The Democratization of Honor and Virtue in the New Republic
Abstract and Keywords
From the aftermath of Yorktown through the rise of political parties in the early republic, this chapter shows that legislation and policy (from the Treaty of Paris to the Constitution to attempts at abolitionism) were based on these new concepts of honor and virtue. It also shows the institutionalizing of egalitarian honor in schools, organizations (like the Society of the Cincinnati), occupations, and politics. It charts the development of business ethics in the form of professional honor for lawyers, doctors, and even job applicants. Most importantly, this chapter engages the new conceptions of honor that developed during the early republic, including the rise to prominence of Franklin’s ascending honor (which in part was adapted into the notion of republican womanhood) and Thomas Jefferson’s version that made honor entirely internal and akin to modern ethics. The chapter examines how these new ideals impacted all classes of society including women and African Americans. While most citizens agreed that honor and virtue were defining elements, they differed greatly on how these concepts related to governance, policy (especially the French Revolution), and society. Contestations over the interpretation of national and personal honor would in turn spark in-fighting, dissention, and revival belief systems, highlighted by the development of political parties.
The American victory at Yorktown, while technically not the official end of the war, brought the combatants to the peace table. Talks began in April 1782. While it was a time of hope and optimism for the Americans, there was still apprehension over the manner in which the war would be concluded. In Paris, the United States’ peace commission, comprising Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Henry Laurens, and John Jay, would be open to negotiation on all but one point: there could be no peace without honor.1
Even before the start of the Revolution, the phrase “no peace without honor” (or “honorable peace,” “peace with honor,” and so on) was broadly considered to be the standard by which America could conclude its confrontations with Britain (and it later became the basis for international relations). Faced with the mounting tension imposed by British legislation, Maryland delegate to the Continental Congress Thomas Johnson Jr. wrote to Horatio Gates, speaking of the colonists, “They look towards an honourable peace or successful Opposition.”2 In those early days, an honorable peace could have been initiated with a cessation of punitive British legislation and the establishment of colonial representation in Parliament. But as words turned to bullets, an honorable peace could only come about at a much higher price.
No one was more aware of this American mind-set than Adams, who, along with Jay, took the lead in the peace negotiations. Adams had been inundated with letter after letter from family, friends, and acquaintances demanding nothing less than peace with honor since the outbreak of hostilities.3 In 1774, Abigail Adams lectured her husband, “There is nothing more desirable, or advantages [sic] than peace, when founded in justice and honour.”4 During the early months of the fighting, lawyer William Tudor wrote to his mentor John Adams, “The universal Voice is, if the Continent approve, and assist we will die or be free. The Sword is drawn and the Scabbard thrown away, till it can be sheath’d with Security and Honour.”5 Tudor, citing his opinion as “the universal Voice” and basically equating it with the country’s viewpoint, illustrates that American patriots readily accepted this concept. It was embraced by both men and women, as Mercy Otis Warren echoed the words that Adams already (p.168) knew by heart: “I will breath [sic] one wish more … for the restoration of peace; peace … on equitable terms…. I cannot wish to see the sword quietly put up in the scabbard, until justice is done to America: the principles both of honour and humanity forbid it.”6
The Declaration of Independence fundamentally changed the meaning of an honorable peace. Peace with honor now mandated British recognition of American independence. But a dishonorable peace remained a submission to slavery and tyranny. Americans continued to embrace the idea of no peace without honor as what could be considered an informal slogan of the war. During a formal parlay across enemy lines, Continental army officer Cuthbert Harrison was asked if America would make peace. He replied, “We are like all other just men [and] wish to do it on Honourable terms.”7 Bostonian David MacClure wrote to William Knox that no matter how “dreadful War is, better have that than inglorious peace & submitting to Tyranny.”8 Likewise, Abigail Adams continued to espouse the point to virtually anyone who would listen: “We most sincerely wish for peace upon honorable terms…. We rejoice not in the Effusion of Blood, nor the Carnage of the Humane Species but having forced us to draw the Sword we are determined never to sheathe it the Slaves of Britains.”9
John Adams knew that for America to leave the war on favorable terms, Britain would have to forfeit its honor. He wrote the Congress, reminding them, “Great Britain never can obtain a Peace, without a Diminution of her Honor and Dignity.” He realized what was at stake. Peace was a matter of “National Honor,” and Adams vowed he would “never depart from his Honour, his Duty.”10 Independence was a precondition, not a bargain chip. On September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris, which formally “relinquishe[d] all Claims” of George III on America, was signed by the four delegates—America had its peace with honor.11
Alexander Hamilton forwarded on his praise that the peace “exceeds in the goodness of its terms the expectations of the most sanguine.” It thus “does the highest honor to the men who made it.”12 Franklin would joke, “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”13 But Adams knew the rest of the nation disagreed, “for People cannot bear the Ideas of national Disgrace.”14 With national honor vindicated, Americans became exceptionally protective of this newly won and tenaciously acquired laurel. The policy, politics, and culture of early republican America would be dominated by an obsession with maintaining national honor.
Back in the United States, with peace now formally declared, it was time for the army to disband. But after years of fighting hard and fostering close (p.169) relationships, the officers of the Continental army hoped to retain that camaraderie. Largely under the guidance of General Henry Knox, plans for an organization of Revolutionary officers began to take place even before the end of the war. Years of civil-military tension, broken promises, and a near mutiny against Congress had left some to think that such a group was needed to watch over the interests of the former officers. Thus, from the uncertainty of the Newburgh Conspiracy and the war’s conclusion with the Treaty of Paris, the Society of the Cincinnati was born.15 It was (and still is today) a hereditary fraternal organization devoted to the preservation and advancement of the French and Continental army officer corps.16 But this group was far from a revived Newburgh Conspiracy; its initial conception predated the episode, and the society was founded on the principles of civilian supremacy over the military.17 The officers possessed “the highest veneration for the character” of Roman general Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus, who voluntarily laid down his sword after his duty was performed, rather than retain power and become a dictator.18 Conceived as both a state and national organization, its members maintained national honor as their highest duty. The society pledged “to promote and cherish between the respective states, that Union and national honor so essentially necessary to their happiness, and the future dignity of the American Empire.”19
On May 13, 1783, in Fishkill, New York, the society held its first official meeting, chaired by Hamilton and under the eye of their future secretary-general Knox. At a subsequent meeting, the members elected George Washington, who was regarded quite fittingly as the American Cincinnatus, president-general of the society in absentia. This honor-based concept coincided with Washington’s beliefs, leaving him “warmly in favor of it.”20 His devotion to “support my Country’s Honor, and my own Character” was the same sentiment as the society’s devotion to “national honor” and to its members.21
More than simply embracing an ideological motto, the Society of the Cincinnati was governed almost exclusively by honor. Like the signers of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the members of the Cincinnati took an oath to “solemnly pledge each other our sacred Honor.”22 There certainly were elements of personal honor within the society—such ideas had never gone away—but they remained relegated to the national cause, even in civilian life. Membership was “constituted on the high principles of Friendship and Honour” and originally composed of former Continental army officers “who left the Service with Reputation,” and later their blood descendants (it was also expanded to include French officers).23 Regulations were largely based (p.170) on a single principle: that members must possess the “conduct” of “a Gentleman and a Man of Honour”; to illustrate behavior “inconsistent” with this rule labeled one “unworthy” and led to formal inquiry and possible expulsion.24 Such infractions were taken very seriously, and committees on conduct (basically courts of honor) were formed to regulate the behavior of the membership—ranging from public drunkenness to “ungentleman like conduct.”25 The Cincinnati institutionalized honor in much the same way that American colleges had been doing for years: through disciplinary codes.
Despite professing to hold to tenets of national honor, the society did not meet with universal favor from the public, as the hereditary organization seemed to exude the inherent threat of aristocracy, a system the country had just fought a war to be rid of.26 From the outset, it drew the ire of those who feared a revival of tyranny against America. South Carolina chief justice Aedanus Burke, who had previously served in both the state militia and the Continental army, took issue with the Cincinnati and saw it as an attempt to subvert republicanism through aristocracy. He attempted to publish his ideas anonymously, under the name Cassius, in Considerations on the Society or Order of Cincinnati, but the pamphlet spread quickly throughout the states in popularity and impact and his true identity was revealed. Being of Irish birth and having just defended America against Britain, Burke’s reaction seems perfectly logical and consistent with the sentiments of a fair amount of the population.
Considerations’ antirepublican accusations were multifaceted. Obviously the most glaring concern centered on the society’s potential for aristocracy. But Burke contended that the Cincinnati was even more opposed to the American government, as it “usurp[ed] a nobility without gift or grant, in defiance of Congress and the States.” The society was formed independently from the government and the people. Since the group was self-created, Burke feared that it would be beholden to no one: “This is the natural result of an establishment, whose departure is so sudden from our open professions of republicanism.” But more was at stake than just the fall of republicanism: “The Order is planted in a fiery, hot ambition, and thirst for power; and its branches will end in tyranny.”27 Harking back even further than the ever-present Cromwellian fears, Burke alluded to Caesar; for him it was a foregone conclusion that the Cincinnati would eventually seek to assert control over the nation through military means. The group had more in common with the Roman dictator than with Cincinnatus, the republican hero. After all, did Cincinnatus, “that virtuous Roman, having subdued the enemies of his country and (p.171) returned home to tend his vineyard and plant cabbages; did he confer an hereditary order of peerage on himself and his fellow soldiers?”28
Burke boasted that America was home to “scarcely a distinction among us” and a democratization of “military virtue” and a “sense of dignity.” All citizens were capable of safeguarding the ideals of the Revolution; there was no need of “the incessant watching of a dignified Order of Patricians.”29 Coinciding with these professed egalitarian principles was a general sense of an equally democratized notion of honor. Burke argued that the presence of the Cincinnati undermined this transformation of American honor. He warned that, according to the society, “the people of America … are not fit to be trusted with their own national honor.”30 Thus, the sense of equality formed before the Revolution and preserved through war was under attack. Contrary to the Cincinnati’s espoused goals, Burke claimed that it was “not the way to promote and cherish Union and National Honor. Out of it will arise discord and not union.” His pamphlet also held the American people accountable: “That they should commit such a vile abuse of their liberty as to allow it, is a reproach upon human nature; and would in the eyes of posterity, be a national dishonor to us.”31 As they had proved in the Revolution, the people had a duty to maintain national honor above all else.
Although Burke did attribute a malevolent intention to the Cincinnati, he did not believe that all of its members were aware of its sinister plan. In an accusation very similar to those leveled against Freemasonry to the present day, Burke claimed that the society “seems to be the offspring of patriotism, friendship, and humanity. And that many of the officers who have not closely viewed the subject, favour it from those principles, I have no doubt…. It is in reality, and will turn out to be, an hereditary peerage, a nobility.” Burke was convinced that “the Cincinnati will soon be corrupted … for in less than a century it will occasion such an inequality in the condition of our inhabitants, that the country will be composed only of two ranks of men; the patricians or nobles, and the rabble.”32 It was not a question of if, but only of when.
The Society of the Cincinnati wasted little time in attempting to defend its organization and its founding principles. Another anonymous author, likely Pennsylvania society member Colonel Stephen Moylan, refuted the charges in his own equally unoriginally titled pamphlet, Observations on a Late Pamphlet, Entitled “Considerations upon the Society or Order of the Cincinnati.” The author labeled Burke’s pamphlet as being “impregnated with venom” and entirely untrue in its conclusions.33 The new pamphlet asserted that the ideals of the Cincinnati were exactly as they were stated: “to promote and cherish (p.172) between the respective states, that Union and national honor.” Its motives were transparent and free from the “caballing” that Burke alleged.34 The author seems honestly perplexed by the vigorous denunciation of the society. How could they give birth to a Caesar, he asked, when “Caesar disbanded no army … till he had accomplished the mischief he meditated”? Who among them could even become a Caesar? Only Washington possessed the ability, but then he was “our greater Caesar!” What evil could they charge the former commander in chief with? “Having restored the Goddess Liberty to her country and built her a permanent habitation there,” or perhaps the fact that “he quietly retires to the rural shade, the glory and wonder of the age”?35
The officers had embraced civilian supremacy and not professed any contradictory position. The author offered that the Cincinnati had no authority, as “power is conferr’d by Congress and the representatives of the people.” How could they bring about tyranny when they submitted themselves to the will of Congress and the people? The members even supported the same democratization of honor that Burke professed as a core republican ideal. The pamphlet states, “Honours indeed, like impressions upon coin, may give an ideal value to base metal, but it is gold and silver alone that will pass without any recommendation but from its weights.”36 An individual could be given title, rank, and prestige, but that did not grant him honor. Only his true character could influence his reputation. Thus, false honor was worthless, and true honor was of inherent value and was acquirable by all. The Cincinnati’s honor was derived from the character and actions of his members, just as was true of the nation as a whole. Thus, the society was “a distinction without power, and without any other luster than what it borrows from virtue.”37
Despite this defense and the organization’s support of democratized honor, the Cincinnati did not dispute that hierarchy remained, and it refused to apologize for what was regarded as a basic fact of eighteenth-century existence. The author of Observations unremorsefully remarked, “I dare say that even Cassius will not contend that, absolute, perfect, equality is possible to the government of any state.”38 Washington certainly was not opposed to the society’s elitist nature.39 He was a Freemason and also had been a member of a gentlemen’s club in Williamsburg and was thus familiar with the dualist notion that afforded equal inclusiveness to members and excluded the uninitiated.40 This was the world that Washington had grown up in, and he saw no inherent connection between hereditary aristocracy and hierarchical society or any contradiction between the membership in the society and his personal or national honor. He was puzzled how the society could “have any tendency unfriendly to the purest spirit of republicanism.”41
(p.173) The author of Observations asserted that the “silence” of Congress and the people in regard to the Cincinnati was “the strongest argument of the innocence of the institution.”42 However, this was far from the truth; although Burke may have been the Cincinnati’s most vocal antagonist, he was far from a lone voice crying out in the wilderness. Criticism emanated from politicians, soldiers, and citizens alike.43 The society’s most prominent detractors included Samuel and John Adams, Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin described the society as “an Order of hereditary Knights, in direct Opposition to the solemnly declared Sense of their Country.”44 Jefferson shared a similar sentiment and made an appeal to Washington that he remove himself from the “disapprobation” directed at the society. In a heartfelt plea, Jefferson intimated that it was only Washington’s “moderation & virtue” that “prevented this revolution from being closed as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.” Jefferson reminded Washington that, though he was unarguably honorable and virtuous, he was “not immortal, & his successor, or some of his successors, may be led by false calculation into a less certain road to glory.” Regardless of the society’s intentions, Jefferson advised that it needed to seem more benign and be “modif[ied]” “so as to render it unobjectionable”—in other words, it must give up any concept of hereditary membership.45
Although Washington felt no personal guilt over his membership in the Society of Cincinnati, he was still conscious of his reputation as a national symbol.46 Washington understood that any hint of a departure from republicanism on his part could threaten the country. The public outcry against the “aristocratic” society forced the self-proclaimed “republican General” to become defensive of his personal honor and conscious of national honor.47 As president of the society, he took up Jefferson’s suggestions and urged its members to restructure its constitution in order to “discontinue the hereditary part in all its connexions.”48 Washington warned that if such a measure was not enacted, it would severely damage the honor of the organization to a point that “we might I presume as well discontinue the order.”49 Based on Washington’s personal intervention, the reforms passed in the general assembly were publicized and drew approval from the American people.50
However, much like the Articles of Confederation, these changes could not go into effect without unanimous approval on the state level. What many citizens failed to notice, largely due to a lack of press coverage, was that many of the state societies refused to implement these amendments, effectively killing the reforms adopted in the national meeting. The state societies claimed that they understood the reasons behind the proposed changes, but they (p.174) could not support them as a matter of honor.51 Hamilton “approved the motives” but could not concede on principle.52 The New Hampshire society defended its actions: “To yield to Arguments that have no force, to acknowledge dangers that cannot exist, to recede from a Plan founded on the most laudable principles … [would be] the mark of suspicion on the most virtuous actions.” Its members supported one of Washington’s original alternatives: it would be “more honourably done by laying the ax to the roots of the tree and abolishing the society at once” than to alter it based on misconceived prejudices.53
Washington lamented the perception that “the honour of American officers stands committed, and in danger of being [mutilated] publicly.”54 He therefore withdrew his presence, remaining the society’s president largely as a figurehead. He no longer attended meetings, and he discussed his desire to avoid reelection, a wish that was not granted despite his protests.55 This was a sacrifice, but one he made for the sake of national honor.
