They initiated a bloody purge of their enemies, the Reign of Terror. Americans who feared that the French Revolution was spiraling out of control tended to become Federalists. Those who remained hopeful about the revolution tended to become Republicans. Despite the political rancor, in late there came one sign of hope: the United States peacefully elected a new president. For now, as Washington stepped down and executive power changed hands, the country did not descend into the anarchy that many leaders feared. Adams was less beloved than the old general, and he governed a deeply divided nation.
The foreign crisis also presented him with a major test. To resolve this, President Adams sent envoys to France in The French insulted these diplomats. Some officials, whom the Americans code-named X, Y, and Z in their correspondence, hinted that negotiations could begin only after the Americans offered a bribe. Dozens of towns wrote addresses to President Adams, pledging him their support against France. Many people seemed eager for war. Many people now worried that the same ships that had aided Americans during the Revolutionary War might discharge an invasion force on their shores.
Many Americans also worried that France had covert agents in the country. In the streets of Charleston, armed bands of young men searched for French disorganizers. Even the little children prepared for the looming conflict by fighting with sticks. Meanwhile, during the crisis, New Englanders were some of the most outspoken opponents of France. In , they found a new reason for Francophobia.
An influential Massachusetts minister, Jedidiah Morse, announced to his congregation that the French Revolution had been hatched in a conspiracy led by a mysterious anti-Christian organization called the Illuminati. The story was a hoax, but rumors of Illuminati infiltration spread throughout New England like wildfire, adding a new dimension to the foreign threat. Against this backdrop of fear, the French Quasi-War, as it would come to be known, was fought on the Atlantic, mostly between French naval vessels and American merchant ships. During this crisis, however, anxiety about foreign agents ran high, and members of Congress took action to prevent internal subversion.
The most controversial of these steps were the Alien and Sedition Acts. These laws were not simply brought on by war hysteria. They reflected common assumptions about the nature of the American Revolution and the limits of liberty. In fact, most of the advocates for the Constitution and the First Amendment accepted that free speech simply meant a lack of prior censorship or restraint, not a guarantee against punishment.
In , most Federalists were inclined to agree. Under the terms of the Sedition Act, they indicted and prosecuted several Republican printers—and even a Republican congressman who had criticized President Adams. Meanwhile, although the Adams administration never enforced the Alien Act, its passage was enough to convince some foreign nationals to leave the country.
For the president and most other Federalists, the Alien and Sedition Acts represented a continuation of a conservative rather than radical American Revolution. However, the Alien and Sedition Acts caused a backlash in two ways.
Loyalist (American Revolution)
First, shocked opponents articulated a new and expansive vision for liberty. Second, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson helped organize opposition from state governments. Ironically, both of them had expressed support for the principle behind the Sedition Act in previous years. In , Jefferson made this point in a resolution adopted by the Kentucky state legislature.
A short time later, the Virginia legislature adopted a similar document written by Madison. More importantly, they asserted that the states could declare federal laws unconstitutional. For the time being, these resolutions were simply gestures of defiance.
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Their bold claim, however, would have important effects in later decades. Debates over the French Revolution in the s gave Americans some of their earliest opportunities to articulate what it meant to be American. Did American national character rest on a radical and universal vision of human liberty? Or was America supposed to be essentially pious and traditional, an outgrowth of Great Britain? It was on this cracked foundation that many conflicts of the nineteenth century would rest. One reason the debates over the French Revolution became so heated was that Americans were unsure about their own religious future.
The Illuminati scare of was just one manifestation of this fear. Across the United States, a slow but profound shift in attitudes toward religion and government began. In , none of the American state governments observed the separation of church and state. On the contrary, all thirteen states either had established, official, and tax-supported state churches, or at least required their officeholders to profess a certain faith. Most officials believed this was necessary to protect morality and social order.
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Over the next six decades, however, that changed. In , the final state, Massachusetts, stopped supporting an official religious denomination. Historians call that gradual process disestablishment. In many states, the process of disestablishment had started before the creation of the Constitution. South Carolina, for example, had been nominally Anglican before the Revolution, but it had dropped denominational restrictions in its constitution. Churches needed only to agree to a set of basic Christian theological tenets, which were vague enough that most denominations could support them.
