Friday, 15 September 2017

The Adulterer, Part IV: Bardolatry, contd.

   As to content, The Adulterer appears to borrow from or allude to a number of Shakespeare’s dramatic works, though to a lesser degree than in relation to form or style. That being said, the few allusions that may be positively identified remain significant in the manner by which they attempted to connect narrative or personal tropes common to the Shakespearean canon to the events and personalities of 1770s Massachusetts.

Take, for instance, Warren’s highly sympathetic portrayal of the character Brutus. This erstwhile Servian Patriot is in effect the protagonist of The Adulterer. The anguish he feels over the state of his country is made abundantly clear - indeed, the lament he shares with Cassius for benighted Servia is what opens the play, effectively setting the tone for what follows – and his motivations are never presented as anything less than sincere and genuine. That being said, the historical figure after whom he is named was possessed of a rather complicated legacy. Marcus Junius Brutus, as cited previously, was one of the chief conspirators in the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar and a co-commander against Caesar’s angered allies at the Battle of Philippi (42 BC). While his former friend Marc Antony (83 BC-30 BC) was quick to defend the nobility he perceived in Brutus and saw to the respectful disposal of his remains, subsequent observers were far less kind. As the Roman Republic transitioned into the Roman Empire under the authority of the slain Caesar’s adopted son Gaius Octavius (63 BC-14 BC), Brutus became an object of scorn and vilification. Not only was he considered a traitor to Caesar himself – since deified by the Roman Senate – but to the whole of Roman civilization. Later chroniclers – with the exception of essayist Plutarch (46-120) – were similarly unkind. Italian poet Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), author of one of the most famous literary depictions of the historical Brutus, even went so far as to portray him in his Divina Commedia, published in 1321, as doomed to languish in the ninth circle of Hell alongside fellow assassin Cassius and Judas Iscariot.

Anyone reasonably conversant in the history of the ancient Roman civilization – i.e. those citizens of Massachusetts who had received the standard 18th century classical education – would have been aware of these characterizations of Brutus. At best he presented in most historical accounts as noble but credulous, and at worst he was portrayed as vile and disloyal. Why, then, would Warren have named her tragic hero after such a figure? What connotations did she hope to summon by granting her protagonist the name of one of history’s most famous assassins? The answer, as hinted at above, has everything to do with the works of William Shakespeare. The historical Brutus, as it happened, was the also principle character in his neoclassical tragedy Julius Caesar. Though cajoled – some might say manipulated – by Cassius into joining the conspiracy against his friend and mentor, Shakespeare’s Brutus is an exceedingly complex character who constantly grapples with dueling loyalties to the Roman state and to his former benefactor. Once the deed is done, Brutus proceeds to be haunted by Caesar’s ghost; his attempt to save Rome from the tyranny of a demagogue is turned against him by the wily Marc Antony; he becomes an enemy of the state; he loses what few of his allies remain. In spite of what he believed to be the noblest of intentions, it appears as though his actions have doomed himself and his countrymen in equal measure. And yet, at the moment of his suicide, Brutus seems to take some degree of solace in the outcome he has witnessed. “I shall have glory by this losing day,” he avows, “More than Octavius and Mark Antony / By this vile conquest shall attain unto.”

This is the version of Brutus to which Warren’s protagonist most clearly hews. Neither traitor nor dupe, the protagonist of The Adulterer is a man of integrity and conviction who nonetheless grapples with the conflicting impulses of his conscience. At times he feels in his heart a powerful need for retribution upon those who have wronged him, though he resists its urgings in favor of patience, resolution, and a respect for the rule of law. At times he feels compelled to act, to defend Servia from its enemies, by a deep and abiding sense of patriotism, yet he rarely seems to know precisely what it is he ought to do. And upon finally taking action and being met with an outcome that has all the outward appearances of victory, he too easily fails to question the depth of what he and his allies have achieved. This abiding complexity, tendency towards internal conflict, and unquestionably noble intentions are eminently Shakespearean in their basic dimensions. As with the Bard’s tragic hero, Warren’s Brutus is a creature of emotion whose honor and integrity are rooted in the love he feels for his country. His failings are plain enough, but they never detract from the quality of his character or the purity of his intentions. Thus, as with the protagonist of Julius Caesar, the heroic lead in Warren’s The Adulterer is cast as an object of compassion, admiration, pity, and regret.

Clearly, knowledge of the historical Brutus alone would not have prepared audiences in Massachusetts to identify with or feel sympathy towards his Servian namesake. Doubtless many of them were aware of the former’s role in the history of ancient Rome, perhaps even to the point of identifying him as potential symbol of anti-monarchical or pro-republican sentiment. That being said, a people familiar with Shakespeare – which, as discussed, Warren’s intended audience almost certainly was – would doubtless feel a far greater affinity for the character that Shakespeare so skillfully rendered. The Brutus of history was more an icon than a man – emblematic of treachery, conspiracy, lost causes, or noble failures. There was little warmth in the many retellings of his deeds, and little attempt to attribute moral complexity to the decisions he made. Shakespeare’s Brutus was comparatively vital and human, and Julius Caesar a far more affecting chronicle of his last days than even Plutarch’s relatively generous biography. Desirous of eliciting a particular response from her audience – outrage, grief, reflection, etc. – Warren was therefore well-disposed to settle upon Brutus as the name and the inspiration for her brooding hero. Though history had ascribed to the designation all manner of symbolic importance, Shakespeare alone had made it fit for a man who struggles against the forces of history, human weakness, and his own impulses in search of a brighter day for the country he loves.      

