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The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment

4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674314269
ISBN-10: 0674314263
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Editorial Reviews

Review

This is a well-conceived, solidly researched, and ably argued book about the influence of the classics in the the political thought of the founding fathers...This work will be required reading for historians interested in the ideological origins of the American republic. It makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the intellectual complexities of the period. (Frank Ninkovich The Historian)

An admirable book...Richard has done an impressive amount of scholarly detective work. (Roger Kimball Wall Street Journal)

A detailed and fascinating exposition of the classical traditions that gave the United States's founding generation so many political models and ideas. (Mortimer Sellers Washington Post Book World)

Richard's study offers intriguing glimpses into the minds of the founders through the lens of their classical learning, and the volume fairly bursts with engaging testimony...The force of the book's revelations and the charm of its matter win the day. (D. M. Hooley Religious Studies Review)

From the Back Cover

Is our Greek and Roman heritage merely allusive and illusory? Or were our founders, and so our republican beginnings, truly steeped in the stuff of antiquity? So far largely a matter of generalization and speculation, the influence of Greek and Roman authors on our American forefathers finally becomes clear in this fascinating book - the first comprehensive study of the founders' classical reading. Carl J. Richard begins by examining how eighteenth-century social institutions in general and the educational system in particular conditioned the founders to venerate the classics. He then explores the founders' various uses of classical symbolism, models, "antimodels", mixed government theory; pastoralism, and philosophy, revealing in detail the formative influence exerted by the classics, both directly and through the mediation of Whig and American perspectives. In this analysis, we see how the classics not only supplied the principal basis for the U.S. Constitution but also contributed to the founders' conception of human nature, their understanding of virtue, and their sense of identity and purpose within a grand universal scheme. At the same time, we learn how the classics inspired obsessive fear of conspiracies against liberty, which poisoned relations between Federalists and Republicans. The shrewd ancients who molded Western civilization still have much to teach us, Richard suggests. His account of the critical role they played in shaping our nation and our lives provides a valuable lesson in the transcendent power of the classics.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 308 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (August 11, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674314263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674314269
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #317,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By M. R. Holmes on April 1, 2004
Richards asserts through this book that the "classics," being the ancient Greco-Roman historical/literary tradition, were the primary influence upon the American Founders through their education and socialization. The Founders' theories of government, their views on human nature, nature, and virtue, were all classical in essence and origin. The classical education of these great men gave them the impetus for the American Revolution, models and anti-models for the creation of the Constitution, and heavily influenced the overall worldview of the Founders despite the discrepancies and disagreements amongst themselves towards the classics.
Carl J. Richard is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, and a scholar of American Intellectual history. The purpose of this pioneering work was to spread more light on the educational and philosophical influences upon the historically important personages of the late colonial, revolutionary and early republican periods of American history.
Richard's arsenal of evidence includes the private and public correspondence of early American educators and the Founders, the records of the Federal Constitutional Convention and of the state ratifying conventions, the published writings of the Founders, and historical works by later American historians of the early American time period. Richards addresses his evidence critically and openly, and presents compelling arguments for his thesis.
Classical education produced men of intellect and virtue by instilling in the young the character traits of critical thinking, a love for liberty (and subsequently a fear of tyranny), a sense of civic duty and pride, and by presenting them with models of morality.
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It is almost universally acclaimed that the political and judicial wisdom of the Founding Fathers in the construction of the U.S. Constitution is truly phenomenal. A big reason why is that they were well educated (many self educated) in the reading of the classics from the Greek and Roman eras of republican power and representative government. They took their advice and avoided their mistakes as history unfolded.

This book is of vital importance in understanding the foundations of our government as conceived by these men. At the same time it is an excellent summary of the classics themselves, which serves as an education in itself, and hopefully stimulates the reader to explore the classics more - many of which are not easy reading, but nevertheless profound and interesting. If every child in high school read this book our society would be improved immensely even though the ideas rendered from the readings would vary vastly.
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Our great Founding Fathers were not the only ones in Philadelphia during that hot summer of 1787. They had with them the age of the Greeks, Roman, and European Enlightened thinkers. In this great work, Dr. Richard gives us a rich and exciting read of the great ancients whose works still give us the moral and natural laws we live by today.

A must own text for those that cherish our great Constitutional debates and the origination of some of the evolved thoughts coming to Philadelphia in 1787, but, originating as far back as 2,000 years ago.
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I can't praise this book enough! Carl Richard does a fantastic job of drawing parallels between the founders and the Roman classics. Not only did our founders know and love the classics (as he points out), but it influenced their lives and how they thought in very tangible way!

The story of Washington and Cincinnatus is a prime example. Washington was so influenced by this 5th century Roman who famously gave his power (of dictator) back to the senate, that Richard points out that Washington refused to surrender during the worst parts of the American War for Independence lest he forfeit the privilege of laying down his power after the war.

Here is what is probably my favorite quote from the book:
"An astonished western world agreed with the judgement of George III. Unable to believe that any military leader would voluntarily surrender such power, the kind scoffed that if Washington resigned his commission, “He will be the greatest man in the world.” The king’s confusion epitomized his inability, throughout the Revolutionary conflict , to comprehend the enormous emotional power which classical republican ideals wielded over American minds” (p. 71).

Highly recommend this book! If you love the classics, and the history of our founders, this may be your new favorite book!
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Spectacular
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