The state societies’ failure to ratify the proposed amendments and Washington’s distancing himself from the public face of the Cincinnati did not mean that the organization’s detractors were justified. In fact, the Cincinnati showed every indication of being fully supportive of principles of national honor. Hamilton wrote to each of the thirteen groups, “The members of the Cincinnati, always actuated by the same virtuous and generous motives, which have hitherto directed their conduct, will pride themselves in being … the steady and faithful supporters of her Liberty, her Laws and her Government.”56 The New Jersey society likewise maintained notions of civilian supremacy and “express[ed]” to John Adams “our entire satisfaction with … the government … [and] obedience to any call of our country, in vindication of its national honor.”57
From the start, the members of the Cincinnati did not view their conception of honor as any different from that of the rest of society. Rhode Island society president Nathanael Greene even drank a toast to “honor” that was equally “sacred to both citizens and soldiers.”58 They did not view membership as a title but rather as a distinction earned by merit, for true honor could only originate from merit and was open to anyone of quality, a fact that even the society’s French members had come to understand.59 Hamilton would go on to argue that honor was available to all citizens, for “the character of Patriot ought to be an equal title to all its members.”60 Honor could translate from military to civilian life and vice versa; there was no difference in the minds of the Cincinnati. At the society’s 1786 induction ceremony, Colonel Benjamin Walker highlighted this point: “The tenor of our past lives will be a (p.175) pledge for our future conduct; for men who have done and suffered so much in such a cause, can never, (however their services may be requited) deviate from the paths of honor and public rectitude.”61
Aside from the attention given to hereditary membership, the Society of the Cincinnati’s understanding of honor was very much the natural evolution of its original European form. Honor had always carried with it an inherent notion of rank and distinction, which the Cincinnati and even Washington fully embraced. Their understanding of honor was formed through a combination of personal slights, merit through service, and exaltation of the national cause. Hierarchy remained, but the ability to acquire honor was fundamentally expanded. Although the Cincinnati viewed this model as applicable to all of society, others had come to form different interpretations of honor in post-Revolutionary America. The crisis surrounding the hereditary dynamic of the Cincinnati directly led two of its detractors, Franklin and Jefferson, to formalize their own thoughts as to the true definition and manifestation of honor.
Still in France, Franklin learned about the Cincinnati from his daughter Sarah Bache. He was not discouraged by the wish for distinction by the former officers. Since the dawn of the Revolution, many had fought vigorously and thrown out accusations against others of prizing personal honor rather than collective honor. Franklin viewed the argument as simply semantics. He wrote that honor “is in its Nature a personal Thing.” For Franklin, honor always had a personal component, but it could be placed within a larger framework to support the national good. This was nothing shocking; it was a principal component of honor culture and nothing to be feared. The matter at issue was the Cincinnati members’ belief that they could bestow “Honour on their Posterity.”62
Franklin, who had made so much of himself despite being of humble origins, always showed an inherent hostility toward the rewards of lineage. He wrote, “For Honour worthily … is in its Nature a personal Thing, and incommunicable to any but those who had some Share in obtaining it.” You could only earn honor through your own action or merit; thus, it was impossible for descendants to have any claim to the honor of ancestors, since they contributed nothing toward its acquisition. As Franklin explained, “Honour does not descend but ascends”; thus, only the individual and those (such as the individual’s parents) whose “Education, Instruction, and good Example” made that person “capable of Serving the Publick” had any claim to it.63 By this definition, honor became incompatible with heredity and birth status. In addition, it made honor directly dependent on a person’s duty to the community. (p.176) While Franklin had stated that all honor was personal, he also asserted that all honor was also collective. Thus, for people to have true honor, they not only had to display their own proper conduct but had to do so for the greater good. Franklin’s concept of ascending honor was a drastic reinterpretation of the traditional European connotations of heredity. Though Franklin was in Europe, his departure from European thought marked a prominent moment of change for American honor.
He had flirted with this idea of ascending honor since his youth in Boston. By 1723, he had publicly formulated this ideological framework, but for whatever reason he did not voice his musings again until spurred by news of the Society of the Cincinnati over sixty years later in 1784. But, as was quite common with Franklin, his ideas were multifaceted. “Ascending” continued to have a double meaning. As mentioned in chapter 1, “ascending” also referred to the type of honor—meaning it was ennobling and virtuous. Descending honor in turn was nothing but selfishness that failed to aid the nation in any practical way.64 In fact, Franklin warned that “descending Honour … is not only groundless and absurd, but often hurtful to that Posterity, since it is apt to make them proud, disdaining to be employed in useful Arts, and thence falling into Poverty and all the Meannesses, Servility and Wretchedness attending it.”65
Franklin also viewed ascending honor as having practical applications for a republic. He explained, “This ascending Honour is therefore useful to the State as it encourages Parents to give their Children a good and virtuous Education.”66 Since childhood, Franklin had always viewed virtue as the more eminent of the two ideas, but virtue was essential in the acquisition of honor. For a republic to survive, it needed to be composed of citizens who possessed both virtue and honor. By removing any remnants of descending honor, ascending honor inspired merit not only for individuals but also for their parents to promote honorable actions. In this respect, as he had done throughout his life, Franklin continued to promote education (of various sorts) as the root of all honor. In this way, he believed that America would prosper and honor would be its foundation.
The following year, Jefferson made a dramatic leap in his own thinking that had noteworthy repercussions on honor as well. As a Virginian, he had grown up surrounded by the most traditional form of honor. In his social relationships and at school, hierarchy, reputation, and public perception were understood as inherently linked to honor. So ingrained were these concepts that, to a degree, Jefferson always retained an element of this notion that honor was equivalent to reputation. However, he also came to develop a surprisingly (p.177) modern view that is fairly consistent with our present-day conception of honor.
Jefferson’s new idea of honor is very similar to our modern understanding of conscience. While he had grown up with the public face of honor, he came to reject it. Honor for him was entirely internal and dependent only on one’s personal sense of morality. He viewed this idea of honor as a necessity and the core element of self-education. He wrote, “Never suppose that in any possible situation or under any circumstances that it is best for you to do a dis-honourable thing however slightly so it may appear to you. Whenever you are to do a thing tho’ it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were all the world looking at you, and act accordingly.” Although Jefferson was dismissive of his internal honor’s public component, he recognized that the communal perception of the individual was still the norm. Thus, he made his appeal in the language of public honor; one must act as if “all the world” were looking. Despite his wording, Jefferson’s honor was fundamentally internal.67
Although Jefferson’s emphasis on the self is striking, he did not intend for this internalized ethic to simply be a revision of personal honor. To be truly honorable, “give up money, give up fame, give up science, give up the earth itself and all it contains rather than do an immoral act.” Jefferson’s honor was clearly indistinguishable from ethics, morality, and conscience. But also, like Franklin, Jefferson was insistent that one must “pursue the interests of your country, the interests of your friends, and your own interests also with the purest integrity, the most chaste honour.”68 Thus, one must behave honorably, but in the confines of benefiting the nation. National honor was of central importance, but it could only be achieved by the collective honor of individuals.
The common theme between these different variants of honor was that national honor should take precedence. However, the issue of exactly what national honor was remained in question, due to a variety of individual and collective thoughts. The good of the nation and national honor were central. But what was national honor? This struggle became reflected politically in the turmoil surrounding the Articles of Confederation. The issue would be brought to a head by a matter of honor that had both personal and national implications.
In the fall of 1786, cash-strapped and debt-ridden farmers in rural western Massachusetts took up arms against the government.69 These farmers had lost their lands due to foreclosures initiated by Massachusetts’s attempts to pay off its own considerable debt by raising taxes. They began by attacking and seizing courthouses, thereby stopping legal proceedings since the judiciary (p.178) was responsible for their land foreclosures. Led in part by former Continental army veteran Captain Daniel Shays, these outraged citizens viewed themselves as reviving the ideals of the Revolution and serving as champions of the spirit of 1775 and 1776. They publicly announced, “The end of Government is the good of the people.”70 The emphasis on the greater good was a clear acceptance of the Revolutionary conception of collective honor.
Before the hostilities, they had petitioned the Massachusetts state government with a list of grievances, just as the Americans had done to Parliament.71 In what became known as Shays’s Rebellion, over a thousand farmers who believed that their own government had ignored their grievances, as the British Parliament had done, perceived the insult as a matter of honor and attempted to rectify it.
Shays’s Rebellion was not a flash in the pan or even an isolated incident but rather represented mounting tensions between the citizens, state government, and the national Articles of Confederation.72 This western Massachusetts segment was part of a wider and regionally diverse expression of resentment that manifested itself in violence throughout nearly half of the Northern and Southern states.73 In addition, along with the later Whiskey Rebellion, it was part of a joint attempt to regulate the new government while ensuring justice and fairness against the backdrop of the ideals of the Revolution.74 The Shaysites, as they came to be called, viewed themselves as behaving honorably and continuing the patriot tradition. Shays explained that although he and his fellow rebels may technically be breaking that law, they were displaying “Virtue which truly Charaterises [sic] the Citizens of a Republican Government” and therefore “hath hitherto marked our paths with a Degree of Innocence.”75
While the Shaysites believed they were championing the cause of honor, resistance to their actions was also based on interpretations of honor, though conflicting ones. The violence inflicted by the rebels was considered nothing less than a conscious “insulting” of the government, its officials, and justice. Even more offensive to national honor was the effect the rebellion had on America’s reputation abroad, as it suggested a failure of republican government and the Revolution. Washington recognized that the resistance to the government and the government’s inability to stifle the rebels was a slight to national honor. He lamented, “To be more exposed in the eyes of the world & more contemptible than we already are, is hardly possible.”76
The Shaysites were accused of using the language of national honor for their own purposes, not out of a real sense of conviction.77 Instead, they were blamed with having purely selfish motivations. The rebellion was viewed by its dissenters as a collection of disgruntled debtors and would-be tyrants (p.179) seeking to avoid their obligations as citizens. The Shaysites’ goals were described as an attempt to “insert themselves in posts of honor and profit, through the medium of war, confusion and anarchy.”78 Opponents made it clear that Shays’s view of national honor was nothing more than a disguise for personal advancement and honor.
Not only that, but the group’s personal and collective character and motivation were called into question. In a newspaper article in the Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, an anonymous detractor unhesitatingly stated, “These men are weak as well as wicked. Their attempts, to place themselves in the same situation with the people of America when they commenced the late revolution, must prove them to be destitute even of common reflection.” In fact, they were “acting the part which Great Britain acted,” since they were trying to “overthrow” an agreement between the people and the government.79 Thus, those in opposition to the rebels were the ones really advancing the maintenance of Revolutionary ideals and national honor.
The Society of the Cincinnati was particularly active in condemning Shays’s Rebellion. Although Shays and some of his supporters actually met the society’s membership requirements, prominent members of the Cincinnati were responsible for raising and leading troops against the Shaysites.80 Before long, all remnants of the Shaysites were crushed, due in large part to the Cincinnati, under an army commanded by Revolutionary War veteran and president of the Massachusetts society General Benjamin Lincoln, which “gain[ed] him fresh honour.”81 No sympathy was shown to the former Continental soldiers among Shays’s band; the Cincinnati made it clear that it was devoted to America, not to its dishonorable brother officers. In fact, two of the rebels (brothers Luke and Elijah Day) had applied to the Cincinnati (or possibly were even members), but the society labeled them as “odious and obnoxious,” publicly declared they were “never” members, and banned them for conduct unbecoming of “a Gentleman and a Man of Honour.”82 Shays’s Rebellion had a positive influence on the Cincinnati, as the society’s role in stopping the rebels proved it loyal to true principles of national honor. Knox shared this new public perception with Washington: “The clamor and prejudice which existed against it, are no more.” Instead, the Cincinnati assumed a new mantle as champion of national honor: “The men who have been most against it say, that the society is the only bar to lawless ambition and dreadful anarchy.”83
In 1787, a risky but necessary attempt on the federal armory in Springfield ended in a Shaysites defeat and marked the beginning of the end of the movement. The quashing of the rebellion was credited to both the military and civilians; it was said that “the zeal manifested” by the citizens “for the (p.180) support of constitutional government, and the alacrity shewn by them when called upon to defend it, will reflect on them the highest honour.”84 Although Shays’s Rebellion technically lasted only a year, its influence on the American people’s perception of national government and honor had long-lasting implications.
Almost simultaneously with the outbreak of Shays’s Rebellion, a small group of delegates (including Hamilton, James Madison, and John Dickinson) met in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss revising the Articles of Confederation. By February 1787, roughly five months later, they had decided that a constitutional convention needed to be called to change the current government. While Shays’s Rebellion was not the sole cause of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, its outbreak and the difficulty of its suppression publicly highlighted numerous failures and flaws in the Articles of Confederation, especially on economic matters and state and national cooperation. There were many different factors at play during the coming constitutional debates, but honor and virtue were chief among them.
