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Catharine Macaulay and Mercy Otis Warren: The Revolutionary Atlantic and the Politics of Gender Kate Davies New York: Oxford University Press, 2005336 pp.

Kate Davies enters into a flourishing critical discourse with her investigation into the works, lives, and relationship of two prominent late eighteenth-century historians and republican theorists, Catherine Macaulay and Mercy Otis Warren. Recently, scholars such as Catherine Allgor and Susan Branson have investigated the particular ways in which early national women employed gender identity to attain forms of political influence unavailable to men. Like them, Davies argues that "in an era when ideas of gender difference permeated most cultural debates," one must acknowledge "the importance of many oblique, normative or apparently concessionary accounts of their gender to Warren and Macaulay's articulation of a politics we might certainly want to see in feminist terms" (306–7). In choosing Macaulay and Warren as her focus, however, Davies also challenges a commonly held conviction within this body of work. Scholars such as Rosemarie Zagarri and David Waldstreicher have noted that in general, Republicans did not attend to gender or inspire female political activity to nearly the same degree that Federalists did. Surprisingly, goes the argument, the more radical political party provided less fertile ground [End Page 223] for early feminism than did its conservative counterpart. Davies opposes this view wholeheartedly, arguing that these two exemplary Republicans "established the concerns of gender as central to the politics of the revolutionary Atlantic," not least by rendering "Anti-Federalism as a politics of sensibility" (309, 294). Even when they were not discussing female equality outright, that is, they used prevailing assumptions about women to make heard their fiercely committed republican beliefs, in the process rendering political authority a central component of virtuous womanhood. Davies's argument, then, intensifies a current development in eighteenth-century transatlantic women's studies, by which gender is conceived less as a topic than a rhetorical mode—and in so doing, opens the field of early American studies to rich further investigation.

Catharine Macaulay (1731–1791) and Mercy Otis Warren (1728–1814) conducted a twenty-year friendship, largely through the medium of a transatlantic epistolary correspondence. Even after Macaulay's death, Warren continued to engage her ideas by republishing her work in the United States and citing her frequently and favorably throughout her History. Their friendship was based in part on similarity of circumstance, since both women hailed from prominent families characterized by an "oppositional Whiggism" that offered opportunities for learned women to lay claim to "masculine genius" while simultaneously fostering the capacity for "republican femininity" (4, 21, 27). As authors of what both perceived as "the definitive republican histories of their respective nations" (Macaulay's History of England and Warren's History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution), in addition to many other published works, they not only made their correspondence a lively addition to the public sphere in its own right but also used it to test out the ideas that informed their subsequent publications (3). Over the course of their careers, both went from being objects of widespread admiration to being subjects of derision figured in terms of gender abnormality. (In this context, the more famous Macaulay, as the onetime "figurehead . . . of British and American republicanism," suffered far more serious excoriation throughout British print culture, though the United States remained at least outwardly welcoming [36].) And both, according to Davies, used their eventual unpopularity to fuel their capacity for cogent social critique. They maintained significant differences in outlook (Warren more prone to champion Christian values and agrarian simplicity; Macaulay, more cosmopolitan), and if Davies's [End Page 224] references to "the testy Warren" are to be credited, their friendship also had to weather incompatibilities in temperament (263, 289). On one occasion that serves as the subject of an entire chapter, they even had a serious and much-publicized falling out. Nevertheless, their relationship survived on the common tenet that, simply put, "women made the best historians," and Davies explores this synchronicity of gender and public identity, of the "intimate and the oratorical," through many fascinating permutations (3, 185).

Catharine Macaulay and Mercy Otis Warren is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-147X
Print ISSN
0012-8163
Pages
pp. 223-227
Launched on MUSE
2008-04-04
Open Access
N
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