Literature and the Arts in the Revolutionary Era |


american revolution literature

American literature Colonial literature. Post-independence. Unique American style. Early American poetry. Realism, Twain and James. Beginning of the 20th century. The rise of American drama. Depression-era literature. Post–World War II. Contemporary American literature. Minority. The Revolutionary Period The most popular poem of the Revolutionary period was John Trumbull's McFingal, published in part at Philadelphia in , and incomplete shape at Hartford in It went through more than thirty editions in America, and was several times reprinted in Henry Augustin Beers. African American literature. African American literature, body of literature written by Americans of African descent. Beginning in the pre-Revolutionary War period, African American writers have engaged in a creative, if often contentious, dialogue with American letters. The result is a literature rich in expressive subtlety and social insight.

Initial Studies in American Letters by Henry Augustin Beers: The Revolutionary Period

It will be convenient to treat the fifty years which elapsed between the meeting at New York, american revolution literature, inof a American revolution literature of delegates from nine colonies to protest against the Stamp Act, american revolution literature, and the close of the american revolution literature war with England, inas, for literary purposes, a single period.

This half-century was the formative era of the American nation. Historically, american revolution literature, it is divisible into the years of revolution and the years of construction. But the men who led the movement for independence were also, in great part, the same who guided in shaping the Constitution of the new republic, and the intellectual impress of the whole period is one and the same. Pure literature, or what, for want of a better term, we call belles lettreswas not born in America until the nineteenth century was well under way.

It is true that the Revolution had its humor, its poetry, and even its fiction; but these american revolution literature strictly for the home market. They hardly penetrated the consciousness of Europe at all, and are not to be compared with the contemporary work of English authors like Cowper and Sheridan and Burke. Their importance for us to-day is rather antiquarian than literary, though the most noteworthy of them will be mentioned in due course in the present chapter.

It is also true that one or two of Irving's early books fall within the last years of the period now under consideration. But literary epochs overlap one another at the edges, and these writings may best be postponed to a subsequent chapter.

Among the most characteristic products of the intellectual stir that preceded and accompanied the Revolutionary movement were the speeches of political american revolution literature like Samuel Adams, James Otis, and Josiah Quincy, in Massachusetts, and Patrick Henry in Virginia. Oratory is the art of a free people, and as in the forensic assemblies of Greece and Rome and in the Parliament of Great Britain, so american revolution literature the conventions and american revolution literature of Revolutionary America it sprang up and flourished naturally.

The age, moreover, was an eloquent, not to say a rhetorical, age; and the influence of Johnson's orotund prose, american revolution literature, of the declamatory Letters of Juniusand of the speeches of Burke, Fox, Sheridan, and the elder Pitt is perceptible in the debates of our early Congresses, american revolution literature. The fame of a great orator, like that of a great actor, is largely traditionary. The spoken word transferred to the printed page loses the glow which resided in the man and the moment.

A speech is good if it attains its aim, if it moves the hearers to the end which is sought. But the fact that this end is often temporary and occasional, rather than universal and permanent, explains why so few speeches are really literature.

If this is true, even where the words of an orator are preserved exactly as they were spoken, it is doubly true when we have only the testimony of contemporaries as to the effect which the oration produced. The fiery utterances of Adams, Otis, and Quincy were either not reported at all or very imperfectly reported, so that posterity can judge of them only at second-hand.

Patrick Henry has fared better, many of his orations being preserved in substance, american revolution literature not in the letter, in Wirt's biography. Of these the american revolution literature famous was the defiant speech in the Convention of Delegates, March 28,throwing down the gauge of battle to the British ministry. The ringing sentences of this challenge are still declaimed by school-boys, and many of them remain as familiar as household words, american revolution literature.

I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. Gentlemen may american revolution literature peace, peace, but there is no peace. Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! But if such specimens of the oratory of the American patriots as have come down to us fail to account for the wonderful impression that their words are said to have produced upon their fellow-countrymen, american revolution literature, american revolution literature should remember that they are at a disadvantage when read instead of heard.

The press was an agent in the cause of liberty no less potent than the platform, and patriots such as Adams, Otis, Quincy, Warren, and Hancock wrote constantly, for the newspapers, essays and letters on the public questions of the time signed "Vindex," "Hyperion," "Independent," "Brutus," "Cassius," and the like, and couched in language which to the taste of to-day seems rather over-rhetorical.

Among the most important of these political essays were the Circular Letter to each Colonial Legislaturepublished by Adams and Otis in ; Quincy's Observations on the Boston Port Bill, and Otis's Rights of the British Coloniesa pamphlet of one hundred and twenty pages, printed in No collection of Otis's writings has ever been made. The life of Quincy, published by his son, preserves for posterity his journals and american revolution literature, his newspaper essays, and his speeches at the bar, taken from the Massachusetts law reports.

