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Democratic Vices & Republican Virtues: The Influence of Greece & Rome on the Founders Constitution Day (September 17, 2010) Dr. Robinson Yost, Assistant.

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Presentation on theme: "Democratic Vices & Republican Virtues: The Influence of Greece & Rome on the Founders Constitution Day (September 17, 2010) Dr. Robinson Yost, Assistant."— Presentation transcript:

1 Democratic Vices & Republican Virtues: The Influence of Greece & Rome on the Founders Constitution Day (September 17, 2010) Dr. Robinson Yost, Assistant Professor, History Social Sciences Department


3 The Founders & The Classics Education (classical schooling) Points of influence: o style of writing & speech o stories of virtue & vice o models of government o classical pastoralism o allusions, symbols, & iconography

4 Grammar school & College (17 th –early 19 th centuries) Standard works for college admission: Cicero, Virgil, Homer, Greek New Testament More advanced tutors: Herodotus, Thucydides, Plato, Tacitus, Julius Caesar College requirements: Three or more years Greek & Latin Plutarch, Livy, Sallust Commonplace books: o John Adams (Harvard) o Alexander Hamilton (Columbia) o James Madison (Princeton) o Thomas Jefferson (Wm. & Mary) Thomas Jefferson (1800): I think the Greeks and Romans have left us the present models which exist of fine composition, whether we examine them as works of reason, or of style and fancy; and to them we probably owe these characteristics of modern composition…. John Adams (1781): In company with Sallust, Cicero, Tacitus, and Livy, you will learn Wisdom and Virtue. You will see them represented with all the Charms which Language & Imagination can exhibit, and Vice & Folly painted in all their Deformity and Horror. You will ever remember that all the End of study is to make you a good Man and a useful Citizen.

5 from Jefferson’s commonplace bookcommonplace book from Thomas Austen’s commonplacecommonplace

6 The Spartans Virtues:  frugality  selflessness  stability & security  calm & courage  fantastic abs Vices:  communal ownership  suppression of individuality  brutal system  Scottish accent  Hamilton: “Sparta was little better than a well-regulated camp”  Adams: communal ownership of goods was “stark mad”  Jefferson: “military monks”

7 Other Lessons: The Greeks [during the Revolutionary War] small cluster of independent republics vs. large centralized monarchy  [after the war] loss of Greek liberty to Macedon, failure to unite under a strong central government (1787) o Hamilton: “Philip, at length taking advantage of their disunion, and insinuating himself into their Councils, made himself master of their fortunes.” o Madison: constant warfare might repeat among the American states with a strong central government (Plutarch) o “Publius” (Madison) Federalist No. 18: “Had Greece... been united by a stricter confederation, and persevered in her union, she would never have worn the chains of Macedon”No. 18  lessons of the Achaean League, eventual submission to the Romans o “Publius” (Hamilton) Federalist No. 16: most centralized among ancient confederacies, though not centralized enoughNo. 16 o “Publius” (Madison) Federalist No. 18: “Popular government, so tempestuous elsewhere, caused no disorders in the members of the Achaean republic, because it was there tempered by the general authority and laws of the confederacy.”No. 18

8 Athenian Democracy: A Cautionary Tale Democratic Vices (common ancient critiques: Thucydides, Plato, Plutarch):  the masses: innately stupid, irrational, unstable, fickle  specious egalitarianism: tyranny of weak over strong  favors mediocrity, stifled initiative, failed to make use of experts  dangers: demagogues, corruption, & constant war  confuses freedom with lack of restraint, lawlessness, & anarchy Democratic Vices (concerns of the Founders):  “I had two things in view: to get the wisest men chosen, and to make them perfectly independent when chosen. I have ever observed that a choice by the people themselves is not generally distinguished for its wisdom.” (1776)1776  “In all very numerous assemblies of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the scepter from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.” (1788)1788  Sobriety, abstinence, and severity, were never remarkable characteristics of democracy... Athens, in particular, was never conspicuous for these qualities; but… from the first to the last moment of her democratical constitution, levity, gayety, inconstancy, dissipation, intemperance, debauchery, and a dissolution of manners, were the prevailing character of the whole nation (1787)1787

9 John Adams on Athens’ downfall, Defence of the U. S. Constitutions (1787):Defence of the U. S. Constitutions 1)Failure to balance power 2)Concentrated all power in hands of the masses Most founders favored a “mixed government” NOT a democracy: Admired the Roman Republic NOT Athenian democracy

10 Mixed Government: Ancient Greece to the 18 th century Historical background:  Plato, Laws (4 th c. B.C.)Laws o the one: monarchy  tyranny o the few: aristocracy  oligarchy o the many: democracy  ochlocracy (Latin: mobile vulgus)  Polybius, Histories (2 nd c. B.C.) mixed governmentHistories o the one  Roman consuls o the few  Roman senate o the many  Roman assemblies  John Harrington, The Commonwealth of Oceana (1656): “natural aristocracy”The Commonwealth of Oceana Government, according to the ancients, and their learned disciple Machiavel, the only politician of later ages, is of three kinds: the government of one man, or of the better sort, or of the whole people; which, by their more learned names, are called monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. These they hold, through their proneness to degenerate, to be all evil... The corruption then of monarchy is called tyranny; that of aristocracy, oligarchy and that of democracy, anarchy. But legislators, having found these three governments at the best to be naught, have invented another, consisting of a mixture of them all, which only is good. This is the doctrine of the ancients....

