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Language of assent: republican rhetoric and metaphors of national redemption in American revolutionary drama.

More than two hundred years ago, the French immigrant Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, in an attempt to define the essence of the new nation at the time of the American revolution, posed the classic question of American nationality in his most widely read and most frequently anthologized Letter III of his Letters from an American Farmer (1782):
 What then is the American, this
 new man? He is either a European or the
 descendant of a European, hence that
 strange mixture of blood, which you will
 find in no other country.

 He is an American, who leaving
 behind him all his ancient prejudices and
 manners, receives new ones from the new
 mode of life he has embraced, the new
 government he obeys, and the new rank he

 The American is a new man, who
 acts upon new principles; he must therefore
 entertain new ideas and form new
 opinions. From involuntary idleness,
 servile dependence, penury, and useless
 labor, he has passed to toils of a very different
 nature, rewarded by ample subsistence.
 This is an American (643-4).

Crevecoeur's optimistic social concept of America's rising empire as a land that heralds human achievement and personal happiness, as a distinctive society that combines natural abundance with political and spiritual triumph, actually echoes the general attitude of the time towards the creation and promotion of a deserving and satisfactory national identity. From the pre-revolutionary literary activity--the pamphlets, essays and plays that attempted to capture the political climate of the period--to Thomas Jefferson's sentimental but highly assertive Declaration of Independence and his "self-evident" truths, the shaping of a collective identity, the formation of America's political and cultural personality, becomes inextricably linked with the national effort to create a consensus literature for a diverse citizenry, a political discourse that would encompass the particularity of difference and would override any lurking fears of collapse and failure. In a letter to Jefferson in 1815, quite a few years after the American revolution, John Adams retrospectively acknowledges the profound impact of the literary activity of the time on public opinion confirming the widespread view that the revolution was primarily an ideological, constitutional struggle, not just a military, political conflict:
 What do we mean by the Revolution? The war?
 That was no part of the Revolution; it was only
 an effect and a consequence of it. The
 Revolution was in the minds of the people, and
 this was effected from 1760 to 1775, in the
 course of fifteen years before a drop of blood
 was shed at Lexington (Bailyn 1). (1)

>From the perspective of ideological consensus, it has been tempting to explore the ability of American society during the revolutionary period to turn its myths into power and ideology, to secure assent through language, to open up and embrace an enormous diversity of people. Sacvan Bercovitch connects history and rhetoric- that is "conquest by arms and conquest by the word"--and argues that the "discovery of America is the modern instance par excellence of how these two kinds of violence are entwined; how metaphor becomes fact, and fact, metaphor; how the realms of power and myth can be reciprocally sustaining; and how that reciprocity can encompass widely disparate outlooks" (1993: 71). For the leaders of the revolution, it proved a formidable task not only to transform the cultural identity of Americans, their provincial outlook, but also to introduce an alternative discourse that would transcend social/cultural distinctions and class barriers and create a sense of national unity. How could they convince the American people that they were fighting a national war of national liberation when the majority of the colonists remained neutral to the political circumstances or even friendly to the king and actually regarded England as their mother-country with whom they shared unbreakable bonds? (2) How could they bring together thirteen colonies with thirteen different histories into a unified culture? (3)

Andrew Burstein, in his book, Sentimental Democracy, accepts the idea that "Americans were uncertainly seeking consensus among themselves as they struggled to clarify their expectations with regard to Great Britain" (93), while the historian Peter N. Carroll looks into the social and economic structure of the pre-revolutionary period and begins to question the patriotic zeal of large segments of the provincial population, like the property-less workers and the slaves, who were in any case ignored or excluded from political considerations and did not have the right to vote. According to Carroll, "these disenfranchised classes did not shape colonial politics; rather they responded to decisions already taken by their political leaders. When summoned by these leaders many rallied to the banner of colonial liberty, hoping to acquire some of its benefits for themselves. But many others, already distrustful of the provincial leadership, lagged behind; they did not require an elaborate ideology to understand their best interests" (105). As a matter of fact, only a select minority of the American colonials devoted themselves to the cause of independence, especially those groups that were immediately affected by the Parliamentary economic measures imposed upon the colonies. According to Vernon L. Parrington, "the total political result was to align against Parliament the most influential groups in the trading towns- the wealthy importers and the professional classes-and provided opportunity to the radicals to spread their propaganda under cover of respectable leadership. The movement of resistance thus set on foot by the class-conscious merchants eventually slipped from their control and passed into the hands of the Sons of Liberty" (183).

The instigating force of the American revolution was basically economic in nature, cloaked nevertheless with the mantle of patriotism and liberalism. (4) The members of the colonial elite undertook the arduous task to sever the sentimental attachment that kept America loyal to England and to mobilize a resistance based on a restructuring of the American national mythology, myths and symbols that extended from the Puritan Edenic myth of America to the Lockean philosophy of natural law and rights. Ernest J. Yanarella, arguing about the mythical foundations of America, explains that "because national myths take on the character of collective representations that reconcile and unite many contradictory aspects of the past, over the course of several generations, they come to form parts of a national identity and common heritage" (4). Consequently, during the long period of verbal sparring between England and her American colonies that finally led to the War of Independence, a rich literature of theory, argument and polemic was produced by a large number of revolutionary writers. (5) Every medium of written expression was put to use. Treatises, exhortations, letters, poems, dramatic dialogues were published in abundance leaving no subject untouched: they dealt with particular historical events like the Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, the Boston Massacre and the Intolerable Acts, and they reiterated the basic elements of American political thought. However, the lack of homogeneity, which was manifested in the diverse geographical landscape of the American colonies- the North, the South, and the West, with their different economic interests and social ways- as well as in the essentially hierarchical colonial society, called for a more abstract philosophical appeal that would gain wider public support. The intellectual framework of the Anglo-American conflict was shaped by the rhetoric of republican idealism, which pervaded the ideological structure of all the revolutionary writing of the time, aiming primarily at extracting emotional consensus, at blurring any disparities of wealth, and interpreting the idea of America through the prism of a "civil millennialist" discourse. (6) Garth S. Jowett offers an interesting perspective on the propaganda value of the political writing of the time when he argues that "Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and even George Washington wanted to instill into the colonists a belief that not only was their cause just but their 'native skills' were also more than a match for the trained soldiers and mercenaries of the British army. To this end, they became skillful propagandists by manipulating (and even creating) information to their advantage or making appeals to the emotions" (81).

