The Pamphlet Wars of 1790

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Transcript The Pamphlet Wars of 1790

Declarations in Dialogue: Voices
from Outside
Two cases:
Abigail Adams’ letters and
The Haitian Constitution of Toussaint
• All humanity? Or gender-specific?
• Are women considered within the political order?
• “A careful reading of the main texts of the
Enlightenment in France, England, and the colonies
reveals that . . . The use of man was in fact literal, not
generic” (Kerber 15)
• All “men” created equal
Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic. Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: U
of North Carolina P, 1980.
Enlightenment perspectives on women in the
political order
Women disqualified from the political participation in most
Enlightenment thought on the basis of sex (confinement to reproductive
roles) or gender (lacking in qualities of rationality, discipline, strength of
character, intelligence)
Men and women in a state of nature: focus on women’s reproductive
Montesquieu: women subject to men by law of nature
Women’s weakness disqualifies them from “the distant chase, from war,
from the usual subjects of debate” (Condorcet qtd. in Kerber)
Rousseau, Emile: women’s empire: “of softness, of address, of
complacency; her commands are caresses; her menaces are tears”
Locke: “Conjugal Society is made by a voluntary Compact between
Man and Woman” (I. 62-65). L. entertained the idea of divorce
Economic barriers to participation
• Coverture: common law tradition (from England)
• Blackstone, Commentary on the Common Law (1765): “By
marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is,
the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended
during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated
into that of the husband; under whose wing, protection, and
cover, she performs every thing”
• Implication: “married women, lacking independence economic
power and therefore also lacking the ability to make free and
independent political judgments, were vulnerable to the
influence of their husbands”
Where do women stand in the concept of the
bourgeois public sphere?
The (bourgeois) public comes into being in distinction from the
“private,” or domestic sphere
A paradox: 18th-century political and cultural changes opened up
spaces of freedom and liberty for middle-class men while
narrowing the scope of activity, movement, standing for women
of all classes [salon vs. “living room”]
The domestic sphere: intimacy, “pure” humanity, voluntariness:
“ideas of freedom, love, and the cultivation of the person” (48)
Habermas, Jürgen. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society (German,
1962; trans. English, 1989)
The “private” is its own public
• It was “a public sphere in apolitical form--the literary precursor of
the public sphere operative in the political domain . . . The
training ground for a critical public . . . A process of selfclarification of private people focusing on the genuine
experiences of their novel privateness” (Habermas 29).
. . . “the subjectivity originating in the intimate sphere of the
conjugal family created, so to speak, its own public” (29)
• “The public’s understanding of the public use of reason was
guided specifically by such private experiences as grew out of
the audience-oriented subjectivity of the conjugal family’s
intimate domain”
The genre of the letter: public or private?
• Cicero (1st-century B.C.E.); Elizabeth (16th century)
• The characteristic genre of the 18th century: “outpourings of the
• “Experiments with the subjectivity discovered in the close
relationships of the conjugal family” (Habermas 49)
• “Private” but not secret: oriented toward an audience; the
epistolary novel (Richardson, Pamela, 1740)
Abigail Adams, 1744-1818
No formal education; father a
Congregationalist minister;
taught reading, writing, and
numbers by her mother; access
to her father’s library of English
and French literature
Married to John Adams in 1764
Lived in Braintree,
Massachusetts; bore 6 children
Second First Lady: 1797-1801
Portrait by Benjamin Blythe, 1766
An 18th-century middle-class white woman’s
republic of letters
Adams’ house in Braintree,
“The Good House-wife,” Colonial
Williamsburg Collection
Abigail’s letters
To Isaac Smith (4/20/1771): using the letter for intellectual exchange,
overcoming gender and geographical limitations: the “humble cottage” in
Braintree: “in immagination place you by me that I may ask you ten thousand
Questions” (235)
To John (3/31/1776): “Remember the Ladies” -- ironic use of the language of
– restriction on “unlimited power”
– “all Men would be tyrants”
– we will “foment a Rebelion”
– no law without representation
John’s reply (4/14/1776): picks up Abigail’s mocking tone
“I cannot but laugh”
Women: “another Tribe”
“We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems”
“Despotism of the peticoat”
Abigail’s letters (cont.)