Over a decade after the Declaration of Independence was signed, state delegates—some old and some new—returned to Philadelphia in May 1787 with another mission that was no less important in establishing the foundation of the United States. Eleven years earlier, they had raced to that city for a matter of honor, and now they were repeating the process. As early as 1785, Virginian James Madison, a former member of the Continental Congress and delegate at the Annapolis Convention, had singled the “Confederacy” out as the source of “confusion which has so long mortified the friends to our national honor and prosperity.”85 In 1786, Washington blamed the country’s “departure” away from “virtue” on the articles, and further labeled them as the cause of “the want of disposition to do justice” that was now “the source of the national embarrassments.”86 Tension and frustration continued to grow, and the violence of Shays’s Rebellion had convinced many of the necessity of change. By 1787, Madison believed that the Constitutional Convention was necessary to “perpetuate the Union, and redeem the honor of the Republican name.”87
By September 1787, through debate, compromise, and negotiations, the delegates created the document that would become the U.S. Constitution. What began as an attempt to revise the Articles of Confederation ended with the creation of a fundamentally new system. All that remained was for this new government to be ratified by nine of the thirteen states. The Constitution contains no reference to virtue and only a single, insignificant mention of honor, but both the document and the government it represented were (p.181) understood and presented to the people as a matter of national honor. As ratification loomed, proponents and opponents of the Constitution used the language of honor to justify or vilify it across the nation.
The resulting battle of public opinion waged by the Federalists (supporters of the Constitution) and Anti-Federalists (those opposed to it) was a contest over the meaning and nature of national honor. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay composed the Federalist vanguard. As the coauthors of numerous essays on the Constitution that came to be known collectively as The Federalist Papers, they were the ideological leaders of the constitutional cause. The Anti-Federalists fought back in their own publications, but they lacked the centralized vision and unity of their opponents. Still, the Anti-Federalists wasted little time in labeling the Constitution as aristocratic and subversive of republican and democratic tendencies.
Both sides made it known that honor was at stake. An Anti-Federalist, possibly Benjamin Workman, under the pseudonym Philadelphiensis, accused the constitutional framers of sacrificing their honor. They were portrayed as abandoning national interests for their own benefit. The author wrote, “I assert roundly, that another assembly of men never met in this, or any other country, possessing so fully the confidence of so many freemen: and to their shame be it said, they abused this confidence; their own private interest, private emolument, and hopes of dominion, overcame every consideration of duty, honor, and gratitude.”88 The tone and the repeated use of the word “private” in essence show that the author was claiming that the framers and their Federalist supporters were concerned only with their personal honor.
In turn, Hamilton, Jay, and Madison wrote The Federalist Papers under the alias of Publius, and they first appeared in the form of newspaper articles. Jay countered the accusations of holding only principles of personal honor. He did not deny that the framers each held a personal sense of honor—in fact, he praised it. He lauded the framers as “distinguished by their patriotism, virtue, and wisdom” and proven by their service to the nation during the Revolution. However, he asserted that national honor was always at the forefront of their minds. They were not the victims of “passions” or “awed” by “the prospect of obtaining” power. The framers’ (and likewise the Federalists’) sole motivation was “love for their Country.”89 As we have seen, the concept of the love of one’s country is intimately, almost indistinguishably, tied to national honor.
Anti-Federalists continued to target their opponents by questioning their devotion not only to national honor but to personal honor as well. Those who denounced Philadelphiensis’s accusations were singled out for being nothing (p.182) more than a “base parasite and tool of the wealthy and great, at the expense of truth, honor, friendship.”90 Others claimed that the Federalist adoption of the phrase “national honor” was severely mistaken: “In public disquisitions, especially political controversies, one of the parties generally adopt some cant word or phrase, whereby they may be distinguished from their opponents … the word or phrase is nineteen times out of twenty wrong applied.” Constitutional supporters were compared to nothing less than the previous decade’s greatest villain: British Parliament. Anti-Federalists pointed out that under the vilified British prime minister Lord North’s administration, “national honor, was bazed about, when not a fragment of honor, principle, or even national courage could be traced at court.”91 This was a clear indictment of their opponents, but they went a step further and directly linked false notions of national honor with federalism. Federalist support was reduced only to personal interest because they were choosing to support an idea that they developed; their beliefs were nothing more than “vanity” and were inconsistent with “honor and conscience.”92
Federalists insisted that the Constitution and their support of it were based only on the goal of preserving national honor. As Hamilton retorted, “Men often oppose a thing merely because they had no agency in planning it, or because it may have been planned by those whom they dislike. But if they have been consulted and have happened to disapprove, opposition then becomes in their estimation an indispensable duty of self-love. They seem to think themselves bound in honor, and by all the motive of personal infallibility to defeat the success of what has been resolved upon, contrary to their sentiments.”93 Thus, in their argument, the Federalists, exactly like their counterparts, made sure to accuse their rivals of only having the interest of personal honor at heart. Using an identical technique to that used by the Anti-Federalists, Hamilton claimed that their fervent opposition was based only on the fact that their ideas were not met with favor, and they were defending them as if they were “bound in honor.”
Despite the bickering back and forth, the Constitution itself and its potential power caused the most profound debate surrounding the preservation of national honor. Anti-Federalists contended that the Constitution was too strong and threatened to trample the rights of the people. Philadelphiensis contended, “If America is to become a respectable nation, the people must retain their freedom in the fullest extent possible; this is the sine qua non of our respectability; on this alone must the strength, honor, and national character of this country depend.”94 For Anti-Federalists, national honor was dependent solely on the behavior and actions of the citizenry. Richard Henry Lee, (p.183) calling himself the Federal Farmer, supported a democratized version of honor and virtue that superseded class and birth.95 The fear was that a strong central government, composed of the elite, could impose its will on the country, thereby removing the influence of the rest of the people. Chief among their concerns was that the office of the president seemed an opportunity for a Caesar-in-waiting.96
The Federalists responded by painting a portrait of lawlessness and stifled potential under the Articles of Confederation. Under the articles, the state legislatures and their representatives held too much power. Hamilton complained, “The faith, the reputation, the peace of the whole union, are thus continually at the mercy of the prejudices, the passions, and the interests of every member of which it is composed.” For him, such a situation put the nation’s honor in question: “Is it possible that the people of America will longer consent to trust their honor, their happiness, their safety, on so precarious a foundation?”97 The people were in danger of losing their own honor because of the collective link between the government and the citizenry.
Hamilton, Madison, and Jay justified the Constitution by pointing to the personal and collective honor and virtue of those men chosen to represent the people. Jay tried to soothe the citizenry, saying that “every consideration that can influence the human mind, such as honor, oaths, reputation, conscience, the love of country, and family affections and attachments, afford security for their fidelity.”98 Likewise, Hamilton professed that all government positions would only be filled by men of virtue.99 Furthermore, he asserted that the preamble of the Constitution itself was an ethical pledge between the people, “who surrender nothing … and … retain every thing,” and the United States out of a “regard to the public good,” writing that the document’s opening words “would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than in a constitution of government.”100 Madison echoed these words: “The aim of every political constitution is or ought to be first to obtain for rulers, men who possess most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue the common good of the society.”101 What would keep the government in line? Jay contended that “the constitution has taken the utmost care that they shall be men of talents and integrity … and so far as the fear of punishment and disgrace can operate, that motive to good behaviour is amply afforded by the article on the subject of impeachment.”102 In allowing for the process of impeachment, or removal from office, the Constitution institutionalized shame and disgrace with a more tangible punishment.
Hamilton viewed this as a moment of great opportunity, rather than the precipice of tyranny: “Happy will it be for ourselves, and most honorable for (p.184) human nature, if we have wisdom and virtue enough, to set so glorious an example to mankind!”103 The framework of the Constitution boasted a continuous bond between the people and the government. Honor and virtue were at its heart. The division of powers, and even the fact that the Constitution could only be adopted with the ratification of nine states, continued to illustrate the importance of the greater good. According to Madison, it was done to prevent the few from influencing the many and avoid the “indignation of every citizen who has felt for the wounded honor and prosperity of his country.”104 Remembering his Montesquieu, Hamilton claimed that the Constitution had further democratized honor. Since the president was not “the fountain of honor,” like a king, but only part of a wider government, the checks and balances kept the national goal as central.105 It was a recognition that honor was accessible in America. He concluded, “The institution of delegated power implies that there is a portion of virtue and honor among mankind which may be a reasonable foundation of confidence.”106
Hamilton was also concerned with perception, especially of America’s reputation abroad; if America stayed under the articles, “is it possible that foreign nations can either respect or confide in such a government?”107 The Constitution was a necessity to defend America’s national honor to other countries. Former Continental army officer Colonel David Humphreys would later recall that the rule of the articles was America’s “hour of humiliation. The confederacy was found to be a government in name, rather than in reality.”108 Another former soldier, William Hull, concurred that policy under the articles was “derogatory to our honour and interest.”109 Hamilton believed all of Europe was mocking the nation: “Men admired as profound philosophers have, in direct terms, attributed to her inhabitants a physical superiority; and have gravely asserted that all animals, and with them the human species, degenerate in America—that even dogs cease to bark after having breathed a while in our atmosphere.” To refuse to support the Constitution was to allow America and its citizens to be insulted. He tried to galvanize the people, arguing, “It belongs to us to vindicate the honor of the human race, and to teach that assuming brother moderation. Union will enable us to do it. Disunion will add another victim to his triumphs.”110 His words were a clear attempt to collectivize personal honor and make it subservient to the good of the nation.
By late 1787, the Constitution had gone before the states for ratification. The process proceeded relatively smoothly, with the exception of Rhode Island, which refused to even call a ratification convention. This reluctance led to charges against the state, which was accused of being dishonorable and (p.185) blind to the true interests of the nation. Francis Hopkinson complained to Jefferson, “Rhode Island is at present govern’d by Miscreants void of even the external appearances of Honour or Justice.”111 Ultimately, all thirteen states would ratify the Constitution, in large part due to the influence of Cincinnati members serving as delegates.112 The Society of the Cincinnati and its members had long supported the concept of national honor that the Constitution promised, and they rallied to influence its acceptance on the state level. Most importantly, the ratification of the Constitution illustrated the widespread acceptance of the ideals of national honor that had been building since the resistance to the Stamp Act. National honor, as duty to the country over personal interests, was validated on the national, state, local, and individual levels.
With national honor accepted as governmental policy, the next step was implementing it within the population. The most effective methods were already tried and true by the early republican era; schools and literature, the principal points of introduction to European honor, again became the most common means of educating the citizens on Americanized national honor. In stark contrast to Washington’s and Franklin’s views during the colonial era, Jefferson saw the United States as now the preferred site for citizens’ education, for “an American coming to Europe loses in his knowledge, in his morals, in his health, in his habits, and in his happiness.”113 As previously discussed throughout this inquiry, especially in chapter 2, colleges had been advancing a notion of collective honor centered on the academic institution since the mid-eighteenth century, but now they were also advancing ideas that had become altered by the Revolution.
The transition from collective college honor to national honor was by no means a drastic leap. In fact, as we have seen, it was this collectivized conception of honor first learned in schools that helped many of the founders transition their own thinking toward national honor. Colleges had continued the practice of stressing collective honor, and discipline was severe for those whose misdeeds “reflected unspeakable dishonor on the religious and moral character of this University in the public mind.”114 Instructing future generations to venerate national honor became one of the chief aims of American schools, as dictated by internal and external sentiment. Speaking on schools in Pennsylvania, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote, “Next to a duty which young men owe to their Creator, I wish to see a regard to their country, inculcated upon them.”115
Honor and virtue had been prominent in the curriculum and rules of American colleges for over a century, and again these two concepts were (p.186) inherently linked. But by this period even Northern students readily accepted that “by following the paths of virtue, we also may attain true honor.”116 Despite scholarly differences between these ideologies, the Northern and Southern understandings were fairly similar, if not simply a matter of semantics.117 Again these ideas were considered ethical. They were specifically taught in classes on ethics and moral philosophy, and at Columbia these subjects became so popular that private lectures were called for outside the school by “a considerable number of gentlemen” in New York.118 But the United States’ nascent independence now precipitated greater emphasis on this notion of duty to the nation. Education itself was even viewed as a matter of national honor. In 1785, the newly founded University of Georgia’s charter declared that educating the youth in “the love of Virtue and good Order” created “national prosperity.” Unlike during the colonial era, the Georgians intimated that American colleges alone must be responsible for this charge; sending students abroad for a foreign education cast dishonor on the nation. It would be the American schools that would “form the youth, the rising hope of our Land to render the like glorious & essential Services to our country.”119 Likewise, Dr. James Madison, president of the College of William and Mary, proudly wrote to former student Jefferson, “I believe you will rejoice to hear it, that ye Spirit of Republicanism is infinitely more pure as well as more ardent in the rising Generation than among any other Class of Citizens.”120
Elsewhere, national honor was no less visible. At Queen’s College in New Jersey, orator William Linn, a former Continental army chaplain and current president of the school, stressed the unpartisan nature and disinterestedness of promoting “the honor and happiness of the American nation.”121 Harvard used its commencement ceremonies as public displays of the ideals fostered within its halls. Speaking to their peers, faculty, family, and distinguished guests, students John Harris and William Hyslop Sumner (and later George Sullivan and Nathanael Williams) led a discussion entitled “The Importance of a National Character to the United States,” and at the following year’s commencements, James Richardson delivered an oration called “National Honor.”122 Throughout the country, national honor was conspicuously on display, showing its prominence within academic culture.
A greater focus on national honor was not the only evolution within colleges. During and after the war, American colleges began to embrace a more open, egalitarian perception of honor. Honor and virtue were now democratized. On July 4, 1791, Linn, again at Queen’s College, proclaimed that regardless of one’s “goodly heritage,” “every one stands upon equal footing, and can prove successful, only by the piety, virtue, learning, and liberalism.”123 (p.187) The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, founded in 1802, evaluated its cadets based on merit, and conduct was considered the most important determinant.124 Harvard, which previously ranked its students based on social status, now claimed, “To reward virtue & applaud merit is ever the delight of a generous mind.”125 There was a sense that honor, virtue, ethics, and morality were consistent for all, regardless of status, region, or religious affiliation.
