“Your Most Affectionate Friend…”

Founding Friendships

Even as nineteenth-century biographers sought to ignore or suppress it, there’s rarely been much shortage of gossip about the sex lives of the Founding Fathers. Cassandra Good’s new book, Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic (OUP, 2015), offers a warning to readers of eighteenth-century relationships who can be all too ready to embrace the temptations of scandal—these letters might sometimes look like thin veils for a seething sexuality beneath, “but a careful consideration of how people expressed emotion and an openness to the notion that men and women could be friends offers new, more nuanced readings,” Good argues. Scandalizing male-female relationships only serves to place them beyond the purview of ordinary life. Founding Friendships reminds us that women’s presence in the world shouldn’t come as a surprise, and that their roles were never limited to wives, mothers, and sex-objects. Continue reading

Manco Capac and the Global American Founding

Manco Capac Grosvenor PrintsEveryone’s thinking more globally these days, historians included. But constructing a historical imagination that encompasses the whole planet isn’t only a project of the twenty-first century. The American Revolution took place in an age of global exploration, commerce, and empire. When people wrote and thought about the new nation’s founding, they didn’t look just to Europe and the classical world for connections and comparisons, but to Asia and South America as well. Writers were eager to show that the context in which they understood American events was a global one. Take for example the career of Manco Capac, founding father of the Inca kingdom of Cuzco. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHIt’s been an exciting week for history in the news. First, we learned that Karen Nipps has discovered buried treasure in Harvard’s Houghton Library–650 signatures of Boston citizens pledging to boycott British goods taxed by the Townshend Acts in 1767. The signatories include Paul Revere, John Wheatley (owner of Phillis), and several of Boston’s women.

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Historians and Documentary Editing

PBFOn this—the 223rd anniversary of the death of Benjamin Franklin—I thought I would use this space to say a few words about my experience over the last year working at the Papers of Benjamin Franklin here at Yale University from the perspective of a graduate student. Last June, I was fortunate enough to be given a regular (part-time) position at the Franklin Papers. Officially, I am a Research Assistant and have done a number of small research projects designed to provide the editors with reference materials on Pennsylvania in the 1780s as they finish up the volumes covering Franklin’s stay in Paris. I have also been given the opportunity to tackle more editorial-type duties including fact-checking, drafting annotations, and proofreading transcriptions. Through these experiences and my innumerable conversations with the chief Editor, Ellen Cohn, I have gotten an inside look at scholarly editing, which often goes either unnoticed or under-appreciated by academic historians. Continue reading

Young Men of the Revolution

The intelligent American of today may know a great deal about his history, but the chances are that he feels none too secure about the Founding Fathers and the framing and ratification of the Federal Constitution. He is no longer certain what the “enlightened” version of that story is, or even whether there is one. This is because, in the century and three quarters since the Constitution was written, our best thinking on that subject has gone through two dramatically different phases and at this moment is about to enter a third.

As well as a continuation of my earlier thoughts on elites, this post is a tribute to a classic article: Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick’s “The Founding Fathers: Young Men of the Revolution,” in the Political Science Quarterly 76, no. 2 (June 1961). When I opened the article to reread it in order to write this post, I was struck by the vigour and assurance of that opening paragraph. It’s writing that hasn’t dated so much as aged, beautifully. Continue reading