In addition to this particularly weighty allusion to one of the great tragic figures of the Shakespearean canon, The Adulterer also contains what appear to be references to famous scenes from both Macbeth and Hamlet. As to the former, two scenes (Act I, Scene II and Act III, Scene IV) offer snatches of dialogue from Rapatio that bear a strong thematic resemblance to Lady Macbeth’s famous “Unsex Me Here” monologue from Act I, Scene V. By way of a refresher, said oration is delivered by the wife of the title character in the form of a sinister plea, by which she hopes to summon the ability to carry out whatever means are necessary to see her husband’s visions of royal succession come to pass. Even by the standards of the Bard of Avon – which are obviously quite high – it is a tremendously effective and visceral piece of writing, full of bodily imagery and hellish allusions. “Come, you spirits [,]” the lady first invokes,

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here;
And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood,
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, your murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
To cry, "Hold, hold!"

From within this passage, several things ought to be marked out for later comparison. First, the manner in which the character addresses herself to a vague group of “spirits,” combined with the ill deeds she seems intent on carrying out, leave a definite impression that Lady Macbeth is not seeking solace by communing with the angels. Rather, it appears that she seeks to invoke the embodied darkness to which the Christian God stands fundamentally opposed. Also worth noting is the exact nature of her plea. She does not ask for something to be done in her behalf – for an old man to die, some accident befall him, etc. Rather, she asks that her own sense of mercy and compassion be stripped away so that she can achieve the desired ends herself. Thus, by asking that some part of herself be extracted or destroyed so that she can serve a larger purpose, Lady Macbeth engages in what is essentially a very twisted act of self-abnegation. 

While Warren does not quite reach this pinnacle of lyric expression in the cited passages of The Adulterer, the general circumstances thereof are notably similar. Act I, Scene II sees Rapatio alone in his home, musing upon the ills that the Patriot cause has visited upon him and girding himself to seek revenge. Working up from bitterness to passionate hatred, the Governor of Servia soon enough resolves that,

            If there is any secret sympathy,
            Which born and bred together, they may claim,
            I give it to the winds -- out! out! vile passion,
            I’ll trample down the choicest of their rights
            And make them curse the hour that gave me birth;
            That hung me up a meteor in the sky,
            Which from its tail shook pestilence and death

Note in these verses Rapatio’s desire to be rid of that part of himself which he finds burdensome to his desired purpose. He seeks revenge for the humiliation that the Patriots have visited upon him – a reference to the real-life Governor Hutchinson’s encounters with mob violence in August, 1765 – and willingly casts “to the winds” whatever sympathy he may be made to feel for having been born and raised in the same country as his hated enemies. Look, too, at the comparison he makes between himself and a meteor, whose tail bring forth “pestilence and death.”  While it may be something of a stretch, a comparison to a passage from the Bible’s book of Revelations appears to speak to Rapatio’s infernal intention. Said passage, from chapter eight, verses ten and eleven, reads, “There fell from heaven a great star burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood, and many men died of the waters [.]” Reading a falling star as a meteor and the poison wrought by Wormwood as “pestilence and death,” it would seem that Rapatio – and thus, Warren – sought to characterize his birth as equivalent to the Biblical apocalypse.

The relevant dialogue from Act III, Scene IV, while somewhat less emphatic, nonetheless seems to spring from the same core sentiment. Referring to the Patriots, whose efforts at seeking recompense for their suffering has reached the peak of its success, as “Mistaken wretches [,]” Rapatio next declares, “Come cunning be my guide, / Beleagued with hell -- Come all those hateful passions / That rouse the mind to action [.]” While in this instance the Governor of Servia seems intent on summoning the will to visit cruelty upon his countrymen, rather than dispelling whatever virtues might prevent him from doing the same, the net result is essentially unchanged from Act I, Scene II – Rapatio seeks to act against his subjects without remorse, seems to doubt his ability to do so, and attempts to summon the will. Lady Macbeth’s plea – though expressed with greater art – is very much on this same order. As she sought to shut out her sense of remorse, so Rapatio flung his feelings of fellowship to the heedless gale. As she asked to be filled, “From the crown to the toe, top-full / Of direst cruelty [,]” he bid welcome to, “All those hateful passions / That rouse the mind to action [.]” And as her invocation of nameless spirits and “Murdering Ministers,” and her plea for the cover of, “The dunnest smoke of hell [,]” evoked a decidedly demonic quality, the parallel he seemed to draw between his arrival on earth and its final ending lent a unequivocal, all-consuming darkness to the subject at hand.

