REPUBLICANISM. Broadly defined, republicanism means a preference for nonmonarchical government and a strong dislike of hereditary monarchy. Narrowly defined, and in its early modern context, it means self-government by a community of citizens in a city-state.
Republicanism is a prominent concept in the history of political thought. Republican ideology claimed that citizens of republics enjoyed a liberty unknown to the subjects of monarchies because they were bound by laws that they themselves had made, not the personal whim of an individual monarch. In the early modern period, republicanism had special relevance in Italy (where Florence and Venice became the most famous republics in early modern history), Switzerland (a federation of autonomous rural and urban cantons that had never been effectively governed by a monarch), Germany (where many free imperial cities maintained a high degree of autonomy within the Holy Roman Empire), the Netherlands (where a new state, the Dutch Republic, was born in the sixteenth century out of a revolt against the Spanish monarchy), England (where, in the mid-seventeenth century, a revolt against the monarchy led to a short period of kingless government that paved the way for parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy), and the United States of America (which revolted against the British monarchy and became a federal congressional republic in the 1770s). Early modern theorists whose writings are relevant to republicanism include Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527), Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540), Thomas More (1478–1535), Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Milton (1608–1674), John Locke (1632–1704), Algernon Sidney (1622–1683), Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu (1689–1755), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778). What follows is an introduction to republics and republicanism, not a survey of thinkers or their ideas. Three institutional levels within republican government will be distinguished: the voting assembly, the intermediate council, and the executive magistracies. The differences between three models will also be emphasized: direct democracy, republicanism, and parliamentary representation.
ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL BACKGROUND
Greek city-states, when not ruled by tyrants, governed themselves by some form of direct democracy: an assembly of all the adult male citizens, meeting and voting frequently to pass legislation, make decisions, act as a high court, and elect (from their own ranks) the short-term members of the intermediate councils and holders of magistracies and military commands. The Greek model of direct democracy was replicated in European history only at the village level, notably in Switzerland, and in the imaginations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the proto-Romantics.
In contrast, the Roman republican model became prominent in later European history. Compared to direct democracy, it was marked by greater social stratification and the dominance of (largely hereditary) elites. Livy's history of the early Roman republic depicted the foundation of the republic in 753 b.c.e. as a revolt in the name of liberty by members of leading families against a primeval monarchy. The earliest group of ruling families, and the clans they spawned, called themselves "patricians" and formed a hereditary status group that attempted to monopolize political power against the rest of the population—the plebeians. Livy records and dramatizes bitter social and political conflict between the patricians and the plebeians, but the latter succeeded over several centuries in breaking the patrician monopoly on the political institutions, so that the political elite included members of both groups.
Instead of a simple voting assembly, Rome had a complicated system of assemblies in which individual preferences were combined into bloc votes, with preponderant weight given to the blocs in which men of higher status and higher socioeconomic class were enrolled. There was a semi-formal nobility consisting of families whose members, past and present, patrician or plebeian, had competed successfully in the annual elections of magistrates in the assembly, and entry by "new men" (ones without an office-holding ancestor) into the nobility was possible, though never easy. The nobility governed the republic through an intermediate council that had no real precedent in Greek history and became one of the most famous political institutions of all time: the Roman Senate. All former magistrates were senators, and though they often stood for election and left the Senate for a year to hold a magistracy or a military command, they always returned to it at the end of their term: membership was for life. The Senate was the locus of debate and decision making in Rome. Many of Cicero's most famous works are political speeches delivered during deliberations in the Senate or prior to a vote in one of the assemblies.
Social conflict never disappeared from the Roman republic, but that did not prevent its armies of citizen-soldiers from making it the greatest conquest state in European history. The Roman republic ended in chaos and was transformed into an empire ruled by a monarchical emperor, but the Senate survived for as long as the empire did; its members, though, became a hereditary status group, no longer the winners of electoral contests held in a voting assembly. The historian Tacitus (c. 55–c. 117 c.e.) vividly described the despotic behavior of the early Roman emperors, the corrupt courts that surrounded them, the servile and fearful behavior of the Senators, and the decline of free debate in the Senate.