Many factors shaped my decision to focus specifically on the patriotic drama of the revolutionary period. First of all, the pamphlet plays of the late-eighteenth century constitute a major source of national literature at the time of the revolution. A number of distinguished critics and scholars of American literature have vehemently stressed the significance of the pamphlet plays for our understanding of the historical/political context of the time. Moses Colt Tyler argues that these plays forcefully reproduce the "ideas, the passions, the motives, and the moods of that stormful time in our history with a frankness, a liveliness, and an unshrinking realism not approached by any other species of Revolutionary literature" (II: 188), while Norman Philbrick underlines the immediacy of these plays and the fact that they occupy a "unique place in the propaganda war of the American revolution" (2). More importantly, this is the first time in American history that drama holds such a unique position, that theatrical rhetoric is converted into an instrument of state policy. In a world of stirring political and social events, drama proves to be the most powerful literary weapon for protest. Mercy Otis Warren, the most notable patriotic playwright of the pre-war years, acknowledges the potential of dramatic expression as a vehicle of political and moral instruction in a letter to her close friend Abigail Adams:
 I think that the Follies and Absurdities of
 Human Nature Exposed to Ridicule in the
 Masterly Manner it is done by Moliere may
 often have a greater tendency to reform
 mankind than some graver lesson of morality
 (Richards 225).

Although the propaganda plays written during the revolutionary period were primarily intended for reading and are not at all dramatic, their popularity is closely related to the immediacy and impact of the dramatic dialogue on the listener or reader. (7) It seems that these 'dramatized' protests provided greater appeal to the American people than any other form of writing at the time. Taken as an aspect of social and political history, these propaganda plays reflect with historical authenticity and emotional vividness colonial reactions to actual events and fully dramatize a period of turmoil. The significance of the patriotic plays of the time cannot be underestimated. They reveal, through their various sources and influences, all the ideological strains that carried the colonies to and through the revolution, while, at the same time, they unveil the latent mutuality of fact and ideal, of the actual historical reality and America's "manifest destiny," her mission in the world, the profound meaning of the nation's political regeneration. The revolutionary drama, like the rest of the propaganda writing of the time, is a strange medley of various ideological tendencies that blend in a language of political statement, a genuine mix of different- sometimes antithetical- voices and attitudes that range from the millennial aspect of Puritan philosophy to the thought of the Enlightenment and Lockean rationalism, from classical republicanism to the radical social and political thought of the English civil war and the Commonwealth period as well as the ethical standards of the Scottish moral sense school. (8) This combination of ideologies, once achieved, appears essentially American as it is closely tied to the uniqueness of American experience and destiny and actually reflects what might be termed a national self-identity. Jeffrey H. Richards explains that "many early Americans used theater not simply as a rhetorical nicety but often as a trope deeply reflective of America's place in history" (xviii). The emergence of a distinctively American dramatic literature is profoundly marked by the essence of republicanism and the democratic goals of the American Revolution. In the minds of most Americans, the revolution meant much more than simply a political revolt; it represented the creation of a fresh/regenerated world, a republican world, which would rely heavily on public and private virtue, social unity, democracy, and vigilance against the corruption of power. Thematically simple, but rhetorically complex, the first dramatic efforts of the American nation substantially reproduce the naive optimism of the American Revolution and infuse the political break with England with moral fervor and idealistic depth.

As Americans entered the era of independence, they felt the need to expand the myth introduced by the Puritans which equated the idea of America with the promise of universal good and the metaphor of a divine plan. From John Winthrop's famous sermon aboard the Arbella, when he placed America at the apex of history as a "New Jerusalem," to The Declaration of Independence, a covenant containing America's most fundamental principles, the rhetoric of the errand follows closely the progress from theocracy to republic. (9) The metaphor of the Puritan exodus is conveniently adjusted to the socio-political conditions of the new age, giving meaning and precedent to the American cause as well as a sense of common heritage to the people. The nation's historical journey from pilgrimage to revolution stands as a heroic act of resistance to any form of despotic rule, of tyranny and injustice. General Warren in Hugh H. Brackenridge's propaganda play, The Battle of Bunkers-Hill (1776), eloquently connects America's sacred past with her more secular future:
 Our noble ancestors,
 Out brav'd the tempests, of the hoary deep,
 And on these hills, uncultivate, and wild,
 Sought an asylum, from despotic sway;
 A short asylum, for that envious power,
 With persecution dire, still follows us.
 At first, they deem'd our charters forfeited.
 Next, our just rights, in government, abridg'd.
 Then, thrust in viceroys, and bashaws, to rule.
 With lawless sovereignty.
 let every arm,
 This day he active, in fair freedom's cause,
 And shower down, from the hill, like Heav'n in
 Full store of lightning, and fierce iron hail,
 To blast the adversary.
 The word is, Liberty, and Heaven smile on us,
 in so just a cause (V, i). (10)

For the revolutionary mind, the republican cause was blessed by God and was destined to capture the hearts of all those who cherished the ideal of human freedom. Never did the emphasis on providence and the libertarian legacy of the Puritan founders appear with such vehemence and within the context of a secular/political rhetoric than in the springtime of the revolution. The idea of the War of Independence as a symbol of promise and prophecy seems to persist fully into the politicized world of revolutionary America. As Sacvan Bercovitch explains, the revolution in America
 ... meant the unfolding of a redemptive plan. It
 required progress through conformity, the
 ordained succession from one generation to the
 next. What the American Puritan fathers had
 begun- their sons were bound to complete-bound
 by covenant and precedent. The War of
 Independence signaled America's long-prepared-for,
 divinely ordained passage into
 nationhood (1993: 38).

