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Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland

Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland: The Transatlantic Origins of American Democracy and Nationhood

Armin Mattes
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homeland
    Book Description:

    Notions of democracy and nationhood constitute the pivotal legacy of the American Revolution, but to understand their development one must move beyond a purely American context.Citizens of a Common Intellectual Homelandexplores the simultaneous emergence of modern concepts of democracy and the nation on both sides of the Atlantic during the age of revolutions. Armin Mattes argues that in their origin the two concepts were indistinguishable because they arose from a common revolutionary impulse directed against the prevailing hierarchical political and social order. The author shows how the reconceptualization of democracy and the nation, which resulted from this revolutionary impulse, received its decisive form from the French Revolution. Although the French Revolution was instrumental in redefining the two terms, however, neither were these changes confined to France, nor did the new meanings merely radiate from France to other countries.

    To illustrate the transatlantic emergence of these ideas, Mattes considers the works of pairs of prominent intellectual contemporaries-one in America and the other in Europe-each writing on a common topic. The thinkers and topics include Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke on the transatlantic revolutions, John Adams and Friedrich von Gentz on the mixed constitution, James Madison and Immanuel Kant on perpetual peace, and Thomas Jefferson and Destutt de Tracy on the nation. Mattes's approach highlights the significant impact that the French Revolution had on the evolution of thought in the period, demonstrating that the emergence and early development of modern concepts of democracy and the nation in America were intimately tied to revolutionary events and processes in the larger Atlantic world.

    Preparation of this volume has been supported by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

    Jeffersonian America

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3805-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    This book starts and ends with Alexis de Tocqueville. Yet it is not about Tocqueville himself. Rather, Tocqueville features prominently in it because his starting point for writing his best known work has been similar to this project: approaching the origins and nature of American democracy from a European’s perspective. Particularly in regard to the origins and early development of American democracy, however, the interpretation that this book offers differs from Tocqueville’s, who thought that at least protodemocratic conditions existed in all the British colonies in North America—conditions that then had only to be brought to consciousness by the...

  5. Prologue
    (pp. 7-20)

    In the spring of 1840 the French politician and writer Alexis de Tocqueville anxiously awaited the publication of the second volume of his most famous work,Democracy in America.¹ When the book finally appeared in late April, it quickly became apparent that his concerns were justified. Despite the eager anticipation of volume 2, created by the great success of the first volume ofDemocracy in America(1835), the sales of the second volume lagged far behind his and his publishers’ expectations. The main reason for the unpopularity of the book with the broad reading public had to do with the...

  6. Chapter 1 The Tangled Issue of Equality: The Dialectic of Revolution in the Burke-Paine Controversy
    (pp. 21-62)

    On November 1, 1790, several months of tense waiting had come to an end for Thomas Paine. On that day, his friend Edmund Burke finally published hisReflections on the Revolution in France, whose production he had announced in February of the same year, following his first public denunciation of the French Revolution on February 9 in a parliamentary debate. Burke’s fierce attack on the events in France in his speech in Parliament had taken Paine by surprise. Based on his personal friendship with Burke and the latter’s support for the American Revolution, Paine, the great propagandist of both the...

  7. Chapter 2 Aristocracy, Constitutionalism, and the Evolution of Modern Conservatism: John Adams and Friedrich von Gentz on Inequality and the Balanced Constitution
    (pp. 63-101)

    During late spring 1791 John Adams, then vice president of the new United States of America, was irritated. Given Adams’s irascible nature, this was not unusual, but this time he had plenty of reason to feel angry. In May 1791, he had learned that his old friend Thomas Jefferson, at that time secretary of state, in the preface to the first American edition of Thomas Paine’sRights of Man, had, in an only thinly disguised fashion, charged him with “political heresies” and antirepublican sentiments. Confronted by President George Washington, Jefferson confirmed that with the “political heresies” he had indeed meant...

  8. Chapter 3 Democracy and the Pursuit of Peace: The Domestic and International Sovereignty of the Nation in James Madison’s and Immanuel Kant’s Essays on Perpetual Peace
    (pp. 102-140)

    By early 1792, James Madison was concerned. Although he had done as much as anyone to give the United States of America a new constitution in 1787–88, the course that the new federal administration subsequently pursued under the guidance of the secretary of the treasury, Alexander Hamilton, troubled him deeply. The policies enacted and suggested by Hamilton, he observed, were “more partial to the opulent than to other classes of society” and were tuned “less to the interest of the many than of a few.” If this course of the federal government remained unchecked, in the end “the government...

  9. Chapter 4 “The Strongest Government on Earth”: Thomas Jefferson, Destutt de Tracy, and the Formation of the Modern Idea of the Nation
    (pp. 141-184)

    In June 1809, three months after his second term as president of the United States had expired, Thomas Jefferson received a package from the French ideologue Antoine Louis Claude Destutt de Tracy. The package contained a manuscript copy of the latter’s essayA Commentary and Review of Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws, which Tracy had completed two years earlier.¹ In the enclosed letter Tracy explained that his corrections of Montesquieu’s theories in thisCommentarycontained some useful knowledge “on the objects which are most important for men’s happiness” and that he therefore asked “the man whom I respect most in the...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 185-210)

    Scholars of history and political science often describe the French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville as the first great theorist of modern democracy and maintain that his famousDemocracy in America(published 1835/1840) “represents the moment when democracy first came into focus as the central subject of a political theory.”¹ This is a reasonable assessment. No one offered a more elaborate and mature theory of “democracy” after the age of revolutions than did Tocqueville in his masterpiece. The English liberal thinker John Stuart Mill thus was not excessive in his praise when he told Tocqueville that “you have carried on the...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 211-238)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 239-254)
  13. Index
    (pp. 255-266)