Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Reading the Early Republic

Reading the Early Republic

Robert A. Ferguson

ISBN 9780674022362

Publication date: 09/30/2006

Reading the Early Republic focuses attention on the forgotten dynamism of thought in the founding era. In every case, the documents, novels, pamphlets, sermons, journals, and slave narratives of the early American nation are richer and more intricate than modern readers have perceived.

Rebellion, slavery, and treason--the mingled stories of the Revolution--still haunt national thought. Robert Ferguson shows that the legacy that made the country remains the idea of what it is still trying to become. He cuts through the pervading nostalgia about national beginnings to recapture the manic-depressive tones of its first expression. He also has much to say about the reconfiguration of charity in American life, the vital role of the classical ideal in projecting an unthinkable continental republic, the first manipulations of the independent American woman, and the troubled integration of civic and commercial understandings in the original claims of prosperity as national virtue.

Reading the Early Republic uses the living textual tradition against history to prove its case. The first formative writings are more than sacred artifacts. They remain the touchstones of the durable promise and the problems in republican thought


  • These fine essays analyze U.S. texts from the 1760s through the 1820s so as to illustrate the forms of expression, assumptions, conflicts, and ambivalences of the era. The texts include a remarkably broad spectrum, from the canonical Common Sense through slave narratives, notable court cases, popular novels, and the architecture of Monticello to The Last of the Mohicans. Two common themes linking the essays are that the language 'was richer and more nuanced than their inheritors' understood, and that the current generation could benefit from careful reconsideration of those complexities that are the foundation of American life. Useful insights abound.

    —R. P. Gildrie, Choice


  • Robert A. Ferguson was George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature, and Criticism at Columbia University.

Book Details

  • 370 pages
  • 0-7/8 x 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

From this author