It is "the will of heaven," writes John Adams on the eve of independence, "that the two countries should be sundered for ever" (July 3, 1776), while Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense (1776) quickly became a best-seller across the colonies, pursues the familiar metaphor of America's universal destiny in order to awaken patriots to an awareness of America's commitment to the whole world, her role as arbiter of justice and right:
 The cause of America is, in a great measure, the
 cause of all mankind. Many circumstances have,
 and will arise, which are not local, but universal,
 and through which the principles of all
 lovers of mankind are affected, and in the event
 of which their affections are interested. The
 laying a country desolate with fire and sword,
 declaring war against the natural rights of all
 mankind, and extirpating the defenders thereof
 from the face of the earth, is the concern of
 every man to whom nature hath given the
 power of feeling (Kuklick 2).

For the writers of patriotic drama, glorifying America's process in the world is the first step towards developing an unassailable ideology of protest and rebellion. The dramatic trope of the revolution translates the idea- originally worked out in the sermons and tracts of the early settlement period- that the settlement of America was actually designed by the hand of God into militant political action. The propaganda plays draw extensively on the metaphors of America as the "New Eden," the "New Canaan," the "Land of Liberty," while, at the same time, the thematic interplay between political debate and sermonic language opens the way for identifying America's struggle for independence with the work of redemption. Patriotism and salvation become one in the dramatic version of the events of the revolution, thus heralding the climactic moment of the Puritan errand into the wilderness which is none other but the birth of a new nation, a new world, a new order of things. At the prospect of America's imminent conflict with Britain, Lord Wisdom, in John Leacock's The Fall of British Tyranny (1776), foreshadows the universal appeal of the nation's unfolding experiment with the words: "America will triumph, rejoice, and flourish, and become the glory of the earth" (II, i). (11) Such emotional and patriotic effusions, however, were not new to the American readers. Five years earlier, the poet Philip Freneau had collaborated with his Princeton classmate Hugh H. Brackenridge to write A Poem, or The Rising Glory of America (1771), celebrating the future of America. Freneau's mythic conception of America's destiny assumed political significance as a prediction of America's promise to the world not only to achieve the greatness of the past but to surpass it as well: (12)
 By persecution wrong'd
 And popish cruelty, our fathers came
 From Europe's shores to find this blest abode,
 And plough'd th' Atlantic wave in quest of
 And found new shores and sylvan settlements
 Form'd by the care of each advent'rous chief,
 Who, warm in liberty and freedom's cause,
 Sought out uncultivated tracts and wilds,
 And fram'd new plans of cities, governments
 And spacious provinces (Philbrick 214).

The concept of independence is built on immutable grounds combining feeling and common sense, faith and effective propaganda, in an attempt to convince the people of the inevitability of revolution and to establish a sense of security and cohesion. The patriotic plays of the time, following the pattern of most propagandistic texts, revolve around an essential duality: the conjunction of factual information aimed at the intellect and propaganda addressed to feelings and passion (Foulkes 11). Burstein observes that "after claiming their natural rights, the Revolutionaries accentuated what they identified as public feeling (majority will), as they in fact manipulated a public mood" (90). By describing their country in idealized imagery as a land conducive to the growth of liberty and as a bastion of morality, the dramatists of the revolution played up the distinction between a virtuous, freedom-loving people and a corrupted, tyrannical system. They effectively promoted a community spirit generated through popular resistance to an authority that showed no respect for the "natural rights" of the people. In the dramatic language of patriotism, issues of physical and moral security seem to resonate equally in the general hazard that the British threat poses. Idealistic in their assertions, the patriotic writers of the revolution couple their political crusade with proper Christian values. America is fighting for the rights which God and nature have granted her. The drama of republicanism fuses the most fundamental narrative constituting America's national mythology--the Edenic myth of America as the place where the colonists' Christian dream of a "city upon a hill" will be fulfilled-with the myth of national redemption- the idea of America as a redeemer nation destined to fight evil/tyranny (in the face of Britain) and to instill moral righteousness. The writers of patriotic drama seem to be essentially aware of the people's intrinsic longing for words that express faith in the future, words that will solidify their faith in the creation of a moral civilization. As Brutus, the leader of the patriots, prophetically exclaims in Mercy O. Warren's political satire, The Adulateur (1773):
 thou my country, shall again revive,
 shake off misfortune, and thro' ages live.
 See thro' the waste a ray of virtue gleame,
 Dispell the shades and brighten all the scene.
 Wak'd into life, the blooming forest glows.
 And all the desert blossoms as the rose.
 From distant lands see virtuous millions fly
 To happier climates, and a milder sky.
 While on the mind successive pleasures pour,
 Till time expires, and ages are no more (V,
 iii). (13)

