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Republican Influences on the French and American Revolutions

Abstract

When George Washington gave his inaugural speech as the first President of the United States under the new federal Constitution, he asserted that the destiny of the republican model of government was deeply, perhaps ... finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American People . A new Senate would meet on the Capitol hill, overlooking the Tiber (formerly Goose Creek) river, as in Rome, to restore the sacred fire of liberty to the western world. The vocabulary of eighteenth-century revolution reverberated with purposeful echoes of republican Rome, as political activists self-consciously assumed the Roman mantle. James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the primary authors and advocates of the United States Constitution, wrote together pseudonymously as Publius to defend their creation, associating themselves with Publius Valerius Poplicola, founder and first consul of the Roman republic. Camille Desmoulins attributed the French Revolution to Ciceros ideal of Roman politics, imbided by children in the schools. At every opportunity, American and French revolutionaries proclaimed their desire to re-establish the stupendous fabrics of republican government that had fostered liberty at Rome.
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University of Baltimore
This article was published in a modified form in Harriet I. Flower, ed. The Cambridge
Companion to the Roman Republic, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Republican Influences on the French and American Revolutions
Mortimer Sellers
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1141202
Republican Influences on the French and American Revolutions
ABSTRACT
The history and institutions of the Roman republic gave the French and American educated
classes attitudes and the vocabulary to support their own revolutions nearly two millenia after
Caesar and Augustus extinguished republican liberty in the ancient world. The French and
American revolutionaries assumed Roman names, such as “Publius” and “Cincinnatus”, embraced
Roman vocabulary, such as “liberty” and “virtue”, and revived Roman republican institutions, such
as a “Senate”, whose “advice and consent” preceded all legislation. Self-styled “republicans”,
sought to serve the “res publica” or “public good” of the nation, through the checks and balances of
the “republican constitution of government”. The essence of republican government as remembered
by French and American statesmen in the late eighteenth century, and attributed to Rome, was
government for the common good, through the rule of law, under a sovereign people, guided by an
elected executive and legislature. The “republican form of government”, more respected in the
United States than in France, but much-discussed in both nations, controlled the powers of the
magistrates, the senate and the public assemblies, through Polybian checks and balances. Modern
republicans found both their morals and their constitution in the legacy of the world’s first great
res publica, in Rome.
Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1141202
REPUBLICAN INFLUENCES ON THE FRENCH AND AMERICAN
REVOLUTIONS
When George Washington gave his inaugural speech as the first President of the United
States under the new federal Constitution, he asserted that “the destiny of the republican model of
government” was “deeply, perhaps ... finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the
American People”
1
. A new “Senate” would meet on the “Capitol” hill, overlooking the “Tiber”
(formerly “Goose Creek”) river, as in Rome,
2
to restore “the sacred fire of liberty” to the western
world.
3
The vocabulary of eighteenth-century revolution reverberated with purposeful echoes of
republican Rome, as political activists self-consciously assumed the Roman mantle. James
Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the primary authors and advocates of the United States
Constitution, wrote together pseudonymously as “Publius” to defend their creation,
4
associating
themselves with Publius Valerius Poplicola, founder and first consul of the Roman republic.
5
Camille Desmoulins attributed the French Revolution to Cicero’s ideal of Roman politics, imbided
by children in the schools.
6
At every opportunity, American and French revolutionaries proclaimed
their desire to re-establish the “stupendous fabrics” of republican government that had fostered
liberty at Rome.
7
The Roman name of “republic” evoked first and above all the memory of government
without kings.
8
Roman authors dated their republic from the death of Rome’s last king,
Tarquinius Superbus, and mourned its fall in the principate of Augustus.
9
As French and
American politicians came increasingly into conflict with their own monarchs, they found a
valuable ideology of opposition already fully formed in the Roman senatorial attitude towards
Caesar and his successors. The guiding principle of this republican tradition, as remembered (for
example) by Thomas Paine, was government for the “res-publica, the public affairs, or the
public good”, perceived as naturally antithetical to monarchy and to any other form of arbitrary
rule.
10
Paine and other eighteenth-century republicans viewed the individual and the collective
well-being of citizens as the only legitimate purpose of government. Their rallying cry of “liberty”
signified subjection to laws made for the common good, and to nothing and to no one else.
11
Statesmen traced this principle to the frequently cited passage in Livy,
12
attributing the
liberty of Rome to Lucius Junius Brutus and to his introduction of elected magistrates into Roman
politics, constrained by the rule of law.
13
American and French republicans thought of themselves as part of a two-thousand year-
old tradition, originating in Rome. The standard account divided political science between the
“ancient prudence”, destroyed by Caesar and Augustus, “whereby a civil society of men is
instituted and preserved upon the foundation of common interest “ and the “modern prudence”, in
force ever since, “by which some man, or some few men, subject a city or a nation, and rule it
according to his or their private interests.
14
Republicans fought to restore the ancient prudence,
which ended “with the liberty of Rome”.
15
John Adams, the Massachusetts republican (and later
president of the United States), credited this analysis to James Harrington, the English
commonwealthsman,
16
who attributed it to Donato Giannotti, the Florentine exile,
17
who had it
from Tacitus,
18
in a passage made popular for English and American readers by Thomas
Gordon
19
and passed on as a legacy of liberty from generation to generation.
20
The tradition of
republican opposition to arbitrary authority in Europe had developed far in advance of the French
and American Revolutions
21
and strongly influenced political events centuries before new
republics emerged on the scene, or nations knew them by that name.
22
Thomas Hobbes perceived the threat to settled institutions in republican doctrine and
blamed the schools and universities for instigating the English Civil War, by teaching
“Cicero, and other writers [who] have grounded their Civil doctrine, on the opinions of the
Romans, who were taught to hate Monarchy, and to love republican government, so that by
reading of these Greek, and Latine Authors, men from their childhood have gotten a habit (under
a falseshew of Liberty,) ... of licentious[ly] controlling the actions of their Sovereigns; and again
of controlling those controllers, with the effusion of so much blood; as I think I may truly say,
there was never any thing so dearly bought, as these Western parts have bought the learning of
the Greek and Latine tongues.