Thus – with admirable subtly, if not admirable skill – Warren appeared to invoke one of the most notorious aspects of one of the notorious characters in the contemporary canon of Western literature. Rapatio did not repeat the lines first penned by Shakespeare for Lady Macbeth – which are likely too gendered to be successfully grafted onto a male character – but rather expressed the same basic sentiment in the same basic context. Lady Macbeth sought to deny the primacy of her kindness, mercy, and compassion – qualities doubtless thought to be womanly, hence the need to be “unsexed” – in order to act in a decisive manner upon the vision of her husband attaining the throne of Scotland. Duncan, King of Scotland and object of her murderous intent, was her countryman – nay, her sovereign lord – to whom she ostensibly owed love, fellowship, and fealty. Her intention to destroy him, therefore, and her consequent willingness to let the utmost darkness take possession of her body and her soul, is a truly monstrous thing. That her outsized ambition is the essence of sinfulness is made clear by her ultimate fate – driven mad by guilt, she ends her own life. Rapatio, meanwhile, endeavored to banish the sympathy he might have felt for his fellow Servians and call to himself the darkest impulses possible in order to quash the latent insurrection of the so-called “Patriots” and preserve his office thereby. As Governor of Servia, he has been bestowed a sacred trust – the fate of his countrymen is his to determine, and their rights his to protect or to deny. His declared intention to trample upon that which his fellow Servians hold dear, and his willingness to associate his existence with death and destruction, is thus cause for horror and revulsion. Granted, the audience is not shown what fate yet awaits cruel Rapatio – he goes unpunished as of the final scene. A familiarity with Shakespeare, of course, and with one of his most enduring characters in particular, would surely have furnished an answer. Only one manner of outcome could lie ahead for a character so self-consciously vile. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

The Adulterer, Part III: Bardolatry

            Notwithstanding the influence of English playwright Joseph Addison upon the character and content of Mercy Otis Warren’s The Adulterer – noted in the previous entry in this series – the style and the text of the play are also marked by certain parallels to the works of another prominent English dramatist whose canon was widely performed and admired in contemporary British America. The artist in question was, of course, one William Shakespeare (1564-1616). Ever-popular, ever-relevant, and seemingly ever-present anytime an English speaker sets pen to paper, it should come as little surprise that Shakespeare was in some way present in Warren’s earliest attempt at political satire. She was, after all, a highly literate woman. Doubtless she had read his work, though a 1750 law passed by the Massachusetts General Court would have prevented her ever taking in a performance. Nevertheless, it bears some explanation as to how she sought to utilize certain elements of the accepted Shakespearean style and why she felt such allusions might be useful.

            To begin, it bears noting the extent to which the works of Shakespeare continued to be performed across the Anglo-American world during the middle-to-late 18th century. Despite the brief ban on most forms of theatre at the behest of Puritan authorities during the Interregnum (1642-1660), the Restoration (1660-1688) witnessed the re-emergence of Shakespeare’s works as both objects of popular enthusiasm and subjects of royal patronage. By the middle of the 18th century – after a period in which producers and actors reacted to what they considered to be dated language and static staging by freely adapting works like The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream into operas that better suited the popular taste – this unchallenged centrality in the canon of English theatre was further reinforced by the coupling of Shakespeare’s original text with the emerging Georgian Era (1714-1830) fascination with celebrity. Star actors like David Garrick (1717-1779) and Charles Macklin (1690-1797) nightly plied their trade at London’s Drury Lane and Covet Garden theatres, not infrequently staring in the same plays on the same night – so high was the demand for quality productions of “the Bard’s” newly restored works. By the early 1740s, a full quarter of the plays being yearly performed in Britain were the product of Shakespeare’s quill, and in 1769 the aforementioned Garrick succeeded in organizing a celebration of Shakespeare’s two hundredth birthday in Stratford-upon-Avon. By the 1770s, the celebrated author of Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet had unquestionably been embraced as the national poet of the British people and had become the premier influence on contemporary English theatre.

            Granting that the above description may not seem to bear much relevance to the popularity of Shakespeare in 18th century colonial Massachusetts, it nevertheless ought to be remembered how closely contemporary Americans’ tastes in music, art, and literature followed those of their British cousins. Certainly there were American composers, painters, and playwrights of the period who developed unique forms, patterns, and models of expression, but they tended to be in the minority. Most American-born painters either studied in England or consciously sought to imitate popular English styles, largely in response to the tastes of an audience that had developed its aesthetic sensibilities by studying prints of the works of prominent English artists. Popular music in the colonies was similarly influenced by the established European Classical model, which formed both the basis of listener expectation and the framework of practitioner education. American theatre was no exception to this trend. Of the earliest productions put on by a professional troupe of actors in British America – that of English theatre manager William Hallam (1712-1758) – the majority were of English extraction. Hallam had been forced to leave London following a declaration of bankruptcy in his competition with the aforementioned David Garrick, and set about organizing a tour of the Thirteen Colonies and the British West Indies in order to recoup some of his losses. Together with his brother Lewis, Hallam brought professional productions of some of the most popular plays in contemporary Britain – The Beaux’ Stratagem and The Recruiting Officer by Irish playwright George Farquhar (1677-1707) and Hamlet, Richard III, and The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare – to theatres in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York. Even the first play of American origins to be put on by professional actors in British America – The Prince of Parthia by Thomas Godfrey (1736-1763) – was a neoclassical tragedy in the mold of Julius Caesar or Coriolanus and was acted by Hallam’s English-trained performers.

