The Machiavellian Moment: Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition

By J. G. A. Pocock | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XV
THE AMERICANIZATION OF VIRTUE
Corruption, Constitution and Frontier

[I]

DURING THE NINETEEN-SIXTIES, a number of important works of scholarship appeared which have sharply altered our perception of the mind of the Revolutionary generation in America.1 They have shown, first, that the mental processes which led to revolution involved a drastic rearticulation of the language and outlook of English opposition thought; second, that through this they were, as we already know, anchored in that Aristotelian and Machiavellian tradition which this book has studied; third, that the experience of the War of Independence and the constitution-making which followed it necessitated a further revision of the classical tradition, and in some respects a departure from it. The American Revolution, which to an older school of historians seemed a rationalist or naturalist breach with an old world and its history, now appears to have been involved in a complex relation both with English and Renaissance cultural history and with a tradition of thought which had from its beginnings confronted political man with his own history and was, by the time of the Revolution, being used to express an early form of the quarrel with modernity. It is now possible to explore the history of American consciousness in search of what manifestations of the problems of the republican perspective may be found there.

In the first place, it has been established that a political culture took shape in the eighteenth-century colonies which possessed all the char

____________________
1
In addition to those of Caroline Robbins and Bernard Bailyn, cited above, ch. XII, n. 52 and ch. XIV, n. 7, see Richard M. Gummere, The American Colonial Mind and the Classical Tradition: Essays, in Comparative Culture (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963); H. Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Beginnings of the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965); J. R. Pole, Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1966), and those of Gordon S. Wood and Gerald Stourzh, cited extensively below. For an earlier essay on this theme, see my “Virtue and Commerce in the Eighteenth Century,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 3, no. 1 (1972), 119–34.

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