Jefferson would come to have the greatest impact on perceptions of honor in the early republic with his advancement of an internal ethic. By 1779, the College of William and Mary had formalized an honor code, credited with being the first in America and attributed to Jefferson, that saw each student answering to his own sense of internal honor. In the early nineteenth century, this code still centered on a student declaring “his guilt or innocence” by “giv[ing] evidence on his honour” so “that the College may not be polluted by the presence of those who have shewn themselves equally regardless of the laws of honour, the principles of morality, and the precepts of religion.”126 Beginning in 1802, the College of New Jersey, already home to an honor-and shame-based punishment system, adopted a similar code, which required all to “solemnly pledge your truth and honour.”127
By 1783, Rhode Island College had a system that saw students policing other students on honor infractions.128 Other colleges soon followed this model, which became a fairly consistent example throughout the country.129 In 1803, Yale’s seniors even authored their own constitution, whereby they would “give information concerning each other”; it stated, “Should we hear an evil report of anyone of our number we will inform him … and reprove him.”130 Students were expected to inform on each other’s wrongdoing as a means to preserve their own and the school’s honor. In institutions where these codes were not formally enacted, it was not for a lack of trying. Harvard’s government also appealed to its students “to reflect on the natural tendency of certain principles, too prevalent in the Society, particularly … ‘that it is dishonourable to give evidence, when called upon by a lawful Authority.’” It declared that such a view was false, “that such a principle … must be highly injurious to the best interests of any Society, civil or literary, and that, so far from being allied to any sentiment of true honor or friendship, it in reality bespeaks a combination against the common good.”131 Thus, the pupils in a variety of institutions were taught that this self-imposed honor code should be carried over into daily life, as it was the duty of every citizen to protect national honor.132
Even when students were not directly enforcing their own honor system, disciplinary practices also evolved in relation to the greater dependence on (p.188) an internal ethic. At Yale, a larger focus was placed on the self-preservation of reputation than on public shaming or monetary fines, illustrating a more inclusive conception of honor.133 Harvard also appealed to its students’ “own honor” rather than resorting to punishment.134 By holding up these ethical principles and those who followed them, schools forged a culture of emulation that also created the possibility for advancement in school and society.135
Although traditional punishments still remained, in general, a student’s word of honor was more accepted after the Revolution. Oaths of honor became standard and were the principal means of college governance. The U.S. Military Academy, founded with the help of Jefferson, combined the civilian and martial tenets of honor through both its curriculum and its honor code. The “Gentlemen Cadets” were educated in ethics, and they were also expected, as superintendent and alumnus Alden Partridge instructed them in 1816, to “pursue with undeviating course the paths of virtue and true honor; and rest assured that although the vicious and the vain may affect to ridicule and despise you they will inwardly respect you, and that you will thereby ensure the applause of the good and the great.” And, in a very Jeffersonian sentiment, Partridge reminded the future officers, “What is of more importance [is] the approbation of your own consciences.”136 At the Jefferson-founded University of Virginia, an honor code was implemented, also in line with Jefferson’s personal thinking: “When testimony is required from a Student, it shall be voluntary, and not on oath, and the obligation to give it shall be left to his own sense of right.”137 Honor was regarded throughout the nation as virtuous action and an internal ethic by which all were governed.
The formalization of honor, virtue, and ethics could also be found outside the classroom. Honor as an ethical concept pervaded the early republican professional world, with a focus on moral character and merit overtaking the older models of patronage and hierarchical status. This was consistent with John Adams’s 1787 assertion in A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America of the existence of a “natural aristocracy” of individuals grounded in “virtues and abilities,” not by “attachments to noble families, hereditary lines and succession.”138 John Lowell, a Federalist lawyer, agreed and unsurprisingly credited it to “our federal constitution,” which was “formed agreeably to the principles of moral justice.” Now, advancement was based on merit, ensuring that “offices of distinction are open to every citizen.” For Lowell, positions were not “used as the props of decaying dignity,” as in the older system of patronage, but were “conferred as the reward of virtue.”139 More opportunities for society as a whole also allowed for expanding ethical interpretations. Belonging to the same occupation specifically opened individuals (p.189) to another sense of collective honor. As discussed in chapter 2, before rising to the bar, Adams was taught, “a Lawyer … ought to have some Book on Ethicks … always on his Table.”140 He would indeed pass these ideals along to his own children, Charles and John Quincy Adams, reminding the latter, a future attorney and politician, in almost the exact same words, “you should have some Volume of Ethicks constantly on your Table.”141 Ethics was viewed as a necessity for many professions, that of lawyers chief among them; as John Quincy Adams would record in his diary, “it was necessary for a person going into the profession of law, to have principles strongly established,” or else they may be corrupted by “the good and the bad, the right, and the wrong” of their occupation.142
While the connection between law and conduct is readily evident, ethical conceptions went beyond the courtroom. In business and politics, the payment of debt was cast as a matter of “morality” that was beholden to a “system of Ethics.”143 Relationships and businesses were made and unmade based on such interpretations. Journalist Samuel Morse dissolved his association with the Farmers Journal because he was “dissatisfied with his partner’s [Stiles Nichols’s] business ethics.”144 Government officials were expected to possess “political ethics,” regardless of whether they were stationed domestically or abroad.145 In 1783 John Adams assembled a list of qualities desirable in an American ambassador, including being “well versed in the Principles of Ethicks.” All the trappings of “genteel address,” manners, language fluency, “private Ambition,” civility, and so on were purely inconsequential. Madison responded that this list “ridiculously” portrayed “his [Adams’s] own likeness.” Adams argued to Elias Boudinot, president of the Congress, “If Knowledge is in the Head, and Virtues are in his Heart, he will never fail to find a way of communicating his Sentiments to good Purpose.”146 Regardless of Adams’s own self-aggrandizement, the assertion of these ideals illustrates their widespread acceptance. Similarly, officers and soldiers were instructed in military ethics that could be branch specific, such as “Naval Ethics.”147 Even preachers were encouraged to be equally versed in secular, “philosophical Ethics” and religious, “Christian Ethics.”148 Such codes of conduct could be found extensively in America, and some, such as medical ethics, became even more formalized in the nineteenth century and beyond.149 Doctors, for instance, were expected to maintain “a good moral character” and avoid “immoral or ungentlemanlike conduct.”150 It was evidently also known that prospective employees had to follow these guidelines, as even job seeker Richard Dinmore, an English native, stressed in his application letter that he was “strongly disposed towards a doctrine of Ethics.”151
(p.190) Honor went beyond the realm of wealthy gentlemen. As it was democratized in the war’s aftermath, tradesmen of all kinds began to view their work as inherently linked with honor. Or, as John Quincy Adams stated, “every profession has some such false [in his opinion] point of honour.”152 “Mercantile men” would only ship their cargo with men they owed money to, as “a point of Honor.”153 Sailors, again as a “point of honor,” only trusted other sailors, and “a Captain thinks it almost dishonourable to be obliged to ask the opinion of another.”154 Virginian plantation overseer Thomas Mitchell worried that a failed crop of tobacco and corn would cause him to “loose [sic] [his] Character.”155 Repairmen were also held to such a standard; a Mr. Latrobe was instructed to fix Princeton’s roof because “he is bound in honor, to do something decisive, if it be possible & to do it immediately.”156
Just as in schools and professions, literature was used as a wide-ranging means to educate the population on honor and virtue. Illustrating the connection between literature and professional codes, printers came to regard their occupation as being responsible for the “rapid distribution of intrinsic virtue” and for providing “ethics to the universe.”157 Even Jefferson, a prominent supporter of formalized education, believed that ethics was one of the subjects “which may be acquired by reading alone” because “its dictates are written in the heart of every good man, & the head of every wise one.” Reading improved and “strengthen[ed] his moral sense by exercise.”158 These ideals were available to all. It would be through such literature that Franklin’s ideas were circulated among the population as a whole. Over the course of his life, Franklin had a knack for disseminating his thoughts to the public. Whether as Silence Dogood or through the Pennsylvania Gazette or Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin always possessed an unrivaled skill in using the printed word to comment on and effect change in society.
In 1784, Franklin restarted his Autobiography, a dormant project begun in 1771, after being persuaded by friends that it would be “useful and entertaining not only to a few, but to millions.”159 Published in 1791, it tackled questions of virtue and the means for perfecting them in the self and society (examined in greater detail in chapter 1 of this book). The Autobiography became a vehicle for educating the American people, especially the youth; it would “not merely teach self-education, but the education of a wise man.” Thus, Franklin’s writings established “a noble rule and example of self-education” that would help foster the virtuous and honorable individuals that the new republic needed to maintain its lofty ideals.160 Only three years after its publication, the New York–based American Minerva newspaper proclaimed, “The proverbs of Solomon [are] a good table of ethics, tho inferior to … the maxims (p.191) of Doctor Franklin.”161 His writings were viewed as a guide to creating not only educated men but also great men.
The Autobiography also continued to advance the principles of democratized honor and virtue. By analyzing his own personal advancement from his meager origins, Franklin was arguing against ancestral hierarchy. His work and life inspired others to be “ashamed of no origin.” Franklin’s life and its immortalization in print “prove[d] how little necessary all origin is to happiness, virtue, or greatness.”162
Despite Franklin’s death the year before its publication, his Autobiography retained his message for posterity, and in many ways it made him even more influential. It also resonated outside America. Before Franklin’s death, Benjamin Vaughn, a personal friend in Britain, said of the unpublished version, “It will moreover present a table of the internal circumstances of your country, which will very much tend to invite to it settlers of virtuous and manly minds.” Franklin’s work was viewed as being a how-to guide for the acquisition of virtue and even a replacement for classical literature.163
Franklin’s resumption of work on his Autobiography in 1784 occurred the same year as his formalized expression of ascending honor. This intersection was far from coincidental, and it again shows the connections between honor and virtue. The Autobiography had caused Franklin to reevaluate his own life, as well as consider the message he would leave for posterity. Friends had convinced him the previous year that his uncompleted draft held the potential to serve as an example of self-education that could be followed. Likewise, Franklin’s definition of ascending honor was also inherently a teaching model. As a father giving sage advice to his daughter, Franklin argued that ascending honor was “useful to the State as it encourages Parents to give their Children a good and virtuous Education.”164 Franklin’s assertion was important on several levels. It reaffirmed honor as open to all based on merit, linked honor to the good of the nation, and claimed that educating the coming generation was an honorable act.
Throughout the letter, it is important to note, Franklin makes no differentiation between the roles of each person’s parents. Mother and father are viewed as equals in the education of their children and, as such, equals in honor, according to his principles of ascending honor. Just as tellingly, Franklin revealed his new conception of honor specifically to his daughter, Sarah Bache, an active female organizer and supporter of the Continental army during the war. The coming of the American Revolution had allowed women to enter into honor culture through service to the cause. Whether through boycotts, tending to the wounded, or (in rare cases) fighting, women became accepted as (p.192) honorable. They had proved to themselves and others that they were an asset to the greater good.165 The new republic again offered this same opportunity through continued service to the nation.
Abigail Adams wrote, “Let every one consider it as a duty which they owe to themselves to their Country and to posterity to practise virtue, to cultivate knowledge … by which not only individuals, but a people or a Nation can be prosperous and happy.”166 Women, as daughters, wives, and mothers, could continue to gain honor through duty to the nation. Adams, Warren, and other women now concluded that “personal Merit and virtue create[d] the only distinctions.”167 However, due to the continued inequality of the sexes, women’s avenues for advancement were limited. Still, the cultivation of the next and current generation was viewed as a matter of honor in which women could readily engage. This phenomenon, originally termed “republican motherhood” by historian Linda Kerber, has been shown by subsequent historians to be more consistent with a notion of republican womanhood.168 In this respect, women became political actors and gained honor by engaging in their traditional gendered roles.
While the exact origins of republican womanhood are debated, historian Rosemarie Zagarri has persuasively argued that its roots lie within the Enlightenment tradition, especially from Montesquieu and moralists such as Adam Smith and William Robertson (both Franklin acquaintances from his time in London).169 Thus, it is unsurprising that this thinking was readily known and embraced by the Revolutionary generation. Franklin’s concept of ascending honor, in its nature and tone, is certainly receptive to this conception of republican womanhood. While it is impossible to say whether Franklin’s ideas were a direct catalyst for this movement, it would be disingenuous to discount them—especially as they have been overlooked.
Regardless of any historiographical debate, republican womanhood was inherently linked to honor and virtue. Feminine honor was not simply the traditional view of preserving chastity and faithfulness; the nature of republican womanhood implied a public and personal dynamic.170 Through service during the war, women had shown that they possessed virtue and honor equal to that of men. The sexes may not have contributed in the same ways, but the commitment of each was viewed as honorable.
Women recognized that although they may not be the political equals of men, they held the same status in terms of patriotism, honor, and virtue. Judith Sergeant Murray argued that women had “a nice sense of honor,” which displayed “its innate, its native grandeur.”171 At the foundational level, said Murray, women and men were the same and had equal capacities to obtain (p.193) honor and virtue.172 By the early nineteenth century, novelist turned educator Susanna Rowson similarly instructed her female students in Massachusetts that “virtue gives dignity to every talent” regardless of status or gender.173 Honor and virtue were considered accessible to all; thus, the early republican advancement of national honor was just as readily open to women as men. But Murray and others recognized that gender equality did not exist; as in the Revolution, a woman’s path to honor would be decidedly different from a man’s. Women could support national honor by educating others to hold noble aspirations and serve the nation, raising their children to be patriots, inspiring their husbands to virtue, and sending their loved ones off to war. These practices may have been viewed as feminine, but this did not make them any less important.
