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Collegiate Republic

Cultivating an Ideal Society in Early America

Margaret Sumner

Publication Year: 2014

Collegiate Republic offers a compellingly different view of the first generation of college communities founded after the American Revolution. Such histories have usually taken the form of the institutional tale, charting the growth of a single institution and the male minds within it. Focusing on the published and private writings of the families who founded and ran new colleges in antebellum America--including Bowdoin College, Washington College (later Washington and Lee), and Franklin College in Georgia--Margaret Sumner argues that these institutions not only trained white male elites for professions and leadership positions but also were part of a wider interregional network of social laboratories for the new nation. Colleges, and the educational enterprise flourishing around them, provided crucial cultural construction sites where early Americans explored organizing elements of gender, race, and class as they attempted to shape a model society and citizenry fit for a new republic.

Within this experimental world, a diverse group of inhabitants--men and women, white and "colored," free and unfree--debated, defined, and promoted social and intellectual standards that were adopted by many living in an expanding nation in need of organizing principles. Priding themselves on the enlightened and purified state of their small communities, the leaders of this world regularly promoted their own minds, behaviors, and communities as authoritative templates for national emulation. Tracking these key figures as they circulate through college structures, professorial parlors, female academies, Liberian settlements, legislative halls, and main streets, achieving some of their cultural goals and failing at many others, Sumner's book shows formative American educational principles in action, tracing the interplay between the construction and dissemination of early national knowledge and the creation of cultural standards and social conventions.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

...my dissertation advisor, Jan Lewis deserves my highest praise and gratitude for her guidance. From our first lunch together in 1999, she has always been eager to discuss my ideas, question my assumptions, listen to my archival adventures, read multiple drafts of conference papers and chapters, and urge me forward with equal helpings of encouragement...

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pp. 1-14

...more lucrative teaching position at Harvard. For the rest of his life, this student who achieved both fame and wealth through the creative powers of his mind continued to wonder if he had truly found the ideal scholarly environment...

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One Cultivating the College World “The Generous Purpose”

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pp. 15-46

...Lexington, Virginia, on a borrowed horse. Newly elected to the presidency of the “college at Lexington,” the young Presbyterian minister intended to solicit funding for its future success. The cities of the eastern seaboard were to be the prime coordinates...

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Two Organizing the College World “All Various Nature”

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pp. 47-82

...parlor near Bowdoin College and answered a letter from her brother John. Ensconced in her new home in the eastern territory of Maine, Martha was a determined collector of what her sister in Boston jokingly called “all the proceedings of the western...

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Three Building the College World “An Elegant Sufficiency”

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pp. 83-116

...father Moses, an academy teacher and Presbyterian minister, accepted the post of president of Franklin College in Athens, Georgia. In 1819, the whole family left their home in South Carolina and rode west to help expand the college world. John recalled...

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Four Working in the College World “Ease and Alternate Labor”

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pp. 117-155

...full of the reading, writing, debating, and teaching that characterized the work of the growing college world. Her father, Edward Payson, had been a famous revivalist preacher in Portland, Maine. As a trustee of Bowdoin College, he had assisted in its early promotion and trained many of its graduates in divinity. He had also...

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Five Leaving the College World "Gentle Spirits Fly”

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pp. 156-194

...College in 1826, the event was a “perfect novelty.” Newspapers and periodicals reported on it widely. A Portland, Maine, newspaper described the young student’s commencement piece, “The Conditions and Prospects of Hayti,” as “happily selected...

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pp. 195-202

...called them, began to plague the college world and its inhabitants. They threatened to distract the minds of the colleges’ refined, elevated beings from their ideals. Instead of relying on prudence and planning to plot out their future, many students...


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pp. 203-222


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pp. 223-244


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pp. 245-256

Recent Books

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pp. 257-260

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935683
E-ISBN-10: 0813935687
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935676
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935679

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 5 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2014

OCLC Number: 880410726
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Collegiate Republic

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Universities and colleges -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Universities and colleges -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Education, Higher -- United States -- History -- 18th century.
  • Education, Higher -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Education, Higher -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Education, Higher -- United States -- Philosophy.
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