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Founding Fictions

Written by Jennifer R. Mercieca

Publication Year: 2010

Part political history, part rhetorical criticism, Founding Fictions is an extended analysis of how Americans imagined themselves as citizens between 1764 and 1845. It critically re-interrogates our fundamental assumptions about a government based upon the will of the people, with profound implications for our ability to assess democracy today.


Founding Fictions develops the concept of a “political fiction,” or a narrative that people tell about their own political theories, and analyzes how republican and democratic fictions positioned American citizens as either romantic heroes, tragic victims, or ironic partisans.  By re-telling the stories that Americans have told themselves about citizenship, Mercieca highlights an important contradiction in American political theory and practice: that national stability and active citizen participation are perceived as fundamentally at odds.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. ix-xi

In the spring of 1998, I was in a graduate seminar on Political Communication at the University of Illinois taught by the late David Swanson. We had been reading essay after essay chronicling escalating voter apathy, civic disengagement, and citizen withdrawal from American politics, and I recall throwing down the pen with which I had been taking notes in...

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pp. 1-8

Aristotle once said that the “good citizen must have the knowledge and the ability both to be ruled and to rule.” He did not believe a citizen was a mere member of a state, but rather that the state itself was “a kind of partnership” in which citizens worked together to promote “the security of their community” and defend “the constitution.” Citizen-partners acted ...

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1. “Republicanism was an indefinite term”: Political Fictions as Critical Tools for Citizenship

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pp. 9-41

Almost five years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., President George W. Bush discussed the relationship between terrorism and democracy in his weekly radio address: “Terrorists and their sponsors recognize that the Middle East is at a pivotal moment in its history. Freedom has brought hope to millions, and it’s helped ...

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2. “The Revolution was in the minds of the people”: Citizens as Romantic Heroes, 1764–1776

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pp. 42-82

“The Revolution,” reflected John Adams in an 1815 letter to Thomas Jefferson, “was in the minds of the people, and this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the course of fifteen years before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington.”¹ Colonial Americans had once been content with their role within the empire—content with the knowledge that they were British subjects, ...

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3. “The American Constitution is that little article of HOPE, left at the bottom of Pandora’s box of evils”: Citizens as Tragic Victims, 1783–1789

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pp. 83-119

Even as the republican fiction’s “self-evident truths” emerged as the justification for the newly independent states, some elites had recognized the danger inherent in its romantic promise of citizen control over the government. As the Revolutionary War raged it became clear that the confederated government was woefully unstable and therefore that America’s ...

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4. “Who would not have been willing to have died such a death?”: Citizens as Reified Patriot Heroes, July 4, 1826

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pp. 120-146

That John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day is fascinating; that they died on the Fourth of July is surprising; that the Fourth of July on which they died was America’s Jubilee—its fiftieth anniversary—is a very strange coincidence. If in retrospect we can acknowledge that the deaths of Adams and Jefferson on America’s Jubilee were fascinating, surprising, ...

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5. “I will not look up to the weather-cock of popularity, to see which way the gale is blowing”: Citizens as Ironic Partisans, 1816–1845

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pp. 147-201

“The men who have preached these doctrines,” Noah Webster groused of Jacksonian democracy in 1837, “have never defined what they mean by the people, or what they mean by democracy, nor how the people are to govern themselves, and how democracy is to carry on the functions of government.”¹ As Webster’s complaint attests, the rise of Jacksonian democracy in ...

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pp. 202-218

There is a “practical absurdity,” writes Michael Calvin McGee, in the “contradiction between our claims to popular sovereignty and our commonplace judgments of the popular will.” For comparison, “who would say that the ‘King’ is sovereign, but in the next breath deny the ‘King’s’ ability to resist sophists, accuse him of such ignorance that he cannot tell his own ...


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pp. 219-268


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pp. 269-274

E-ISBN-13: 9780817383558
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817316907

Page Count: 274
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 648711534
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Founding Fictions

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Subject Headings

  • United States -- Politics and government -- To 1775.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Political stability -- United States -- History.
  • Political participation -- United States -- History.
  • Democracy -- United States -- History.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Political culture -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1783-1865.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1775-1783.
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