- Re-reintroducing the Republican Court
Republican Court, Early U.S. politics, Women's role in politics, Feminist historiography
“Let us imagine a space for where femmes savantes might speak freely about politics with politicians, art with artists, gentility with gentlemen, and even the theory and practice of domesticity if they so chose.’ “ “Republican Court—the focus of society for the new governing class.” “Such an institution did exist. . . .”
In a series of conference papers delivered in the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, Fredrika J. Teute and David S. Shields performed an act of historical recovery in front of an audience of early American historians. The papers were a signal contribution to scholars seeking to gauge women’s role in early national politics and public life. Ranging across methodological, geographical, and disciplinary boundaries, they opened new vistas by moving beyond the public/private dichotomy that had implicitly structured much historical analysis.1 [End Page 165]
Teute and Shields intervened in a conversation then burgeoning about the relevance of the Habermasian public sphere for early Americanists, locating the oft-diffuse concept in time and space. Focusing on the national capital’s “Republican Court” between the last decade of the eighteenth century and the first decade of the nineteenth, they showed that it was a site—and a very material one at that—where women played a central role. Teute and Shields did not stop with that notable contribution, however. They further reinterpreted Jefferson’s presidency from the perspective of the Republican Court as regress rather than progress— anticipating a good deal of scholarship that would similarly break from lingering dispositions inherited from the Progressive historians. They provided a model of creative interdisciplinary collaboration that married archival work, close reading, and deep-cultural contextualization. In drawing their inspiration, they looked not just across the Atlantic to German sociology and French history; they looked back to a forgotten historiography from the mid-nineteenth century, and showed that it knew something most historians in the 1990s did not. And, not least, Shields and Teute showed that such a collaboration, and the salons of the early republic themselves, could best be reintroduced through the performances of their papers as a dialogue—marrying form and argument in an academic paper.
Perhaps in part because of their performative dimensions, the papers were never published. Instead, they circulated in the manner of eighteenth-century manuscripts, through private networks of friendship, conversation, and correspondence. For unpublished papers, they had a remarkable influence; references to the papers lie scatted across books and articles published in the first decade of the twenty-first century. For papers that were written twenty years ago, they remain remarkably fresh. They are, of course, anchored in their historiographical moment, but they continue to speak to contemporary issues in the scholarship: the state of feminist historiography; the reevaluation of Federalist-era politics; the opening of early American history toward more international [End Page 166] historiographies; a turn to more material history approaches to the past; the engagement with theater and performance studies; and a recent inward turn toward emotions, sensibility, and novelistic approaches to the past.
The editors of this forum have two objectives. The first, and simplest, is to put these papers, as it were, into the printed public sphere, and make them accessible to scholars beyond the aging networks of friendship and correspondence by which they have thus far circulated. Other than to cut a few sections for the sake of redundancy, we have not edited or updated the papers in any way; we wanted them frozen in time, anchored to their historiographical moment. But we did not want them to be mere museum pieces. Our second objective was to use these essays as a way of provoking some reflection on the current state of the scholarship. Instead of asking the authors to revise the original papers, we asked Toby Ditz, Sophia Rosenfeld, Jason Shaffer, Amy Henderson, and Andrew R. L. Cayton to respond to them from their professional and disciplinary perspectives. They reflect not just on the conference papers themselves, and on the issues they raised when they were first presented, but also on...