Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution

Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution

Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution

Passion Is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the American Revolution


At the outset of the eighteenth century, many British Americans accepted the notion that virtuous sociable feelings occurred primarily among the genteel, while sinful and selfish passions remained the reflexive emotions of the masses, from lower-class whites to Indians to enslaved Africans. Yet by 1776 radicals would propose a new universal model of human nature that attributed the same feelings and passions to all humankind and made common emotions the basis of natural rights. In Passion Is the Gale, Nicole Eustace describes the promise and the problems of this crucial social and political transition by charting changes in emotional expression among countless ordinary men and women of British America.

From Pennsylvania newspapers, pamphlets, sermons, correspondence, commonplace books, and literary texts, Eustace identifies the explicit vocabulary of emotion as a medium of human exchange. Alternating between explorations of particular emotions in daily social interactions and assessments of emotional rhetoric's functions in specific moments of historical crisis (from the Seven Years War to the rise of the patriot movement), she makes a convincing case for the pivotal role of emotion in reshaping power relations and reordering society in the critical decades leading up to the Revolution. As Eustace demonstrates, passion was the gale that impelled Anglo-Americans forward to declare their independence--collectively at first, and then, finally, as individuals.


Where should a history of eighteenth-century American emotion begin? We are used to regarding the eighteenth century as the Age of Reason and to seeing the Enlightenment as dependent on the faculty of thought. Indeed, Enlightenment rationalism is generally credited with the defining role in developing theories of natural rights. Reason’s conceptual counterpoint, emotion, has seldom garnered the same attention. Though acknowledged as an important element in the Scottish school of moral philosophy, emotion’s influence has been thought to reside primarily in the private realm of family, faith, and fiction. So studies of eighteenthcentury emotive history have paid close attention to the place of feeling in household functioning, religious awakenings, and literary flowering, but interest has more often waned when the topic has turned to political philosophy or power relations.

Yet, the very man who gave us the catch phrase “the Age of Reason” did so only in 1794, nearly two decades after inciting revolution with a call to “every Man to whom Nature hath given the Power of feeling.” That Thomas Paine’s 1776 masterpiece Common Sense relied explicitly on the notion that the common “passions and feelings of mankind” provided the basis for natural equality and the firmest foundation for natural rights, and that Revolutionary Americans responded so emphatically to this idea, should alert us to a crucial point. Emotion—passion, feeling, sentiment, as it was variously called—contributed as much as reason to the structure of eighteenth-century British-American power and politics.

The conventional view of the dueling nature of reason and emotion— . . .

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