The European cities of the medieval and early modern periods were born as communes: sworn associations of male heads of households who collectively claimed freedom from feudal overlordship. The primordial institution of the commune was the assembly of all the citizens, as in the ancient Mediterranean cities. Each commune was a small republic, and the story of republicanism in Europe is largely the story of Europe's cities. Europe was the only area of world civilization in which so many and such autonomous city republics emerged. In every communal city of Europe, as in the ancient Mediterranean, citizenship was a privileged hereditary status to which newcomers were not granted easy or automatic access. In each city, families belonging to the earlier strata tried to monopolize political power, like the Roman patricians, and were challenged from below by ambitious families and rising status and socioeconomic groups. In each there was a complex structure of councils and executive committees, but the primitive communal institution, the voting assembly of all the citizens, ceased to be summoned regularly in most cities.
The European cities were the motor of a dynamic European economy based on free rather than slave labor; this was a fundamental difference between the city-states of the ancient world and the European cities. In Italy a number of cities (Milan was an example) went from republican (or "communal") government to monarchical rule by a princely family at the close of the Middle Ages, but in others, like Florence and Venice, republican structures persisted. Florence and Venice were not the only republican city-states in Italy, but they were the only ones to conquer not just the adjacent countryside but many other smaller cities as well, thereby building up large territorial states.
Elsewhere in Europe, and even in some parts of the Italian peninsula, the feudal system was giving birth to a type of political institution unknown to the ancient world or the republican tradition: the feudal parliament or meeting of the Estates, an assembly of representatives delegated by the various social strata and localities in the lands of a monarch to represent them. But the conquered subjects of Florence and Venice were not represented in any parliament, and thus had no institutional recourse against harsh exploitation. Parliamentary government in nation-states was the way of the future; republican government in city-states had, by the close of the early modern period, come to the end of its historical course.
Florence was one of the centers of Renaissance humanism, a movement that began in the late thirteenth century and flourished in the fifteenth, aiming to revive the use of classical Latin and knowledge of all aspects of Greek and Roman antiquity. The Roman writers with the greatest prestige and influence had lived in the late republic (Cicero, Sallust) or under the early empire (Livy, Tacitus), and this gave a superficial republican ethos to Renaissance humanism, which is seen in the realms of political thought and artistic imagery. The city of Florence took particular pride in regarding itself as the daughter and heir of the Roman republic and Roman liberty.
There are objective parallels between the history of the Roman republic and empire in the ancient world and Florence in the early modern period. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Florence, despite its wealth and control of much of Tuscany, was made turbulent by the struggle for political power between older and more recent factions of powerful families and their clienteles. Only adult male guild members were entitled to hold office, and the complex guild-based constitutional machinery of Florence produced the same result as the machinery of the Roman republic: a steep stratification of political power based on status and socioeconomic class. There was rapid rotation through the small executive committees in which the power of government was concentrated, and individuals were chosen to hold office randomly, through a lottery (the drawing of names from a bag of eligible candidates). Legislation was ratified in a couple of intermediate councils that also had rotating membership.
From the 1430s to 1494, the Medici family controlled Florence, although formally their status was no different from that of any other great family. They manipulated the constitution in at least three ways: by controlling the lottery process so that names were no longer drawn at random; by the abuse of emergency powers; and by creating new, smaller, more permanent councils whose members were carefully screened for loyalty to the Medici. The Florentines called this "narrow government." From a favorable standpoint (that of the Medici, their clientele, and the top families allied to them), narrow government was more efficient and consistent than the "wide government" of the past, in which many more citizens had rotated through the offices, ruling and being ruled in turn. But "wide government" was traditionally seen as the essence of Florentine liberty, so from an unfavorable standpoint (that of the rival families excluded from power, as well as the many families of middling status whose ambition to participate in government was being frustrated), the Medici regime was an assault on Florence's traditional republican liberty.