South Carolina tried to balance religious freedom with the religious practice that was supposed to be necessary for social order. Officeholders were still expected to be Christians; their oaths were witnessed by God, they were compelled by their religious beliefs to tell the truth, and they were called to live according to the Bible.
This list of minimal requirements came to define acceptable Christianity in many states. As new Christian denominations proliferated between and , however, more and more Christians fell outside this definition. South Carolina continued its general establishment law until , when a constitutional revision removed the establishment clause and religious restrictions on officeholders. Many other states, though, continued to support an established church well into the nineteenth century. The federal Constitution did not prevent this. The religious freedom clause in the Bill of Rights, during these decades, limited the federal government but not state governments.
Many political leaders, including Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, favored disestablishment because they saw the relationship between church and state as a tool of oppression. Jefferson proposed a Statute for Religious Freedom in the Virginia state assembly in , but his bill failed in the overwhelmingly Anglican legislature. Madison proposed it again in , and it defeated a rival bill that would have given equal revenue to all Protestant churches.
Instead Virginia would not use public money to support religion. At the federal level, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention of easily agreed that the national government should not have an official religion. This principle was upheld in when the First Amendment was ratified, with its guarantee of religious liberty.
The limits of federal disestablishment, however, required discussion. The federal government, for example, supported Native American missionaries and congressional chaplains. Well into the nineteenth century, debate raged over whether the postal service should operate on Sundays, and whether non-Christians could act as witnesses in federal courts.
The year brought about a host of changes in government, in particular the first successful and peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. But the year was important for another reason: the U. Capitol in Washington, D. Meanwhile, the Sedition and Alien Acts expired in and They had been relatively ineffective at suppressing dissent.
On the contrary, they were much more important for the loud reactions they had inspired. By , therefore, President Adams had lost the confidence of many Americans. They had let him know it. In , for instance, he had issued a national thanksgiving proclamation. Instead of enjoying a day of celebration and thankfulness, Adams and his family had been forced by rioters to flee the capital city of Philadelphia until the day was over.
Conversely, his prickly independence had also put him at odds with Alexander Hamilton, the leader of his own party, who offered him little support. After four years in office, Adams found himself widely reviled. In the election of , therefore, the Republicans defeated Adams in a bitter and complicated presidential race. In the end, the contest came down to a tie between two Republicans, Thomas Jefferson of Virginia and Aaron Burr of New York, who each had seventy-three electoral votes.
Adams had sixty-five. It was controlled by Federalists bitter at Jefferson. House members voted dozens of times without breaking the tie. On the thirty-sixth ballot, Thomas Jefferson emerged victorious. Republicans believed they had saved the United States from grave danger. The Republicans thought they were fighting to rescue the country from an aristocratic takeover, not just taking part in a normal constitutional process.
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Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4. In his first inaugural address, however, Thomas Jefferson offered an olive branch to the Federalists. He pledged to follow the will of the American majority, whom he believed were Republicans, but to respect the rights of the Federalist minority. His election set an important precedent. Adams accepted his electoral defeat and left the White House peacefully. These competing agendas clashed most famously in the case of Marbury v. Madison , which Marshall used to establish a major precedent. The Marbury case seemed insignificant at first.
The night before leaving office in early , Adams had appointed several men to serve as justices of the peace in Washington, D. On taking office, however, Jefferson and his secretary of state, James Madison, had refused to deliver the federal commissions to the men Adams had appointed.
Such understanding of history, in which two societies, separated by millennia, were united, had remarkable implications.
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With her Bostonians as Romans fighting on behalf of republican virtue against sinister, despotic and Caesarian forces, the playwright undermined the conventional understanding of time as what separated what was, is, and will be. The battle Americans were encouraged to fight was a cosmic, millennia-old struggle between the forces of tyranny and freedom that began centuries before on the Italian peninsula. That influential history, which she wrote decades after the her revolutionary tracts and of which President Jefferson ordered copies for all Federal department heads, provides another striking example of the ways in which she constructed, now in retrospect, the relationship of the classical world and the Revolution Friedman and Shaffer, , She was the only woman among a group of gentlemen-historians who produced the early revolutionary histories; she was also the only staunch Jeffersonian-Republican among them, and hers was the only history that was published more than a decade after its completion.