In a fusion of secular and millennialist impulses, the patriotic plays tend to reduce the complex socio-political parameters of the revolution to an oversimplified pattern of vivid moral contrasts that call for immediate choice. Self-serving distinctions between freedom and slavery, democracy and tyranny, patriotism and treason, justice and chaos, persist fully in the theatrical rhetoric of the revolutionary period. For Mercy O. Warren, the thematic polarization between right and wrong serves as her point of departure for the discussion of historical events and political issues. Warren, like most of her contemporary patriotic writers, identifies republicanism with its ethical tenets and persists in drawing her characters in black and white strokes. In her first propaganda play, The Adulateur (1773), dramatic intensity is achieved through the depiction of the major moral conflict between Rapatio's tyrannical government and the group of Patriots led by Brutus. Set in Upper Servia (Boston), the play, a five-act tragedy in blank verse, was written after the "promiscuous death and slaughter" (II, i) of Americans, which is known as the Boston Massacre (1770). The chief satire of the play is directed against Rapatio--as the name itself suggests, he is the rapacious one;- who is in fact Thomas Hutchinson, the last Tory Governor of Massachusetts. The characters in the play are drawn in stark contrast- the unscrupulous Tories and the virtuous Patriots. The political divergence of the opposing factions is subordinated to their moral antithesis, which is given particular emphasis in the play. Although Warren's black/white dialectic appears to be rather simplistic and limiting, she, nevertheless, manages to highlight the importance of the moral aspect in human nature. Warren emphasizes public and private virtue as the genius of republican ideology and presents the military conflict between America and Britain as a powerful struggle between two opposing political and moral principles: between liberty and arbitrary power, and virtue and corruption. By focusing upon the priority of ethical categories in political interpretation, Warren fuses ideological commitment and ethical conduct in an attempt to emphasize the absolute necessity of virtue for the survival of the newly-born American republic:
 Brutus: He who in virtue's cause remain
 unmov'dAnd nobly struggles for his country's
 good:Shall more than conquer--better days
 shall beam, and happier prospects croud again
 the scene (The Adulateur III, iii).

The preoccupation with virtue as a key term in the republican vocabulary is designed to enhance the willingness of the citizens to subordinate their private desires and convenience to the public good. The sacrifice of individual interests to a greater common good seems to comprise the essence of republicanism as well as the idealistic goal of the revolution to create a true republic, a society of peace, virtue and goodwill. The moral energy that lies in the subtext of the patriotic plays of the time justifies the American revolution on the basis of civil and private morality as well as the Lockean premise that human beings are born free and equal. For the American writers, the success or failure of the republic depends entirely on the moral character and spirit of its citizens. The American War of Independence is presented not as a war between two nations- after all, the majority of the colonists speak the same language and share the same social, cultural, even political background with the mother-country- but rather as a civil war, a war among citizens, individuals who are forced to make a decision and choose between the two perennial adversaries: between right and wrong, virtue and vice. A decadent, over-civilized culture is sharply contrasted to a natural, uncorrupted America whose domestic values of simplicity, virtue and liberty are at stake. (14) In the patriotic drama of the time, the Revolution is treated as a moral/historical moment, a moment that provides an unbreakable metaphorical bond that unites all the Americans, as a distinct people, to their common heritage and their mythical dream of the future. In all the plays, the message is clear: virtue and happiness can blossom only under freedom not coercive rule; the absence of virtue is synonymous with tyranny and despotism.

The dramatization/interpretation of such notions as freedom and happiness takes the thematic concerns of the plays beyond the issues of political turmoil and military action and onto a more philosophical plane of powerful insights into human nature, into moral codes and individual consciences. In Mercy O. Warren's The Group (1775), dramatic intensity arises from the playwright's device to penetrate the consciences of such "notorious" Tory politicians, like Peter Oliver and Daniel Leonard who actively participated in the current political affairs, and to expose their corrupted nature and moral laxity through an in-depth study of their personal confessions. The play focuses upon a specific historical event, the appointment of a Council by the King rather than through election by the Assembly, thus resulting in the abrogation of the charter of Massachusetts. The Group attacks those councilors who, after the abrogation of the colonial charter, accepted royal appointments to the Massachusetts Council, thereby depriving locals of the right to vote. So absolutely selfish and base are the Tories presented to be that they are unable to recognize a higher cause and purpose in life other than power and glory. Beau Trumps (Daniel Leonard) shamelessly states that "there's nought on earth that has such tempting charms as rank, show, pomp, and glitt'ring dress" (II, i), while Hazelrod (Peter Oliver) declares that for fame and wealth he could "give [his] tears and conscience to the winds" (I, i). More interesting, however, is Warren's technique to incorporate personal details of family life into the representation of the Tories and to make misogyny one of the most repulsive vices displayed by them. Warren thus presents a far more complicated argument as she connects political and historical events to women's specifically domestic interests. For example, Simple's (Nathaniel R. Thomas) unquenchable thirst for glory makes him insensitive to his wife's predicament who "weeps, and urges my return to rural peace and humble happiness, as my ambition beggars all her babes" (I, i). Unscrupulous Hateall (Timothy Ruggles) does not hesitate to sacrifice his family and his country in order to gratify his own ego: "I'll not recede to save from sweet perdition my wife, my country, family, or friends" (I, i). (15)

John Leacock's play, The Fall of British Tyranny, follows the same thematic pattern in an attempt to expose the morbid details of all the backstage machinations behind the English political decisions and measures regarding America. It focuses upon those Tory politicians in England who, through their own treasonable motives and evil intentions, actually forced the two countries into a political and military conflict. According to the playwright, the cause of the revolution lies in a Scotsman, Lord Paramount (Lord Bute), an all-powerful, manipulative politician, who is determined to destroy both the American colonies and England in order to secure greater privileges for himself and his distant relatives, the Stuarts. Lord Paramount's scheme is to sow the seeds of discord and animosity between America and the mother-country; his secret aim is to annihilate the colonies and weaken England in the process:
 Now then for a line of politics- I propose to
 begin first by taxing America as a blind- that
 will create an eternal animosity between us,
 and by sending over continually ships and
 troops, this will, of course, produce a civil war-weaken
 Britain by leaving her coasts defenseless,
 and impoverish America; so that we need
 not fear anything from that quarter. Then the
 united fleets of France and Spain with troops to
 appear in the channel, and make a descent,
 while my kinsman with thirty thousand men
 lands in Scotland, marches to London, and joins
 the others (I, ii).