In the revolution of 1494 the Medici were driven from Florence. There followed a political struggle over the constitution, with the leading families striving to keep it as narrow as possible (aristocratic, but not princely), and a popular movement led by Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) that demanded a return to wide government. The latter prevailed, and thus there began a unique eighteen-year period in the history of Florence (and republicanism): the republic of 1494–1512. This republic was ended by the return of the Medici, who set about establishing princely rule. The Florentines revolted against them and revived the republic between 1527 and 1530, but after that the Medici proceeded to make themselves hereditary grand-dukes of Florence and Tuscany, in a historical parallel to the establishment of the Roman Empire on the ruins of the Roman republic. Niccolò Machiavelli, the first great political thinker of modern times, had all of his direct experience of political and military affairs as a senior administrator and diplomat for the republic of 1494–1512, and many other Florentines also participated in political life and composed political treatises (long and short, practical and theoretical) between 1494 and the 1530s. At no other place or time in Europe did political thought about republics (and the alternative form, monarchy, or as Machiavelli called it, "principality") flourish with the same intensity.
In the Florentine republic of 1494–1512 and 1527–1530, the direct voting assembly of all the citizens was revived. Over 3,000 male scions of families whose members had held office in the past became permanent members of the assembly; although this was still only a fraction of the entire population, it represented an extraordinarily high degree of political participation in the context of Europe at that time. (The members of the Florentine voting assembly were not modern liberal democrats though, and like virtually every other status group that won political entitlement in the history of ancient and modern republics, they wanted admission to the assembly in the future to be limited to their own male descendants.) There was also an intermediate council, which in Florence had little importance, and the typical array of small executive committees. Throughout the period 1494–1512 the families of high status never ceased to press for more narrow government, in which their putative expertise and insight would prevail over the inexperienced and inept majority; their ideal was to govern aristocratically, like Roman senators. Many of these families defected from the republic and supported the return of the Medici in 1512, and again in 1530.
The internal politics of republican Florence were not Machiavelli's main concern when, in forced retirement after 1512, he became a writer on politics. Machiavelli did not believe that the Florence he had served, or any other modern republic, was a model for imitation, because all had been corrupted by Christianity. His model for analysis and imitation in his major work, the Discourses, was the Roman republic, where there had been a fruitful tension between the competitive drive of a small number of individual nobles to dominate their rivals and win glory, and the opposing desire of the mass of the citizens to enjoy the spoils of conquest and check the imperiousness of the nobles. It was this tension, directed outward against neighboring peoples, that had made Rome the greatest of all conquest states. Since Machiavelli believed that the same two conflicting impulses were present and active in all societies, whether they were governed as principalities or republics, his basic vision of political life was republican, even in his famous short treatise The Prince.
Many other Florentines did ponder the problems and fate of their own republic more closely than Machiavelli. One was Francesco Guicciardini (1483–1540), and another was Donato Giannotti (1492–1573), a strong proponent of wide government who wrote the treatise Republica Fiorentina in the 1530s to describe what had gone wrong with the Florentine republic and how it could have been preserved. Giannotti was also the author of an influential description of the Venetian system of republican government.
Venice was the clearest example of the explicit hierarchical correlation between social status and political participation that differentiated republicanism from ancient (and modern) democracy, and was considered a miraculous example of social and political stability. In 1297 a group of Venetian families achieved what the patricians of ancient Rome and the politically active families of Florence had always dreamed of: a constitutional limitation of political participation to themselves and their male descendants. These families also came to be called "patrician," and although new families were admitted in every generation, the Venetian patriciate was essentially composed of the same families for centuries. Not all of them were rich and powerful, but all enjoyed the same exclusive right to have their sons admitted to the voting assembly, which was roughly the same size as the one in Florence.