23
Italian, Dutch, and English reformers all appealed to Roman
institutions,
24
with enough success that by the early eighteenth-century in Britain, John
Trenchard and Thomas Gordon (writing as “Cato” ) could claim that although the “[t]he same
principles of nature and reason that supported liberty in Rome, must support it here and
everywhere”,
25
Hanoverian England was “the best republick in the world, with a prince at the
head of it”, being “a thousand degrees nearer a-kin to a commonwealth ... than it is to absolute
monarchy”.
26
“Commonwealth” was simply the English translation of “republic”, but the short history
and ultimate failure of the self-styled “Commonwealth” of England in the seventeenth-century
complicated subsequent usage. Although the English commonwealth was denominated
respublica” on Oliver Cromwell’s state seals,
27
as the American Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania was styled in Latin “Respublica in all its early law reports,
28
the word
“commonwealth” came to be associated with parliamentary unicameralism during the English Civil
War, and later with Pennsylvania’s famously unicameral constitution of 1776.
29
This made the
name of “commonwealth” both “unpopular”and “odious” to many who would have preferred
institutions more faithful to the older Roman model of “mixed” republican government.
30
Opponents of the Pennsylvania plan formed what they called the “Republican Society” to
advocate the stronger checks and balances of a more truly “republican” constitution.
31
French republicanism developed its institutions under the strong influence of
Pennsylvania, in the person of Benjamin Franklin, who had presided at Pennsylvania’s
constitutional convention, represented the United States as ambassador to France from 1776 until
1785, and secured the translation of the first American state constitutions into French. French
opinion had long admired Pennsylvania as a modern Sparta, and its founder, William Penn, as
the new American Lycurgus.
32
This contributed to a gradual divergence between French
republicanism, which looked to Pennsylvania, to Sparta, and to English Commonwealth authors
for its inspiration, as much as it did to Rome; and American republicanism, which looked
primarily to Rome, but also to the British Whig “republican” tradition, as it had existed after the
Glorious Revolution of 1688.
33
The practical results of these differing attitudes were
constitutional first, contributing to French carelessness about the checks and balances of
republican government, and cultural second, leading to a greater French emphasis on public
virtue than Americans felt would be necessary under the republican form of government.
34
The problem for would-be republicans, in America as much as in France, was that the
Roman republic itself had ultimately failed. Tacitus, in a well-known passage, described
republican government as fragile and evanescent, easier to praise than to practice for long.
35
Tacitus gave a sympathetic presentation of the emperor Galba’s argument that the Roman
Empire had simply become too large to continue under republican institutions, and needed a
measure of slavery to survive.
36
Montesquieu made this supposition famous in his De l’esprit des
lois, which concluded that large republics will inevitably become corrupt, and die into
despotism.
37
All modern republicans had to face the problem of Rome’s failure, but various
authors offered different remedies, depending on their circumstances and to some extent on
which Roman sources they read (or chose to remember). Certain revolutionaries cited Livy to
advocate the rule of law.
38
Others followed Plutarch in their emphasis on rural simplicity.
39
Sallust had stressed the dangers of corruption.
40
The question facing modern republicans was
which “combination of powers in society” would “compel the formation of good and equal laws”
and “an impartial execution, and faithful interpretation of them, so that the citizens may
constantly enjoy the benefit of them, and be sure of their continuance.”
41
The importance of Rome’s republican model for French and American revolutionaries lay
in the courage that it gave them to contemplate government without a king, by providing
politicians with a rival set of political institutions, opposed to the hereditary principle. Roman
republican rhetoric had stressed the importance of the common good, the corruption of kings,
the authority of the senate, the balance of the constitution, and the sovereignty of the people.
42
This set the tone for public debate. Agitators disputing pseudonymously in the newspapers called
themselves “A Republican,”
43
“Civis,”
44
“Cato,”
45
“Curtius,”
46
“Brutus,”
47
“Publius,”
48
“Cincinnatus”
49
and so forth. They all struck Roman poses, but what they actually fought over in
arms and disputed in print was the power and constitution of the state. The republican
revolutions of the eighteenth-century sought government for the common good (“republican
government”), but also the constitution best suited to secure government for the common good
(the “republican form of government”), which led them back to republican Rome.
Rome’s greatest and most lasting contribution to the French and American revolutions consisted
not only in political principles, but also in a set of constitutional mechanisms designed to secure
republican liberty through the fundamental structure of the state.
50
John Adams, the pre-eminent American political scientist of his era, and author of the
Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,
51
collected in his Defence of the
Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, three volumes of examples and
commentaries on the “reading and reasoning which produced the American constitutions”.
52
Adams traced “the checks and balances of republican government” back to the “mixed
governments” of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy attempted “with different success” in
ancient Greece and Rome.
53
The Greeks never mastered the “checks and balances of free
government”, to their ultimate cost,
54
but Adams (citing Cicero) reviewed how the Romans had
developed institutions to protect freedom and justice through a careful balance and mixture of the
different powers of the state.
55
The principal Roman texts cited by Adams in his introduction to
define republican government were Cicero’s endorsement of the mixed constitution,
56
his
prescription for civic “harmony”, secured by checks and balances,
57
and his conclusion that
republics exist first, and above all, to serve the common good.
58
Adams supplied all three texts
for his readers, both in Latin and in English paraphrase, along with two other excerpts from
Cicero’s Republic, reiterating the primacy of the common good over democracy, and identifying
the common good with justice.
59
“As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater
statesman and philosopher united in the same character” than Cicero, Adams concluded, “his
authority should have great weight.”
60
Cicero’s unrivaled authority in republican politics supported the balancing of powers
between three branches of government,
61
very much in the form that it had already evolved
in the British colonies of North America in the one hundred and fifty years prior to the American
Revolution.
