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Mania for FreedomAmerican Literatures of Enthusiasm from the Revolution to the Civil War$
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John Mac Kilgore

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469629728

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469629728.001.0001

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An Answer to the Question

An Answer to the Question

“What Is Enthusiasm?”

(p.31) Chapter One An Answer to the Question
Mania for Freedom

John Mac Kilgore

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter analyzes the broad history and philosophy of enthusiasm from the Antinomian Crisis of 1636-1638 in colonial America to the revolutionary Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century. From Immanuel Kant to Thomas Paine, Anne Hutchinson to Nathaniel Hawthorne, enthusiasm emerges as a discourse of “constituent power,” the notion in political theory that democracy emanates from the living will of the people and that individuals have the right, therefore, to resist or abolish governments that use the force of law to abuse them. The author argues that, in early American debates about religious antinomianism, especially women’s access to political or social power, the language of enthusiasm was a theological construct of “constituent power” that became overtly politicized in the Revolutionary era and eventually incorporated into Romantic philosophy. Finally, through short readings of Charles Brockden Brown’s Ormond and Sarah Pogson’s The Female Enthusiast, the chapter demonstrates that certain literatures of the early Republic define enthusiasm (as women’s dissent and constituent power) over/against domestic sensibility and the sentimental tradition.

Keywords:   Constituent power, antinomianism, enthusiasm vs. sentimentality, early American fiction, Romanticism

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