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Many reference works offer compilations of critical documents covering individual liberty, local autonomy, constitutional order, and other issues that helped to shape the American political tradition. Yet few of those works are available in a form suitable for classroom use, and traditional textbooks give short shrift to these important issues.
The American Republic overcomes that knowledge gap by providing, in a single volume, critical, original documents revealing the character of American discourse on the nature and importance of local government, the purposes of federal union, and the role of religion and tradition in forming America’s drive for liberty.
The American Republic is divided into nine sections, each illustrating major philosophical, cultural, and policy positions at issue during crucial eras of American development. Readers will find documentary evidence of the purposes behind European settlement, American response to English acts, the pervasive role of religion in early American public life, and perspectives in the debate over independence.
Subsequent chapters examine the roots of American constitutionalism, Federalist and Anti-Federalist arguments concerning the need to protect common law rights, and the debates over whether the states or the federal government held final authority in determining the course of public policy in America. Also included are the discussions regarding disagreements over internal improvements and other federal measures aimed at binding the nation, particularly in the area of commerce.
The final section focuses on the political, cultural, and legal issues leading to the Civil War. Arguments and attempted compromises regarding slavery, along with laws that helped shape slavery, are highlighted. The volume ends with the prelude to the Civil War, a natural stopping-off point for studies of early American history.
By bringing together key original documents and other writings that explain cultural, religious, and historical concerns, this volume gives students, teachers, and general readers an effective way to begin examining the diversity of issues and influences that characterize American history. The result unquestionably leads to a deeper and more thorough understanding of America's political, institutional, and cultural continuity and change.
Bruce P. Frohnen is Associate Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University College of Law. He holds a J.D. from the Emory University School of Law and a Ph.D. in Government from Cornell University. Click here to print or download The American Republic index.
"A day, an hour, of virtuous liberty is worth a whole eternity in bondage."
-Joseph Addison, Cato 1713
Joseph Addison was born in 1672 in Milston, Wiltshire, England. He was educated in the classics at Oxford and became widely known as an essayist, playwright, poet, and statesman. First produced in 1713, Cato, A Tragedy inspired generations toward a pursuit of liberty. Liberty Fund’s new edition of Cato: A Tragedy, and Selected Essays brings together Addison’s dramatic masterpiece along with a selection of his essays that develop key themes in the play.
Cato, A Tragedy is the account of the final hours of Marcus Porcius Cato (95–46 B.C.), a Stoic whose deeds, rhetoric, and resistance to the tyranny of Caesar made him an icon of republicanism, virtue, and liberty. By all accounts, Cato was an uncompromisingly principled man, deeply committed to liberty. He opposed Caesar’s tyrannical assertion of power and took arms against him. As Caesar’s forces closed in on Cato, he chose to take his life, preferring death by his own hand to a life of submission to Caesar.
Addison’s theatrical depiction of Cato enlivened the glorious image of a citizen ready to sacrifice everything in the cause of freedom, and it influenced friends of liberty on both sides of the Atlantic. Captain Nathan Hale’s last words before being hanged were, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” a close paraphrase of Addison’s “What pity is it that we can die but once to serve our country!” George Washington found Cato such a powerful statement of liberty, honor, virtue, and patriotism that he had it performed for his men at Valley Forge. And Forrest McDonald says in his Foreword that “Patrick Henry adapted his famous ‘Give me liberty or give me death’ speech directly from lines in Cato.”
Despite Cato’s enormous success, Addison was perhaps best-known as an essayist. In periodicals like the Spectator, Guardian, Tatler, and Freeholder, he sought to educate England’s developing middle class in the habits, morals, and manners he believed necessary for the preservation of a free society. Addison’s work in these periodicals helped to define the modern English essay form. Samuel Johnson said of his writing, “Whoever wishes to attain an English style, familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not ostentatious, must give his days and nights to the study of Addison.”
Christine Dunn Henderson is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund. Prior to joining Liberty Fund in 2000, she was assistant professor of political science at Marshall University.
Mark E. Yellin, also a Fellow at Liberty Fund, received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University, has taught at North Carolina State University, and edited Douglass Adair’s Intellectual Origins of Jeffersonian Democracy.
Click here for a pdf of the Cato: A Tragedy brochure
The State Constitutional Conventions of the 1820s
William Leggett (1801–1839) was the intellectual leader of the laissez-faire wing of Jacksonian democracy. His diverse writings applied the principle of equal rights to liberty and property. These editorials maintain a historical and contemporary relevance.
Lawrence H. White is Professor of Economics at the University of Georgia.
Originally published posthumously, in Latin, in 1695, The Divine Feudal Law sets forth Pufendorf’s basis for the reunion of the Lutheran and Calvinist confessions. This attempt to seek a “conciliation” between the confessions complements the concept of toleration discussed in Of the Nature and Qualification of Religion in Reference to Civil Society. In both works Pufendorf examines the proper way to secure the peaceful coexistence of different confessions in a state.
Although he argued in Of the Nature that maintaining peace and order in the state does not require all subjects to share one belief, Pufendorf also believed that “true” Christianity was beneficial to society. For that reason he advocated a reunion of the confessions on the basis of fundamental truths that he believed were contained in the Bible, saying a conciliation should be enforced not by law but by mutual agreement of the dissenting parties. Therefore, the reunion of the confessions must be accompanied by toleration.
Samuel Pufendorf (1632–1694) was one of the most important figures in early-modern political thought. An exact contemporary of Locke and Spinoza, he transformed the natural law theories of Grotius and Hobbes, developed striking ideas of toleration and of the relationship between church and state, and wrote extensive political histories and analyses of the constitution of the German empire.
Theophilus Dorrington (1654–1715) was an Anglican clergyman and polemicist against Dissent.
Simone Zurbuchen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.
Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.
Thoughts for Today and Tomorrow