62
Americans noticed the parallel, which strengthened their resolve to protect their
old institutions against British innovation.
63
They also shared many of Cicero’s fundamentally
patrician attitudes. American politicians, such as James Madison, drew a sharp distinction
between their “republican” pursuit of the common good and the “democratic” tyranny of simple
majority rule.
64
The single greatest difference between Roman republican institutions, as
Americans remembered them, and America’s own (as they hoped) more stable republican
constitution, was “the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity” from any share
in the government of the United States.
65
Americans hoped that by extending the
“representative” principle already present in Rome’s consuls and Senate to other formerly more
“democratic” branches of government,
66
they could introduce a “republican remedy for the
diseases most incident to republican government”.
67
The American House of Representatives
would replace Rome’s popular assemblies to act, in a sense, as a second senate, helping to
defend the people “against their own temporary errors and delusions.”
68
The sixth book of Polybius provided the classical summary of the “republican form of
government” that eighteenth century republicans sought to perfect by modifying the Roman
constitution. Polybius’ endorsement of limited and divided power stressed a balance between
monarchy, aristocracy and democracy.
69
His modern successors proposed instead the checks and
balances, not so much of “orders”or “classes”of men as of “offices” held by otherwise equal
citizens.
70
The evil to be avoided was “tyranny” or the establishment of any “unlimited power”
that some one, few or many citizens might use to dominate the rest.
71
John Adams provided
translations and a summary of Polybius’ sixth book in his collection of republican sources,
72
published just in time to be used by delegates at the United States Constitutional Convention.
73
Modern would-be republicans remembered the Roman consuls as having been primarily
executive officers; the senate was thought of as having been primarily responsible for finances
and declarations of war; and the popular assemblies were understood to have held the power of
electing magistrates and approving the nation’s laws and wars.
74
Latter-day republicans
struggled to improve this balance in their own constitutions -- as in the United States, where the
President was the executive,
75
the Senate ratified all treaties, and the House of Representatives
supplanted the Roman popular assemblies in holding final approval over all laws and
declarations of war.
76
The aim of the modern republics still remained what moderns thought that it
had been at Rome: the maintenance of strong enough political checks and balances so that
whenever any branch of the government or people became too “ambitious”, the others would unite
to control it, thus keeping all public powers within their original bounds, as prescribed by the
Constitution.
77
The United States Constitution guarantees a “republican form of government” to
every state in the Union,
78
which federal power enforces against the state governments, as occurred
in the American Civil War.
79
French republicans never developed a stable set of political theories or institutions as clear
and coherent as those set forth in John Adams’ Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the
United States of America or James Madison’s and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist letters, but they
drew on the same Roman sources and came to many of the same conclusions. The baron de
Montesquieu’s masterpiece, De l’esprit des lois (1748) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Du contrat
social (1762) both preceded the Revolution, and were “scarcely republican” in the eyes of
subsequent writers.
80
Nevertheless, both relied heavily on Roman authorities, and profoundly
influenced American (mostly Montesquieu) and French (mostly Rousseau) republican thought.
Anne Robert Jacques Turgot and the Abbé Gabriel Bonnot de Mably had both interpreted
American republicanism for French readers, without fully endorsing the North American models.
Turgot proposed a single all-powerful public assembly, and criticized American bicameralism.
81
Mably disliked the American commercial spirit, which he thought would make Americans corrupt.
82
Both men’s attitudes reflected a French sense of the “ancients” and the “moderns”, well
summarized by Benjamin Constant in the wake of the French Revolution’s collapse into empire,
when he dismissed ancient “liberty” as having required a universal subjection to the public will,
expressed collectively in large public assemblies, under the direction of a public political virtue that
modern citizens had lost and could never hope to regain.
83
Montesquieu doubted that ancient
republicanism of this kind could ever survive outside small homogenous cantons.
84
Rousseau
reluctantly agreed,
85
adding that democratic assemblies of limited local populations offered the
only realistic hope of republican liberty or political justice in this world.
86
Rousseau’s conception of republican virtue, and his dogmatism about the necessary
corruption of large states, set an almost impossible task for French republicans, which
contributed to the excesses of Maximilien Robespierre and Jacobin Terror in France. Like Livy
and John Adams, Rousseau identified republican government with the rule of law, under the
sovereignty of the people,
87
when they act to secure their common good.
88
Rousseau described
such public decisions as expressions of the “general will” (“la volonté générale”).
89
The people are
the “sovereign” authors of the laws that bind them,
90
which makes them “free”,
91
but only so long as
the sovereign people legislate collectively in pursuit of their common good.
92
Rousseau differed
from other republicans only in his opposition to representation in the popular assembly
93
and his
heightened fear of “factions”, by which he meant any group, large or small, acting in its own private
interests.
94
These views had significant practical implications, however, at least in France. If all
laws have to be ratified by democratic assemblies of the people,
95
then the people must become
virtuous,
96
or mutually reasonable (which is the same thing).
97
Rousseau wrote of changing human
nature.
98
He thought that good public morals would be necessary to maintain any successful
republican government.
99
Yet the French were notoriously corrupt and depraved.
100
This made the
maintenance of their virtue an extremely difficult, perhaps an impossible task, and so, with his
French successors, Rousseau supposed that some peoples (perhaps including the French
themselves) would simply remain unfit for republican government, without profound reforms.
101
French republicans looked upon public virtue as rare and difficult to maintain.
102
American
republicans preferred to believe that by instituting good orders, they would create good men.
103
The history of republican principles in Europe in the centuries preceding the French and
American revolutions saw a series of political advances as scholars, then clerics, courtiers and
kings, steeped in Latin learning, embraced the republican commitment to government for the
common good. Some even recognized the desirability of popular sovereignty and mixed or
balanced government to secure the common good, while doubting their practicality, given the
fallen state of European morals.