The offspring of the political elite, a small number of rich and powerful families, sought to ascend through elections held in the assembly to membership in the intermediate council, the Senate—a locus of prestige and power comparable to the Roman Senate itself—and from there to the array of small committees that made up the executive. The head of state and government, the doge, was elected for life but did not have what we would call presidential powers, for the Venetian leadership was essentially collective. The most feared and powerful committee of the Venetian executive was actually the Council of Ten, which attended to state security. They worked in secret, received anonymous denunciations, had, or were believed to have, informants everywhere, and could make "enemies of the state" disappear. Hence there arose a "black legend," a negative image of life in Venice that contrasted with the positive image of Venetian republican liberty.
Florence and Venice were exceptional because they were fully sovereign and were capitals of territorial states. But there were many other cities in Europe, especially in Italy and Germany, which never conquered large territorial states of their own, but which continued to govern themselves as republics while retaining a high degree of autonomy within larger (and by later standards, looser) state frameworks. Over the span of time from the Middle Ages to the early modern period, social and political mobility gradually dwindled in all these cities, and they evolved into patrician republics governed by narrow oligarchies. The families whose male members had a claim to a seat on the city council became a hereditary, and largely closed, status group, visibly distinguished by their style of dress, their titles, and their membership in exclusive dining and drinking clubs. Frankfurt, Augsburg, Nuremberg, and Hamburg were renowned patrician city-states in the Holy Roman Empire. There is a vast literature on these and many other European cities, tracing the social and political history of each in detail, and seldom making any reference to republicanism as a concept, although it is in these cities that republicanism lived out the last phase of its history. Internally there was little or no republican liberty left (no more freedom to participate in politics, that is, except for the patrician elite) but externally the patricians were adept at defending another kind of republican liberty (the local autonomy of their cities) against centralized control by the larger state structures into which their cities were integrated.
The city of Bologna, which was part of the large Papal State of central and northern Italy, is a good example: its liberty was based on the pact it made with Pope Nicholas V (reigned 1447–1455) when it submitted to the papacy in 1447. This was a contract that bound both parties and was renegotiated with every new papacy. The Bolognese patriciate used it to protect their autonomy for the next three hundred years, in what can be seen from one standpoint as stubborn particularism, preserving entrenched local privilege against the bureaucratic rationalization of the modern state, and from another as the proud defense of local tradition, local jurisdiction, and control of the local treasury against arbitrary centralism.
It was in defense of similar contractually protected local rights that the northern provinces of the Netherlands rebelled against Spain in the late sixteenth century and formed a new state, the Dutch Republic, that became a beacon for opponents of monarchy (republicans in the broad sense) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Netherlanders repeatedly fended off attempts by the house of Orange to establish a new regal dynasty, and adopted a confederal system of government with strong local autonomy and weaker authority at the higher levels. Towns governed by local patriciates dominated the provinces, there was a parliament (an "Estates") for each province attended by local delegates, and there was an Estates-General for the whole federation, attended by provincial delegates. Thus the Dutch Republic was a fusion of the republican and the parliamentary-representative models.
ENGLAND AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Because the English civil war between parliamentary and royalist forces in the mid-seventeenth century led to regicide and ten years of kingless government, and because the United States of America was an antimonarchical offshoot of the civilization of the British Isles, there is a large scholarly literature attempting to trace the influence of republicanism in Britain and its rebellious colonies. Controversy and debate abound in this field, for in Britain there had never been an actual republican city-state, so scholars are left to deal with language, concepts, and ideas. Britain actually led European civilization down the road to a different destination: government by parties holding parliamentary majorities, with loyal opposition from opposing parties—a structure of government foreign to the republican tradition. It also led Europe in the development of liberalism as a set of political and economic ideas, especially through the influence of John Locke. In eighteenth-century Britain and its American offshoot, republican ideas formed a counterpart to liberal ones in political thought, and republicanism and liberalism are seen as conflicting intellectual influences on the founders of the American republic. The values of liberalism include economic individualism and constitutional limitation on the power of government to invade the sphere of private life, while republicanism (in this context) stands for the disinterested devotion of individual citizens to the common good, and their willingness to set aside private concerns and participate in public debate and decision making.
