Is our Greek and Roman heritage merely allusive and illusory? Or were our founders, and so our republican beginnings, truly steeped in the stuff of antiquity? So far largely a matter of generalization and speculation, the influence of Greek and Roman authors on our American forefathers finally becomes clear in this fascinating book-the first comprehensive study of the founders’ classical reading.
Carl J. Richard begins by examining how eighteenth-century social institutions in general and the educational system in particular conditioned the founders to venerate the classics. He then explores the founders’ various uses of classical symbolism, models, “antimodels,” mixed government theory, pastoralism, and philosophy, revealing in detail the formative influence exerted by the classics, both directly and through the mediation of Whig and American perspectives. In this analysis, we see how the classics not only supplied the principal basis for the U.S. Constitution but also contributed to the founders’ conception of human nature, their understanding of virtue, and their sense of identity and purpose within a grand universal scheme. At the same time, we learn how the classics inspired obsessive fear of conspiracies against liberty, which poisoned relations between Federalists and Republicans.
The shrewd ancients who molded Western civilization still have much to teach us, Richard suggests. His account of the critical role they played in shaping our nation and our lives provides a valuable lesson in the transcendent power of the classics.
An admirable book… Richard has done an impressive amount of scholarly detective work.
A detailed and fascinating exposition of the classical traditions that gave the United States’s founding generation so many political models and ideas.
This is a well-conceived, solidly researched, and ably argued book about the influence of the classics in the the political thought of the founding fathers… This work will be required reading for historians interested in the ideological origins of the American republic. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the intellectual complexities of the period.
Richard’s study offers intriguing glimpses into the minds of the founders through the lens of their classical learning, and the volume fairly bursts with engaging testimony… The force of the book’s revelations and the charm of its matter win the day.
- 308 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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