Women may not have actively fought for America, but Hannah Adams stated they were soldiers in “spiritual warfare” that saw them “zealously engaged in this good cause.”174 According to Murray, “When they part with him in whom is centered their dearest hopes, who blends the characters lover, friend, husband, and protector—when they resign to the hostile career the blooming youth whom from infancy they have watched with all a mother’s tenderness … in those moments of anguish, their heroism and their fortitude are indisputably evinced.”175 While there was a gendered dynamic to republican womanhood, it was not a feminization of honor and virtue but rather an inclusion of women in a previously masculine domain.176 Ann Negus, an example of a republican woman, stated, “We [are] not seeking the praise of men, but by your noble and disinterested example, have acquired the laurels of honor.”177 Women made sacrifices for their country no less valuable than any man’s; they possessed the “equal share that every citizen has in the liberty … of our country” and thus were entitled to equal shares of honor.178
Marriage and motherhood proved the most acceptable means for women to gain honor. Abigail Adams stated, “Marriage was a Natural state, an honorable State,” and from this place of traditional honor a woman could enact service to the nation.179 Her daughter, Abigail Adams Smith, obviously took this message to heart, as she concluded that a husband and wife were “connected by ties of Honour.”180 Women were expected to seek out “virtuous conduct” and a “man of honour … strickt honour,” most of all in their partners, thereby ensuring that men would aspire to these ideals to gain and retain a lady’s affection.181 Washington’s granddaughter Nelly Custis, who certainly was familiar with ethical concepts and concerned about male character, concluded that her future husband was “in every respect calculated to ensure” her “happiness,” because “he is universally esteemed for those virtues which do (p.194) honour to the Head and Heart.”182 The desired concepts of honor and virtue were the internal ethics heroicized by the Revolution, not the physical trappings of gentility, as women warned each other of the dangers of appearance and false honor.183
Through their own behavior, women were in essence regulating the deeds of others, maintaining America’s virtue, and thus advancing national honor. Dr. Rush, a proponent of feminine honor and virtue since the war, was one of the first to campaign for the vast potential that women held. Rush was aware that “the opinions and conduct of men are often regulated by the women in the most arduous enterprises of life; and their approbation is frequently the principal reward of the hero’s dangers, and the patriot’s toils.”184 During courting and marriage, a woman’s insistence on a man of honor and virtue could virtually ensure its continued importance. This was not an entirely male construction simply imposed on women. During her time in Europe after the war, Abigail Adams had personally experienced what she regarded as a waning of virtue. She concluded that this lack of virtue in men was a symptom of the failing of virtue in women. Women could hold themselves to high principles and inspire others to follow in their wake, and America must do this to avoid the “licentiousness” of Europe.185 The “ladies of honour, worthy women, and honourable daughters of America” were invited to preserve national virtue for “the defence of life and liberty.”186
While supporting the nation, this aspect of republican womanhood was also reinforcing conventional shaming practices that ran concurrently with honor culture. For only through honorable and virtuous action could a man gain the hand of a republican woman. As Rush mused, “Our young men would then be restrained from vice by the terror of being banished from their company.”187
The female influence of mothers was just as powerful, if not more so.188 Rush also concluded that “the first impressions upon the minds of children are generally derived from the women. Of how much consequence, therefore, is it in a republic, that they should think justly upon the great subjects of liberty and government!”189 From their mothers, children could learn the importance of duty to the nation, honor, and virtue. Boys could grow up to be great statesmen and girls could perform the same national service as their mothers. Florence Cooke of Charleston, South Carolina, remarked that she would be “happily engaged in employing all the influence & Care of a Mother, to render them fit for the defence and Support of their Country.”190 Abigail Adams lectured her son John Quincy that “your honour your integrity and virtue” can “always prove your safe guard,” and that virtue could make one (p.195) “Great.”191 Likewise, Virginian matriarch Betsy Watts reminded her daughter, Sarah, to maintain virtue and avoid the failings of youth.192
Women’s influence could even be felt in areas of society with which they seemingly had no discernable relationship—extending even into the military. Abigail Adams maintained the Revolutionary ethos of a moral war in which “true Courage is always humane.”193 Elizabeth Trist wrote to her West Point–educated grandson, Nicholas P. Trist, also Jefferson’s grandson-in-law, instructing him on her proper principles of warfare. Again advancing national honor, as well as the Revolution’s emphasis on defensive war, she asserted, “I hope you will never take up arms but in defence of your Country.” It was “dishonor” to go to war “to agrandise your fame,” as fighting should only be undertaken for a noble cause. And if the nation required protection, she instructed (echoing honor-shame culture), “do your utmost in its defence I shou’d be asham’d of you, if you did not.”194
While there were misogynistic undertones to these principles, which placed a greater emphasis on the cultivation of boys and men, they still granted new opportunities for female education.195 Samuel Magnaw, the vice-provost of the University of Pennsylvania, suggested that the education of young women should be supported by “all who wish well to the prosperity of their Country.”196 Future mothers and wives had to be educated in order to instruct their children.197 An ad in the Connecticut Gazette for the Academy of Plainfield, which offered ethics classes to young ladies, echoed this point, reminding its readers that women forged “the character and manners of the other sex.”198 Just as for boys, schools and literature became the tools for instilling these notions in the minds of the female population.199 During this period, there was virtually no difference between men’s and women’s literature; both sexes read the same books, providing a consistency in thought. Female schools, such as the Young Ladies’ Academy and the Ainwell School, both in Philadelphia, and the Schenectady Female Academy in New York, built a curriculum, virtually identical to that taught to male students, that stressed morality and virtue as overriding themes through subjects ranging from history to rhetoric.200 Texts used in schools, including the Young Gentlemen and Ladies Instructor, even contained lessons on the value of the teachings of a mother.201 John Poor, the principal of the Young Ladies’ Academy, delighted that his students, as a result of their “virtuous exertions, excite the rising fair to emulate (with equal excellence) your very noble examples.”202 As a woman named Louisa Hartley proudly boasted, “Age and education had so far matured my understanding, as to make me prefer the virtuous mind, even though his fortune were contracted, to the man who had habituated himself to vice.”203 (p.196) Women, as teachers and role models, could impart to the future generations the importance of ideological ideals. Merit was equated directly with honor, and, even more radically, Priscilla Mason, a Philadelphia Academy salutatorian, called for women’s “equal participation in honor.”204 In school, women learned, as Ann Harker (another Young Ladies’ Academy student) remarked, to “defend our honor with amazonian courage.”205
The prevailing perception became that republican women, in cultivating honor and virtue in their children and spouses, were aiding the collective good of the nation. Women were therefore viewed as honorable not only due to their merit but also based on Franklin’s conception of ascending honor, which lauded the educators of youth. Republican motherhood and Franklin’s ascending honor would both retain traction throughout the early republic, illustrating a greater sense of openness in honor culture.206
Despite the continued democratization of American society, there was still a clear hierarchy.207 For example, what role did slaves and free African Americans play in this new discourse?
Much as for women, the path to inclusion for free African Americans was dependent on ethics. Free African Americans believed that their place in society would be built on the morality of their actions. In Boston, the importance of ethical behavior became the focal point of the first chartered meeting of the African Lodge of the Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons on June 24, 1789. Led by Grand Master Prince Hall, a former slave and Revolutionary soldier, the first all-black Freemasonry lodge was originally founded in 1775, but it had to wait until well after the war for formal recognition. In many ways, the African Lodge existed as a dual symbol of inclusion and exclusion. The ideas espoused by Freemasonry (and its many members, ranging from Franklin to Washington) promoted brotherhood, but the exclusion of African Americans from other lodges further illustrated ideological hypocrisy.208 Despite this fact, the African Lodge and its members represented a continuity of similar ideals within the white and black communities.
As the valiant conduct of black soldiers, like Hall, had helped to sway the opinions of many white founders during the Revolution, it is not surprising that a similar tactic was employed again. Hall would naturally use his service and that of all African Americans in the Revolution to stress their equality in honor and society, reminding others of their “conduct in the late war; for then they marched shoulder to shoulder, brother soldier and brother soldier, to the field of battle.”209 However, the African Lodge’s opening sermon, delivered by fellow Mason Rev. John Marrant (although Hall would take credit for writing nearly the entire oration), established ethics, not martial valor, as the (p.197) group’s guiding principle.210 Marrant warned the Masons to not be “careless of their own reputation,” for those who give in to “vice” forsake themselves and Freemasonry. Those who so “disgrace[d] themselves” thereby “reflect[ed] dishonour on Masonry in general.” He concluded that those who were lost to morality were also lost to honor and were therefore “in reality no Masons.” All Masons needed to be “persons of a virtuous character,” for “religion and virtue” existed as “the force of [their society’s] principles and conduct.”211 This oration was later published as a source of education for other black Masons as far away as Philadelphia and Providence.212
Hall would continue to build on these ethical themes, and he reminded the African Lodge that the path to inclusion was to “be good subjects to the laws of the land in which we dwell.” Black Masons needed to “giv[e] honour to whom honour is due,” and they must prove themselves to be noble in order to receive similar treatment.213 Marrant had previously offered examples to aspire to, such as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Origen, African historical figures meant to complement the founders’ focus on classical heroes.214 According to Hall, African Americans had to behave ethically even in the face of adversity for the benefit of the greater good of society. Mob violence leveled against blacks should not be returned in kind. Hall reminded his brethren that they “had rather suffer wrong than to do wrong,” for to do otherwise would be for “the disgrace of our reputation.” Black Masons, and African Americans generally, needed to prove themselves “good citizen[s]” by doing “honor to the laws of the State” where they reside.215
Proponents of African American education viewed schooling as the path to inclusion in society. White educators often described blacks as possessing “good character” or “moral conduct,” and the creation of schools for the purpose of “instruction on moral and religious subjects” was viewed as essential for the acquisition of their “freedom and rank in Society.”216 While Hall certainly agreed with the need for morality, he went a step further and refused to allow the excuse of a lack of education to permit one to act unethically. Speaking to the African Lodge, but perhaps referring to African Americans more generally, he declared, “Although you are deprived of the means of education; yet you are not deprived of the means of meditation; by which I mean thinking, hearing and weighing matters, men and things in your own mind.”217 Each person, regardless of background, was accountable for judging the rightness of his or her actions.
These ideals were not exclusive to black Masons but also existed within the free African American community at large. Like Hall, Rev. Lemuel Haynes, another former Revolutionary soldier, then a church pastor in Vermont, also (p.198) stressed ethical conduct. His own view of virtue was “nearly” identical to Jonathan Edwards’s, meaning that he would have believed that “virtue” is “of a moral nature.”218 On the twenty-fifth anniversary of independence, Haynes reasserted Edwards’s conceptions, stating, “When a man distinguished himself by a proper regard for the general good, he is then worthy the name [“greatness”].” Haynes advanced the new, democratized version of honor, in which “virtue and philanthropy” alone were “considered the true criterions of distinction,” for a man “will be esteemed great who is servant of all, who is willing to devote his talents to the public good.” Haynes understood the path to greatness as an inherent connection between honor, ethical conduct, and a devotion to the greater good. The Vermont pastor believed that “the true nature of republicanism and independence” needed to “import something noble and excellent,” meaning only what was “promotive of order, virtue, and morality.”219 Over a decade later, James Forten, a born freeman from Philadelphia, continued the call for honor and advancement based solely on merit and the greater good. He pointed out, “There are also men of merit among the African race, who are useful members of Society.” African Americans could equally be men of “reputation,” as they were “as good citizens as any man can be.”220 After the Revolution, ethics, honor, and virtue were viewed as the great social equalizer. Thus, the African American understanding of the linkage between honor, virtue, and ethics was in many ways consistent with the white population’s.
While free African Americans used ethics to navigate their way in a white-dominated society, the countless enslaved faced an uncertain future that inherently contradicted the professed ideals of the American Revolution. The founders had framed the Revolution as a matter of honor against a British imposition of slavery. The rhetoric against slavery, the absolute opposite of honor, had been used to galvanize the people to action. But actual slavery still remained in America—a point of hypocrisy that posed a challenge to the nation’s supposedly ethical ideals. It also raised a point of contention regarding what the definition of true honor actually was. Slavery represented one of the greatest challenges to the United States’ national honor. It was a divisive element in society, and one that compromised America’s moral high ground.221
The connection between slavery and liberty during the Revolutionary era was not lost on many Americans—even if they chose not to acknowledge it. In 1772, David Cooper, a Quaker from New Jersey, cast slavery as the robbery of freedom.222 A year later, an anonymous self-named “lover of constitutional liberty” in Boston called slavery “so base and scandalous a Trade, which reflects the highest Disgrace on any People.”223 Franklin, who would go on to (p.199) lead the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, held virtually identical sentiments, and he “hope[d] in time that the Friends to Liberty and Humanity will get the better of a Practice that so long disgrac’d our Nation and Religion.”224 As patriots used the rhetoric against slavery to advance their opposition to British law, the relationship between bondage and dishonor was repeatedly and consciously brought to the forefront. Slavery was not simply a personal matter but also a national one, with the potential to disgrace those who submitted to it and bring honor to those who opposed it.
During and after the Revolution, the inherent contradiction between American liberty and the continuation of slavery was a festering wound. Antislavery supporters believed that America must rid itself of slavery to truly be a symbol of freedom. In his collection of antislavery literature, William Law quoted the common motif, “If Slavery admits of a moral or a rational Justification, every Crime, even the most atrocious, may be justified.”225 Early abolitionists cast slavery as a “national evil” and a blight on national honor. Quoting from the book of Proverbs, Alexander McLeod, the pastor of the Reformed Presbyterian Congregation in New York City, intimated “that righteousness exalteth a nation, and that sin is a reproach to any people.”226 In A Serious Address to the Rulers of America, Cooper again cautioned Americans to “beware: Let it appear to future ages … that you not only professed to be advocates of freedom, but really were inspired by the love of mankind, and … as you disdained to submit to unlimited control of others, you equally abhorred the crying crime of holding your fellow men, as much entitled to freedom as yourselves.” For Cooper and other like-minded individuals, the continuation of slavery threatened the Revolution.227 Slavery was cast as a sin, not just against God but also against the United States, its ideals, and its reputation.
While domestic opposition would lead to disunion decades later, the emerging nation viewed the opinions of the world as just as vital as those of the country’s citizens. Conscious of America’s nascent international standing, Cooper warned that “the eyes of the world are singularly attentive to his [America’s] conduct” and the “honor of America” was at stake. The Revolution had placed the United States in the spotlight, and it was a national obligation to behave properly and “demonstrate to Europe, to the whole world, that America was in earnest … when … she plead the cause of human nature, and … insisted, that all mankind came from the hand of their Creator equally free.” Thought and action must be consistent; America must have “a sound mind in a sound body.”228 This same idea had been the guideline for policy in war and peace—and it could not waver. Law feared America’s position as a continuing ideological symbol was jeopardized, for with slavery “we teach (p.200) other Nations to despise, and trample under Foot, all the Obligations of social Virtue.”229
The British, still reeling from a defeat that seemed to prove America’s accusation of an ethical fall correct, were anxious to reclaim their lost honor. The continuation of slavery in America became one of the primary means for Britain to reassert its supremacy in honor and virtue over its former colonies. Thus, abolitionism took on a dual political and moral significance.230 Even during the war, Americans were aware of the criticism slavery brought from abroad. In 1777, an anonymous author compelled his countrymen to address the issue and prove themselves “worthy of their independence, and convince Britain, that we really are that ‘virtuous people,’ we have declared ourselves to be.”231 In Short Observations on Slavery, Anthony Benezet, a French-born American abolitionist and Franklin’s friend, offered a clear-cut synopsis of the conflict between American thought and action. Citing the Declaration of Independence’s famous clause “that all men are created equal,” Benezet concluded that this idea must be “diversified by colour and other distinctions.” How else could America justify slavery? America had to answer for “a conduct abhorrent from these sacred truths” of the declaration and the Revolution. By casting slavery as “inconsistent … with every idea of Liberty, every principle of humanity,” he questioned the American Revolution’s ideals and attacked the righteousness of its cause. The Americans had gone to war with Britain over legislation framed in the rhetoric of slavery, but the United States was behaving worse, “dragging these oppressed Strangers from their native lands … under the sanction of unjust laws.” The accusation had an obvious subtext: How could America justify the revolution while slavery remained? For Benezet, the abolition of slavery was “a step which every principle of honour, reason, and humanity call for.”232
Benezet was not alone in his perceptions. Ottobah Cugoano, a former slave turned British abolitionist, concurred and presented the abolition of slavery as not only a matter of honor but also an opportunity for Britain to prove itself better than America. He billed abolition “as an act to bring great honour and blessings to that nation, and to all men whosoever would endeavor to promote so great good to mankind; and it might render more conspicuous advantages to the noble Britons, as the first doers of it.”233 Ending slavery would bring Britain honor and redemption after the Revolution.
