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The Overflowing of Friendship

Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic

Richard Godbeer

Publication Year: 2009

When eighteenth-century American men described "with a swelling of the heart" their friendships with other men, addressing them as "lovely boy" and "dearly beloved," celebrating the "ardent affection" that knit their hearts in "indissoluble bonds of fraternal love," their families, neighbors, and acquaintances would have been neither surprised nor disturbed. Richard Godbeer’s groundbreaking new book examines loving and sentimental friendships among men in the colonial and revolutionary periods. Inspired in part by the eighteenth-century culture of sensibility and in part by religious models, these relationships were not only important to the personal happiness of those involved but also had broader social, religious, and political significance. Godbeer shows that in the aftermath of Independence, patriots drafted a central place for male friendship in their social and political blueprint for the new republic. American revolutionaries stressed the importance of the family in the era of self-government, reimagining it in ways appropriate to a new and democratized era. They thus shifted attention away from patriarchal authority to a more egalitarian model of brotherly collaboration. In striving to explore the inner emotional lives of early Americans, Godbeer succeeds in presenting an entirely fresh perspective on the personal relationships and political structures of the period. Scholars have long recognized the importance of same-sex friendships among women, but this is the first book to examine the broad significance ascribed to loving friendships among men during this formative period of American history. Using an array of personal and public writings, The Overflowing of Friendship will transform our understanding of early American manhood as well as challenge us to reconsider the ways we think about gender in this period.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

I began work on The Overflowing of Friendship a few years before leaving Southern California and have finished it almost four years after moving to Miami. Both the University of California at Riverside and the University of Miami have supported this project in important ways. ...

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pp. 1-16

It was September 4, 1763, and Joseph Hooper, a recent graduate from Harvard College, sat down in Marblehead, Massachusetts, to compose a letter addressed to his former classmate, Benjamin Dolbeare. He wrote: ...

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1 “The Friend of My Bosom”: A Philadelphian Love Story

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pp. 17-48

It was early evening on September 4, 1786, on a genteel street of Philadelphia, and twenty-seven-year-old John Mifflin was waiting impatiently to hear of his friend’s arrival. Isaac Norris, Mifflin’s junior by just a few months, had been away for three years on a tour of Europe, but a few days ago he had disembarked in New York ...

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2 “A Settled Portion of My Happiness”: Friendship, Sentiment, and Eighteenth-Century Manhood

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pp. 49-82

As Daniel Webster prepared to leave Dartmouth College on vacation in December 1798, the young student may perhaps have welcomed a reprieve from scholarly labors. But what seems to have preoccupied Daniel on the eve of his departure was the unwelcome prospect of having to spend several weeks apart from his friend George Herbert. ...

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3 “The Best Blessing We Know”: Male Love and Spiritual Communion in Early America

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pp. 83-118

Stith Mead, a young Methodist itinerant who preached throughout western Virginia in the early 1790s, spent much of his time journeying on his own from one community to the next; only occasionally did he have a traveling companion. Riding the circuit—often along primitive roads or barely passable tracks, sometimes in ghastly weather, ...

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4 “A Band of Brothers”: Fraternal Love in the Continental Army

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pp. 119-154

It was November 23, 1780, and the Marquis de Chastellux was finally going to meet George Washington. Chastellux had wanted to do so ever since his arrival in North America that summer, as a general with the French military forces that had come to fight alongside American revolutionaries in the War of Independence. ...

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5 “The Overflowing of Friendship”: Friends, Brothers, and Citizens in a Republic of Sympathy

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pp. 155-192

On May 1, 1794, reported the Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphians gathered in a civic festival to celebrate “the alliance between the sister republics of the United States and France.” Those in attendance toasted “the great family of mankind” and expressed their hope that “distinction[s] of nation and of language” would in time ...

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pp. 193-198

We might seem to have come a very long way from John Mifflin’s nostalgic stroll through his neighbor’s pear grove, remembering the hours of pleasure he had spent there with his dear friends Isaac Norris and James Gibson. Likewise, the declarations of loving devotion that other male friends penned for one another throughout the eighteenth century ...


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pp. 199-246


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pp. 247-254

E-ISBN-13: 9780801895364
E-ISBN-10: 0801895367
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801891205
Print-ISBN-10: 0801891205

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2009