            Of course Massachusetts was never the beneficiary of any of these early experiments in American professional theatre. As mentioned above, the General Court – motivated by much the same quality of Puritan censoriousness that had prompted similar measures during the English Interregnum – passed a law in 1750 barring the production of plays of any kind within the boundaries of the colony. Not only does this account for the absence of Hallam’s troupe from Boston – one of the larger settlements in contemporary British America – but it also seems to point towards the manner in which Mercy Otis Warren’s own works were intended to be consumed. After all, why would she have chosen the form of theatrical drama for her attempt at social commentary if she knew The Adulterer would never be performed? The answer, quite simply, is that more people read plays in mid-to-late 18th century British America than saw them staged. Not only is this attested to by documentary evidence of personal ownership of early Folio and Quarto editions of Shakespeare by individual colonists – private citizens, mind, not actors, producers, or playwrights – as early as the 1690s, but the dialogue of prominent members of the Founding Generation was frequently interspersed with quotations from or references to the works of the same.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), for example, was known to recommend the reading of Shakespeare as both a lesson in the finer points of English composition and – in the case of King Lear – an exemplar of the value of filial duty. Massachusetts native John Adams (1735-1826) was no less struck by what he perceived to be the utility of Shakespeare’s work to the occasions and challenges of daily life. Pages from his diary – a practice he kept up throughout his life – nearly burst with passages from The Merry Wives of Windsor, Timon of Athens, and Henry VIII, and letters sent to and received from his wife Abigail (1744-1818) were often accompanied by choice citations. Granting the John and Abigail Adams may conceivably have witnessed performances of Shakespeare prior to the 1750 ban, their obvious and casual familiarity with the text of Shakespeare would seem to indicate that they read the works of the Bard far more often than they ever saw them staged. Taking John Adams as a fair approximation of the kind of audience Mercy Otis Warren hoped to touch with her own work – circa 1773, a reasonably successful, educated, middle class lawyer – it would therefore seem a realistic assumption that her ideal audience possessed both the means and the tastes to recognize and appreciate allusions, parallels, or references to the works of Shakespeare when they encountered them in the works of others.

            The actual forms which The Adulterer’s particularly Shakespearean elements took were several, of both a structural and textual nature. In terms of the former, many scenes of Warren’s tragedy end with a rhyming couplet, and every act ends with the Latin word exeunt – save the last, which ends with the phrase exeunt omnes. The use of rhyming couplets as a form of punctuation at the end of a scene was exceedingly common in the works of Shakespeare, though he was also known to introduce rhyme into the dialogue of certain characters in order to convey specific personality types or represent a sense of artifice. A famous example of a scene-ending couplet can be found at the conclusion of Act II, Scene I of Macbeth, wherein the titular character, intent on murder, announces upon hearing the chiming of a clock, “Hear it not Duncan; for it is a knell / That summons thee to heaven or to hell.” Compare that to the last line of Act I, Scene II of The Adulterer, in which ruthless Rapatio resolves in a double couplet, “Over fields of death; with hastening step I’ll speed / And smile at length to see my country bleed: / From my tame heart the pang of virtue sling, / And mid the general flame like Nero sing.” While, as aforementioned, Shakespeare did not solely confine his application of rhyme to the ending of a scene, the use of such couplets was, and is, a readily identifiable trademark of the Shakespearean style of verse. For Warren’s purpose, therefore, employing rhyming couplets as scene-ending punctuation was an easy way to conjure the feeling or mood of Shakespeare in the minds of her audience.

            The aforementioned use of exeunt and exeunt omnes were similarly typical of Shakespearean scripting, though they admittedly enjoyed a currency that extended beyond the lifetime and works of the Bard of Avon. Taken from the third-person, plural, active form of the Latin verb exeo (to leave), exeunt means essentially “they leave,” and was a common form of stage direction – indicating that a group of characters should depart the scene – among Elizabethan dramatists. Exeunt onmes, meanwhile, with the addition of the third-person, plural, active form of the word omnis (all, every), means “they all leave,” and was often used to conclude the final scene of a particular play. Again, Shakespeare was far from the only playwright of his era to make use of this style of stage expression – a cursory survey of some of the works of contemporaries Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) and Ben Johnson (1572-1637) make this abundantly clear. And there were also a number of 18th century dramatists who continued its use as a standard piece of written stagecraft – the aforementioned George Farquhar, for instance, or fellow Irishman Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1751-1816). Nevertheless, Warren’s use of the same possessed a significance not usually enjoyed by those of her predecessors or contemporaries. Whereas Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer or Sheridan’s The School for Scandal were always meant to be performed – thus making their uses of exeunt essentially invisible to the audience – Warren’s The Adulterer was always meant to be read. The audience of Warren’s freshman theatrical effort would thus have been exposed to the stage direction as well as the verse, just as they had been when reading the works of Shakespeare. Noting the use of exeunt and exeunt omnes in The Adulterer, the impulse to comparison would doubtless have been felt by those who read it – i.e. Warren’s play was overtly Shakespearean in form, and perhaps aspired to be Shakespearean in tone and significance as well.   