Recriminations did not only come from enemies; the French also weighed in on the slavery issue, placing a greater burden on America’s reputation. The Marquis de Lafayette was openly critical of slavery and wished for the (p.201) slaves’ manumission.234 The Marquis de Condorcet, a French philosopher, authored a text condemning slavery, which Jefferson personally translated. Symbolically addressing the slaves of America, Condorcet wrote, “Nature has endowed you with the same genius, the same judgment, the same virtues as the Whites.” In addition to casting African Americans as equals in virtue, he also contended that proslavery supporters “disgrace themselves” and lack “honor by [not] defending you.”235
Casting slavery and abolitionism as a matter of honor was a common practice of slavery’s supporters and detractors on both sides of the Atlantic. Still, many slaveholders, firmly entrenched primarily in the South, were reluctant to give up their wealth and power, and they instead argued that the institution advanced the nation’s prestige.
Assuming a language of patriotism and collective honor, slavery supporters cited the practice’s vast economic benefits as a source of the “Glory of our Nation.” Cugoano similarly lamented that slavery “manifest[ed]” the appearance of false honor, which he termed “infamous dignity,” through slaveholders’ economic advancement.236 British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson labeled America as “dishonoured with this stain of inhumanity” and also noted that slavery, “though dressed in the outward habiliments of honour, will still be intrinsically base.”237 But wealth was never recognized as a determinant of honor, and this point held true on the national level. In line with this thinking, John Wesley argued, “Wealth is not necessary to the Glory of any Nation; but Wisdom, Virtue, Justice, Mercy, Generosity, Public Spirit, Love of our Country. These are necessary to the real Glory of a Nation; but the abundance of Wealth is not.”238 Greatness could only come from true honor and virtue, and slavery would mar the ideals of the nation.
Other proslavery individuals criticized the innate capacity of African Americans for ethical behavior, and they used this as a justification for their bondage. Abolitionists, in turn, used this stance as further evidence against slavery. McLeod did not deny that some African Americans were lacking in moral principles, but he said that it was not due to any fault of their own or any natural predisposition. He and others contended that it was slavery that prevented the African Americans from gaining virtue and morality, due to the interference of their owners. McLeod wrote, “Their moral principles also suffer. They are never cultivated. They are early suppressed…. We have no right to expect morality or virtue from such an education and such examples.”239 In addition to preventing the acquisition of these ideals, slavery also had the ability to warp African Americans’ perspectives. Remembering her time as (p.202) a slave in the early nineteenth century, Sojourner Truth “firmly believed that slavery was right and honorable. Yet she now sees very clearly the false position they were all in.”240 Without slavery, it was argued, African Americans would be free to cultivate themselves into virtuous citizens who would benefit the nation in practical and ideological means. In An Essay on the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, a book that was widely read throughout the Anglo-American world, Clarkson counterargued that Africans possessed such a notion of “honour” that “thousands of the enlightened Europeans would have occasion to blush.”241 Slavery robbed a person of honor.
For many of the founders, slavery was an issue that was indicative of the struggle between personal and national honor. At the heart of the conflict were Southern slaveholders, who personally (often privately) claimed to abhor slavery. Critics singled out this group for particular censure, chiding them that antislavery ideals and slave owning were incompatible.242 Discussing slavery before the war, in a moment of crystallized evaluation and prophetic foreshadowing, the unnamed Bostonian Lover of Constitutional Liberty expressed anguish over that institution’s continuation: “I would hope better Things of those worthy Gentlemen, many of whom in Times past, to their immortal Honor be it spoken, have distinguished themselves for their steady and disinterested Conduct … whose noble and patriotic Resolves will hand their Names down to Generations yet unborn.”243 Yet these men, who were honorable in all other stations of life, failed to eradicate a bitter bondage that threatened their personal and national character.
Slave-owning patriots, such as Washington, Madison, and Jefferson, could not escape the personal hypocrisy. For men who had placed such emphasis on transforming thoughts into actions, the lack of any tangible efforts to end slavery is puzzling in light of their devotion to honor. But it is honor again that provides the answer. Each man’s path toward antislavery was individualized, but the inaction was jointly cast as a matter of national honor.
Washington was a firm believer in social hierarchy, and he had grown up in a world that embraced slavery as an essential fact of life.244 At the start of the American Revolution, he showed no signs of wavering. But as the war progressed, his perception of African Americans began to change and he was forced to accord them a degree of honor—thereby complicating his thinking. Slavery and honor were incompatible. Likely spurred by the honorable service of African American soldiers, Washington privately expressed a desire for abolition in 1778, as he wrote to a family member, “I wish to get quit of Negroes.”245
(p.203) While privately discussing Lafayette’s opposition to slavery with Jefferson, Madison stated that the Frenchman’s abolitionist ideas did “him real honor, as it is a proof of his humanity.”246 At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison was even less subtle in his opinions. As the attendees of the convention debated an ultimately successful motion to move the limiting of the importation of slaves back eight years to 1808, he was already thinking of the elimination of slavery and of America’s honor. Madison pleaded with his fellow delegates, “Twenty years will produce all the mischief that can be apprehended from the liberty to import slaves. So long a term will be more dishonorable to the National character than to say nothing about it in the Constitution.”247
Jefferson was by far the most outspoken of the group. His opposition to slavery was well known as early as 1776. His original draft of the Declaration of Independence had even contained a passage denigrating slavery, although he blamed the practice on George III.248 In Notes on the State of Virginia, the only book he ever published, Jefferson declared slavery to be a “great political and moral evil.” He further contended that slavery “destroys the morals” of all who are touched by the institution (essentially everyone in Southern society). Finally, he prophesied a new revolution in America, one equally founded on liberty, in which the slaves would rise up and take their freedom. Jefferson was so assured of the base nature of slavery that he considered such a fate as God’s “justice.”249 After reading it, John Adams enthusiastically wrote to Jefferson, commending him for his thoughts on slavery, which Adams believed “will do its Author and his Country great Honour.” Adams continued, “The Passages upon Slavery, are worth Diamonds. They will have more effect than Volumes written by mere Philosophers.”250 Jefferson’s views seemed poised to bring about a great change in America.
While Franklin contributed the last years of his life to fighting against slavery as president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, why did these other prominent founders not act? Perhaps it was a protection of the independence slavery afforded them, which was crucial to their personal honor and reputation? McLeod would certainly have thought so when he labeled dissenting slaveholders as being “strongly influenced by personal motives” (another way of saying personal honor).251 Or maybe, like Patrick Henry, they opposed slavery but refused to live without slave labor? Historian Francois Furstenberg has also compellingly asserted that post-Revolutionary Americans “defined virtue as a willingness to resist tyranny”; thus, “people gained either freedom or slavery through individual action.” As a result, “white Americans need not see any contradiction between revolutionary ideology and the (p.204) persistence of slavery.” Furstenberg contends that as Americans had fought for their independence from Britain, slaves “by choosing to submit … deserved slavery.”252 This interpretation seems very consistent with the expansion of honor to African American soldiers. For, as noted in chapter 4, Madison believed that after fighting for his independence, “a freedman immediately loses all attachment & sympathy with his fellow former slaves.”253 Whatever their reasons, the founders’ responses seem consistent with their thinking on and overwhelming concern for national honor.
Though Washington personally acknowledged African American humanity and wished to abolish slavery, he was pragmatic about the damage such a step could levy against his reputation and the fate of the new republic.254 Similarly to his handling of the Society of the Cincinnati, Washington tried to distance himself from the matter due to his national status and influence. He was aware of the fear his Southern brethren felt over the possibility of an insurrection or liberation of the slaves, as well as of its ability to disrupt the social hierarchy.255 As he did not wish to unsettle a still-infant nation, Washington never used his power as president to attempt antislavery legislation and never spoke against slavery publicly; once again, he chose national honor over personal honor.256
Although Madison personally regarded the governmental failure to combat slavery as a national dishonor, he still chose to publicly support constitutional authority. In The Federalist Papers, Madison, conscious of the need to stabilize the nation, called the 1808 clause “a great point in favor of humanity.” Furthermore, obviously aware of British criticisms of American slavery, Madison cast America as a moral champion in an effort to improve its international reputation. He half-heartedly extolled it, stating, “Happy would it be for the unfortunate Africans if an equal prospect lay before them of being redeemed from the oppressions of their European brethren!”257
Despite Adams’s boisterous praise, shortly after the publication of Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson nervously wrote to Madison, regarding the passages on slavery, “But there are sentiments on some subjects which I apprehend might be displeasing to the country.” Thus, one may attribute Jefferson’s inaction to a desire for national honor. Reputation is certainly at the forefront, and Jefferson likely would have contended that backing away from his personal views was for the greater good. But in the same letter, he still voices a fear, perhaps the real one: “I do not wish to be exposed to their [my countrymen’s] censure.”258 Jefferson remained publicly silent on slavery, though he privately professed to “encounter every sacrifice” to bring about abolitionism. But Jefferson, as a public official, continued to state the national cause as (p.205) his reason for inaction.259 He wrote, “I serve having not yet been able to give their [the American people’s] voice against the practice, it is descent for me to avoid too public a demonstration of my wishes to see it abolished.”260
Despite Jefferson’s reasoning, his response seems the most untenable. Neither side of the slavery debate accepted Jefferson’s views. Proslavery supporters looked at him as an abolitionist, while those opposed to slavery saw him as a proponent.261 In addition, Jefferson’s ideals were different from those of the others who held to a democratized but still eighteenth-century conception of honor. His definition of honor stressed an internal ethic that required individuals to adhere to their own values. Thus, according to Jefferson’s own standards, he was in essence behaving dishonorably by ignoring his conscience.
Slavery remained a contentious political issue for the next half century. Honor, in some fashion, was always at its center. In the early nineteenth century, abolitionists, such as Edward Darlington, continued to cry out that national honor was in jeopardy due to those who, “despite of laws divine and human, continue to prostrate national character, by a trade so baneful in its tendencies, and murderous in its effects.” Darlington and others like him continued to remind Americans that support for abolitionism was “the duty of every citizen averse to such nefarious practices, attached to the honour of his country, and anxious to promote its prosperity.”262
As the battle over slavery continued throughout the early republican era, Federalists and Republicans would also battle over contested views of national honor. This debate would be highly contentious. Politics in general began to take on a duality that saw political opponents label each other as being guided by personal motives rather than the greater good. While national honor was interwoven throughout numerous political debates, the concept always took on a special meaning when faced with international scrutiny.
By the summer of 1789, Washington was only months into his first term as U.S. president and France was in the grip of revolution; both events would have a tremendous impact on the interpretation of American national honor. The inherent diplomatic and honor-based conundrum centered on whether the United States had an obligation to aid the French people, as they had supported America during the American Revolution. The issue became even more complicated as the monarchy was abolished and the French Revolution became more radicalized. The event became politicized domestically, as Republicans favored the revolution and Federalists opposed it. The United States had a decision to make that placed national preservation and ideological obligation in conflict. As illustrated in the debate over slavery, America’s (p.206) international reputation was a major catalyst in the debate over national honor. Furthermore, the issues with France show an early moment of the continuity between honor and ethics, as national honor segued into a debate over, as Jefferson termed it, “national and private ethics.”263 Combined with the constitutional crisis, the polarization caused by the French Revolution would essentially create American partisan politics.
The French declaration of war against Britain and the execution of King Louis XVI in 1793 exacerbated matters, as the recently reelected president Washington, conscious of the precarious position of the new nation, sought “to maintain a strict neutrality.”264 National honor was called into question due to the French intervention during the American Revolution. Did the United States owe a debt of honor to France? Was the alliance of 1778 still applicable?
Republican secretary of state Jefferson, only four years removed from his diplomatic mission to France, supported the French Revolution. Having witnessed the early rumblings of the movement, Jefferson was taken by the ideological parallels between France and his own country. He saw the French Revolution as a continuation of the American, and he believed that its failure could hinder democracy in the United States. Jefferson was convinced that the United States had a debt of honor to France that had to be paid by maintaining the alliance of 1778, for “to be grateful, to be faithful” was the foundation of the only “system of ethics for men and nations.”265 In fact, he claimed to the Marquis de Lafayette that he only accepted his new position because of his belief that Washington’s “national and private ethics were the same.”266
From his residence in Paris, Gouverneur Morris, the ambassador to France, was on the frontlines of the radical, unfolding drama, and he understood that America’s honor was at stake. As various European delegates fled France, Morris, although eminently friendly with the king and many aristocrats, stayed resolute in his appointment. Even as others, likely foreign diplomats, admonished him “that the Honor of my Country and my own require that I should go away,” he remained because he was “unauthoriz’d in this Respect” and had a duty to maintain. Morris dismissed the chidings as “influenced by Fear”; his understanding of national honor was solely based on “the Interests of my Country” not “my personal Pleasure or Safety.”267 The issue became much more than ideological when considered in relation to the matter of America’s financial debt to France. Much like the debt of honor, did this financial debt contracted under the king still need to be paid to the Republic of France? William Short, ambassador to Holland, contended that paying the French Republic was akin to giving money to a thief, but Morris persisted in reimbursing the (p.207) current government in order to fulfill America’s obligations and maintain its national honor.268
As tensions heightened, Washington turned to his cabinet. Indicative of national sentiment, the cabinet secretaries were also split in their opinions. Did the king’s execution change American and French relations? Secretary of the Treasury Hamilton and Secretary of War Knox concurred that because of the death of Louis XVI, “our treaty with France is void”; Jefferson and Attorney General Edmund Randolph, on the other hand, both dissented, in favor of the treaty being made with the nation, not a king. Washington nominally sided with Randolph and Jefferson, but he still took a stance of neutrality on the grounds that the 1778 treaty with France was a defensive alliance only.269 By declaring war, France had in effect removed any U.S. obligation. Jefferson tried to delay any formal announcement, as he desired to extract more favorable terms from France or Britain in exchange for a more partial national policy. As biographer Ron Chernow remarks, “Thunderstruck at the notion of auctioning American honor, Hamilton favored an immediate decision.”270
The cabinet unanimously agreed on American neutrality, but the means of executing it caused dissension. On April 22, 1793, just a few days after the cabinet meeting, Washington signed a neutrality proclamation, which stated, “The duty and interest of the United States require, that they should with sincerity and good faith adopt and pursue a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent powers.”271 Although America received a diplomat, Citizen Edmond-Charles Genet, from the French Republic (basically offering them formal recognition), the United States pledged to treat France no differently from its recent enemy, Britain.
After news of the proclamation was publicized, vast sections of the people mourned for what they believed was their lost national honor. “Ungrateful Americans!” charged “A Citizen” in the press.272 Ingratitude was often regarded as the most detestable sin that could be committed by a gentleman; it was inherently linked to concepts of dishonor, and its meaning and implications were commonly understood. The Philadelphia-based newspaper the National Gazette, in particular, became a platform for the outrage directed against Washington’s perception of national honor. “An American” suggested that the newspaper reprint the U.S. treaties with France, because he incredulously worried that “many persons, from distance of time,” must have forgotten them. It may be in the “interest and duty” of the United States to stay neutral, but “this neutrality can only [be] observed by our conforming to the treaties we have made.”273 If the United States did not maintain its obligations, then it was without honor.