104
King Charles I claimed that England was already a mixed
and balanced government in his answer to the XIX Propositions Made by Both House of
Parliament in 1642.
105
The English “Cato” said the same of England under George I,
106
while
disavowing the thought that any fully implemented “Republick”, would be “practicable” in
England’s current circumstances.
107
This remained the American position until 1776, after the
publication of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, which convinced many Americans that the king’s
long and violent abuse of power
108
finally made it necessary to develop the “republican
materials” long embedded in England’s mixed and balanced constitution.
109
The French were
just as hesitant until the King’s flight to Varennes in June, 1791, and even then they brought him
back and renounced the prospect of a full republic.
110
Politicians denied that they were
republicans,
111
although Robespierre defended the constitution proposed after Varennes as a
“republic with a king at the head of it”.
112
The French introduced most of the elements of the
republican form of government into their constitution in 1791, but maintained their constitutional
monarchy until August 10, 1792.
113
The French revolutionary model of a republic with a king at the head of it was wholly in
keeping with Rousseau’s political precepts.
114
Rousseau had always made a strict distinction
between the magistrates, who could be hereditary, and the public legislative assemblies, which
should include the whole people, and constitute the only legitimate sources of law.
115
While
Rousseau would have preferred that elected magistrates implement the people’s laws,
116
he
accepted that sometimes a monarch might govern “legitimately”, in accordance with laws that
had already been approved in the public assemblies.
117
Both Montesquieu and Rousseau had
suggested that some nations might be or become (as Rome had done) too large or corrupt to be
ruled as republics, and that monarchs sometimes suited such states better than elected
magistrates, despite their well-known injustices.
118
Yet, Rome had survived as a republic for
many years, despite its size. This offered the French some hope.
119
They attempted various
strategems to make the people more virtuous, and Rousseau even considered the institution of
slavery, justified as having been the vehicle through which Spartan citizens attained the leisure
to give their complete attention to the public good, and so properly to pursue their deliberative
duties in the legislature.
120
The French republicanism of Rousseau and his disciples differed from its Roman,
Polybian and later American antecedents in its greater reliance on unanimity in the public
assemblies, rather than checks and balances, to guard against faction.
121
While Polybius,
Madison,
122
Adams,
123
and even Montesquieu
124
wrote of using power as a check to power, and
ambition to counteract ambition, Rousseau turned to mixed government only to protect popular
sovereignty, by preventing magistrates from usurping the legislative power of the people.
125
French scholars studied the Roman comitia in detail for ideas about how to guide public
legislative debate, whether through the use of census classes, through the exclusion of the
proletariat, or by instituting a body of censors to guard against the greed, intrigue and
inconstancy of “modern” human society.
126
Montesquieu thought that many proto-
republican checks and balances had existed already under the Roman kings.
127
This made it
easier to tolerate monarchy, even in a state that understood republican liberty to be the primary
object of government. Learned Frenchmen thought that Roman liberty had first been lost, not
through the agency of kings, but rather when democracy invaded the diplomatic authority of the
senate, and usurped the magistrates’ executive power.
128
Latin literature and the Roman ethos were not a novelty in 1789. Joseph Addison’s Cato
(1713) and Voltaire’s Brutus (1730)
129
had promoted a republican sensibility in the theater.
Jacques-Louis David’s Oath of the Horatii (1784) mimicked republican austerity in art. Charles
Willson Peale’s portrait of William Pitt (1768) shows the prime minister in a toga, standing beside a
statue of Roman liberty (with her pilleus and vindicta), and worshiping at the sacred flame on her
altar. Charles Rollin’s Histoire ancienne (1738-1738) and Histoire romaine (1738-1748) fed a
ravenous popular demand.
130
A Roman sensibility dominated the architecture,
131
sculpture,
132
and
rhetoric of French, English, American, and most European public life, without very often embracing
an openly “republican” position.
133
What changed in North America in 1776 and France in 1792
was the public’s willingness to believe that republican government would be possible in modern
times, with all its checks and balances, and without the hereditary principle.
134
The French republic, when it finally emerged, quickly repeated five hundred years of
Roman history in a decade. From a self-styled Brutus (Desmoulins) to the pseudo-Gracchus
(Babeuf) and would-be Caesar or Augustus (Bonaparte), French politicians reenacted the
evolution and eventual destruction of the Roman republic in the blood of their own citizens, to
the amazement, inspiration and eventual horror of Europe. The French experience seemed to
confirm all the doubts of Tacitus, Montesquieu and Rousseau that republican government could
ever be recreated after Rome, or survive very long if it was. But the United States did survive,
and American republicans had predicted the republican failure in France.
135
The French
republic’s inattention to the traditional checks and balances of the republican form of
government explained that nation’s excesses, or so many surviving republicans believed.
136
Others
blamed the ingrained corruption of Frenchmen.
137
Like Rome itself, France
found an imperial solution to republican anarchy, ignoring checks and balances in favor of a
plebiscitary dictatorship, whose legacy threatened the republican tradition in Europe for more than a
century afterwards.
138
French advocates of Roman checks and balances seemed to have had their chance to
make republican government work in the failed Constitutions of 1791, 1793, 1795 and 1799, all
of which tinkered with limited magistrates, deliberative senates, and representative popular
assemblies, so that French government seemed to move (in form at least) ever closer to the
Roman model -- beginning with a constitutional monarchy and unicameral assembly (1791),
then replacing the monarch with an executive council (1793), adding a second chamber in the
legislature (1795), and finally creating “consuls”, “tribunes” and a senate-for-life (1799). In
reality, none of the French constitutions ever had the chance to take hold, and the various
Sénatus-consultes” and “Proclamations des Consuls” that made Napoléon Bonaparte a
consul for life and eventually emperor, discredited Roman vocabulary for subsequent
generations in France.
139
The old republican advocates of checks and balances and liberty now
called themselves “liberals”, and turned their attention to individual rights.