See also American Independence, War of (1775–1783) ; Divine Right Kingship ; Dutch Republic ; Dutch Revolt (1568–1648) ; English Civil War and Interregnum ; Florence ; Free and Imperial Cities ; Guicciardini, Francesco ; Hobbes, Thomas ; Locke, John ; Machiavelli, Niccolò ; Milton, John ; Monarchy ; Montesquieu, Charles-Louis de Secondat de ; Parliament ; Political Philosophy ; Rousseau, Jean-Jacques ; Switzerland ; Venice .
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"Republicanism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/republicanism-0
"Republicanism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/republicanism-0
REPUBLICANISM is a term historians use to encompass the bundle of beliefs held by early Americans as they made the ideological transformation from loyal colonists to rebels and Patriots. Commonly applied to members of the elite, this protean word is easily adjusted to describe the ideological changes within the minds of common white men, Native Americans, African Americans, and women. Whether republicanism affects the structure of society from the top down or the bottom up is a matter of fierce debate. There is a consensus that republicanism infused the revolutionary generation and steered the debate over the writing of the Constitution—and the meaning of citizenship in the early republic.
The Basis of Republicanism
Classical republicanism insisted that civic virtue—the capacity to place the good of the commonwealth above one's own interest—became the key element of constitutional stability and liberty-seeking order. Only men who had a stake in society, preferably freeholder status of some magnitude, who were literate and familiar with major classical and Enlightenment thinkers, could lead society. Other people, including women, younger men, and the enslaved, had to depend on the elite's virtue to protect them against tyranny, conquest, and natural disasters. Americans understood that their newly arising state was part of history and thereby needed careful surveillance against the corruptions of time and excessive liberty. Ultimately, the American republican vision rested on four interlocking concepts. First, the ultimate goal of any political society should be the preservation of the public good or commonwealth; second, the citizens of a republic had to be capable of virtue, or the subordination of one's private interests in service of public needs; third, to be virtuous, citizens had to be independent of the political will of other men; fourth, citizens had to be active in the exercise of their citizenship.
Looking to the past for instructive examples, American thinkers searched the humanist legacies of Aristotle, Cicero, Tacitus, Plutarch, and others to bolster their beliefs that a simple, agricultural world nurtured civic humanism. Self-interest and patronage corrupted the simplicity of virtue and destroyed such past civilizations and would, if unchecked, ruin American society as well. While the American elite landed gentry and small farmers understood the advancing concept of capitalism and its concomitant qualities of self-interest, greed, and luxury, they believed that a hierarchical society led by the best men could curb excesses and preserve liberty for all.
A Struggle over Definition
As Joyce Appleby has noted, American scholars took to theories of republicanism as a chemist would to the discovery of a new element. For scholars, republicanism offered a solution for the divisive debate over the character of the revolutionary generation. One view, articulated during the Progressive Era by Charles and Mary Beard, was that interest groups were the "pistons in the engine of change," and that the Revolution was as much a conflict, as Carl Becker put it, over who shall rule at home as over who shall rule. Opposing this version of American exceptionalism were scholars who noted the preponderance of English folkways. Moreover, Perry Miller and then Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood favored taking American writings seriously and accentuating their wrangling over their place in the British Empire. By the era of the American Revolution (1775–1783), this dissension had reached, as J. G. A. Pocock reported, a "Machiavellian moment," in which a new republican comprehension of history among the Patriots produced a powerful anxiety over English corruption. The biggest problems were the new moneymakers in London, their "corrupt and venal ministry," and a desire to enslave Americans.