To Mercy Otis Warren (4/27/1776): political action
– Proposal of a petition
– Given the “natural propensity in Humane Nature to
domination,” there should be laws in our favor based on “just
and Liberal principals”
– Abigail has been making a trial of “the Disintresstedness of
his Virtue”
Abigail to John (5/26/1776): “we have it in our power not only
to free ourselves but to subdue our Masters”
John Adams’ reflections, May 26, 1776
To James Stewart, not a response to Abigail; moral foundations: “in
• “Whence arises the right of the men to govern the women, without their
consent? Whence the right of the old to bind the young, without theirs?
• A series of questions: “why exclude women?”
gender argument: their delicacy
reproductive obligations: domestic cares
coverture problem: influence of men in control of property
• Again, “for what reason”? Reasoning proves “you aught to admit
women and children”
• Response to his own questions: fear of the multitude: “ “Depend upon
it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and
altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications
of voters; there will be no end of it.”
John to Abigail, July 2, 1776: public deliberation and
consensus on nation-formation set aside the question
of women’s inclusion
“Time has been given for the whole People,
maturely to consider the great Question of
Independence and to ripen their judgments,
dissipate their Fears, and allure their
Hopes, by discussing it in News Papers and
Pamphletts, by debating it, in Assemblies,
Conventions, Committees of Safety and
Inspection, in Town and County Meetings,
as well as in private Conversations, so that
the whole People in every Colony of the 13,
have now adopted it, as their own Act. —
This will cement the Union, and avoid those
Heats and perhaps Convulsions which might
have been occasioned, by such a Declaration
Six Months ago.”
Adams Family Papers, Massachusetts Historical Society
Some conclusions
The letter in this sequence exceeds its generic boundaries as predicted
by a theory of the bourgeois public sphere: that is, as an exploration of
subjectivity in an intimate sphere. Rather, A. Adams uses the medium
as a kind of public: for the purposes of testing and critiquing
Enlightenment ideas. She addresses her husband more as a policymaker than as an intimate: testing his “disinterestedness.”
The letter, with its context of intimacy, allows for a style different from
the high seriousness of “rational-critical” debate. Those excluded from
positions of power may adopt alternative styles strategically when high
seriousness or direct challenge may not be effective.
The “rhetorical question”: what happens when someone speaks?
– J. Adams led to reflect on his position
– Abigail’s progressive thinking about women’s rights enters into
The colony of Saint Domingue
Beard, J. R. (John Relly) (1863). Toussaint L'Ouverture: A Biography and Autobiography. Chapel Hill, NC: Academic Affairs
Library, UNC-CH. Online Publication
“All men are created equal”: a paradox between a
discourse of freedom and the practice of slavery
In Enlightenment thought, “man” = free European
The enslavement of non-Europeans to labor in colonies supported the
economic system of the West, “paradoxically facilitating the global spread of
the very Enlightenment ideals that were in such fundamental contradiction to
it” (Buck-Morss 21).