(p.208) The aspersions cast on American honor were not just domestic. Upon his arrival in Philadelphia, Genet was greeted by adoring and cheering crowds (and cold civility from Washington). With carefully chosen words, the diplomat tried to capitalize on the favorable crowd: “If gratitude be not acknowledged a virtue among despots, it is evidently such among freemen.” In other words, the people wished to pay their debt of honor, but the government clearly was willing to sacrifice the nation’s honor and was held in the same regard as “despots.”274
Staunch Federalist Hamilton came to Washington’s defense. He correctly recognized that the most important issue at hand was that the people were anxious to know if “the policy of the government is not inconsistent with its obligations or its honour.” Hamilton argued that the United States was behaving honorably by staying out of the conflict; he went even further by suggesting that aiding France in any way would bring about national dishonor. For Hamilton, the French had declared an offensive war, negating their defensive alliance; in addition, the treaty ceased to exist with the king’s death. There was no ingratitude; Louis alone authorized aid to the American Revolution (Hamilton didn’t fail to mention that it was out of a sense of self-interest, that is, anti-British sentiments, not similar ideals), and any agreements were not transferable to his deposers. Hamilton also fired back at Genet: “The preachers of gratitude are not ashamed to brand Louis the XVI as a tyrant, and La Fayette as a traitor.”275
In response, Madison, whose thinking was very similar to Jefferson’s, retorted with (surprisingly modern) charges that such views were un-American. They were held only by “denigrated citizens,” naturally without honor, “who hate our republican government, and the French revolution.” The treaties with the French were still valid because “a nation, by exercising the right of changing the organ of its will, can neither disengage itself from the obligations, nor forfeit the benefits of treaties.” Regardless of who sat at its head, America had an obligation to France—one that honor required to be fulfilled. Hamilton’s principles were vilified as “strik[ing] at the vitals of its constitution, as well as its honor and true interest.” Madison equally bandied about themes of national honor, seeking to remind the people that “governments are established for the national good and are organs of the national will.” Since the nation favored the French Revolution’s notions of liberty, the government was denigrating the people’s and the nation’s honor.276
The acrimony leveled against the neutrality proclamation is interesting when compared with the spirit of isolationism that followed the Treaty of Paris. (p.209) Franklin had been accosted for being too close to the French during the Revolution and peace negotiations, which he called “little Short of Treason to my Country,” forcing the elder statesman to appeal to his fellow delegates to certify his honorable conduct.277 Fortunately, Franklin’s death in 1790 spared him any such indignation over the French Revolution. Even Madison put forth a resolution for “the true interest of these states,” which intended them to “be as little as possible entangled in the politics and controversies of European nations.”278 But France under Louis XVI was viewed as something very different from the French Republic. As one critic wrote to Washington, “The spirit of 1776 is again roused,” and with it isolationism was cast aside for a union of liberty in which the “American whigs of 1776, will not suffer French patriots of 1792, to be vilified with impunity, by the common enemies of both.”279
Despite the public animosity directed at the proclamation of neutrality, and the more vocal opinion that America owed a debt of honor to France, Washington remained steadfast. The president likely took added resolve as he paged through his copy of Thomas Nettleton’s Treatise on Virtue and Happiness, which reminded him, “The ties of gratitude, how binding soever they may be, should never lead us to do anything contrary to the rules of justice, and honour; for whenever that happens, we shall not fail to blame, and reproach ourselves afterwards.”280 These words were enacted in Washington’s policy, as he believed that national honor required doing what was best for the nation rather than what was popular. As president of the United States, he was conscious of the need to preserve “national rights and honor.”281
Throughout the next two decades, the specter of foreign entanglement, largely with Britain or France, loomed over the American political scene. Washington’s farewell address called for a preservation of neutrality for the sake of national honor.282 His 1799 death and apotheosis left a symbol of dedication to national honor and “public Virtue,” so much so that even a lock of his hair could be considered a “sacred talisman of virtue.”283 But almost immediately after Washington’s death, New Hampshire–born preacher Joseph Buckminster warned that “an unpleasant diversity of sentiment and difference of opinion have arisen in this country respecting the line of political conduct, most directly tending to secure our national honor, prosperity, and peace.”284 The matter of defining national honor remained.
The conflicting visions of national honor and partisan accusations of dishonor exacerbated by the French Revolution would carry over into all areas of American politics during the early republic. Diverse thinking on France (p.210) increased and defined the gap between Federalists and Republicans, and even more specifically between their figureheads, Jefferson and Hamilton. The affair had convinced Jefferson that Hamilton had leveled “a fatal stroke at the cause of liberty.” He was no friend of republicanism; he would kill it. Jefferson was left muttering, “Et tu Brute.”285 Hamilton in turn viewed Jefferson as politically prostituting America’s national honor. Jefferson and the Republicans would cast Federalists, such as Hamilton and John Adams, as overtaken by British corruption and a secret desire for monarchy. Federalists, meanwhile, used the radicalism of the Republican French support to instill fear in the people of possible horrors to come. The North-Carolina Journal credited Jefferson with personally getting Americans to support the French Revolution, but it warned that although it was initially “taken for granted that their cause was just the same as our own,” the people “learnt, from this new republican school of French ethics, to transfer our gratitude from our real benefactor to their murderers.”286 The New Hampshire–based newspaper the Oracle of the Day even ran hundreds of columns entitled “The Moralist … National Ethics,” which regularly bashed the French Revolution and sought to educate “your sons and daughters” on national ethics, urging, “Let the pure principles, the virtuous manner … be retained and perfected. Be not carried about by every wind of [Francophile] political doctrine.”287 The dramatic and hyperbolic Adams even claimed that the American Revolution did not share “a single principle” with the French Revolution.288 While definitions of national honor and ethics widened partisanship, mounting political squabbles infringed on America’s national honor.
Although the debate over national honor began as primarily professionally and politically focused, with even Jefferson admitting that Hamilton was “disinterested, honest, and honorable in all private transactions,” it soon began to transform into a more personal matter of honor.289 As the nineteenth century dawned, a heightened sense of self was evident in American politics; the rhetoric of national honor certainly remained, but in many places it became secondary to maintaining one’s own status and office. Thus, it would become possible for a politician like Aaron Burr to be regarded as “politically honest” by one party, despite having “inordinate personal ambition,” while another cast him as lost to “political ethics” based on his “unbound ambition.”290 Reputations were slandered, mocked, and attacked in order to gain political currency, as politics would slowly begin to devolve from an arena focused on national honor into an affair of personal honor.291
With peace came questions about how the United States of America was to be governed and what ideals should represent its foundation. While most (p.211) citizens agreed that honor and virtue were defining elements, they differed greatly on how these concepts related to governance, policy, and society. Contestations over the interpretation of national and personal honor would in turn spark infighting, dissension, and rival belief systems highlighted by the development of political parties. For, as Jefferson would write to his old friend John Adams after years of separation due to a political feud, “one of the questions on which our parties took different sides, was on … ethics.”292
(2.) Thomas Johnson Jr. to HG, 14 Dec. 1774, LDC.
(4.) AA to JA, 19 Aug. 1774, AFC.
(5.) William Tudor to JA, 26 Jun. 1775, PJA.
(6.) MOW to JA, Oct. 1775, PJA.
(7.) Cuthbert Harrison to Theodorick Bland, 21 Apr. 1777, Bland Family Papers, VHS.
(8.) David MacClure to William Knox, 26 Sept. 1776, HKP.
(9.) AA to Isaac Smith Jr., 30 Oct. 1777, AFC.
(10.) JA to the President of the Congress, 18 Apr. 1780, JA to AA, 17 Jul. 1783, AFC.
(11.) Definitive Treaty of Paris, 3 Sept. 1783, in Morris, Peacemakers, 461–65.
(13.) BF to Joseph Banks, 27 Jul. 1783, PBF.
(14.) JA to the President of the Congress, 18 Apr. 1780, PJA.
(15.) Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 23–24; “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” 13 May 1783, in Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 259–60; “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” 1784, The New York State Society of the Cincinnati Collection, SOCDC.
(16.) Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 23–24; “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” May 1783; “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” 1784.
(17.) Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner to Maj. Gen. William Heath, 28 Oct. 1783, North Carolina Society of the Cincinnati Collection, SOCDC.
(18.) Winthrop Sargent, “Secret Journal of the Cincinnati,” 1784, 93, Proceedings, SOCDC.
(19.) “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” 13 May 1783, in Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 259.
(21.) GW to Major Christopher French, 26 Sept. 1775, in WW, 3:522; “The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati,” 13 May 1783, in Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 259.
(23.) Journals of the Society, General Society, ca. 1784, 28, 56, SOCDC.
(24.) “The Institution,” Journals of the Society, General Society, SOCDC; Society of the Cincinnati in the State of New Jersey, Excerpts of the Proceedings, 172.
(25.) 25 Jun. 1789, 13 Jul. 1789, 8 Jul. 1790, Proceedings of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati, SOCDC; “At a Meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati of the State of Rhode Island … 4th July, 1789,” New York Daily Gazette, 15 Jul. 1789.
(39.) GW to ML, 1 Sept. 1778, in WW, 12:383.
(40.) Jun. 1770, in DGW, 2:245–46; Shields, Civil Tongues and Polite Letters, 175–208. For more on Freemasonry, see Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood; Hackett, That Religion, chs. 1–3.
(41.) GW to William Barton, 7 Sept. 1788, in WW, 30:87.
(43.) TJ to James Madison, 28 Dec. 1794, PTJ; BF to Sarah Bache, 26 Jan. 1784, PBF; Davies, “Society of the Cincinnati,” 11; Hünemörder, Society of the Cincinnati, 22–55; Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, chs. 2–3; Ellis, His Excellency, 158–59; Henriques, Realistic Visionary, 110; Hume, George Washington, 13–15. For a French reaction, see Mirabeau et al., Considerations.
(44.) BF to Sarah Bache, 26 Jan. 1784, PBF.
(45.) TJ to GW, 16 Apr. 1784, PTJ.
(46.) GW to George Washington Parke Custis, 28 Nov. 1796, in WW, 35:296.
(47.) Memo accompanying GW to JL, 30 Jan. 1781, in WW, 21:162n53.
(48.) “I. Observation on the Institution of the Society,” ca. 4 May 1784, PGW.
(51.) “Instructions to Delegates,” 11 Apr. 1787, SOCDC; Massachusetts, “Certification of Delegates and Resolution Concerning Amendment,” 9 Oct. 1786, SOCDC; Rhode Island, Correspondence: State Societies, SOCDC; Davies, “Society of the Cincinnati,” 15.
(p.288) (52.) 6 Jul. 1786, Proceedings of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati, SOCDC.
(53.) New Hampshire Society to the General Meeting, 3 Feb. 1785, New Hampshire, Correspondence: State Societies, SOCDC.
(54.) TJ to GW, 7 Jan. 178, PGW, also in GW to the Secretary at War, 1 Jun. 1786, in WW, 28:447n72.
(55.) GW to James Madison, 18 Nov. 1786, PGW; Myers, Liberty without Anarchy, 97. GW’s interactions with the society became almost exclusively social. DGW, 6:130, 137; GW to Edmund Randolph, 28 Mar. 1787, PGW.
(56.) [AH], Circular Letter to the State Societies, 1 Nov. 1786, New York, Correspondence: General Society, SOCDC.
(58.) “Copy of an Account of an Entertainment Given by Major General Nathaniel Greene, Presented by Major Asa Bird Gardner, USA, Asst. Secretary of the Cincinnati Society of the State of Rhode Island to the Cincinnati Society of the State of South Carolina,” April 1881, Society of the Cincinnati of the State of South Carolina Collection Proceedings, SOCDC.
(59.) M. L’Enfant to NY SOC [Society of the Cincinnati], 15 Jul. 1785, New York State Society of the Cincinnati Records, SOCDC. This letter was also read and forwarded in the Proceedings of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati.
(60.) 6 Jul. 1786, Proceedings of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati, SOCDC.
(61.) “The Form of Reception,” 4 Jul. 1786, Proceedings of the New York State Society of the Cincinnati, SOCDC.
(62.) BF to Sarah Bache, 26 Jan. 1784, PBF.
(64.) “On Titles of Honor,” New-England Courant, 18 Feb. 1723, PBF.
(65.) BF to Sarah Bache, 26 Jan. 1784, PBF.
(67.) TJ to Peter Carr, 19 Aug. 1785, PTJ.
(70.) “Eastern Convention,” Massachusetts Gazette, 22 Sept. 1786.
(71.) “Hampshire County Convention,” Massachusetts Gazette, 8 Sept. 1786.
(72.) Joseph Hawley to Ephraim Wright, 16 Apr. 1782, in American Historical Review.
(75.) Daniel Shays to Benjamin Lincoln, 30 Jan. 1787, in Benjamin Lincoln to GW, 4 Dec. 1786[–4 Mar. 1787], PGW.
(76.) GW to Henry Lee Jr., 31 Oct. 1786, PGW.
(77.) Publicus, “For the Independent Chronicle,” Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, 21 Dec. 1786.
(78.) The Oracle, “For the Centinel,” Massachusetts Centinel, 11 Aug. 1787.
(80.) “Resolution of the Cincinnati, July 4, 1787,” Massachusetts Centinel, 17 Jul. 1787.
(p.289) (81.) “Extracts of a Letter from a Gentleman in Berkshire County,” Massachusetts Centinel, 21 Feb. 1787.
(83.) HK to GW, 19 Mar. 1787, PGW. For a public recognition of the society’s “perfect equality with all their fellow citizens, who preserve an inviolable attachment to the laws of honor,” see “At a Meeting of the Society of the Cincinnati of the State of Rhode Island … 4th July, 1789,” New York Daily Gazette, 15 Jul. 1789.
(84.) “Boston,” Independent Chronicle and the Universal Advertiser, 30 Nov. 1786.
(85.) JM to TJ, 3 Oct. 1785, PJM.
(86.) GW to JJ, 18 May 1786, PGW.
(87.) JM to Edmund Pendleton, 24 Feb. 1787, PJM.
(88.) Essays of Philadelphiensis, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, Nov. 1787–Apr. 1788, no. 11, in CAF, 3:134, 3.9.83.
(89.) JJ, Federalist Papers, no. 2, 33–34.
(90.) Letters of Centinel, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer and Philadelphia Freeman’s Journal, Oct. 1787–Apr. 1788, in CAF, 2:202, 2.7.177.
(91.) “Essay by None of the Well-Born Conspirators,” Freeman’s Journal (Philadelphia), 23 Apr. 1788, in CAF, 3:194, 3.15.1.