            Another common feature among The Adulterer and the works of William Shakespeare is their shared use of what’s called blank verse. Essentially a poetic form that utilizes unrhymed but specifically measured lines, this style of lyrical expression was famously utilized by writers like Shakespeare, his friend and contemporary Christopher Marlowe, and English poet and polemicist John Milton (1608-1674). Shakespeare in particular used a form of blank verse structured on what’s known as an iambic pentameter, wherein each line is divided into ten alternating syllables, five stressed and five unstressed. Thanks in no small part to the efforts and innovations of Shakespeare – who later began to deviate from the strict use of measured syllables, and introduced looser and more varied rhythms as a result – blank verse went on to dominate the style and form of English poetic expression for several centuries after his death. Indeed, by the time The Adulterer was published in 1773, it was still the most popular lyrical form in the realm of English poetry, thanks in no small part to its re-popularization by Milton’s Paradise Lost. Non-poetic blank verse, however, had largely fallen out of favor. Some of the most popular plays in the 18th century Anglo-American world, like the aforementioned Farquhar comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem or Sheridan’s The Rivals, were written in free and unrestricted dialogue, and attempts to write drama in the style popularized by Shakespeare were most often attempted in the spirit of purposeful allusions or imitations. The aforementioned ­Cato, a Tragedy by Joseph Addison – a neoclassical drama on the order of Julius Caesar or Coriolanus – very much falls within this sphere.

            Arguably, so too did Warren’s The Adulterer. Granted, the verse therein does not strictly follow the framework of iambic pentameter. Some lines are short, composed of one or two words, while others contain nine, eleven, or twelve syllables instead of the prescribed ten. Nevertheless, the piece is unmistakably written in verse. It is not a skillfully wrought as Macbeth, say, or Hamlet – it doesn’t trip off the tongue, as it were, in nearly so delightful a manner. The intention, however, is plain enough. Owing to the popularity of comedic works written in far more informal and naturalistic language, it would surely have seemed sensible of Warren to pen her scathing denunciation of the Massachusetts ruling elite as a farce or a comedy of errors – barbed, yes, but uncontrived. That she instead went to the effort of writing The Adulterer in verse would seem to signify an objective beyond the ordinary. More than simply communicating a partisan message to her fellow countrymen, Warren made a point of structuring that message in a very particular way. While this may have represented an attempt at emulating Addison rather than Shakespeare, the familiarity of Warren’s countrymen with the works of the Bard of Avon would seem to recommend the latter. Viewing The Adulterer through the lens of its Shakespearean pretensions, an 18th century audience may well have applied – consciously or otherwise – their internalized assumptions about tragedy, heroism, and pathos to Warren’s first attempt to represent the same. 

Friday, 1 September 2017

The Adulterer, Part II: War of Words

            By the standard established heretofore in this series, I’ll grant that a piece of theatrical satire strikes a rather odd contrast to my usual fare. I stand by the choice, of course. What comes next, I am confident, will prove a fascinating discussion. Nevertheless, I feel the need to explain the sort of approach I intend to make. The Adulterer, after all, is a piece of literature. In consequence, there will be much talk of meaning and characterization in what follows, as well as symbolism, narrative, theme, and subtext. A discussion of such things is made necessary by the fact that the document in question is not a plain recording of – or reaction to – certain historical events as they occurred. Rather, it is an interpretative response – an attempt by Warren to communicate an idea or an emotion that reflects upon certain facts, all through the medium of creative allegory.

I justify wading into this dense and thorny area – to myself as well as to anyone else – by maintaining that there is much to learn about Warren’s understanding of events in 1770s Massachusetts within the text of The Adulterer. Not only does it represent her personal reaction to the plight her country suffered, but it would also seem to constitute an attempt on her part to shape the public conversation that followed by encouraging similar reactions from among her beleaguered countrymen. That she used satire – so often a medium of outrage, by which the powerless vent their anger at those in power – to attempt this is telling. And so too are the themes, names, and symbols she chose – telling of what her ultimate aim might have been, of the nature of her audience, and of their shared conception of the challenges they then faced. How she chose to express herself, in short, is in this context equally as important as precisely what it is she said. If such things are of little interest to you – if, like me, you shunned school lessons in English because you didn’t like being told how to correctly interpret a given piece of art – then by all means feel free to excuse yourself for the next little while. We shall soon enough return to our regularly scheduled programming. In the meantime, however, we shall press on. To begin, it would seem prudent to outline the plot of The Adulterer. Thereafter, in this first entry, I’d like to highlight a few noteworthy aspects of form and discuss some of the ways that Mercy Otis Warren used language and subtext to build meaning into her work.