140
What later French
politicians remembered as “republican”, for good or ill, were the unicameral expressions of the
“general will” made in the manner of Jean-Jacques Rousseau by the Convention and Constituent
Assemblies,
141
along with Robespierre’s vain attempts to inculcate civic virtue, on the Spartan
model, during his own brief ascendancy.
142
The French and American Revolutions changed subsequent conceptions of republican
government, and divided the republican tradition, by creating their own inspiring republican
narratives, to supersede the histories of Rome. Of course, the Roman model remained, so long
as students read Cicero, Sallust, Livy and Tacitus in schools,
143
but the American republic now
provided a more contemporary example of successful republican government, without the final
failure, as in Rome.
144
The French republican tradition after Robespierre differed from Roman
practice mostly in disparaging the senate.
145
When France returned to bicameralism at the end of
the nineteenth century, it did so under American influence, against the grain of its own
“republican” tradition, and without reference to Rome.
146
The essence of republican government, as remembered by French and American
revolutionaries in the late eighteenth-century and attributed to Rome, was government for the
common good, through the rule of law, under a sovereign people, guided by magistrates that
they had elected themselves. The “republican form of government”, more respected in the
United States than in France, but much-discussed in both nations, controlled the powers of the
magistrates, the senate and the public assemblies, by balancing their responsibilities in the
manner of republican Rome. Both France and the United States replaced the direct democracy of
the Roman comitia with elected representative assemblies, and denigrated “democracy”
generally, as tumultuous, partisan and ill-conceived.
147
This old opposition between “Roman”
republicanism and “Greek” democracy diminished with time as French politicians forgot
Rousseau’s distinction between the sovereign people and their government.
148
Americans in the
Southern states also turned to “democracy” in the early nineteenth-century as they embraced
French speculation about the benefits of Greek slavery,
149
to justify their own slave power in the
face of emerging “republican” opposition.
150
The history and institutions of the Roman republic gave French and American
republicans the courage and vocabulary to pursue their own independence nearly two millenia
after Cato’s death in Utica extinguished republican liberty in the ancient world.
151
The French
and American cry of “liberty” was a call for the equal citizenship under law that Europeans
remembered as the final legacy of Rome. French and American politicians had drawn slightly
different conclusions from the civil conflicts that ended the republic -- the Americans followed
Cicero in strengthening the senate, the French followed Sallust in somewhat weakening its power
--- but both embraced the Roman aim (as they remembered it) of serving the common good,
through popular sovereignty, balanced representative government, and the rule of law.
At the end of the American Revolution, after they had defeated the British king (with
French help) and earned their nation’s independence, the officers of the Continental Army
returned, unpaid and unappreciated, to their separate homes and farms. Steeped in the republican
ethos, they did not revolt against their mistreatment, but took the name of “Cincinnati”, after
Rome’s great general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who had also returned to his plough after
victory, without reward. Their motto recalled their sacrifice, and the debt that American liberty
owed to Latin education in the schools: “omnia reliquit servare rempublicam.”
152
Modern
republicans found both their morals and their constitution in the old republican legacy of Rome.
1
. George Washington, The First Inaugural Speech (April 30, 1789), in W.B. Allen, ed. George
Washington: A Collection. Indianapolis. Liberty Press, 1988, p. 462.
2
. Mocked by Thomas Moore: “Where tribunes rule, where dusky Dari bow, and what was
Goose-Creek once is Tiber now.” The poem is discussed by Carl J. Richard, The Founders and the
Classics: Greece, Rome and the American Enlightment. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University
Press, 1994, p. 50.
3
. George Washington, First Inaugural, p. 462.
4
. “Publius” [Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, James Madison], The Federalist: A Collection of
Essays Written in Favour of the New Constitution. 2 vols. New York. J. and A. McLean, 1788.
5
. Letter of James Madison to James K. Paulding, July 24, 1818 in Gaillard Hunt, ed. The
Writings of James Madison. 9 vols. New York. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1900-1910, vol. 8, pp. 410-411.
6
. Camille Desmoulins, Histoire des Brissotins ou Fragment de l’histoire secrète de la
Révolution, (1793), in Jules Claretie (ed.) Oeuvres de Camille Desmoulins. Volume I, p. 309. See also
H. T. Parker, The Cult of Antiquity and the French Revolutionaries: A Study in the Development of the
Revolutionary Spirit. Chicago. University of Chicago Press, 1937; Claude Mossé, L’antiquité dans la
Révolution française. Paris. Albin Michel, 1989.
7
. “Publius” [Alexander Hamilton], The Federalist, Number IX. See M.N.S. Sellers, American
Republicanism: Roman Ideology in the United States Constitution. Basingstoke, U.K. and New York.
Macmillan and New York University Press, 1994; ibid., The Sacred Fire of Liberty: Republicanism,
Liberalism and the Law. Basingstoke and New York. Macmillan and New York University Press,
1998.
8
. William R. Everdell, The End of Kings: A History of Republics and Republicanism. New York.
The Free Press, 1983.
9
. Cornelius Tacitus, ab excessu divi Augusti annalium libri, I.2; Titus Livius, ab urbe condita,
II.1.1.
10
. Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, Part II (1792) in Bruce Kuklick (ed.) Paine: Political
Writings. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 168.
11
. E.g. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Du contrat social (1762) at II.6, Henri Guillemin (ed.), Paris.
U.G.E., 1973, p. 99.
12
. John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. 3
vols. London. C. Dilly, 1787-1788, at I. 125.
13
. Titus Livius, ab urbe condita, II.1.1.
14
. Adams, Defence, at I. 126, quoting James Harrington, The Commonweath of Oceana (1659).
See J.G.A. Pocock (ed.), Harrington: The Commonwealth of Oceana and A System of Politics.
Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 8.
15
. Harrington, Oceana, p. 8.
16
. Adams, Defence, at I.126.
17
. Harrington, Oceana, p. 8; Donato Giannotti, Libro della repubblica de’ Viniziani, in Gianotti,
Opere. Pisa, 1819 .