As in Warren's propaganda plays, The Fall of British Tyranny also establishes Toryism as a perversion of moral principles that has to be exposed and dealt with instantly because it commands a broad respect. The Tories' relentless representation as figures of inherent vice betrays the writers' latent anxiety that their notion of an idealized republic might eventually evaporate in the midst of political compromise, personal ambition and false values. Behind the strikingly optimistic component of the American venture there seems to lie a tremendous fear that "blind politics, rank infatuation, madness detestable, the concomitants of arbitrary power," will jeopardize the future of America (FOBT III, i). Both The Group and The Fall of British Tyranny revolve around the widespread belief that most politically-conscious Americans held at the time that the expansion of power in England constituted a major political, social and economic threat to America. Yet, thinking of themselves as descendants of England, they continued to venerate the institutions of British politics, while the only satisfactory explanation they could provide was that the particular individuals who wielded power in England- not the system itself- might be corrupt. (16) The plays build their main argument on this presupposition as they strive to stir the virulent indignation of an embryonic nation against all those who would prevent it from realizing its own destiny. In The Fall of British Tyranny, Leacock emphasizes the potential dangers of such a system. Corrupt leaders would deprive the people of their natural rights, subvert the balance of power and establish a tyranny. This notion behind the troubled political atmosphere is vehemently expressed in the play by prominent friends of America in England, people like Lord Wisdom (Mr. Chatham), Lord Justice (Mr. Camden), Lord Religion (Bishop of St. Asaph) who support the American cause and predict the rising glory of America. The message they convey provides a reason and a justification for the people's right to rebel when corrupt politicians threaten to overthrow the Constitution that protects liberty:
 LORD WISDOM: ... they know not America's
 strength, they are ignorant of it; fed by the
 flatt'ry of every sycophant tale, imagine themselves
 almighty, and able to subdue the whole
 world. America will be lost to Britain forever,
 and will prove her downfall. America is wise
 and will shake off the galling yoke before it be
 rivetted on them; they will be drove to it, and
 who can blame them? Who can blame a galley-slave
 for making his escape? (II, i).

The idea of enslavement and subjection, so frequently reiterated in revolutionary drama, is successfully combined with lurid images from classical history, thus creating an increasingly emotional as well as hyperbolic tone. For Hugh H. Brackenridge, the American people closely resemble "those three hundred at Thermopylae" who died honorably while fighting for their freedom against the myriad Persian troops (The Battle of Bunker-Hill III, i). Although this is a play about defeat, it makes apparent the fact that the Americans, even though momentarily repulsed, are determined to win this war and that they are capable of inflicting a great blow on the British army. Brackenridge's other play, The Death of General Montgomery, published in 1777, revolves around the same thematic axis and deals with another American defeat-this time during the attempt made by Americans to attack and seize the city of Quebec- which resulted in the death of General Montgomery, the wounding of General Benedict Arnold, and the capture of 426 American prisoners. (17) Like the rest of the propaganda plays of the time, The Death of General Montgomery blends philosophical and religious considerations with actual historical events, the fierce determination against the British with patriotism and the call to arms. The heroic death of Montgomery and the final triumph of the British commander Sir Guy Carleton are designed in such a way so as to arouse the readers' patriotic sentiments and their sense of justice. On the one hand, the death of Montgomery and the other Patriots, like Macpherson and Cheesman, emphatically projects the noble American sacrifice and provokes the readers to emulate these men's nobility and heroism, their determination to fight for liberty and justice without compromise, while, on the other, the victory of the British army is essentially undermined as it, in fact, unleashes all the inhumanity and savagery of the British soldiers who are
 not to be parallel'd, 'mongst human kind,
 Save in the tales of the flesh-devouring men,
 The one ey'd Cyclops, and fierce Cannibal.
 For what we hear of Saracen or Turk,
 Mogul, or Tartar of Siberia,
 Is far behind the deed of infamy,
 And horror mixt, which Britons meditate (V,

The notion that the invading foe would consume the natural wealth of the land and enslave all the Americans is designed to heighten resolve and patriotic sentiment. The stylized rules of philosophical discourse intersect with direct, common expressions filled with emotional extravagance in an attempt to persuade a diffuse audience to stand up against British rule. By insisting on projecting the universal concepts of tyranny, corruption, slavery, and despotism, the dramatists of the revolution manage to create a popular mode of address embracing the common citizens and actually encouraging them to view themselves as full participants in the political life of the community. Only by rallying the public to massive civil disobedience on the grounds of resisting the horrid British scheme, could the writers of the revolution hope to thwart Parliamentary designs:
 A people brave,
 Who never yet, of luxury, or soft
 Delights, effeminate, and false, have tasted.
 But, through hate of chains, and slav'ry, supposed,
 Forsake their mountain tops, and rush to arms
 (The Battle of Bunkers-Hill II, i).

It is made quite clear in the plays that the new imperial policy threatens to strip the American people of their freedom and to establish a tyrannical social order serving corrupt royal officials. Liberty is metaphorically presented as a goddess who, in fear of utter devastation, requests the vigilant care of virtuous, moral citizens. In the preface to Leacock's play, the Goddess of Liberty addresses the citizens of America in an attempt to arouse their patriotic passion:
 Hail! Patriots, hail! By me inspired be!
 Speak boldly, think and act for Liberty.
 United sons, America's choice band,
 Ye patriots firm, ye sav'ours of the land.
 Build a strong tow'r, whose fabric may endure
 Firm as a rock, from tyranny secure.
 Yet would you build my fabric to endure,
 Be your hearts warm- but let your hands be
 Never to shine, yourselves, your country sell;
 But think you nobly, while in place act well.
 Let no self-server general trust betray,
 No pique, no party, bar the public way.

