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Reviewed by:
  • A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution, and: Rhetoric and the Republic: Politics, Civic Discourse, and Education in Early America
  • Robert G. Parkinson (bio)
A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution. By Carolyn Eastman. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. Pp. 340. Cloth, $37.50).
Rhetoric and the Republic: Politics, Civic Discourse, and Education in Early America. By Mark Garrett Longaker. (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007. Pp. 266. Cloth, $39.95).

"Time was," Ernst Gellner wrote in his landmark book Nations and Nationalism, "when education was a cottage industry, when men could be made by a village or clan. That time has now gone, and gone forever."1 These two books explore the twilight of that fading era, as educators, politicians, and ordinary people—female students, journeyman printers, aspiring young men—tried to shape the relationship between education and civic identity in the early American republic. By the mid nineteenth century, Gellner's industrial age had dawned and education quickly became an essential cog in nationalism. The interesting first steps educators, politicians, and ordinary people took as they sketched out, debated, and wrangled over a definition of "the American public" are the subjects of these two interesting studies. [End Page 508]

Historians of the early republic will not find much new in Mark Garrett Longaker's Rhetoric and the Republic, but they are not the author's intended audience. Longaker's book is aimed at scholars of rhetoric on both ends of the political spectrum who pine for a return to "republican" pedagogy, either to oppose neoliberalism (such as Gregory Clark) or to reinvigorate a civic-minded ethos à la the ancients (such as Victor Davis Hanson). Both believe in an "Edenic narrative" (214) of republican education in the early American republic, Longaker argues, and both are equally misguided. The result is a version of Jack Rakove's Original Meanings for rhetoricians.2 Just as Rakove sought to debunk "originalism" (with diminishing returns, sadly), Longaker now historicizes "republicanism" in America's universities from the early eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries. Though the findings hardly surprise political historians—John Dickinson's political ideology differed from that of Tom Paine! Alexander Hamilton's vision of "republicanism" was not shared by either Timothy Dwight or Thomas Jefferson!—he does offer a careful, grounded analysis of how educators manipulated the diffuse and openended ideology of "republicanism" on college campuses in the early republic.

He does so guided by Antonio Gramsci. Longaker contends that rhetorical publicity and pedagogy is a key site of how hegemony is "articulated." Republican rhetors and educators espoused a specific hegemony that stemmed from and reinforced certain political and economic conditions. The republican rhetoric they employed promoted unity, but was equally a source of contention. In the same way, there were many competing notions of republican education: Different schools employed different pedagogies because of different historical (political, economic, rhetorical) factors and agendas. They used the common discourse of "republicanism" to achieve very different goals. Again, for historians this is familiar ground.

Three of the book's five chapters contextualize Longaker's thesis that there was never an "Edenic narrative" of republican or civic education. Analyzing how college presidents at Yale, Columbia, Princeton, and the University of Pennsylvania tried to set pedagogical agendas, these chapters put Longaker's skill as a historian on display. For answers to whether [End Page 509] constituents wanted their college to provide cultural polish or professional training, Longaker explores the changing political economy of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, or Pennsylvania; for issues such as whether Berkeley's religious idealism, Locke's scientific empiricism, or belletristic aesthetics would be ascendant in the college curriculum, he explores the personal desires of the particular college presidents, especially their religious dedication. No matter how Timothy Dwight, Ezra Stiles, John Witherspoon, or William Smith embraced or resisted these pedagogical influences, they all deployed republican rhetoric to justify their positions. Though this breaks little (if any) historiographical ground, Longaker does an excellent job in presenting to rhetorical scholars the problems inherent in the concepts of "republicanism" and "liberalism" that historians have grappled with over the last generation.

If Longaker sees differences among...


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