18
. Cornelius Tacitus, ab excessu divi Augusti annalium libri, I.2.
19
. Thomas Gordon, The Works of Tacitus. London, 1728-1731. See also [John Trenchard and
Thomas Gordon], Cato’s Letters: or, Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious (1724), Letter 65: “jura
omnium in se traxit” in Ronald Hamowy (ed.), Cato’s Letters. 2 vols. Indianapolis. Liberty Fund, 1995,
volume I, p. 458.
20
. Josiah Quincy’s will, written in 1774, left his son “when he shall arrive at the age of fifteen
years” Algernon Sidney’s works, John Locke’s works, and Lord Bacon’s works, Gordon’s Tacitus and
Cato’s Letters. “May the spirit of liberty rest upon him”, Quoted in Meyer Reinhold, The Classick
Pages: Classical Readings of Eighteenth-Century Americans. University Park, Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania State University Press, p. 100.
21
. See e.g. J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Movement: Florentine Political Thought and the
Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton. Princeton University Press, 1975.
22
. See e.g. Zera S. Fink, The Classical Republicans: An Essay in the Recovery of a Pattern of
Thought in Seventeenth-Century England. Evanston, Illinois. Northwestern University Press, 1945;
Caroline A. Robbins, The Eighteenth-century Commonwealthsman: Studies in the Transmission,
Development and Circumstances of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until
the War of the Thirteen Colonies. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University Press, 1959.
23
. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (1651) II.21 in Richard Tuck, Hobbes: Leviathan. Cambridge.
Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 150.
24
. See e.g. Biancamaria Fontana, ed. The Invention of the Modern Republic. Cambridge.
Cambridge University Press, 1994; H.A.L. Fisher. The Republican Tradition in Europe. New York
and London. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1911; M.N.S. Sellers, The Sacred Fire of Liberty.
25
. [John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon], Cato
=
s Letters: or, Essays on Liberty, Civil, and
Religious (1724) in Ronald Hamowy (ed.), Cato
=
s Letters. 2 vols. Indianapolis. Liberty Fund, 1995,
Volume I, p.14 (preface).
26
. Ibid., Letter 37, in Hamowy, volume 1, p. 262.
27
. G. Vertue, Medals, Coins, Great-Seals, Impressions, from the elaborate works of Thomas
Simon, Chief Engraver of the Mint to Charles the 1
st
, to the Commonwealth, the Lord Protector
Cromwell, and in the Reign of King Charles the IInd to 1665. London. 1753, Plate XVII.
28
. See, e.g., Respublica v. Ross, December Term, 1795, reported in A.J. Dallas, Reports of Cases
Rules and Adjudged in the Several Courts of the United States and of Pennsylvania held at the seat of
the Federal Government. F.C. Brightly, ed. New York. Banks, 1903, vol. II, p. 239.
29
. Plan and Frame of Government for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (September 28, 1776)
in F.N. Thorpe (ed.) Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters and Other Organic Laws. 7
volumes. Washington, D.C., 1909, p. 3084.
30
. Adams, Defence, at I. 208.
31
. Republican Society, “To The Citizens of Pennsylvania”, in the Pennsylvania Packet, March 23,
1779, on the first and last pages. See also Benjamin Rush, Observations upon the Present Government
of Pennsylvania in Four letters to the People of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia, 1777.
32
. See, e.g., Charles de Secondat, baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, De l’espirit des lois (1748)
at I.iv.6 in R. Derathé, ed. 2 vols. Paris. Garnier, 1973, vol. I, p. 43. Cf. François Marie Arouet de
Voltaire, Lettres écrites de Londres sur les Anglois et autres sujets. Basle, 1734.
33
. Adams, Defence, at I.208: “The Constitution of England is in truth a republic, and has been
ever so considered by foreigners, and by the most learned and enlightened Englishman.”
34
. Ibid. at III.504-505.
35
. Tacitus, annalium libri, at IV.33.
36
. Ibid., historiarum libri, at I.16.
37
. Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois at I.8.16. Cf. Ibid., Considérations sur les causes de la
grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence. Amsterdam. J. Desbordes, 1734.
38
. E.g. John Adams, Defence at I. 125: “Imperia legum potentiora fuerunt quam hominum.”
39
. Charles Lee, Letter to Robert Morris, 15 August 1782 in Lee Papers. New York. New York
Historical Society, 1872-1875, volume IV, p.26.
40
. See “Sallust and Corruption” in M.N.S. Sellers, American Republicanism, pp. 87-89. For the
classical reading of eighteenth-century Americans, see M. Reinhold , The Classick Pages.
41
. Adams, Defence, at I. 128.
42
. E.g. Marcus Tullius Cicero, in M. Antonium orationes Philippicae, IV. 4.8.
43
. New York Journal, 6 September 1787 in John P. Kaminski and Gaspare J. Saladino,. eds. The
Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution. Volume XIII. Commentaries on the
Constitution, Public and Private. Madison, Wisconsin. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1981, p.
137.
44
. Pennsylvania Packet, 25 June, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII. 144.
45
. New York Journal, 27 September, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII. 255.
46
. New York Daily Advertiser, 29 September, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII. 268.
47
. New York Journal, 18 October, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII.411.
48
. New York Independent Journal, 27 October, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII. 486.
49
. New York Journal, 1 November, 1787, in Kaminski and Saladino, XIII. 529.
50
. See Philip Pettit. Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford. Oxford
University Press, 1997; Maurizio Viroli. Republicanism. trans. A Shugaar. New York. Hill and Wang,
2002.
51
. See John Adams, Report of the Constitution or Form of Government for the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts (1779), in C. Bradley Thompson, ed. The Revolutionary Writings of John Adams.
Indianapolis. Liberty Fund, 2000, pp. 297-322.
52
. John Adams, A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America. 3
vols. London. C. Dilly, 1787-1788, vol. I, p. xviii.