The truth is, however, that the patriotic writers of the revolution had so propagandized Americans' inherent virtue that living up to the ideal amid war proved extremely difficult. Robert Munfrod, in his play The Patriots (written some time between 1777 and 1779), creates a rather fearful picture of American society where this obsession with virtue and patriotism has taken amazing proportions. (18) The play is of particular significance not only because of its dramatic quality- a successful combination of farce and eighteenth-century sentimental comedy equal in merit to its British counterparts, like The Beaux Stratagem and The Recruiting Officer- but also because it avoids the simple dualistic conflict of the political/military struggle between America and England, and rather boldly exposes an inherently American social phenomenon- the patriotic hysteria that had seized a great part of the American citizens who favored patriotic hyperbole as the only evidence for loyalty to the revolutionary cause. The Patriots launches an attack against those "emotional and loud-mouthed Whigs who enjoy playing 'hounds and hare,' pursuing any man whose opinion is not blatantly jingoistic" (Philbrick 257). Munford introduces the term "violent patriot" to describe the members of the "Committee of Observation," that is, all those whose absurdly extremist point of view puts them on guard against any breakdown of patriotic discipline, persecuting innocent citizens on unfounded accusations of Toryism (I, i). The play's plea for political moderation and freedom of speech and belief is best expressed in the opening scene by Meanwell and Trueman, two genuine patriots, who are nevertheless suspect just because they have not been openly assertive in their patriotic sentiments:

MEANWELL: Mr. Trueman, I am happy to see you. In times like these, of war and danger, almost every man is suspicious even of his friend; but with you I may converse with the utmost confidence.

TRUEMAN: My dear Meanwell, I know your heart, and am sorry that any man can suspect its purity; but our case is much the same.

MEANWELL: What? Are you too accused of toryism?

TRUEMAN: I am indeed. Unfortunately, I have some enemies who have raised the cry against me. And what is worse, I fear the consequences will be serious, and a little uncommon (I, i).

Through a mixture of satire and caricature, Munford's play undermines the validity of the political statement, "all men are created equal," by dramatizing the social persecution of a minority group, the Scots, by the prominent "patriots" of the community of Virginia. Probably urged by the economic bias against the Scots in Virginia, because of their position as middlemen in the tobacco trade, Munford creates a trial scene, reminiscent of the Inquisition, which demonstrates all the wild paranoia of public bigotry. The members of the committee, in an overtly discriminatory manner, force the Scots to take the Virginia loyalty oath of 1777 and swear allegiance to the patriot cause:

STRUT: The nature of their offence, gentlemen, is, that they are Scotchmen; every Scotchman being an enemy, and these men being Scotchmen, they come under the ordinance which directs an oath to be tendered to all those against whom there is just cause to suspect they are enemies.

MCGRIPE: I've gi'en nae cause to suspect that I am an enemy. The ordinance says, ye must hae just cause. Bring your proof, gentlemen.

BRAZEN: Proof, sir! We have proof enough. We suspect any Scotchman: suspicion is proof, sir (II, i).

Theoretically speaking, revolutionary literature had ushered in a new social order combining the ideals of purity, morality and justice. The propaganda plays of the American War of Independence added to this conscious fabrication of a patriotic rhetoric that tended to mystify or mask social realities by symbolically taking the American identity to a new stage of confidence; American virtue, national unity and imperial ambition are all harmoniously represented. But, what happens when the classical ideas of government these plays so eloquently project confront the stark reality of social divisions and governmental authority? Inevitably, now that the colonists had won their independence from Britain, it became necessary to implement the new political philosophy. Still, how would this independence be institutionalized by a new government, that had not yet taken shape, in order to ensure the commercial and political survival of the American nation? What kind of society would emerge as a result of the revolution? What would be the people's proper power in a republic? And, what would be the social position of the several minority groups, like the Germans in Pennsylvania, the Dutch in New York, the Catholics, the Jews, the Indians, and, of course the Blacks?.9 Abigail Adams, in a letter to her husband in 1775, voices these concerns about the nature of the new republic, its ability to constitute an effective national authority:
 if we separate from Britain, what Code of Laws
 will be established. How shall we be governed
 so as to retain our Liberties? Can any government
 be free which is not administered by general
 stated Laws? Who shall frame these Laws?
 Who will give them force and energy? {....} I
 soon get lost in a Labyrinth of perplexities, but
 whatever occurs, may justice and righteousness
 be the Stability of our times, and order arise
 out of confusion (The Norton Anthology 682-3). (20)

In another letter in 1776, lamenting the exclusion of women from the ambitious republican experiment, she issues the warning that:
 if perticular attention is not paid to the
 Laidies, we are determined to foment a
 Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by
 any Laws in which we have no voice, no representation
 (Norton 226).

In the years following the American War of Independence, it became evident to the leaders of the revolutionary cause that the newly-born American nation required a mighty government that would educate and comfort its citizens, while, at the same time, would be prepared to curb any of their "democratic" excesses. Even Benjamin Franklin, "this unpretentious commoner, drawn from the stock of the plain people" (Parrington 164), fears that "men are more disposed to do Mischief to each other than to make Reparation, much more easily deceiv'd than undeceiv'd, and having more Pride and even Pleasure in killing than in begetting one another" (Ferguson 7). The Revolution and its subsequent political manifesto, The Declaration of Independence, enhanced the positive meaning of such concepts as democracy and republicanism, but did not entirely dispel the negative potential inherent in them. The fear that the whole fabric of social hierarchy was coming under concerted attack seems to have haunted the "natural aristocrats" of the American society, the supporters of the Constitution (1787), the Federalists, who hoped that their arrangement of the new republic would "insulate the federal government from the populist forces that had sprung up with the revolution. In addition, it should restore political influence to selfless gentlemen of broad vision and education" (Shalhope 101). (21) For the great bulk of Federalists, republicanism and democracy meant social mobility, equal chances of advancement and career opportunities to men of talent. In their minds, however, any person of ability, in order to move upward, should first acquire all the requisites of social superiority-education, property, social knowledge- before they occupied positions of political authority. In a letter to John Adams in 1813, Thomas Jefferson makes the distinction between natural and artificial aristocracy:
 I agree with you that there is a natural aristocracy
 among men. The grounds of t-his are virtue
 and talents. {...} There is also an artificial aristocracy,
 founded on wealth and birth, without
 either virtue or talents. {...} May we not even
 say that that form of government is the best
 which provides the most effectually for a pure
 selection of these natural aristoi into the offices
 of government? (The Norton Anthology 734). (22)