Terminology: “racial slavery” - “the slavery of Africans and people of African
descent” (Davis 142); almost all enslaved people in the Americas and the
West Indies were of African descent (but also indentured servitude and convict
labor of Europeans); skin color was a significant feature of the cultural
phenomenon of slavery, but “black” does not equal “slave”; “race,” a
Legal and economic points of reference
Britain, the American colonies/the United States:
• British slave trade from Africa to the colonies from the 16th century forward, Canada to Georgia
• In 1775, slavery was a legal institution in all colonies; trade outlawed by 1825, but illegal slave trade
continues (e.g., Amistad)
• Jefferson’s accusation that George III was responsible for slave trade in the South (excluded paragraphs
in the Declaration)
• slave gatherings and literacy education outlawed in some states
• Anti-slavery societies and writers (e.g., Benjamin Rush); individual colonies outlaw slavery -- Vermont,
1777; Massachusetts, 1780s; Pennsylvania, “gradual emancipation” (Davis 152)
• 3/5 “compromise” inscribed in the Constitution, 1787: slave states allowed to count 3/5 of slave
population in calculating representatives to Congress
France, the colonies of the West Indies:
• Saint Domingue: richest colony in the entire colonial world; the pearl of the Antilles; refined sugar
from Saint Domingue was the basis of French bourgeois economy; by 1787, 40,000 slaves per year;
“The fortunes created at Bordeaux, at Nantes, by the slave-trade, gave to the bourgeoisie that pride
which needed liberty and contributed to human emancipation” (Jaurès qtd. in James, Black Jacobins
• Le Code Noir, French legal code regulating treatment of black slaves in the colonies, 1685: legalized
slavery, humans as property, allowed for physical torture and killing of slaves; regulations
prohibiting assembly; some protections for marriage, family, and children
Some Enlightenment ideas about race
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, On the Social Contract, 1762: “Man is born free, and
everywhere he is in chains.” -- slavery as a metaphor; no reference to Code Noir
Debates over the boundary between species (human/animal) and “types of mankind”
within the Great Chain of Being
David Hume, 1748: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of
men, to be naturally inferior to the whites . . . No ingenious manufactures among them,
no arts, no sciences . . . Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen . . . If
nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men” (Essays:
Moral, Political and Literary”)
Immanuel Kant, 1764: “The difference between the two races is thus a substantial one:
it appears to be just as great in respect to the faculties of the mind as in color” (from
“Observations of the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime”)
Counterarguments from Francis Hutcheson, Montesquieu, Condorcet; Society of the
Friends of Blacks (Amis des Noirs) founded in Paris, 1788
“Promissory note” of the Declaration of
• “unalienable rights”: alienation, the
capacity to be separated from, to give or
sell away
• “life, liberty, pursuit of happiness” (Locke:
life, liberty, property)
The Declaration travels
July 14, 1789: storming of the Bastille Prison, beginning of the French Revolution
August, 1789: Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen
1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only
upon the general good.
2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible
rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.
4. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the
exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other
members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights.
11. The free communication of ideas and opinions is one of the most precious of the rights of
man. Every citizen may, accordingly, speak, write, and print with freedom, but shall be
responsible for such abuses of this freedom as shall be defined by law.
October, 1789: Appeal to the National Assembly by mulattoes of San Domingue to be
seated as representatives of the West Indies; supported by the Amis des Noirs (antislavery); petitions denied. Davis: “it was precisely this issue of rights and
representation for free coloreds that opened the way for slaves in Saint-Domingue to
free themselves” (163).
Slave revolt in San Domingue
1791: Boukman, Vodou priest, leads slave insurrection in the North; burns
April, 1792: French Legislative Assembly decrees full equal rights for all free
blacks and mulattoes in the French colonies
Civil war: British, Spanish, French; Toussaint L’Ouverture fought with Spanish
to preserve plantation system
February, 1794: French National Convention outlaws slavery in all French
colonies, grants citizenship to men regardless of color
1794-1800: L’Ouverture joins French; defeats British and Spanish; accepts
nominal French sovereignty, then expels French leaders
1801: L’Ouverture in control of the entire island; composes Constitution and
sends it to Napoleon
Toussaint Bréda/L’Ouverture
1743-1803, born to African parents sold
into slavery
Perhaps educated by his French
godfather; Jesuit priests
Some literacy; dictated letters
Attained freedom in 1776; owned a
plantation and slaves
Joined the rebellion in 1791
Handler and Tuite, The Atlantic Slave Trade and
Slave Life in the Americas. A Visual Record.
Digital Media Lab. U of Virginia Library.
Toussaint Louverture, Chef des Noirs, Insurgé de
Saint Domingue (Paris [1800]). Copy in the
John Carter Brown Library at Brown
Haitian Constitution of 1801
Abolition of slavery
“Men” not divided legally by color
Colony as family led by the father
Toussaint Louverture, governor for life
Attachment to French government
No right to free assembly
Under the state of emergency (Art. 77) still obtaining, no sphere for public
participation is legally structured. Private or domestic sphere is legislated into
the state.
Liberty and security without freedom
Circulation: a legacy for future struggles: Frederick Douglass’ address,
Columbian Exposition, 1893