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A Republic of Men: The American Founders, Gendered Language, and Patriarchal Politics

Mark E. Kann
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg73c
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  • Book Info
    A Republic of Men
    Book Description:

    What role did manhood play in early American Politics? In A Republic of Men, Mark E. Kann argues that the American founders aspired to create a "republic of men" but feared that "disorderly men" threatened its birth, health, and longevity. Kann demonstrates how hegemonic norms of manhood-exemplified by "the Family Man," for instance--were deployed as a means of stigmatizing unworthy men, rewarding responsible men with citizenship, and empowering exceptional men with positions of leadership and authority, while excluding women from public life. Kann suggests that the founders committed themselves in theory to the democratic proposition that all men were created free and equal and could not be governed without their own consent, but that they in no way believed that "all men" could be trusted with equal liberty, equal citizenship, or equal authority. The founders developed a "grammar of manhood" to address some difficult questions about public order. Were America's disorderly men qualified for citizenship? Were they likely to recognize manly leaders, consent to their authority, and defer to their wisdom? A Republic of Men compellingly analyzes the ways in which the founders used a rhetoric of manhood to stabilize American politics.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6352-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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

    The American founders aspired to create a republic of men. Their problem was that a democratic distemper infected the men of their time, resulting in disorderly conduct that threatened the republic’s birth, health, and longevity. The founders addressed this problem by employing hegemonic norms of manhood to stigmatize and bring into line disorderly men, reward responsible men with citizenship, and empower exceptional men with positions of leadership and authority. One result was that their republic presupposed and perpetuated women’s exclusion from politics. My thesis is that the founders employed a “grammar of manhood” to encourage American men to reform themselves,...

  5. 1 The Culture of Manhood
    (pp. 5-29)

    Judith Sargent Murray once instructed her readers, “Let every American play the man for his country.”¹ The phrase was a common one. Writers and speakers employed it to motivate young males to quit their disorderly ways, measure up to standards of manhood, and fulfill their duties as citizens. What did “play the man” mean? How did manhood relate to politics? In the last half of the eighteenth century, the American culture of manhood was a complex discursive arena composed of contested ideals and consensual norms that the American founders molded into a relatively coherent “grammar of manhood” that defined citizenship...

  6. 2 The Grammar of Manhood
    (pp. 30-51)

    The American founders coupled the concept of manhood to the language of liberty. Benjamin Franklin proclaimed that his grandfather’s essay on liberty was written with “manly freedom” and Thomas Paine explained thatCommon Sensewas meant to prepare the way for “manly principles of independence.” John Adams praised his Puritan ancestors for their “manly assertion of … rights” and “manly pertinacious spirit” against tyranny while Thomas Jefferson applauded his American brethren for demonstrating “manly firmness” and “manly spirit” by renouncing British authority and declaring independent nationhood.¹ Manhood modified liberty and thereby injected an element of masculine merit into the rhetoric...

  7. 3 The Bachelor and Other Disorderly Men
    (pp. 52-78)

    The founders used the stock figure of the Bachelor to identify the lowest rung of manhood. The Bachelor symbolized the dangers of democracy and the corruption of patriarchy. He was the male who failed to invest liberty in responsibility, only to foster disorder in the ranks of men. He refused to assume the family obligations of the traditional patriarch or participate in the benevolent governance of women and other dependents, as required by republican manhood. Sometimes he exhibited the manners of aristocratic manhood to mask his lustful desires, and often he wore the guise of self-made manhood to justify his...

  8. 4 The Family Man and Citizenship
    (pp. 79-104)

    In a 1612 essay titled “Of Marriage and Single Life,” Francis Bacon argued that families were an “impediment” to men’s greatness. Wives and children distracted men from public affairs and made them reticent to take risks essential to performing great deeds. That was why “the best works … have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men which, both in affection and means, have married and endowed the public.” However, family men were notable for one crucial virtue. They were husbands and fathers who exhibited “the greatest care of future times, unto which they know they must transmit their greatest pledges.”¹...

  9. 5 The Better Sort and Leadership
    (pp. 105-129)

    The Family Man fit into the fraternity of men. The marriage contract was a fraternal contract that transformed a single man into a husband who claimed an exclusive sex right over his wife, agreed to other men’s monopoly over their wives, and thereby established a “cooperative agreement” among the “brotherhood of free appropriators” of women’s bodies. Men’s joint “jurisdiction over women” helped to knit together male society. Additionally, the Family Man was a protector who enlisted in the Revolution to defend and bequeath liberty. He achieved solidarity with the “manly citizenry” that stood in opposition to the “effeminate imperial power”...

  10. 6 The Heroic Man and National Destiny
    (pp. 130-154)

    The founders agreed that “law ought to be king.” The problem was that law was a blunt instrument for resisting men’s democratic passions, reforming their morals and manners, and maintaining order among them as well as for resolving national crises and realizing historic opportunities. Law was slow, cumbersome, and rigid, but the times that tried men’s souls demanded quick thinking and creative action. Law reflected “an excess of popularity” rather than excellence in manly virtue and vision. Law mirrored the prejudices of “pygmies” who lacked the “candor and unbiased minds as becomes men,” not the integrity and charisma of “giants”...

  11. 7 The Founders’ Gendered Legacy
    (pp. 155-178)

    The American founders employed a grammar of manhood that distinguished four ranks of men. The lowest rank was symbolized by the Bachelor, the passionate man who was isolated in time and space, distrusted by other men, and deemed a danger to social order and political stability. He was ridiculed, stigmatized, sanctioned, and sometimes imprisoned. The main rank was represented by the Family Man who disciplined passion to fit into the role of responsible husband, father, and neighbor. He merited sufficient respect to be entrusted with citizenship. A more select rank was constituted by the Better Sort of man who sufficiently...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 179-218)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-237)
  15. About the Author
    (pp. 238-238)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-239)