Once Bailyn and other scholars started looking at the pamphlet wars in late colonial America, they found much to bolster their beliefs. In words and in symbols, early Americans articulated their themes and ideology. Bailyn showed how colonial Americans felt their virtue stemmed from the country faction of English politics and identified with its anxieties over court corruption, luxury, degeneration, and fear of enslavement. They felt a kinship with the country faction's critique of merchants and lawyers who set up international networks that ensnared the needy and unaware small producers, enslaved them, and weakened their civic humanism. As the revolutionary crisis of the 1760s and 1770s picked up steam, colonists argued about these anxieties in newspaper articles and pamphlets that were distributed widely along the Atlantic Coast. As subjects of the Crown, they had to be careful about identifying themselves and made plain their convictions through a series of pseudonyms. About half of the writers adopted monikers borrowed from republican Roman thought such as Publius, Brutus, and Cato. Two other significant groups took names from English Commonwealth heroes such as Harrington and Sidney or from such Greeks as Lycurgus, Solon, and Timeon. These ideas were expanded upon during the constitutional debates of the 1780s. Republican themes may also be found in the paper money, coins, state seals, and membership certificates of the era.
Further complicating these debates were the advents of modernization, population growth, and capitalism. Americans, like their European counterparts, were changing rapidly. Yeoman and gentry farmers, the prize proponents of republican ideology, were becoming capitalists and individualists by the 1750s. Because of this, republicanism might be construed as the last, nostalgic beliefs of a dying class of agrarian traditionalists. The American Revolution ensured that there would be wider distribution of land for common white males, who could offer greater support for their gentry leaders. Tradition-bound republicans adhered to a hierarchy of power. Noble birth, refinement, and money enhanced the dignity and purity of politics.
A Change in Power
Scholars of republicanism disagree sharply about when its power dissipated. Gordon Wood has contended that the defeat of the AntiFederalists in the constitutional vote of 1787 was the last gasp of classical republicanism. Disagreeing with Wood are such scholars as Lance Banning and Joyce Appleby, who have uncovered the resurgence of classic ideals among the Jeffersonian republicans of the 1790s. While the Jeffersonians, Appleby contends, were capitalist and liberal, they used classical republicanism as a reaction to the more aristocratic forms of republicanism practiced by Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists.
Whenever republican power faded, its shadow fell across many people that Charles Beard might consider interest groups. One of the big tasks of social historians who have reacted to Bernard Bailyn's sweeping thesis has been to prove that ordinary Americans held ideologies as well and considered themselves fit to share power or displace the older elites. The Revolution did unleash greater expectations among the middling ranks of Americans. Because republicanism demanded more than mere mechanical exploration of the changes in power, scholars needed to identify the ideological power seeking of the middling and lower orders. Jesse Lemisch began this by showing how seamen in New York City felt grievances against the Crown as surely as did Virginia landowners. Richard Hofstedter argued that the Revolution actually produced a "status shift" in power, a concept used expertly by Edward Countryman in his A People in Revolution: The American Revolution and Political Society in New York, 1760–1790 (1981) , about the change in political power in post revolutionary New York. Sean Wilentz subsequently showed how artisans added equality to the four precepts of republicanism listed earlier. The American Revolution instilled in common Americans the liberal idea that all citizens, at least all white male citizens, should be entitled to their natural civil and political rights under a representative, democratic system of laws. Artisan republicanism, as Wilentz described it, set off a generation of conflicts between elite politicians and ambitious mechanics over office holding, suffrage, and patronage. As capitalism transformed the craft traditions, these battles reared up between masters and journeymen as well.
Even groups who might be considered targets of enslavement or guided by the heavy hand of patronage, and thereby lacking in virtue, were capable of their own brand of republicanism. Consider the sturdy cartmen of New York City, who gained a monopoly on their semiskilled position by a bond of attachment via a freemanship with city officials. Throughout the colonial period, the carters, who gained the vote under the freemanship, exerted sizable political power alongside such brethren as butchers, bakers, and tavern keepers. After the Revolution, when the Federalist Party tried to channel the carters' votes, they rebelled because they believed that their stake in urban society came from their long-standing residence and their status as licensed workers.