Considering the real challenge of creating a national culture and a republican government, the patriotic rhetoric of the propaganda plays of the revolutionary period begins to look essentially problematic. In regard to the politics of literary exchange, the dramatic literature of the time was proposed as part of a vast cultural effort to obviate conflicts, in any form, to secure national consensus and homogenization. (23) Its language of many levels and intellectual modes, which aimed primarily at facilitating agreement among a divided citizenry, was actually the language of the colonial elite. Its disinterested mien and inclusive tone could not hide the startling discrepancy which eventually emerged from the delicate situation that the American elite faced, as an aftermath of the revolution, when they realized that, although, so far, they had to solicit the support of ordinary citizens, of the simple folk, now, they had to find ways to minimize such people's role in actually shaping the political and social life of the community. (24) Wrapped in the mantle of liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the ideological boundaries of the political rhetoric excluded a significant number of American voices, thus robbing the new nation of the valuable potential contributions of the silenced. Behind the metaphors of millennial prophesy and republican regeneration, there lies the self-conscious attempt of the hegemonic social force to employ a rubric of advice, which, properly articulated, would command assent among the "determining base." (25) The propagandistic form of the political drama of the time adds to the authority of the written word, while, at the same time, projects only the surface appeal of the republican ideology without concentrating on its pressures and limitations.


(1.) The Italian philosopher and political theorist, Antonio Gramsci, has argued that "every revolution has been preceded by an intense Labor of criticism, by the diffusion of culture and the spread of ideas among the masses of men who are at first resistant, and thinking only of solving their own immediate economic and political problems for themselves, who have no ties of solidarity with others in the same condition" (Bennett 194).

(2.) According to Peter N. Carroll, "by the war's end, nearly one hundred thousand colonial inhabitants had gone into exile in Canada and England"--certainly not a negligible number at all (117).

(3.) Even after the American revolution and Jefferson's "egalitarian" principles, there still remained the arduous task of creating a national culture and identity. To introduce a sense of national unity, the lexicographer Noah Webster proposed a new orthography, a new American language, claiming that "every engine should be employed to render the people of this country national and to inspire them with the pride of national character" (Carroll 127).

(4.) Together with Massachusetts and the northern trading colonies, the American south also had economic reasons to seek independence from England, especially when the Quebec Act was passed. According to the Quebec Act, the old boundaries of the province of Quebec were now extended southward all the way to the Ohio River, thus snatching from the Americans huge trans-Allegheny areas.

(5.) Richard Slotkin explains that "the colonies were founded in an age of printing, in large part by Puritans, who were much inclined toward the writing and printing of books and pamphlets and the creating of elaborate metaphors proving the righteousness of their proceedings" (19).

(6.) Sacvan Bercovitch uses the term "civil millennialism" as a metaphor for America's shift of focus from the closed system of sacred history onto a future world of limitless secular improvement (1978: 135).

(7.) John J. Teunissen calls these plays "politico-literary documents," "philosophical-conversation pieces, not dramas" (149).

(8.) For a comprehensive account of the various ideological sources and traditions that influenced American revolutionary writing, see Bailyn (1991). Without a theatrical tradition of their own to sustain them, the dramatists of the revolution turned to the English political drama of the last quarter of the seventeenth century and the first quarter of the eighteenth in an attempt to fashion aesthetically their ideological tendencies. Although the English political plays were better dramas, in the sense that they followed a strict and recognizable dramatic pattern, the American pamphlet plays were primarily intended for reading, not for performance, aiming at securing adherents to their particular viewpoint.

(9.) Middlekauf argues that the revolution became the primary symbol of promise and prophesy, the instrument of divine Providence, connecting the American struggle for independence with the Protestant revival (50-51).

(10.) The play was published in Philadelphia in 1776 as written "by a gentleman of Maryland," and, according to its preface, it was to instruct Brackenridge's students as an "exercise in oratory." There is no authenticated record of a production of the play, but it seems quite probable that it was performed at the Somerset Academy, in Maryland, where Brackenridge was teaching.

(11.) It was published in Philadelphia in 1776 but there are no records of a production of the play.

(12). For more information about Freneau's mythic view of the revolution, see William D. Andrews.

(13.) Neither The Adulateur nor The Group were ever produced. In 1772, excerpts from The Adulateur were printed in the radical paper the Massachusetts Spy on March 26 and April 23 and, later a revised five-act version of the same play was published anonymously in pamphlet form. The Group appeared both serially in the Boston Gazette and the Massachusetts Spy in 1775 and in full editions in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York.

(14.) Although England remained the center of sophistication and cultural achievement, most eighteenth-century Americans distrusted the luxury and opulence of the metropolis, believing that the facade and sophistication concealed a pervasive evil and degeneracy (Carroll 195).

(15.) For an analysis of Warren's patriotic plays, as well as her romantic tragedies, see my book.

(16.) This is an idea that was first articulated in England by a group of political writers, known as Independent Whigs, who bitterly resented the political machinations which preserved the position of those in power. The New England minister Jonathan Mayhew reproduced these ideas in a sermon preached as early as 1750 (reprinted momentously in 1775) in which he positioned civil government against arbitrary rule, liberty against tyranny (Burstein 24).

