restricted access 10. Of Eloquence “Manly” and “Monstrous”: The Henpecked Husband in Revolutionary Political Debate, 1774–1775

From: New Men

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|  195 10 Of Eloquence “Manly” and “Monstrous” The Henpecked Husband in Revolutionary Political Debate, 1774–1775 Benjamin H. Irvin the henpect man rides behind his Wife and lets her wear the Spurs and govern the Reins. . . . He is but subordinate and ministerial to his Wife, who commands in chief, and he dares do nothing without her Order. . . . He and she make up a Kind of Hermaphrodite, a Monster. —Samuel Butler, The Genuine Remains in Verse and Prose of Mr. Samuel Butler (1759) When, in the fall of 1774, the Continental Congress published the Articles of Association, announcing a scheme of non-importation, nonexportation , and non-consumption to be enforced by extralegal committees of local patriots, many British North Americans felt betrayed. Colonists who bristled at the prospect of economic resistance—either because they feared that aggressive political posturing would widen the breach between the colonies and Great Britain or simply because they dreaded the baneful financial consequences of yet another boycott—had expected the Continental Congress to embrace more conciliatory measures, much as had the Stamp Act Congress ten years before. “The hopes of all moderate and considerate persons among us . . . were long fixed upon the general American Congress,” wrote the Reverend Thomas Bradbury Chandler, rector of St. John’s Church in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. “But the poor Americans,” he despondently concluded, “are doomed to disappointment.”1 Chandler and other “disappointed ” Americans responded to news of Congress’s boycott by publishing a flurry of condemnatory pamphlets in the winter of 1774–75. During the sixth-month adjournment between the First Continental Congress and the Second, nearly two dozen of these oppositional tracts appeared in print. 196  |  Benjamin H. Irvin Their titles—Pills for the Delegates, The Two Congresses Cut Up, What Think Ye of the Congress Now?—announced their authors’ aim to undermine the Continental Congress and thwart its Association. Many of these writers tendered sound constitutional, political, and economic arguments against Congress and the Association. Chandler and his loyalist contemporaries claimed that colonial assemblies and provincial conventions did not possess the authority to appoint delegates to a general convention .2 They asserted that Americans owed no obedience to such an irregularly assembled body. They challenged the legal right of local committees to monitor the business activities of merchants, traders, and other private persons. And they warned that a trade boycott would bring ruin to American farmers. Yet, in addition to disputing the legality of Congress and the wisdom of its resolutions, these authors also poured a great deal of scorn on the delegates who had gathered in Philadelphia. Numerous writers inserted derogatory comments about congressmen into their pamphlets: contemptuous dicta amid more formal arguments against the Association. But a few went further , penning humorous and bounding satires wholly dedicated to smearing the members of Congress. These writers almost never singled out congressmen for attack; some, in fact, expressly denied any intention to do so. Chandler opened his What Think Ye of the Congress Now? by asserting, “I mean to avoid all personal reflexions upon the members of the Congress; for I never had any personal objections to any of them.”3 But though these writers rarely slurred particular individuals, they relentlessly assailed the Congress as a group or order of men. One of the foremost strategies by which loyalist pamphleteers and poets attempted to delegitimize the Continental Congress was by attacking the masculinity of its members. Foes of Congress invoked an array of bigotries, including those of region and religion as well as of class and race. Quite often, though, they couched such attacks within, or yoked them to, equally or even more damning imputations of gender inadequacy or deviance. Most fundamentally , these authors challenged the congressmen’s mastery—that is, their patriarchal dominion over selves and others. In eighteenth-century British North America, the attainment of full manhood depended, normatively speaking, on a man’s physical and emotional maturation; his accumulation of wealth, if not through inheritance than by the pursuit of a respectable vocation or profession; his contraction of marriage; his governance of family, servants , or slaves; and his fulfillment of civic obligations such as militia service or the payment of taxes.4 Of Eloquence “Manly” and “Monstrous”  |  197 Loyalist writers charged that members of Congress lacked these most basic attributes and achievements of adult white manhood. One author, for example, disparaged the congressmen’s maturity and discernment, likening them to the unwhiskered pupils of Eton College: “Less fit for Senates, than for Toys, / in politicks, at...


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