As noted previously, the play is a fairly compact five act satire whose setting and characters were meant to symbolize late 18th century Massachusetts and its various inhabitants. The land depicted is named Servia, with its governor called Rapatio. An unabashed tyrant, Rapatio seeks to enrich himself and his followers by extinguishing his fellow Servian’s stubborn love of freedom. The piece opens with an extended conversation between Patriots and citizens Brutus, Cassius, Portius, and Junius which sees the four men loudly lament the sorry state of the country as compared to its illustrious beginnings. The spirits of their forefathers would weep to see what Servia has become, the four of them agree, and it therefore falls to them to make right what has gone so wrong. The scene then shifts to the home of Rapatio, who curses the Patriots and vows revenge for indignities he earlier suffered at their hands. Rapatio’s Secretary of State, Dupe, then enters, praises his superior, and begs to be remembered when the man comes into the full extent of his power. This basic dichotomy – Brutus, Cassius, and their friends and allies as a noble, beleaguered people arrayed against the self-consciously ruthless Rapatio and his various sycophantic deputies – forms the narrative spine of what follows. Scenes thereafter accordingly alternate between the laments, frustrations, and exhortations of the Patriots and the unreservedly vile machinations of Rapatio and his clique.

Brutus and Cassius next witness the death of an innocent youth by one of Rapatio’s supporters, Portius arrives and urges the need for revenge, and Brutus calms him with words of prudence and wisdom. Rapatio, consulting with the commander of Servia’s military – one Bagshot – then curses the riotous behavior of the Patriots and plots a violent response to increasing popular agitation. The next scene sees Brutus reflecting upon the cruelty of human existence, only to be interrupted by first Cassius, and then Portius and Junius, all of whom alert him of the recent murder of their fellow citizens by Bagshot’s soldiers. The three scenes that follow then show Brutus and his allies as they mourn their fallen countrymen, express their desire for revenge, and ultimately resolve to demand of Rapatio that the soldiers be removed from Servia’s streets. A meeting between Rapatio and some Senators is next depicted, wherein the latter entreat the former to recall the offending soldiers before the beleaguered masses take matters into their own hands. Raptio claims he must speak to Bagshot before making any such decisions and Bagshot advises that Rapatio back down – “Honor says, stand -- but prudence says, retire.” Rapatio reluctantly agrees with this advice, returns to the Senators, and makes known his ostensible commitment to heal the breach between the government and people of Servia. Having been informed of this outcome, Brutus celebrates what appears to be the peaceful resolution of an incipient crisis.

The next four scenes focus either on Rapatio or his various subordinates as they express their contempt for the common people of Servia or the devotion they feel towards their leader. This sequence begins with Rapatio, his brother Meagre, his brother-in-law Limput, and a soldier whose name is rendered as P____p, then introduces another soldier named Gripeall, then becomes a monologue for Rapatio – wherein he attempts to banish his conscience – before finally shifting into a second monologue, this time for the Lord Chief Justice character Hazelrod. A third monologue follows, whereby Brutus once more laments the state of his country and its people and begs the “powers divine” to render some aid against so reprehensible a foe as Rapatio has proven. The next scene finds the accused murderer of the innocent youth mentioned earlier – named E____r – awaiting the judgement of his countrymen in his cell. He complains of being put up to the task by Rapatio and his supporters and then abandoned, at which point Hazelrod appears to reassure him that the entire cohort is working to see him released. The final scene then commences: Brutus, dejected and discouraged, encounters a young Patriot, the previously unseen Marcus. Marcus, eager and earnest, professes his desire to be of some aid in the rescue of their country, to which Brutus advises that persistence and integrity are the best remedies anyone can seek. Refuse preferment, and allow monsters like Rapatio to be, “Crushed in the ruins they themselves have made,” he declares, and a brighter future will yet dawn upon benighted Servia.       

            While certainly not the most compelling piece of dramatic expression ever penned by human hand, The Adulterer was – in 1773 – and remains significant in ways that have little to do with the quality of its text or the rendering of its characters. Indeed, its various constituent elements – character names, elements of style, overt and subtextual references, etc. – seem at times about as important to its author’s intentions as the narrative itself. Yes, it does essentially retell the events of 1770 in Boston, during which the looming crisis between the American colonies and the Crown reached its lowest point to date. And yes, it does present Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson – as Rapatio – and his various allies – as Limput, Meagre, Bagshot, Hazelrod, et al. – as unabashedly greedy, vicious, conniving, and merciless. But these could hardly be considered revelations. The Boston Massacre (March 5th, 1770) was by 1773 a cause for mourning and resentment across Massachusetts – recognized, in fact, by the observance of Massacre Day between 1771 and 1783. There was surely little Warren could add to what had been said already to deepen the sense of bitterness and loss her countrymen already felt. And as to Hutchinson and his clique of colonial officials, a great number of Warren’s fellow citizens were doubtless already convinced by the time that The Adulterer was published that every officer of the Crown from Governor down to custom’s clerk was as vile and reprehensible as it was possible for a human to be.