Her later history of the Revolution still demonstrated many of the characteristic and peculiar attitudes toward history, particularly toward classical history, her writing manifested years before. Nevertheless, perhaps we should not be surprised that the distinct historical sensibilities that Warren first presented in her plays during the Revolution were somewhat altered in her grand-history, written more than fifteen years after her neo-Roman dramas, and published some thirty years later.
Now narrating events that already belonged to the past, rather than writing in their midst and attempting to influence their outcome, Warren understood and projected the recent history of the Revolution as a chapter in classical history. In her attempt to construct the past—rather than to mold the present as she had sought to do in her writings from the s—Warren intertwined Roman history in her narration of the American Revolution.
Once more, she made an attempt to merge the two historical epochs. This dichotomous, civic-humanistic view inevitably led Warren to interpret history as a succession of battles between evil, tyrannical forces and benign, virtuous ideals. She located the historical origins of her account of that momentous battle in the Roman revolution, when the republic was cataclysmically transformed into an empire. It was these principles that overturned that ancient republic.
In fact Warren depicted the Revolution as an era during which Americans manifested virtue on a scale rarely witnessed in history. The patriots displayed devotion, self-denial, prudence, and industry to an astounding degree. If Britain attempted to corrupt America, America fought back with its admirable stock of virtuous citizens. Indeed, it was a mainstay of Whig histories. Warren, we have seen, had depicted Britain as a debauched Rome and America as a reincarnation of republican Rome for decades before the publication of her History.
Unfortunately for the ancient republic, although Catilina failed in his subverting attempts, his legacy paved the way for Julius Caesar who finally dealt the republic its deathblow. Like Catilina of old, Hutchinson was driven by the love of luxury and the lust for power. As in her revolutionary plays, Warren did not shy from complimenting her close circle of Bostonian patriots.
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Warren and Adams, who were most likely the Brutus and Cassius of her revolutionary plays, were described once more as American-classical protagonists. Even when she described men who were not wholly capable in her opinion to rise to ancient heights, Warren still employed figurative ancient comparisons. In the historical drama players were assigned recognized roles of past figures, according to which they followed their allotted parts.
The retired officers of the Continental Army, who formed the Society of the Cincinnati as the war ended in , provided a case in point. Warren merged the present and the past not only in her public writings, she also did so in the private sphere, underscoring the significance of her remarkable historical consciousness. It appears that Warren and other revolutionaries were committed in their private lives to Roman role-playing that allowed them to perceive themselves as active participants in the momentous historical events that they believed equaled those of antiquity.
In fact, Warren seems to have routinely set what she saw and did within two different contexts: that of eighteenth-century America and that of the classics. Her self-fashioning as a Roman matron reveals, then, no interior self that is separable from its public performance. Warren may have been unique in the way in which she merged in her dramas the late eighteenth-century American present with the historical world of classical antiquity.
She was anything but unique, however, in relying on the classics for making sense of the present. Contemporaries habitually transcended the volatile present by understanding the here-and-now through the well-recognized terrain of the history of the classical civilization. To the contrary, citizens of the early United States found it obliging to perceive their revolution as a reenactment of classical narratives.
Such rich classicization of revolutionary America offers, then, new perspectives for explaining the motives that drove the Revolution, as well as the meanings that patriots and the citizens of the young United States ascribed to their revolutionary deeds. Amory , Hugh, and David D. Hall , eds.
Breen , Timothy H. Clark , Charles E. Cremin , Lawrence A. Friedman , Lawrence J. Greene , Jack P. Hicks , Philip S. Honour , Hugh, Neo-classicism , Middlesex, Penguin, Kaminski , John P. Kielbowicz , Richard B. Litto , Fredric M. Pasley , Jeffery L. Pocock , J. Rahe , Paul A. These writings provide the European framework of the cultural backdrop in which America was established. Ability to read these sources extemporaneously was an entrance requirement at colonial schools such as Harvard. The Holy Bible was, of course, the most influential piece of literature in Colonial America.
Augustine was the church father of choice among American Puritans. Acts of Parliament concerning the American Colonies. Works of Benjamin Franklin.
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