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Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a masterful study Carl Richard explores how the Greek and Roman classics became enshrined in American antebellum culture. For the first time, knowledge of the classics extended beyond aristocratic males to the middle class, women, African Americans, and frontier settlers. The Civil War led to a radical alteration of the educational system in a way that steadily eroded the preeminence of the classics.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-05449-3
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Education

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Classical Conditioning: School, Home, and Society
    (pp. 1-40)

    Like their forebears, many antebellum Americans were socially conditioned in the schools, at home, and in society at large to venerate the classics. Most antebellum Americans who were familiar with the classics first encountered them in grammar schools and academies, the number of which steadily increased as the population grew and the United States expanded westward. Instruction at these schools, which focused on the study of the Greek and Latin languages, differed remarkably little from the training that colonial students had received two centuries earlier. Colleges increased classical knowledge further among the growing number of Americans who attended them. For...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Democracy
    (pp. 41-82)

    In the same years that a plethora of new grammar schools, academies, and colleges were introducing the classics to the western frontier, to a rising middle class, to girls and women, and to African Americans, states were expanding the voting population to include all free adult males. While the spread of manhood suffrage led to a more democratic style of politics, the expansion of classical education ensured that the orations that resounded in the courtrooms and legislative halls of the United States, as well as numerous newspaper essays and private letters, continued to bristle with classical allusions. Although some of...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Pastoralism and Utilitarianism
    (pp. 83-104)

    The growth of democracy in antebellum America was accompanied by the spread of a type of utilitarianism that held that only those practices contributing to immediate economic progress should be adopted. In a nation in which status was determined by wealth rather than birth, it was only natural that Americans should be preoccupied with acquiring wealth. The Industrial Revolution, which began in Britain in the late eighteenth century and spread to the United States in the early nineteenth century, encouraged this utilitarianism by providing new opportunities for wealth. But the effects of the Industrial Revolution on American society were felt...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Nationalism
    (pp. 105-119)

    Nationalist criticisms of Greco-Roman civilization were as old as the utilitarian assaults on the classical languages requirement in the schools. It is true that the nationalism that had first trickled through the cracks of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism during the American Revolution gushed forth during the antebellum period. But although classical heroes surrendered the chief place of honor in the American pantheon to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other national heroes, the Greek and Roman republicans retained significant positions thereafter. They were not dashed from their pedestals. Just as the Greeks and Romans had differentiated between primary and secondary gods, antebellum Americans...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Romanticism
    (pp. 120-151)

    In the antebellum period nationalism and democracy merged with romanticism to form the United States’ first national literature. Although American romanticism emphasized enjoyment of the present over preoccupation with the past and nature over scholarship as the true source of enlightenment, emphases that might have caused the romantics to repudiate the classics, these very emphases were largely based on the Platonic valuation of intuition over reason and experience. While the romantics, like the founders before them, inveighed against the slavish, uncritical acceptance of all things classical, they revered the ancients, even suggesting that the ancients’ position closer to the dawn...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Christianity
    (pp. 152-180)

    During the Second Great Awakening most orthodox Christians shared the romantics’ disapproval of the Enlightenment’s emphasis on reason over intuition and matter over spirit. While it is true that the evangelical focus on an emotional attachment to Christ undermined some Christians’ devotion to the classics, most antebellum Americans followed in the path of their ancestors, attempting to reconcile Christianity with the Greco-Roman classics.

    Christians had always possessed a love-hate relationship with the classics.

    Even while inveighing against pagan religion and while suffering severe persecution at the hands of pagans, educated Christians like the apostle Paul referred to classical teachings on...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Slavery
    (pp. 181-203)

    Just as antebellum southerners referred to the Bible in defense of slavery, they also appealed to the other seminal texts of the Western canon, the Greek and Roman classics. The growth of democracy in antebellum America was not the only factor that caused a shift in the southern perception of Athens from that of the founding generation, who had perceived the polis as too democratic and unstable. Another factor was Athens’ usefulness in support of the southern argument that slavery was a positive good. Ironically, when Athens finally achieved the popularity it had been denied for over two millennia because...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 204-212)

    Looking back from the early twentieth century, Henry Adams’s chief complaint about his Harvard education in the 1850s was that its classical emphasis had left him unprepared for life in the modern world.

    Writing about himself in the third person, he claimed: At any other moment in human history, this education, including its political and literary bias, would have been not only good, but quite the best. Society had always welcomed and flattered men so endowed. Henry Adams had every reason to be well pleased with it, and not ill pleased with himself. He had all he wanted. He saw...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 213-249)
  13. Index
    (pp. 250-258)