In consequence, then, the purpose of The Adulterer was likely not to convince its intended audience of the brutality of British behavior in America or the cruelty and callousness of colonial officialdom. It would rather seem probable that Warren’s aim was to simultaneously confirm her viewers’ assumptions as to the state of government in Massachusetts and direct them towards a reaction or a perspective that she felt to be most appropriate. This, she seemed to attempt by a number of means. The first and most obvious of which was through the aforementioned use of certain specific references and stylistic elements. Some of these components likely functioned as code-words of a sort, whereby the initiated could be made aware of the playwright’s sympathies. Others appeared to operate on the level of making the subject matter at hand – i.e. the recent calamities suffered by the people of Massachusetts – amendable to the tastes of the contemporary theatre-going public. Each served to facilitate Warren’s ultimate goal – though not always harmoniously – of provoking a particular response among her audience by representing familiar events through a slightly skewed lens.

Take, for example, the quotation Warren chose to include at the beginning of the piece, from Act II, Scene III of English playwright Joseph Addison’s Cato, a Tragedy. It read in full,

Then let us rise, my friends, and strive to fill
This little interval, this pause of life
(While yet our liberty and fates are doubtful)
With resolution, friendship, Roman bravery,
And all the virtues we can crowd into it;
That Heaven may say it ought to be prolonged.

Notwithstanding the content of it – though doubtless it would have struck many in Warren’s intended audience as particularly relevant to their as-yet unresolved plight – the choice of its inclusion says a great deal about the mood of what followed and to whom The Adulterer was supposed to be addressed. Addison (1672-1719), a statesman, essayist, and general man of letters, was among the most famous public personalities of late Restoration and early Georgian Britain, with Cato – written in 1712 – as by far his most popular and influential published work. Set during the last days of Roman Senator Cato the Younger, the play depicted the twilight of the Roman Republic through the words and deeds of perhaps its last implacable defender. Against the backdrop of the imminent arrival of Julius Caesar, Addison’s Cato meditates on such themes as individual liberty, monarchism, republicanism, logic, and personal conviction, culminating in the titular character’s decision to commit suicide rather than live in a world dominated by the will of a single individual.  

Celebrated by members of both the Whig and Tory political factions in contemporary British politics, Addison’s Cato notably served to stir Thomas Gordon (1691-1750) and John Trenchard (1662-1723) to pen a series of essays under the title Cato’s Letters which collectively denounced the corruption and tyranny the two men perceived as having crept into the practice of government in Britain. As discussed in weeks past, these essays were themselves a potent influence upon the thinking and writing of the Founding Generation, though Addison’s original play was inarguably an even greater source of affection and inspiration. Among men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington, there appeared to be no single piece of literature upon which more affection was heaped. Washington in particular was exceptionally fond of the play, quoted it often, and even requested a performance for his men while they camped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania in the winter of 1777-1778. In Washington’s eyes, it seemed, Addison’s tragic hero was the very embodiment of virtue, self-sacrifice, and integrity. As Cato resolved to cleave to his convictions even in the face of death, so did Washington frequently declare that he would rather dispose of the honors and offices made available to him and retire in obscurity, secure in the knowledge that he had done what his conscience demanded. Granting that few of Washington’s fellow Americans attempted to live the lessons imparted by Addison’s Cato to quite this extent, the play and its title character were undeniably objects of great reverence and inspiration throughout much of British America in the latter half of the 18th century.

Warren’s quotation from Cato, therefore, was likely intended to both reflect the affection she felt for a piece of literature that had served as a personal inspiration and also act as a kind of signal to those among her audience who were similarly inclined. That said quotation precedes the text of The Adulterer doubtless speaks to the importance its author attached to this objective. Before a single line of her own creation reached the ears of the viewer, they were first to be made aware that Warren was fond of Addison’s greatest creation, that she valued its message, and that she believed some portion of it might effectively preface what she herself had to say. To that end, those among her audience who were likewise devotees of Addison’s tragic hero would surely have kept the fact of the quotation – and all that it suggested – in mind as The Adulterer commenced. The entire work, in effect, existed in the shadow of Cato.  While this might not have been the most flattering critical comparison, it was one which Warren seemed keen to invoke. And in so doing, she essentially set the stage for what followed – a tragedy in the style of Addison, in which virtue was confronted by corruption and tyranny, a hero grapples with the dictates of his conscience, and a great people are brought low by the ambitions of a single man.       

