'Social Gravity' and the Translatio Tradition in Early American Theories of Empire

By Breuninger, Scott | Southern Quarterly, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

'Social Gravity' and the Translatio Tradition in Early American Theories of Empire


Breuninger, Scott, Southern Quarterly


The complex relationship between language and theory has long proved a fruitful area of inquiry, illuminating how the use of metaphors and images has an impact upon perceptions of historical development. When considering the linguistic choices and tactics available to individuals at certain historical moments, it is important to keep this fact in mind, as the recognition of these options may help to elucidate how historical events were perceived and acted upon. By highlighting the conceptual framework within which historical incidences were placed, it becomes possible to better understand why certain courses of action may have been privileged over other seemingly equally legitimate alternatives.

One area of research that has benefited from this insight is the study of theories of empire in the Atlantic World. A number of able historians, such as Anthony Pagden, David Armitage, and Peter Miller have helped to outline some of the discursive options available to eighteenth-century political theorists as they sought to explain the nature and extent of the British Empire.1 Whether expressed in political, commercial or religious terms, writers of this period articulated a series of overlapping (and at times conflicting) views concerning the sources of Britain's imperial grandeur. In many cases, the concerns of these writers intertwined these levels of analysis, producing composite explanations of Britain's strength. A particularly insightful contribution to this literature was the work of the one-time governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Pownall (1722-1805). In The Administration of the Colonies (1764), Pownall used the Newtonian concept of "attraction" to form the basis of his political and commercial theory of empire.2

Pownall argued that the mutual political and economic interdependence of Britain and the colonies could be seen as harboring a "natural center" that should govern the whole. According to Pownall, it was the duty of statesmen to identify this point and use it to direct the operations of empire into a "grand marine dominion." The key point, in this view, was Pownall's belief that it was essential for Britain to foster ties between herself and individual colonies, thereby preventing the development of potentially dangerous affinities between the colonies themselves. He contended that "Great Britain, as the center of this system...must be the center of attraction to which these colonies...must tend. They will remain under the constant influence of the attraction of this center; and cannot move, but that every direction of such movement will converge to the same.'" If this system were maintained, Pownall thought it was possible for Britain to form a beneficial economic and political "association" spanning the Atlantic.

While describing his vision of empire, Pownall also pointed to threats facing British hegemony. Again using Newtonian language, he noted that the seat of empire could move away from Britain. In light of the economic and political potential of America, Pownall suggested that the "center of power, instead of remaining fixed as it now is in Great Britain, will, as the magnitude of the power and interest of the Colonies increases, be drawn out from the island, by the same laws of nature analogous in all cases, by which the center of gravity in the solar system, now near the surface of the sun, would, by the encrease of the quantity of matter in the planets, be drawn out beyond the surface."4 Through this application of Newtonian gravity to the system of empire, Pownall's vision provided an important explanation of the mechanism by which colonial theorists understood the possibility of empire being "transferred" from one state to another. Furthermore, between 1764 and 1777, The Administration of the Colonies went though six editions, each of which incorporated massive changes and additions reflecting contemporary political realities.5 As such, this text provides a unique window into understanding how an important concept of empire shifted prior to the American Revolution. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

'Social Gravity' and the Translatio Tradition in Early American Theories of Empire
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.