have been long standing. However, the difficulty of accounting for the influence of a book on its past readers is but part and parcel of the larger problem of establishing points of influence in the world of ideas — a problem to which Quentin Skinner pointed brilliantly more than thirty years ago. If Skinner was right, the difficulty is such that it behooves historians of ideas to assume a more descriptive (as well...

  9. Chapter Five Humean Origins of the American Revolution
    (pp. 119-153)

    Since the publication of Bernard Bailyn's magisterial The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, it is difficult for historians of American political thought to overlook the enduring importance of the political writings of the decade and a half immediately preceding the outbreak of the American War for Independence. Bailyn wrote that in no period of American history “was the creativity as great, the results as radical and as fundamental, as in the period before Independence. It was then that the premises were defined and the assumptions set. It was then that explorations were made in new territories and thought, the...

  10. Chapter Six Hume and Madison on Faction
    (pp. 154-187)

    Hume’s most significant impact on eighteenth-century America was achieved, we have repeatedly been told, when in 1787 James Madison turned to Hume’s political essays while working out the argument of his celebrated Federalist No. 10. The first historian to explore that ground in depth was Douglass Adair. In his long unpublished but often-cited Yale dissertation of 1943¹ and then in its subsequent recasting in published essays (later gathered together for a posthumous edition and since republished in various formats),² Adair outlined his thesis that Hume’s political essays provided the master key for unlocking the vault of Madison’s political thought. Adair’s...

  11. Chapter Seven Was Hume a Liability in Late Eighteenth-Century America?
    (pp. 188-222)

    If Hume was so useful to Madison, why did Madison not refer to Hume directly in Federalist No. 10?¹ Even scholars who have heard the Humean ring to Madison’s Federalist No. 10 conjecture that Madison did not refer to Hume because Hume’s was a dangerous name to invoke publicly. To show affiliation with Hume in early America, it is supposed, was an obvious liability.² That supposition fits nicely with the commonly held, but erroneous, view which it helps to propagate, that Hume’s works and thought were generally rejected in eighteenth-century America. It does not stand up so well against the...

  12. Chapter Eight Explaining “Publius’s” Silent Use of Hume
    (pp. 223-250)

    When Madison borrowed from Hume’s writings on faction for his defense of an American extended republic, neither he, nor Hume, was standing on popular ground. Hume had argued: “Though it is more difficult to form a republican government in an extensive country than in a city; there is more facility, when once it is formed, of preserving it steady and uniform, without tumult and faction.”¹ Madison followed Hume on that point, arguing that the task of founding an extended American republic was a formidable one. “As every State may be divided into different districts,” he wrote in Federalist No. 37,...

  13. Chapter Nine The Reception of Hume’s Politics in Late Eighteenth-Century America
    (pp. 251-282)

    Unlike “Publius,” Thomas Jefferson was anything but silent about David Hume. Time and again, but only after 1807, Jefferson barked loudly his hatred for Hume’s History. Jefferson’s Humean animus is an entrenched part of scholarship on Jefferson and on the American Founding. For Jefferson’s nineteenth-century biographers, such as James Parton, Hume’s History was a book that Jefferson “never ceased to hate.”¹ Early twentieth-century biographers, such as Francis W. Hirst, painted a similar scene: “If Jefferson had been an ardent young English radical, he could not have denounced with more fervour . . . the villainy of Hume’s Tory history.”² Over...

  14. Afterword
    (pp. 283-300)

    Hume’s works continued to enjoy wide circulation in the United States during the early years of the nineteenth century — despite Jefferson’s ardent wishes and best efforts to the contrary. The number of Hume references in American book catalogues, for instance, kept pace with the large number of book catalogues that survive for the period 1800–1830. Social libraries, circulating libraries, and college libraries of the period, held Hume’s History of England and his Essays and Treatises in large numbers. Many of those libraries had acquired Hume’s books as early as the 1760s, but they remained available to patrons who wished...

  15. Appendix A: Hume’s Works in Early American Book Catalogues
    (pp. 301-423)
  16. Appendix B: Subscribers to the First American Edition of Hume’s History of England
    (pp. 424-468)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 469-504)
  18. Index
    (pp. 505-534)