Among the political literature which is of perennial interest to the American people are such State documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the messages, inaugural addresses, and other writings of our early presidents.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, and the father of the Democratic party, was the author of the Declaration of Independence, whose opening sentences have become commonplaces in the memory of all readers.

This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative by suppressing every legislative attempt to restrain this execrable commerce. And, american revolution literature, that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished dye, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms against us and purchase that liberty of which he deprived them by murdering the people upon whom he obtruded them, and thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people by crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.

The tone of apology or defense which Calhoun and other Southern statesman afterward adopted on the subject of slavery was not taken by the men of Jefferson's generation. Another famous Virginian, John Randolph of Roanoke, himself a slave-holder, in his speech on the militia bill in the House of Representatives, December 10,said: "I speak from facts when I say that the night-bell never tolls for fire in Richmond that the mother does not hug her infant more closely to her bosom.

Randolph was a thorough-going "State rights" man, and, though opposed to slavery on principle, he cried "Hands off! His speeches read better than most of his contemporaries'. They are interesting in their exhibit of a bitter and eccentric individuality, witty, incisive, and expressed in a pungent and familiar style which contrasts refreshingly with the diplomatic language and glittering generalities of most congressional oratory, whose verbiage american revolution literature to keep its subject always at arm's-length.

Another noteworthy writing of Jefferson's was his Inaugural Address of March 4,with its programme of "equal and exact justice to all men, of whatever american revolution literature or persuasion, religious or political; peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, american revolution literature, entangling alliances with none; the support of the State governments in all their rights.

During his six years' residence in France, as American minister, Jefferson had become indoctrinated with the principles of French democracy. Jefferson has some claims to rank as an author in general literature. Educated at William and Mary College in the old Virginia capital, Williamsburg, he became the founder of the University of Virginia, in which he made special provision for the study of Anglo-Saxon, and in which the liberal scheme of instruction and discipline was conformed, in theory, at least, to the "university idea.

After the conclusion of peace with England, inpolitical discussion centered about the Constitution, which in took the place of the looser Articles american revolution literature Confederation adopted in The debates on the adoption of the Constitution, both in the General Convention of the States, which met at Philadelphia inand in the separate State conventions called to ratify its action, form a valuable body of comment and illustration upon the instrument itself.

One of the most notable of the speeches in opposition was Patrick Henry's address before the Virginia Convention. But the most complete exposition of the constitutional philosophy of the Federal party was the series of eighty-five papers entitled the Federalistprinted during the yearsamerican revolution literature, and mostly in the Independent Journal of New York, over the signature "Publius. The Federalist papers, american revolution literature, though written in a somewhat ponderous diction, are among the great landmarks of American history, and were in themselves a political education to the generation that read them.

Hamilton was a brilliant and versatile figure, a persuasive orator, a forcible writer, american revolution literature, and as secretary of the treasury under Washington the foremost of American financiers. He was killed in a duel by Aaron Burr, at Weehawken, in The Federalists were victorious, and under the provisions of the new Constitution George Washington was inaugurated american revolution literature President of the United States, on March 4, Washington's writings have been collected by Jared Sparks.

They consist of journals, american revolution literature, letters, messages, addresses, and public documents, american revolution literature, for the most part plain and business-like in manner, and without any literary pretensions. The most elaborate and the best known of them is his Farewell Addressissued on his retirement from the presidency in In the composition of this he was assisted by Madison, Hamilton, and Jay. It is wise in substance and dignified, though somewhat stilted in expression.

The correspondence of John Adams, american revolution literature, second President of the United States, and his Diarykept fromshould also be mentioned as important sources for a full knowledge of this period.

In the long life-and-death struggle of Great Britain against the French Republic and its successor, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Federalist party in this country naturally sympathized with England, and the Jeffersonian Democracy with France. The Federalists, who distrusted the sweeping abstractions of the French Revolution and clung to the conservative notions of a checked and balanced freedom, inherited from English precedent, were american revolution literature of monarchical and aristocratic leanings.

On their side they were not slow to accuse their adversaries of French atheism and French Jacobinism. The War of with England was so unpopular in New England, by reason of the injury which it threatened to inflict on its commerce, that the Hartford Convention of was more than suspected of a design to bring about the secession of New England from the Union. A good deal of oratory was called out by the debates on the commercial american revolution literature with Great Britain negotiated by Jay inby the Alien and Sedition Law ofand by other pieces of Federalist legislation, previous to the downfall of that party and the election of Jefferson to the presidency in The best of the Federalist orators during those years was Fisher Ames, of Massachusetts, and the best of his orations was, perhaps, his speech on the British treaty in the House of Representatives, April 18, The speech was, in great measure, a protest against American chauvinism and the violation of international obligations.

