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Rhetoric and the Republic

Politics, Civic Discourse, and Education in Early America

Mark Garrett Longaker

Publication Year: 2007

Casts a revealing light on modern cultural conflicts through the lens of rhetorical education.

Contemporary efforts to revitalize the civic mission of higher education in America have revived an age-old republican tradition of teaching students to be responsible citizens, particularly through the study of rhetoric, composition, and oratory. This book examines the political, cultural, economic, and religious agendas that drove the various—and often conflicting—curricula and contrasting visions of what good citizenship entails. Mark Garrett Longaker argues that higher education more than 200 years ago allowed actors with differing political and economic interests to wrestle over the fate of American citizenship. Then, as today, there was widespread agreement that civic training was essential in higher education, but there were also sharp differences in the various visions of what proper republic citizenship entailed and how to prepare for it.

Longaker studies in detail the specific trends in rhetorical education offered at various early institutions—such as Yale, Columbia, Pennsylvania, and William and Mary—with analyses of student lecture notes, classroom activities, disputation exercises, reading lists, lecture outlines, and literary society records. These documents reveal an extraordinary range of economic and philosophical interests and allegiances—agrarian, commercial, spiritual, communal, and belletristic—specific to each institution. The findings challenge and complicate a widely held belief that early-American civic education occurred in a halcyon era of united democratic republicanism. Recognition that there are multiple ways to practice democratic citizenship and to enact democratic discourse, historically as well as today, best serves the goal of civic education, Longaker argues.

Rhetoric and the Republic illuminates an important historical moment in the history of American education and dramatically highlights rhetorical education as a key site in the construction of democracy.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. v-vi

List of Tables

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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

Acknowledgments customarily begin with mention of the professional support that has contributed to a project, and they typically end with recognition of those most central to an author’s personal life. By no means do I intend to downplay the importance of those who have read and offered comments about this argument or the research...

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Introduction: Now that We’re Civic

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pp. xi-xx

It may seem strange to begin and end a book about eighteenth-century American rhetoric, politics, and pedagogy with an extended reflection on contemporary education. After all, history is, as Aristotle tells us, about the past. This introduction proposes, however, that history deals with what was and with what can be. It is factual and poetical. This...

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1. One Republic, Many Republicanisms: Early American Political Discourse and Publicity

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pp. 1-35

Given the impact that republican political discourse had on early American public argument, and given the hegemonic articulations among dominant rhetorical norms, a common political discourse, and a variety of rhetorical pedagogies, it is fitting to begin a study of eighteenth-century rhetorical education not with education at all but with two...

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2. One Republic, Many Paideiai: Political Discourse, Publicity, and Education in Early America

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pp. 36-78

Since the ancient Greeks, education has often been tied to the dissemination of civic virtue in a prosperous republic. In his “Areopagiticus” (355 BCE), Isocrates argued that the fate of Athenian society lay in its ability to teach citizens the virtue of private sacrifice for the public good. He said the properly educated citizen would “not regard a charge...

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3. Yale 1701–1817

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pp. 79-134

In 1700, Connecticut was largely filled with farming communities led by church elders. Though there were strict social distinctions, people’s lives were marked by economic austerity and common piety. By 1800, commerce had crept into even the most remote corners of Connecticut life. Markets not only affected every endeavor, but some people made their...

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4. King’s College/Columbia and the College of Philadelphia/University of Pennsylvania, 1754–1800

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pp. 135-176

In 1794, Timothy Dwight looked at the small New England town of Greenfield Hill, its uniformity of manners, its austerity, its bucolic humility, and its abstemious commerce. This was his vision for a new republic, and it stands in stark contrast to what Jacob Duché witnessed through the panes of his Philadelphia window just twenty years prior: “Whilst...

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5. The College of New Jersey, 1746–1822

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pp. 177-205

Contemporary scholars dedicated to reviving a republican tradition in rhetoric have found their historical hero in John Witherspoon, once president and professor of rhetoric and moral philosophy at the College of New Jersey (1767–95) (T. Miller, “Witherspoon”; Clark and Halloran). In their narratives, Witherspoon appears as a laudable ancestor...

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Conclusion: We Are All Republicans

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pp. 206-217

On March 4, 1801, after winning a narrow victory in an acrimonious presidential election, Thomas Jefferson delivered his first inaugural address, which, in the spirit of reconciliation, included the following, now famous statement: “We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all republicans—we are all federalists.” Of course,...


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pp. 219-237

Works Cited

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pp. 239-262


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pp. 263-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780817381394
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817315474

Illustrations: 11 tables
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 213087974
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Rhetoric and the Republic

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
  • Rhetoric -- Political aspects -- United States.
  • English language -- Rhetoric -- Study and teaching -- United States.
  • English language -- United States -- Rhetoric.
  • Rhetoric -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Education, Higher -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Rhetoric -- Study and teaching -- United States.
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