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Reviewed by:
  • Collected Writings of Charles Brocken Brown,
    vol. 4: Political Pamphlets
    ed. by Mark L. Kamrath et al.
  • Daniel Diez Couch (bio)
Collected Writings of Charles Brocken Brown, vol. 4: Political Pamphlets
mark l. kamrath, stephen shapiro and maureen tuthill, editors
Bucknell University Press, 2020
429 pp.

The Collected Writings of Charles Brockden Brown, vol. 4: Political Pamphlets offers teachers and scholars a set of long-neglected resources. This volume provides insight into Brown's career after the publication of his four most famous novels: it is comprised of a series of pamphlets that he wrote in response to American trade, military, and geopolitical negotiations with European powers in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Both the pamphlets and the accompanying historical and textual essays written by the editors paint a picture of the author that places him in direct dialogue with some of the most significant international issues of his day. Brown's pamphlets explicitly treat the Louisiana Purchase, the 1807 Embargo Act, and surrounding historical events, yet they are not limited to the narrow scope of policy. Scholars have typically read these texts as evidence of Brown's Federalist critique of decisions made by Thomas Jefferson [End Page 307] and his administration. However, as the editors rightly point out, these works should be read in continuity with his romances: "Readers of Brown's fiction will recognize his use of formal strategies" that "charm or create magnetic affect and enthusiastic sympathy that obstruct the reader's balanced or analytical consideration of the text" in a clear fashion (325).

Brown's pamphlets thus continue in the vein of his earlier stylistics, and they show him ventriloquizing different voices, perspectives, and arguments regarding America's position vis-à-vis England, Napoleonic France, Spain, and Haiti. And, much like his earlier novels in which issues of immigration, colonialism, and international conflict are treated, the works in this volume address the Jeffersonian government's entanglement with the complex affairs of other countries. The unnamed narrator of Brown's 1803 An Address to the Government of the United States, on the Cession of Louisiana to the French presents a fictional report from an French diplomat and argues that the United States should take Louisiana by force if necessary, a position Brown seconds in Monroe's Embassy, or, the Conduct of the Government in Relation to Our Claims to the Navigation of the Missisippi [sic] (1803). Yet the editors note that Brown's narrator in An Address contradicts himself and does not present a clear line of argumentation, facts that trouble any clear Federalist reading of the work. Furthermore, Brown's Address to the Congress of the United States on the Utility and Justice of Restrictions upon Foreign Commerce (1809) critiques Jefferson's embargo by taking the side of small-scale farmers and merchants in outlying areas of the United States, a typically Democratic-Republican concern. The view of Brown that emerges from these documents is thus less beholden to political alliances than to his concerns for the incipient nation's management of state power and international relationships.

Equally important, the composition of the pamphlets occurs at a moment of transition in the turn of the century: from Enlightenment ideals to Romantic ones, from sovereignty to liberalism, and from Brown's own interest in the individual to his focus on the nation. These wide-ranging shifts afford him the opportunity to develop new theories of governance: "While the 1803 Address develops a new general theory of power, the 1809 Address develops a new general theory of international statecraft" (349). More than just providing policy-based discussions of state power and international relations, the pamphlets reveal Brown as a political thinker in his own right, one who recognizes emerging formations of nationalistic [End Page 308] power. The editorial team does an excellent job of situating Brown as a theorist—a writer who moves from the pages of the romance to those of the pamphlet in order to disseminate ideas about the nature of national and international politics.

This volume makes writing available that should be of interest to teachers and scholars of the nineteenth century. These texts are especially illuminating for those formative years in...