What is american revolution literature Is it a narrow affection for the spot where a man was born? Are the very clods where we tread entitled to this ardent preference because they are greener? I see no exception to the respect that is paid among nations to the law of good faith.

Even in Algiers a truce may be bought for money, but, when ratified, even Algiers is too wise or too just to disown and annul its obligation. His eulogiums on Washington and Hamilton american revolution literature elaborate tributes, rather excessive, perhaps, american revolution literature, in laudation and in classical allusions. In all the oratory of the Revolutionary period there is nothing equal in deep and condensed energy of feeling to american revolution literature single clause in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.

A prominent figure during and after the War of the Revolution was Thomas Paine, or, as he was somewhat disrespectfully called, "Tom Paine. His pamphlet, Common Senseissued inbegan with the famous words, "These are the times that try men's souls.

Paine's rough and vigorous advocacy was of great service to the American patriots, american revolution literature. His writings were american revolution literature and his arguments were of a kind easily understood by plain people, addressing themselves to the common sense, the prejudices and passions of unlettered readers.

He afterward went to France and took an active part in the popular movement there, crossing swords with Burke in his Rights of Man, written in defense of the French Revolution. He was one of the two foreigners who sat in the Convention; but falling under suspicion during the days american revolution literature the Terror, he was committed to the prison of the Luxembourg and only released upon the fall of Robespierre July 27, While in prison he wrote a portion of his best-known work, the Age of Reason.

American revolution literature appeared in two parts in andthe manuscript of the first part having been intrusted to Joel Barlow, the American poet, who happened to be in Paris when Paine was sent to prison. The Age of Reason damaged Paine's reputation in America, where the name of "Tom Paine" became a stench in the nostrils of the godly and a synonym for atheism and blasphemy.

His book was denounced from a hundred pulpits, and copies of it were carefully locked away from the sight of "the young," whose religious beliefs it might undermine. It was, in effect, a crude and popular statement of the deistic argument against Christianity, american revolution literature.

Deism was in the air of the time; Franklin, Jefferson, Ethan Allen, Joel Barlow, and other prominent Americans were openly or unavowedly deistic. Free thought, somehow, went along with democratic opinions, and was a part of the liberal movement of the age. Paine was a man without reverence, imagination, or religious feeling.

He was no scholar, and he was not troubled by any perception of the deeper and subtler aspects of the questions which he touched. In his examination of the Old and New Testaments he insisted that the American revolution literature was an imposition and american revolution literature forgery, full of lies, absurdities, and obscenities. Supernatural Christianity, with all its mysteries and miracles, was a fraud practiced by priests upon the people, and churches were instruments of oppression in the hands of tyrants.

This way of accounting for Christianity would not now be accepted by even the most "advanced" thinkers. The contest between skepticism and revelation has long since shifted to other grounds.

Both the philosophy and the temper of the Age of Reason belong to the eighteenth century. But Paine's downright pugnacious method of attack was effective with shrewd, half-educated doubters; and in America well-thumbed copies of his book passed from hand to hand in many american revolution literature rural tavern or store, where the village atheist wrestled in debate with the deacon or the schoolmaster.

Paine rested his argument against Christianity upon the familiar grounds of the incredibility of miracles, the falsity of prophecy, the cruelty or immorality of Moses and David and other Old Testament worthies, the disagreement of the evangelists in their gospels, etc. The spirit of his book and his competence as a critic are illustrated by his saying of the New Testament: "Any person who could tell a story of an apparition, american revolution literature, or of a man's walking, could have made such books, american revolution literature, for the story is most wretchedly told.

The sum total of a parson's learning is a-baband hichoechocand this is more than sufficient to have american revolution literature them, had they lived at the time, to have written all the books of the New Testament. When we turn from the political and controversial writings of the Revolution to such lighter literature as existed, we find little that would deserve mention in a more crowded period.


Literature during the American Revolution


american revolution literature


The Revolutionary Period The most popular poem of the Revolutionary period was John Trumbull's McFingal, published in part at Philadelphia in , and incomplete shape at Hartford in It went through more than thirty editions in America, and was several times reprinted in Henry Augustin Beers. African American literature. African American literature, body of literature written by Americans of African descent. Beginning in the pre-Revolutionary War period, African American writers have engaged in a creative, if often contentious, dialogue with American letters. The result is a literature rich in expressive subtlety and social insight. The Revolutionary War and Children's Literature This is the first section of a sample chapter from In Times Past: An Encyclopedia for Integrating US History with Literature in Grades by Carol Otis Hurst and Rebecca Otis (Order from