11 Mixed Government & The Founders  John Adams, “An Essay on Man’s Lust for Power” (1763) No simple Form of Government can possibly secure Men against the Violences of Power. Simple Monarchy will soon mould itself into Despotism, Aristocracy will soon commence on Oligarchy, and Democracy will soon degenerate into Anarchy, such an Anarchy that every Man will do what is right in his own Eyes, and no Man’s life or Property or Reputation or Liberty will be safe.  Thirteen original state constitutions: Ten created a senatestate constitutions  Adams, Defence of the U. S. Constitutions (1787): Three improvements since LycurgusDefence of the U. S. Constitutions o representation o separation of powers o division of the legislature into “three independent, equal branches”  James Madison: arguing for a nine-year term for senators (1787) Landholders ought to have a share in the government to support these invaluable interests and to balance and check the other [the many]. They ought to be so constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority. The senate, therefore, ought to be this body; and to answer these purposes, they ought to have permanency and stability.

12 The Constitution & Mixed Government: The Federalists “Publius” (Madison), The Federalist (1787-1788) o “history informs us of no long-lived republic which had not a senate” No. 63No. 63 o cites Aristotle, Polybius, & Cicero as sources o “The accumulation of powers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, many justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” No. 47No. 47 Alexander Hamilton, advocated lifetime terms for both the president & Senate o (June 1787, outline of speech): “British constitution best form. Aristotle— Cicero—Montesquieu—Neckar. Society naturally divides itself into two political divisions—the few and the many, who have distinct interests. If a government [is] in the hands of the few, they will tyrannize over the many. If [it is in] the hands of the many, they will tyrannize over the few. It ought to be in the hands of both; and they should be separated.” o “When the [Roman] Tribunitial power had leveled the boundary between the patricians and plebeians what followed? The distinction between rich and poor was substituted. If we incline too much to democracy, we shall soon shoot into a monarchy. The difference of property is already great among us. Commerce and industry will still increase the disparity.” Other Federalists endorsed Constitution as a mixed government: John Dickinson, George Wythe, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson

13 Mixed Government: The Anti-Federalists Antifederalists: rejected mixed government or denied its applicability to U. S. o Charles Pinckney: “The people of this country are not only very different from the inhabitants of any State we are acquainted with in the modern world; but I assert that their situation is distinct from either the people of Greece, or Rome, or of any other State we are acquainted with among the antients.” (1787) o Patrick Henry: “similar examples are to be found in ancient Greece and ancient Rome—instances of the people losing their liberty by their own carelessness and the ambition of a few.” (1787) o “An Old Whig”: compared the American people, should they ratify the Constitution, with the tree in Aesop’s fableAesop’s fable Antifederalists: advocated mixed govt., yet denied Constitution would create one o “A Farmer”: “There is nothing solid or useful that is new. And I will venture to assert that if every political institution is not fully explained by Aristotle and other ancient writers, yet that, there is no new discovery in this the most important of all sciences, for ten centuries back.” o George Mason: “The government will set out a moderate aristocracy; it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in its operation, produce a monarchy or a corrupt, tyrannical aristocracy. It will probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the one or the other”

14 Rome: Good & Bad Roman Virtues:  pseudonyms  analogies  symbols  heroes  early Republic Roman Vices:  why did it fail?  tyranny over virtue  loss of liberty  villains  late Republic & Empire  “Farmer Washington—may he, like a second Cincinnatus, be called from the plow to rule a great people.” (1788)  Hamilton called Washington “the American Fabius”  Patrick Henry: “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I has Cromwell, George III may profit by their example.” (1765)

15 detail from The Apotheosis of George Washington (1865) by Constantino BrumidiConstantino Brumidi o War (Freedom) o Science (Minerva) o Marine (Neptune) o Commerce (Mercury) o Mechanics (Vulcan) o Agriculture (Ceres)

16 Fundamental Lessons: o republics strength against centralized monarchy (Persian Wars) o weaknesses & instabilities of democracy (Athens) o degree of centralization necessary (fall of Greece) o importance of mixed government & virtuous behavior (early Roman republic) o ambition of powerful individuals (decline & fall of Roman republic) o vice led to tyranny, corruption, degradation (Roman emperors)


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