Similar brands of republicanism could be found among African Americans. Republican-minded Americans often mentioned their fears of enslavement. The real slaves of early America responded with frustration over the lack of interest in their status displayed by republicans. African Americans found throughout the American Revolution and the constitutional period that conservative or radical republicans rarely gave much thought to the plight of enslaved Africans. Accordingly, they transferred their loyalties to the Crown. This does not mean that blacks were clients of the British. Rather, during the American Revolution, just as their white brothers did, African Americans sought participation in politics and demanded citizenship. When their hopes were rebuffed, several thousand of them sailed away with the departing British army in 1783, headed first to Nova Scotia, then to Sierra Leone to form a new nation in which they were the republican elite. Those left behind tried valiantly to persuade republicans in power to end the moral corruption of slavery and admit African Americans into the republican society. That they failed to convince speaks more about the sins of the founding fathers than of black inadequacies.
White American women were bound to a lesser status in the United States by their sex. During the American Revolution and its constitutional aftermath, little attention was paid to the political hopes of women. For many years, the colonial concept of the feme covert limited female political aspirations. As scholars have recently shown, however, women, in the same ways as African Americans, learned to exert their republicanism in churches, benevolent societies, schools, and above all, as the mothers of republicans. Their ideology stemmed perhaps from a protopsychology or from morals, but by the early nineteenth century, American women, white or black, were prepared to demand greater leadership.
Outside of European American society and well before the American Revolution, Native Americans created a unique brand of republicanism. In the Middle Ground, situated in the present-day upper Midwest, Indian republics coalesced from the migrations of survivors of war and plague. Outside of the French alliance and well beyond the shards of English power, Native American republicans in the 1740s and 1750s established an egalitarian political power that helped them defend against European incursions.
What these examples demonstrate is that republicanism is a protean concept with almost limitless possibilities. Early in the discussion about republicanism, scholars were delighted at its consensual potentials to explain Revolutionary and constitutional politics. The separateness of the examples described does not deny that consensual quality. Rather, each group, as American politics always does, requires the respect and understanding of its position.
Appleby, Joyce. Liberalism and Republicanism in the Historical Imagination. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.
Hodges, Graham Russell, ed. The Black Loyalist Directory: African Americans in Exile after the Revolutionary War. New York: Garland, 1996.
———. New York City Cartmen, 1667–1850. New York: New York University Press, 1986.
Pangle, Thomas L. The Spirit of Modern Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and the Philosophy of Locke. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.
Pettit, Phillip. Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
Pocock, J. G. A. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1975.
Sellers, M. N. S. American Republicanism: Roman Ideology in the United States Constitution. New York: New York University Press, 1994.
White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Wilentz, Sean. Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.
"Republicanism." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/republicanism
"Republicanism." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/republicanism
In rudimentary form, the origins of republicanism can be traced to Aristotle (384-322 BCE). However, this political form finds its first institutional embodiment in the republic of Rome (510-23 BCE), and its most comprehensive expression is in the writings of Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) and Titus Livius (59 BCE –17 CE). Both Cicero and Livius argued that Rome’s failure resulted from internal corruption and conflict, which disrupted the checks and balances between the senate, the magistrates, and the people. The tradition was amended and revived during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Italian city-states and thinkers such as Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) and Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540). It underwent further developments in England and the United States in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when individuals such as James Harrington (1611-1677), Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), and James Madison (1751-1836) attempted to restrain or remove monarchical power.
Republicanism is a political doctrine principally concerned with freedom and its realization through self-governance. For republicans, the people are the source of sovereignty. Freedom thus consists in not being subject to another’s will, and by having the power to raise claims for or against the laws under which one is governed. The primary danger to freedom, republicans argue, comes in the form of internal corruption and conflict that, if left unchecked, threaten to run roughshod over the common good. In its classical form, it emphasizes the importance of a mixed constitution that provides an institutional balance between the diverging interests of the many (the plebeian or democratic element), the few (the patrician or aristocratic dimension), and the one (the monarchical aspect) in society. The classical model is reflected in the Roman system, which included tribunes of the people, the aristocratic Senate, and consuls, usually two elected annually.
