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Rome Reborn on Western Shores

Rome Reborn on Western Shores: Historical Imagination and the Creation of the American Republic

Eran Shalev
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Rome Reborn on Western Shores
    Book Description:

    Rome Reborn on Western Shoresexamines the literature of the Revolutionary era to explore the ways in which American patriots employed the classics and to assess antiquity's importance to the early political culture of the United States. Where other writers have concentrated on political theory and ideology, Shalev demonstrates that classical discourse constituted a distinct mode of historical thought during the era, tracing the role of the classics from roughly 1760 to 1800 and beyond. His analysis shows how the classics provided a critical perspective on the management of the British Empire, a common fund of legitimizing images and organizing assumptions during the revolutionary conflict, a medium for political discourse in the process of state construction between 1776 and 1787, and a usable past once the Revolution was over.Rome Rebornexamines the extent to which classical antiquity, especially Rome, molded understandings of history, politics, and time, even as the experience of the Revolution reshaped patriots' understanding of the classics. The book studies the historical sensibilities that enabled revolutionaries to imagine themselves continuing a historical process that originated with classical Greece and Rome. In particular, their attitudes toward, and understandings of, time provided revolutionaries with a distinct historical consciousness that connected the classical past to the revolutionary present and shaped their expectations about America's future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-2839-5
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Reflecting on the American Revolution from his retirement in 1805, the second president of the United States “read the history of all ages and nations in every page” of a Roman history he was studying at the time. Indeed, it was “especially the history of our country for forty years past” that John Adams could recognize and discover in the Roman annals. If one would only “change the names,” then “every anecdote [would] be applicable to us.”¹ Adams had already manifested his inclination to identify repetitions and reoccurrences in history exactly half a century before he read the history of...

  5. 1 A Revolutionary Language History and the Classics in the Age of Revolution
    (pp. 9-39)

    American Patriots found classical history, its narratives and patterns, instrumental from the early days of the constitutional disputes with Britain in the mid-1760s. Indeed, revolutionaries articulated grievances and gained the imperial contest’s rhetorical and moral high ground over and again through appeals to the classics. Along the way, they developed a unique, classicized approach to interpreting history and to linking it to their present. This book is designed as a study not of the uses that were made of the classical world in political argument, but of the ways in which such uses reflect on American revolutionaries’ attitudes toward history...

  6. 2 Britannia Corrupt The British Empire in the Revolutionary Classical Imagination
    (pp. 40-72)

    The distinguished South Carolinian planter and merchant Henry Laurens, imprisoned in the Tower of London during the last years of the War for American Independence on charges of high treason against the British Crown, had plenty of time to contemplate the origins and meaning of the enduring imperial contest. Caught on a boat sailing to Holland to negotiate a loan for his struggling republic, Laurens, while awaiting judgment in the tower, kept a prison journal and spent “many days . . . penciling [in] large extracts from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Throughout the journal, Laurens, the...

  7. 3 “Judge the Future by the Past” The Varieties of Historical Consciousness in Revolutionary America
    (pp. 73-113)

    At the foundation of the classical discourse of the American Revolution lay a set of assumptions about history and its meaning. So effective was that language that by elaborating on their relation to, and the relevance of, the classics to revolutionary America, American patriots rendered the classical discourse as a distinct mode of historical thought. To better understand this innovative language, this chapter examines various ways through which patriots made use of the classical world and thus reflected and gave expression to revolutionary historical consciousness. Competing sets of assumptions about the nature of history and America’s place within it emerged...

  8. 4 Taking the Toga American Patriots Performing Antiquity
    (pp. 114-150)

    On the morning of March 6, 1775, according toRivington’s Gazette, Joseph Warren burst into Boston’s swarming Old South Church dressed in a Ciceronian toga to deliver the fifth annual oration to commemorate the Boston Massacre. Even in a period of extraordinary obsession with Roman antiquity, this episode was remarkable. Only a few years later, toward the conclusion of the War of Independence, however, Americans had become accustomed to representing themselves as heroic Romans in ancient civic regalia. Indeed, in August 1782 Alexander Hamilton could effortlessly appeal to his friend John Laurens to quit his sword, “put on the toga,”...

  9. 5 Cato Americanus Classical Pseudonyms and the Ratification of the Federal Constitution
    (pp. 151-187)

    On September 27, 1787, Cato spoke: “You have already, in Common with the rest of your countrymen, the citizens of other states, given to the world astonishing evidence of your greatness—you have fought under peculiar circumstances, and was successful against a powerful nation.” He admonished, “Beware of those who wish to influence your passions . . . in principles of politics, as well as in religious faith, every man has to think for himself.”¹ Caesar furiously replied within three days: “If that demagogue had talents to throw light on the subject of Legislation, why did he not offer them...

  10. 6 “The Pen of the Historian, or the Imagination of the Poet” The Revolution’s History Classicized
    (pp. 188-216)

    As the first histories recounting the Revolution were surfacing during the late 1780s and the following decade, Americans were worried how posterity would remember them and their endeavors.¹ John Adams, conveying his characteristic insecurities, predicted that “the history of our revolution will be one continued Lie from one end to the other.” Indeed, Adams was persuaded that “the essence of the whole will be that Dr. Franklin’s electric Rod smote the earth and out sprung General Washington. That Franklin electrified him with his rod—and henceforth these two conducted all the Policy, Negotiations, Legislatures and War.”² Adams’s sarcasm was accurate...

  11. EPILOGUE From Republic to Empire: Beyond 1776
    (pp. 217-240)

    “Are we Rome?” asks a trendy book that compares the United States and the Roman Empire. In light of the return of classical Rome as a common metaphor for the United States this question does not seem as odd as it would have only a few years ago. After a long-term decline in the perceived aptness of Rome as an explanatory model for America, the trend seems to have reversed, with a plethora of comparisons between America’s position in the opening of the third millennium as a sole superpower and the mighty Roman Empire of old.¹ Representations of the United...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 241-276)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 277-294)
  14. Index
    (pp. 295-311)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 312-312)