"A Circle Form'd of Friends:" Candor, Contentiousness, and the Democratic Clubs of the Early Republic
Master of Arts (MA)
From 1792 to 1794, a confluence of frightening events created an environment of profound distrust and apprehension in the United States. Anxieties over the future of the American and French republics prevailed over sentiments of friendship and Union. Moreover, inflamed language in the partisan press, rising tensions between emerging political parties, and the centralization of federal (but seemingly monarchical) power rendered the public sphere a hostile place for all but the most secretive and cunning of participants. The tense and impassioned setting posed the following questions for Americans to contemplate: who were the true friends of the Union? What constituted trustworthy information? What value do we place on human association? At this pregnant moment, a democratically inclined, imaginative, and ambitious segment of the American population provided answers. Candor served, in part, as a protective shield from the grave uncertainties of the era. Yet, as a form of political expression, candor empowered non-elites, and was thus never far removed from the contentiousness of the 1790s. Middle and working-class men and women professed candor to express themselves publically in ways that would justify and safeguard their inclusion into the political conversation over the republic’s future. Further, by appealing to sympathy and friendship through literary demonstrations of candor, these same individuals disrupted traditional, hierarchal relationships. At various levels of social interaction, but especially within political clubs, a new class of citizen was taking shape, one that espoused a more inclusive understanding of public engagement and an expansive meaning of democracy.
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Hargroder, Andrew Luke, ""A Circle Form'd of Friends:" Candor, Contentiousness, and the Democratic Clubs of the Early Republic" (2015). LSU Master's Theses. 1544.