Classical republicanism, however, has undergone an important transformation in modern times, centering on the weight different thinkers attach to self-governance. Robert Dahl refers to this as a shift in emphasis from the older aristocratic republicanism to a radical view that places a greater emphasis on the democratic character of the constitution. The older aristocratic position is articulated by thinkers such as Aristotle and Guicciardini, while the second radical character is embodied in the works of Machiavelli, Paine, and Jefferson.
While both forms worry about the consolidation of power and the extent to which it will become a form of domination, they disagree over how this danger will be realized, and from what sectors of society. In the older view, the people have an institutional place in the constitutional structure, but because they lack the reflective capacity to curb their desires, the constitution needs to limit their power to selecting leaders that will govern on their behalf. Aristocratic republicans argue that these individuals are guided by an interest in the public good and have an ability to engage in impartial and careful reflection, making them uniquely situated to govern on the people’s behalf and for their long-term interests.
In contrast, egalitarian republicans believe that modern societies no longer reflect these distinct social classes. The presence of a hereditary aristocracy, for example, becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish, especially in the earlier American context. Egalitarian republicans further argue that those trying to balance the aristocratic and democratic elements of society fail to see that the only legitimate good is the public good. The hallmark of modern radical republicanism, then, consists in dividing powers among separate institutions more carefully than reflected in the mixed constitution, with each serving as a check on the other. Modern examples include the British parliamentary system, and the United States Constitution, with its executive branch, bicameral legislative branch (the House and Senate), and judicial branch. The significant improvement to note is that these different branches of government do not reflect diverging but natural political cleavages in society vying for supremacy. Rather, they are constructed institutional appendages in which each element is but a part, with each designed to realize and protect the public good. As such, the public good is no longer a by-product of an institutional arrangement, as was often the case in the older view, but rather the end to which those institutions aim.
Another important transformation relates to political representation. Classical republics were unable to effectively incorporate growing populations into their institutional structure to ensure that the people remained sufficiently involved. In the case of Rome, for example, a population expansion did not result in a further development of sites for political participation. The problem of participation in large republics seemingly pointed to a limitation of the political doctrine—namely, that it was inappropriate in the modern expansive nation-states of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
In modern times the answer comes in the form of representative democracy. As John Locke (1632-1704), Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755), and Madison argue, a modern republic can connect the otherwise antidemocratic practice of representation with the sovereignty of the people. Indeed, as Madison explains in Federalist No.39, the people never give up their power because they always hold in reserve the right to change their representatives. Representation is based upon a revocable trust precisely because it is merely a proxy for direct participation and not a replacement of popular sovereignty. The result allows power to extend over vast territories in response to various problems of collective organization.
SEE ALSO Aristotle; Dahl, Robert Alan; Democracy; Freedom; Locke, John; Machiavelli, Niccolò; Pluralism; Republic; Separation of Powers
Dahl, Robert A. 1989. Democracy and Its Critics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Guicciardini, Francesco. 1520. Dialogue on the Government of Florence. Trans. Alison Brown. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Hamilton, Alexander, James Madison, and John Jay. 1788. The Federalist. Ed. Jacob E. Cooke. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1961.
Machiavelli, Niccolò. 1517. Discourses on Livy. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield and Nathan Tarcov. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
Pocock, J. G. A. 1975. The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Wood, Gordon S. 1969. The Creation of the American Republic: 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
Melvin L. Rogers
"Republicanism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/republicanism
"Republicanism." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/republicanism
John F. C. Harrison
"republicanism." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/republicanism
"republicanism." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/republicanism
This entry includes two subentries:Latin America
"Republicanism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 18, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/republicanism-0
"Republicanism." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved August 18, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/republicanism-0