53
. Ibid. at I.ii.
54
. Ibid. at I.iii.
55
. Ibid. at I. xvi.
56
. Adams, Defence at I.xvi; Marcus Tullius Cicero, de re publica, II.xxiii.41: “... statu esse optimo
constitutam rem publicam, quae ex tribus generibus illis, regali et optumati et populari, confusa modice
...”
57
. Adams, Defence at I. xvii; Cicero, de re publica, II.xlii.69: “ut enim in fidibus aut tibiis atque
ut in cantu ipso ac vocibus concentus est quidam tenendus ex distinctis sonis ... sic ex summis et
infimis et mediis interiectis ordinibus ut sonis moderata ratione civitas consensus dissimillimorum
concinit.”
58
. Adams, Defence at I. xviii; Cicero, de re publica, I.xxv.39: “respublica res [est] populi, populus
autem non omnis hominum coetus quoquo modo congregatus, sed coetus multitudinis iuris consensu et
utilitatis communione sociatus.”
59
. Adams, Defence at I. xviii.
60
. Ibid. at I.xvii.
61
. Ibid: “His decided opinion in favour of three branches is founded on a reason that is
unchangeable”.
62
. Sydney George Fisher, The Evolution of the Constitution of the United States. Philadelphia.
Lippincott, 1897; D. Lutz, The Origins of American Constitutionalism. Baton Rouge, 1988.
63
. Adams, Defence at I. xix.
64
. “Publius” [James Madison], The Federalist, number X.
65
. Ibid., number LXIII (Madison’s italics).
66
. Ibid.
67
. Ibid., number X.
68
. Ibid., number LXII.
69
. Adams, Defence, at I.98.
70
. Ibid. at I. 93.
71
. Ibid. at I.99.
72
. Ibid., Letter XXX at I. 169-176.
73
. Kaminski and Saladino at XIII. 83-85.
74
. Adams, Defence at I. 171-173.
75
. The Constitution of the United States (1787), Article II.I.
76
. Ibid., Article I.8.
77
. Adams, Defence at I. 175.
78
. United States Constitution (1787), Article IV, Section. 4.
79
. The Republican party cited the guarantee clause in opposition to Southern slavery . William
Wiecek, The Guarantee Clause of the United States Constitution. Ithaca, New York. Cornell University
Press, 1972; ibid., The Sources of Antislavery Constitutionalism in America, 1760-1848. Ithaca, New
York. Cornell University Press, 1977.
80
. See Adams, Defence, at I. 124.
81
. His Letter to Dr. Price of March 22, 1778, was published as an appendix to Richard Price,
Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, 1785.
82
. Abbé de Mably, Observations sur le gouvernement et les lois des Etats-Unis d’Amérique.
Amsterdam, 1784.
83
. Benjamin Constant. De la liberté des anciens comparée à celle des modernes (1819). Paris.
Hachette, 1980.
84
. Montesquieu, De l’esprit des lois at I. viii.16.
85
. Rousseau, Du contrat social at III.1; 15.
86
. Ibid. at II.9; III.15.
87
. Ibid. at II.6.
88
. Ibid. at II.1.
89
. Ibid. at I.6.
90
. Ibid. at I.7.
91
. Cf. ibid. at I.8: “L’ obéissance á la loi qu’on s’est prescrite est liberté”.
92
. Ibid. at II.3.
93
. Ibid. at III.15.
94
. Ibid. at II.3
95
. Ibid. at II.7.
96
. Ibid. at III.4.
97
. Ibid. at II.6.
98
. Ibid. at II.7.
99
. Ibid. at II.12.
100
. As Niccolò Machiavelli had famously observed not only of the French, but also of the Spanish
and the Italians in his Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio, at I.55.
101
. Ibid. at III.8.
102
. Ibid. at III.4.
103
. Adams, Defence, at III.505.
104
. Machiavelli, Discorsi at I.55. Machiavelli was a major source for the continental preoccupation
with virtue as a precondition to any successful republic. See Gisela Bock, Quentin Skinner and
Maurizio Viroli, eds. Machiavelli and Republicanism. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1990.
On the adoption of republican checks and balances by princes and kings, see Adams, Defence, at I.i.
105
. Charles I, XIX Propositions Made by Both Houses of Parliament, to the Kings Most Excellent
Majestie: With His Majesties Answer Thereunto. (York. 1642) in Joyce Lee Malcolm, ed. The Struggle
for Sovereignty: Seventeenth-Century English Political Tracts. Indianapolis. Liberty Fund, 1999, pp.
167-171.
106
. Cato’s Letters, preface in Hamowy at I.15.
107
. Ibid. at I-31.
108
. Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776), introduction in Kuklick, ed. p. 2.
109
. Ibid., chapter I, p. 6.
110
. Patrice Gueniffey, “Cordeliers and Girondins: the Prehistory of the Republic” in Fontana,ed.
pp. 86-106; Ran Halévi, “La république monarchique” in François Furet and Mona Ozouf, eds. Le
siècle de l’avènement républicain. Paris. Gallimard, 1993, pp. 165-196.
111
. Les Révolutions de Paris, issue of 12-19 June, 1790.
112
. Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre, 13 July, 1791, to the Jacobins, in A. Aulard, ed.,
Recueil des documents pour l’histoire du Club des Jacobins de Paris, 6 vols. Paris. 1889-97. Vol. 3, p.
12.
113
. Keith Michael Baker, “Fixing the French Constitution” in Inventing the French Revolution:
Essays on French Political Culture in the Eighteenth Century. Cambridge. Cambridge University
Press, 1990, pp. 250-305.
114
. Rousseau, Du contrat social at II.6 (with his notes).
115
. Ibid. at I.8.
116
. Ibid. at III.5.
117
. Ibid. at III.6.
118
. Ibid. at III.8;13.
119
. Ibid, at III.12.
120
. Ibid. at III.15.
121
. Ibid. at IV.2.