(17.) There is no record of a performance of the play. Brackenridge insisted that it was intended only "for the private entertainment of gentlemen of taste" (Moody 136).

(18.) Colonel Robert Munford also wrote The Candidates; or the Humors of a Virginia Election, a brief and light satire on the manner in which elections are run and won. He may have written The Candidates for possible production by Douglass company (Meserve 1977: 87).

(19.) Timothy B. Powell calls the new nation's persistent denial and fear of its own multicultural identity a peculiar kind of "American psychosis" that led to the "seemingly unresolvable conflict between the multicultural history of the country and the violent will to monoculturalism"(3-4).

(20.) See Rossiter and Morris.

(21.) In The Creation of the American Republic, Gordon S. Wood subsumes the Federalist/Antifederalist party oppositions to disagreements within the elite class itself and explains that "republicanism with its emphasis on spartan adversity and simplicity became an ideology of social stratification. Most Revolutionary leaders clung tightly to the concept of a ruling elite" (478).

(22.) Commenting on Adam's and Jefferson's embrace of the term natural aristocrat, Gordon S. Wood writes: "the eighteenth-century gentry did not describe themselves as landowners or professionals who happened to be genteel; instead they were gentlemen who happened to be professionals or landowners. They were, in short, still aristocrats, natural aristocrats, aristocrats of virtue and talent no doubt, but aristocrats nonetheless" (196).

(23.) Edward Watts espouses the notion that the early republic was a "logocracy" in which language played a central role in politicians' efforts at national self-conception. He also contends that "republicanism was always an effort at social, political, and cultural reorganization and never a reality" (16).

(24.) Robert A. Ferguson argues that the Founding Fathers, "idealistic in their assertions, put pen to paper with shabbier needs in mind. The truth may be self-evident, but people must be humored, duped, coaxed, and provoked into accepting it" (7).

(25.) I have borrowed the term from Raymond Williams.


Andrews, William D. "Philip Freneau and Francis Hopkinson." American Literature, 1764-1789: The Revolutionary Years. Ed. Emerson Everett. Madison: The U of Madison P, 1977. 127-44.

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1992.

Bennett, Tony, ed. Culture, Ideology and Social Process. London: The Open UP, 1989.

Bercovitch, Sacvan. "The Typology of America's Mission," American Quarterly XXX (1978): 135-55.

--. The Rites of Assent: Transformations in the Symbolic Construction of America. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Burstein, Andrew. Sentimental Democracy: The Evolution of America's Romantic Self-Image. New York: Hill, 1999.

Carroll, Peter N. and David W. Noble. The Free and the Unfree: A New History of the United States. New York: Penguin, 1987.

Detsi-Diamanti, Zoe. Early American Women Dramatists, 1775-1860. New York: Garland, 1998.

Ferguson, Robert A. "We Hold These Truths": Strategies of Control in the Literature of the Founders." Reconstructing American Literary History. Ed. Sacvan Bercovitch. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1986.

Foulkes, A. P. Literature and Propaganda. London and New York: Methuen, 1983.

Franklin, Benjamin V. The Plays and Poems of Mercy Otis Warren. New York: Scholar's Fascimiles, 1980.

Jowett, Garth S. and Victoria O'Donnell. Propaganda and Persuasion. London: Sage, 1999.

Kuklick, Bruce, ed. Thomas Paine: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.

Meserve, Waiter J. An Emerging Entertainment: The Drama of the American People to 1828. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977.

Middlekauff, Robert. "The Ritualization of the American Revolution." The Development of an American Culture. Ed. Stanley Coben and Lorman Ratner. New York: St. Martin's, 1983.43-57.

Moody, Richard. America Takes the Stage: Romanticism in American Drama and Theatre, 1750-1900. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1977.

Morris, Richard B. The Basic Ideas of Alexander Hamilton. New York: Pocket, 1957.

Moses, Montrose J. Representative Plays by American Dramatists, Vol. 1. New York: Arno, 1978.

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, Vol. 1, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 1998.

Norton, Mary Beth. Liberty's Daughters: The Revolutionary Experience of American Women. Boston: Little, 1980.

Parrington, Vernon L. Main Currents in American Thought, Vol. 1. Norman and London: LI of Oklahoma P, 1987.

Philbrick, Norman. Trumpets Sounding: Propaganda Plays of the American Revolution. New York: Biota, 1972.

Powell, Timothy B. Ruthless Democracy: A Multicultural Interpretation of the American Renaissance. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton UP, 2000.

Richards, Jeffrey H. Theatre Enough: American Culture and the Metaphor of the World Stage, 1607-1789. Durham: Duke UP, 1991.

Rossiter, Clinton, Ed. The Federalist Papers. New York: Penguin, 1961.

Shalhope, Robert E. The Roots of Democracy: American Thought and Culture, 1760 1800. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1990.

Slotkin, Richard. Regeneration through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontiw, 1600-1860. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1973.

Teunissen, John J. "Blockheadism and the Propaganda Plays of the American Revolution." Early American Literature VII (1972): 146-62.

Tyler, Moses Colt. The Literary History of the American Revolution, 2 vols. New York: Putnam, 1892.

Watts, Edward. Writing and Postcolonialism in the Early Republic. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1998.

Williams, Raymond. "Base and Superstructure in Marxist Cultural Theory." Rethinking Popular Culture, ed. Chandra Mukerji and Michael Schudson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.407-23.

Wood, Gordon S. The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1969.

--. The Radicalism of the American Revolution. New York: Vintage, 1993.

ZOE DETSI-DIAMANTI teaches early American Literature in the English Department of Aristotle University, Thessaloniki, Greece. Her most recent publications include a book on Early American Women Dramatists, 1775-1860 (New York: Garland, 1998), and articles on 18th and 19th-century American drama, American culture and ideology.
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Article Type:Critical Essay
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Date:Jan 1, 2004
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