(92.) “Letter from a Delegate, Who Has Catched a Cold,” Virginia Independent Chronicle, 11 Jun. 1788, in CAF, 5: 270, 5.19.4.
(93.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 70, 425.
(94.) Essays of Philadelphiensis, Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer, Nov. 1787–Apr. 1788, no. 6, in CAF, 3: 119, 3.9.37.
(96.) “Essays by Cato,” State Gazette of South Carolina, Nov.–Dec. 1787, no. 1, in CAF, 5:140, 5.10. 2.
(97.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 22, 147.
(98.) JJ, Federalist Papers, no. 64, 394.
(99.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 68, 412.
(101.) JM, Federalist Papers, no. 57, 348.
(102.) JJ, Federalist Papers, no. 64, 396.
(103.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 36, 220.
(104.) JM, Federalist Papers, no. 40, 247.
(105.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 69, 419.
(110.) AH, Federalist Papers, no. 12, 85–86.
(111.) Francis Hopkinson to TJ, 8 Jul. 1787, PTJ.
(113.) TJ to John Banister Jr., 15 Oct. 1785, FO: TJ.
(p.290) (114.) 1786, 5 Dec. 1793, Records of the Harvard Faculty and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, 5:223, 6:199, HUA; Columbia College Statutes, Columbia College Papers, CU, 11 Oct. 1790, ch. 1.
(115.) Rush, “A Plan for Establishing Public School in Pennsylvania,” in Essays, Literary, Moral & Philosophical, 10. For a similar sentiment, see Bishop James Madison to Joel Barlow, 21 Oct. 1809, Bishop James Madison Papers, W&M.
(117.) Samuel Stanhope Smith, Moral Philosophy [John R. Witherspoon], 1794, Lecture Notes Collection, PUSML; William R. Hackley, Notebook, 1824, 122, University Archives Bound Volumes Collection, W&M; Commonplace Book of Hector Orr, HUA.
(118.) Daily Advertiser, 25 May 1786.
(120.) Dr. James Madison to TJ, 28 Dec. 1786, Dr. James Madison Papers, W&M.
(122.) 17 Jul. 1799, 16 Jul. 1800, 15 Jul. 1801, Faculty of Arts and Sciences Records, 8:80, 159, 178, HUA. Advocates for a national university also linked education to the creation of national character and honor. See Samuel Knox, Essay on the Best System, 15, 18, 41–42, 71.
(124.) “Rolls of Merit,” in General Regulation for the Army, 336.
(125.) “Address to the Students,” 17 Sept. 1791, Records of the Faculty Relating to Disorders, HUA.
(126.) Laws of the College of William and Mary, 1817, College Papers Collection, W&M.
(128.) “Concerning a Religious, Moral & Decent Conduct,” Laws, 1783, Corporation Papers, 1:99, BU.
(129.) William Smith, “Rules for the Good Government & Discipline of the Students & Schools in the University of Pennsylvania,” , UPA; 3 Oct. 1825, Transcripts of the Minutes of the Board of Visitors, 1817–1855, UVA.
(130.) “Class of 1803 Constitution,” 14 Sept. 1803, Yale College Records of Classes, YUMA.
(131.) [At a Public Commencement], 16 Jul. 1800, Records of the Harvard Faculty and Faculty of Arts and Sciences, HUA, 7:159.
(132.) Daniel Turner, 7 Dec. 1797, Student Essays and Notebooks, BU.
(133.) “Penalty for Misdemeanors,” 11 Sept. 1804, Faculty of Yale College Records.
(134.) “Address to the Students in General,” 13 Mar. 1791, “Address Made to the Freshman Class,” 8 Mar. 1805, Records of the Faculty Relating to Disorders, HUA.
(136.) Regulations, 1802–1816, 1216, Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Collection, USMA; General Regulation for the Army, 324–25, 330, 334, 336; 17 Dec. 1825, Records, United States Military Academy, March 1814 to February 1838, Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Collection, USMA; A. Partridge to the Gentlemen Cadets of the Military Academy, 24 Nov. 1816, Alden Partridge Papers, Nineteenth-Century Manuscript Collection, USMA.
(p.291) (137.) 4 Oct. 1825, Transcripts of the Minutes of the Board of Visitors, 1817–1855, 1:70, UVA.
(141.) JA to Charles Adams, 5 Jun. 1793; JA to JQA, 23 Jan. 1788, FO: AF.
(142.) JQA, 1 Nov. 1787, Diary, FO: AF.
(143.) “Objections and Answers respecting the Administration of the Government,” 18 Aug. 1792, FO: AH.
(144.) Samuel Morse to TJ, 26 Jun. 1800, FO: TJ, notes.
(145.) JQA to AA, 6 Jun. 1810, FO: AF; Andrew Ellicot to JM, 2 Jan. 1817, FO: JM.
(146.) JA to the President of Congress, 5 Feb. 1783 and n. 6, FO: AF.
(147.) “Report of Commissioners for the University of Virginia to the Virginia General Assembly, [4 Aug.] 1818, FO: JM.
(148.) “For the Daily Advertiser,” Daily Advertiser, 19 Jun. 1786.
(150.) Aug. 1810, Board of Trustees Records, DC, 349.
(151.) Richard Dinmore to TJ, 28 Jan. 1802, FO: TJ.
(152.) JQA to Abigail Adams II, 25 May 1785, AFC.
(153.) Edward Rutledge to TJ, 23 Oct. 1787, PTJ.
(154.) JQA to Abigail Adams II, 25 May 1785, AFC.
(155.) Thomas Mitchell to Francis Jerdone, 9 Jul. 1789, Jerdone Family Papers, W&M.
(156.) Samuel Stanhope Smith to Elias Boudinot, 27 Jun. 1803, Samuel Stanhope Smith Collection, PURBSC.
(157.) “Monday; American Franklin; Typographical Association … ],” American and Commercial Daily Advertiser, 21 Nov. 1801.
(158.) TJ to Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours, 12 Apr. 1800, TJ to Joseph Carr, 28 Apr. 1807, FO: TJ.
(160.) Benjamin Vaughn to BF, 31 Jan. 1783, PBF.
(161.) “For the Minerva,” American Minerva, 4 Aug. 1794.
(162.) BFA, Part 8 and Benjamin Vaughn to BF, 31 Jan. 1783, PBF.
(164.) BF to Sarah Bache, 26 Jan. 1784, PBF.
(166.) AA to Elizabeth Cranch, 2 Sept. 1785, AFC.
(167.) AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 19 Jul. 1786, AFC; MOW to Janet Livingston Montgomery, Apr. 1785, Mercy Otis Warren: Selected Letters, 200.
(170.) Chastity and faithfulness were still associated with honor and virtue. See AA to Mary Smith Cranch, 20 Jan. 1787, AFC.
(p.292) (171.) Murray, “On the Equality of the Sexes,” in Selected Writings, 9.
(175.) Murray, “Observations on Female Abilities,” in Selected Writings, 24.
(176.) My sources offer a counterpoint to Bloch, “Gendered Meanings of Virtue”; Jessica Chopin Roney, “‘Effective Men’ and Early Voluntary Association in Philadelphia, 1725–1775,” in Foster, New Men, 157–59.
(179.) AA to Elizabeth Smith Shaw, 19 Jul. 1786, AFC.
(180.) Abigail Adams Smith to Lucy Cranch, 15 Oct. 1785, AFC.
(182.) Nelly Custis [Lewis] to Elizabeth Bordley [Gibson], 19 Oct. 1795, 30 May 1797, 3 Feb. 1799, FSNL.
(184.) Rush, “Plan for Establishing,” 19; Cassandra A. Good, Founding Friendships, 6, 40, 185. Good states, “Male/female friendships were paragons of central republican values: choice, freedom, equality, and virtue. These were not only political ideals, but also personal ones in a nation where the virtue of the people would sustain the republican political system” (6). These friendships enforced virtue, but Good also notes that friendship was understood as existing between “two equal, virtuous, pious individuals,” which further suggests a greater inclusiveness of honor and virtue (40).
(190.) “The Petition of Florence Cooke,” in Kierner, Southern Women in Revolution, 172.
(191.) AA to JQA, 16 Feb. 1786, 6 Sept. 1785, AFC.
(192.) Betsy Watts to Sarah C. Watts, 4 Apr. 1807, Sarah C. Watts Papers, W&M. Fathers also played a role. See Henry Tucker to St. George Tucker, 30 Nov. 1771, Tucker-Coleman Papers, CWF; JA to Abigail Adams II, 14 Apr. 1783, 9 Jun. 1783, AFC.
(193.) AA to JQA, 16 Feb. 1786, AFC.
(194.) Elizabeth Trist to Nicholas P. Trist, 20 Feb. 1821, Family Letters, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
(198.) Connecticut Gazette, 13 Feb. 1784.
(p.293) (199.) Elizabeth Lee Diary, CWF.
(200.) Rush, Thoughts upon Female Education, 81; Aimwell School Records, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College; Dolly Madison to Marie Rivardi, 10 May 1812, Papers of Dolley Madison; Nash, “Rethinking Republican Motherhood,” 181–85; Compend of Rhetoric.
(206.) For continuation of BF’s ideas, see Hore Browse Trist to Nicholas P. Trist, 14 Apr. 1820, Family Letters, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
(207.) For a similar opening of American religion, see Nathan O. Hatch, Democratization of American Christianity.
(216.) “Negro Slavery,” “To the New Jersey Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery from the Convention of 1798,” 6 Jun. 1798, Box 9, Allinson Family Papers, Quaker and Special Collections, Haverford College.
(224.) BF to Benjamin Rush, 14 Jul. 1773, PBF. For more on the Pennsylvania society for promoting the abolition of slavery, and the relief of free negroes, unlawfully held in bondage, see “From the Pennsylvania Abolition Society: Constitution,” 23 Apr. 1787, PBF; Pennsylvania Abolition Society to the United States Congress, 3 Feb. 1790, PBF; Pennsylvania Abolition Society to the Pennsylvania Assembly, 24 Nov. 1789, PBF. For more on BF and antislavery, see BF to the Editor of the Federal Gazette, 8 Apr. 1788, 23 Mar. 1790, PBF.
(230.) This thesis is central to my future monograph project, “Redemption: The American Revolution, Ethics, and Abolitionism in Britain and the United States.” Aspects of this were presented at the 2014 Organization of American Historians Annual Conference as “Redemption: The American Revolution and Abolitionism in Britain and the United States.”
(234.) ML to GW, 5 Feb. 1783, PGW; JM to TJ, 17 Oct. 1784, PTJ.
(245.) GW to Lund Washington, 15 Aug. 1778, PGW.
(246.) JM to TJ, 17 Oct. 1784, PTJ.
(248.) Jefferson’s “original Rough draught” of the Declaration of Independence, PTJ.
(250.) JA to TJ, 22 May 1785, PTJ.
(253.) JM to Joseph Jones, 28 Nov. 1780, FO: JM.
(254.) On GW’s desire to end slavery, see ML to GW, 5 Feb. 1783, GW to ML, 5 Apr. 1783, in WW, 26:300n; GW to Lawrence Lewis, 4 Aug. 1797, in WW, 36:2. On his reluctance to end slavery, see Ellis, His Excellency, 259. For more on GW and antislavery, see Furstenberg, “Atlantic Slavery, Atlantic Freedom.”
(256.) GW to Alexander Spotswood, 23 Nov. 1794, in WW, 34:47.
(257.) JM, Federalist Papers, no. 42, in FO: JM.
(258.) TJ to JM, 11 May 1785, PTJ.
(260.) TJ to Brissot de Warville, 11 Feb. 1788, PTJ.
(261.) Matthew Mason, Slavery and Politics, 35. For an alternative view, see Helo, Thomas Jefferson’s Ethics. Helo states that, based on TJ’s “ethical thought” centered on “human progress,” it was indeed possible to have “consistency in his advocacy of democracy and the rights of man while remaining … one of the largest slaveholders in Virginia” (1). He goes on to state that the biggest problem in understanding this stems from “his confusing liberal use of such ethical—or ethically charged—concepts” (2).
(263.) TJ to ML, 2 Apr. 1790, FO: TJ.
(264.) GW to TJ, 12 Apr. 1793, GW to AH, 12 Apr. 1793, PGW.
(266.) TJ to ML, 2 Apr. 1790, FO: TJ.
(267.) Gouverneur Morris to TJ, 22 Aug. 1792, PTJ.
(269.) Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on a Cabinet Meeting, 6 May 1793, PGW.
(271.) “Proclamation,” National Gazette, 24 Apr. 1793.
(272.) “To the Editor of the National Gazette,” National Gazette, 18 May 1793.
(273.) “To the Editor of the National Gazette,” National Gazette, 22 May 1793.
(274.) “Citizens Genet, Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of France, to the Citizens of Philadelphia,” National Gazette, 22 May 1793.
(277.) BF to HL, 10 Sept. 1783, PBF.
(278.) 12 Jun. 1783, JCC.
(279.) Vertias (No. II) to GW, 3 Jun. 1793, PGW.
(280.) [Nettleton], Treatise on Virtue and Happiness, 284. GW’s personal copy currently housed at the Boston Athenaeum has the inscription “1792” in the front cover, suggesting that GW was reading this work at virtually the exact same time as he was considering the nature of the French Revolution.
(281.) Seventh Annual Address, 8 Dec. 1795, in WW, 34:388; Draft of GW’s Seventh Annual Address to Congress, [28 Nov.–7 Dec. 1795], PGW.
(282.) Farewell Address, 19 Sept. 1796, FO: GW.
(283.) Col. David Humphreys to MW, 5 Jul. 1800, Julia Bowen, Mary B. Howell, Sarah Halsey, and Abby Chace[?] to MW, 14 Feb. 1800, Martha Washington Papers, FSNL. For GW as a symbol since 1775, see Elizabeth Powel to MW, 7 Jan. 1775, Martha Washington Papers, FSNL.
(285.) “The Anas,” in Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 381.
(286.) “A Development of the Causes of the Disturbances between the American and French Republics: Addressed,” North-Carolina Journal, 14 Aug. 1797.
(p.296) (287.) “The Moralist—No. 283: National Ethics,” Oracle of the Day, 26 Jan. 1799.
(289.) “The Anas,” in Writings of Thomas Jefferson, 279. For additional views on the character and morals of TJ and AB, see Leven Powell to Burr Powell, 23 Dec. 1800, 12 Jan. 1801, Thomas J. Page to Leven Powell, 5 Feb. 1801, William B. Harrison to Leven Powell, 11 Feb. 1801, Thomas Sims to Leven Powell, 20 Feb. 1801, Leven Powell Papers, W&M; Barnabas Bidwell to AB, 6 Jul. 1801, in AB, Political Correspondence, 2:604.
(292.) TJ to JA, 15 Jun. 1813, FO: TJ.