122
. “Publius” [Madison], Federalist X.
123
. Adams, Defence at I.132.
124
. Montesquieu, De l
=
esprit des lois, at II.11.4
125
. Rousseau, Du contrat social at III.7.
126
. Ibid. at IV.4; Montesquieu, De l
=
esprit des lois, at II.11.14.
127
. Ibid.
128
. Ibid. at II.11.17.
129
. Robert L. Herbert. David, Voltaire,
A
Brutus
@
and the French Revolution. London. Allen Lane,
1972.
130
. Hugh Honour, Neo-Classicism. London. Pelican, 1968.
131
. Giles Worsley, Classical Architecture in Britain: The Heroic Age. New Haven, Connecticut.
Yal University Press, 1995.
132
. François de Polignac and Joselita Raspi Serra. La fascination de l
=
antique 1700-1770: Rome
découverte, Rome inventée. Paris. Somogy, 1998.
133
. See e.g. Philip Ayres. Classical Culture and the Idea of Rome in Eighteenth-Century England.
Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 1997.
134
. For the explosion of republican imagery in France after 1791, see Jacques Boineau, Les toges
de pouvoir (1789-1799) ou la révolution de droit antique. Toulouse. Editions Eché, 1986.
135
. E.g. Adams, Defence, at I. 128-129.
136
. Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein. Des circonstances actuelles qui peuvent terminer la
révolution et des principes qui doivent fonder la république en France. Lucia Omacini ed. Geneva.
Librairie Droz, 1979.
137
. Benjamin Constant. De la liberté des anciens comparée a celle des modernes (1819). Paris.
Hachette, 1980.
138
. For a recent discussion of the evolution of French views of the republic in this period, see Keith
Michael Baker, “Transformations of Classical Republicanism in Eighteenth-Century France” in
Journal of Modern History, vol. 73 (2001) pp.32 ff.
139
. The documents implementing this transformation are gathered in Dominique Colas, ed. Textes
constitutionnels français et étrangers. Paris. Larousse, 1994.
140
. See M.N.S. Sellers. The Sacred Fire of Liberty: Republicanism, Liberalism and the Law.
Basingstoke and New York. Macmillan and New York University Press, 1998.
141
. Claude Nicolet. L’idée républicaine en France (1789-1924) Essai d’histoire critique. Paris.
Gallimard, 1982; Serge Berstein and Odile Rudelle, eds. Le modèle républicain. Paris. Presses
Universitaires de France, 1992.
142
. The best discussion of this is still Harold T. Parker. The Cult of Antiquity and the French
Revolutionaries: A Study in the Development of the Revolutionary Spirit. Chicago. University of
Chicago Press, 1937, chapters XI -XIII, esp. ch XI , “The Problem of Regeneration”.
143
. Meyer Reinhold. Classica Americana: The Greek and Roman Heritage in the United States.
Detroit. Wayne State University Press, 1984.
144
. Natalio R. Botana. La tradición republicana: Alberdi, Sarmiento y las ideas políticas de su
tiempo. Buenos Aires. Editorial Sudamericana, 1984.
145
. Nicolet, p. 172.
146
. See e.g. Edouard Laboulaye, Esquisse d’une constitution républicaine suivie d’un projet de
constitution. Paris, 1872. John Bigelow. Some Recollections of the Late Edouard Laboulaye. New
York. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1888.
147
. E.g. “Publius” [Madison], Federalist X; Rousseau, Du contrat social, at III.4.
148
. Ibid., at III.1.
149
. Ibid., at III.15.
150
. Achille Murat, A Moral and Political Sketch of the United States of America. London. 1833.
Cf. George Fitzhugh, Slavery Justified by a Southerner (Fredericksburg, 1850) in Eric L. McKittrick,
ed. Slavery Defended: the Views of the Old South. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Prentice-Hall, 1963,
pp. 42-44. Article IV. Section 4 of the United States Constitution, guaranteeing every state in the Union
a “republican” form of government, had become the basis on which many abolitionists denied the
constitutionality of slavery in the United States. See Wiecek, Antislavery Constitutionalism.
151
. Joseph Addison’s Cato was George Washington’s favorite play, and he had it performed in
1778 for the American troops at Valley Forge. Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the
Enlightenment. New York. Doubleday, 1984, pp.133-137; Richard, Founders and the Classics, p. 58.
152
. Minor Myers, Jr. Liberty Without Anarchy: A History of the Society of the Cincinnati.
Charlottesville. University Press of Virginia, 1983.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Chapter
Much recent scholarship contrasts republicanism with liberalism as the two central and contradictory ideals of modern legal and constitutional thought.1 Both terms continue to attract new meanings, in pursuit of various legal and political goals.2 Recently, some lawyers have contrasted that liberalism which regards law as a necessary evil with republican visions of cultural self-expression through law.3 This misstates the historical origins and best usage of both terms. Looking more closely at the origins and fundamental doctrines of republicanism and liberalism reveals that their principles do not necessarily conflict, and that each endorses law as the necessary vehicle of social justice. Republicanism is the parent of liberalism in Western Europe. They share a fundamental commitment to liberty and differ only in their relative ambition. Liberalism grew out of republican theory, and has never found stability or security, without the protection of a republican form of government.
Article
The Machiavellian Momentis a classic study of the consequences for modern historical and social consciousness of the ideal of the classical republic revived by Machiavelli and other thinkers of Renaissance Italy. J.G.A. Pocock suggests that Machiavelli's prime emphasis was on the moment in which the republic confronts the problem of its own instability in time, and which he calls the "Machiavellian moment." After examining this problem in the thought of Machiavelli, Guicciardini, and Giannotti, Pocock turns to the revival of republican thought in Puritan England and in Revolutionary and Federalist America. He argues that the American Revolution can be considered the last great act of civic humanism of the Renaissance. He relates the origins of modern historicism to the clash between civic, Christian, and commercial values in the thought of the eighteenth century.