The Liberal Republicanism of John Taylor of Caroline

By Swanson, Drew Addison | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Liberal Republicanism of John Taylor of Caroline


Swanson, Drew Addison, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


The Liberal Republicanism of John Taylor of Caroline * Garrett Ward Sheldon and C. William Hill, Jr. * Madison, N.J.: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2008 * 264 pp. * $54.50

Reviewed by Drew Addison Swansea, a doctoral candidate at the University of Georgia. He is currently working on a study of the environmental history of bright leaf tobacco culture in the Piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina.

In this work, Garrett Sheldon and C. William Hill, Jr., explore the political philosophy of John Taylor of Caroline, an influential figure often described as one of die originators of states' rights ideology. They do so through an in-depth examination of Taylor's public writings, ranging from his "Franklin letters" in 1793 to his last book, New Views of the Constitution of the United States, published in 1823. As the title suggests, Sheldon and Hill seek to demonstrate that John Taylor combined Lockean liberalism with classical republicanism in the creation of his political views. In doing so, they are attempting to connect their study of Taylor to the long-standing debate over the political impetus behind the formation of the United States, fusing the arguments of such proponents of the primacy of liberalism as Joyce Appleby with those of such historians as J. G. A. Pocock, who find in the Revolution the fruition of classical republicanism.

Following a brief discussion of the histories of liberalism and classical republicanism, the authors move chronologically through Taylor's works, exploring his stances on the Constitution, the National Bank, tariffs, the importance of agriculture, slavery, and states' rights. The sections on Taylor's opposition to Hamiltonian financial policies and his support of agricultural reform are particularly enlightening in demonstrating the blending of liberalism and classical republican thought. Taylor feared banks and tariffs because he believed they favored one class of people over another (thus violating a key principle of Lockean liberalism), and die disproportionate impoverishment of any group threatened civic virtue, a powerful component of classical republicanism. Likewise, Taylor was a staunch advocate of agricultural improvement because he believed a nation of farmers created a healthy, self-made, body politic that avoided the worst evils of centralized government.

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