The names that Warren chose for the various characters featured in The Adulterer are similarly indicative of the kind of narrative she intended to portray and the various virtues and vices that formed the core of its moral dynamic. The aforementioned governor of beleaguered Servia, for instance, was named Rapatio. Doubtless audiences were meant to perceive an association with words like “rapacity” – aggressive greed – and “rapaciousness” – excessively grasping or covetous – and to attach these characteristics to the character itself. Before he even opened his mouth, then, the antagonist of Warren’s narrative was already marked out as a man of excessive, clutching, perhaps even destructive avarice. The various members of Rapatio’s retinue were for the most part also given names that connoted negative character traits. Hazelrod, for instance, was another term for a length of birch – a “switch” – with which a contemporary parent might have administered a beating to their child. The moniker bestowed upon the Secretary of State of Servia – Dupe – was meanwhile surely meant to evoke an image of credulity or foolishness, Rapatio’s brother Meagre was doubtless named as such to imply a fundamental personal inadequacy, and military officer Gripeall to denote one who finds fault in everything he sees. Combined, the overall impression of the antagonists of The Adulterer would therefore seem to be one of pettiness, self-indulgence, querulousness, and imprudence. 

The protagonists of The Adulterer – representative of the oppressed people of Servia – were blessed with comparatively unoriginal designations, though they were no less significant to the general impression Warren seemed eager to convey. Brutus, the ostensible hero of the piece, shared his name with both the semi-mythical founder of the Roman Republic, Lucius Junius Brutus (???-509 BC), and Marcus Junius Brutus (85 BC-42 BC), assassin of Julius Caesar. Both namesakes were exceedingly important figures within the history of republican Rome, and perhaps more importantly within the context of 18th century political philosophy. Symbolic both of the overthrow of a corrupt monarchy – the semi-legendary Roman Kingdom – and the slaying of an unabashed tyrant, Brutus was among the many Roman pseudonyms deployed by 18th century Anglo-American essayists who wished to denounce corruption or plead for a return to some lost age of virtue. Cassius, another Patriot of Servia and friend to Brutus, possessed a similar pedigree. Gaius Cassius Longinus (85 BC-42 BC) was another of Caesar’s assassin’s, and along with his co-conspirator Brutus had attained a degree of reverence among 18th century admirers of classical republicanism for his failed attempt to hold back the tide of encroaching tyranny. By naming her two central protagonists after these illustrious figures, Warren no doubt hoped to evoke these very same connotations – of virtue, conviction, and opposition to despotism.

Another friend and ally of Brutus was the aforementioned Junius. In addition to possessing another self-consciously Roman name, Junius also shared his moniker with an otherwise unknown essayist who contributed a number of letters to London’s Public Advertiser between 1769 and 1772. Among the various topics that these letters discussed, a large number were directed towards both informing the British public of the nature and history of their rights under the English Constitution as well as drawing attention to the various instances in which the contemporary governments of the Duke of Grafton (1735-1811) and Lord North (1732-1792) had infringed upon those selfsame rights. Corruption, it seemed, was the great sin of these redoubtable public servants, along with a lack of respect for freedom of the press and a persistent abuse of the royal prerogative, and the self-styled Junius took it upon himself to alert his fellow citizens to the crimes he believed were being perpetrated in the name of Parliament, the Crown, and the British people. The letters were well received and widely re-printed, and at the same moment that Parliament was actively grappling with a group of recalcitrant colonies on the outskirts of the Empire over similar accusations of corruption, the infringement of established liberties, and the prerogatives of the Crown. Warren’s invocation of the name Junius in her 1773 satirical drama, therefore, was surely intended to pay tribute to – and express solidarity with – this unknown but highly-regarded polemicist whose chosen cause seemed to align quite closely with that of the citizens of British America.

The final two Patriots of Servia to feature in The Adulterer were called Portius and Marcus. Likewise possessing typically Roman designations – Warren’s identification of colonial Massachusetts and the Roman Republic is hardly in doubt – these characters also happened to share the names of the Cato’s sons in Joseph Addison’s aforementioned tragedy. The Portius and Marcus of Cato open the play with a dialogue concerning the ruins to which the two believe Julius Caesar has reduced the Roman people – “Is there not some chosen curse,” Marcus laments, “to blast the man/Who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin?” Marcus is later slain while attempting to foil an attempted betrayal of his father by men he thought to be his allies – “Thy brother Marcus acts a Roman’s part,” Cato remarks upon being informed – and Portius is present upon his father’s self-inflicted demise. As with the quotation from Addison cited above, Warren’s use of these two specific names for characters in her own theatrical meditation on virtue and corruption was doubtless intended as both a form of tribute as well as a kind of signal to her audience. Those familiar with the tragedy Cato would surely have recognized them, marked their significance, and inferred something about the message of The Adulterer and the intentions of its author. This was most assuredly Warren’s objective, to invoke the weight that Addison’s greatest work carried among her countrymen and direct it towards the realization of her own particular literary ends.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Adulterer, Part I: Context

            Moved by recent events – too many, I think, to name specifically – and not a little bit inspired by what I consider to be a fairly successful deviation from the accustomed focus of these posts witnessed of these months just passed, I’ve decided to once again follow my present whimsy in what is, for me, a rather unusual direction. For the next several weeks, I’m not going to be discussing a treaty, a constitution, a public address, or a statute. Nor am I going to spend what is most assuredly an inordinate amount of time alternately picking apart or rhapsodizing the polemic scribblings of men who have been dead for longer than the nation in which I was born and reside has existed. I will, of course, return to such things in due time. My particular neurosis, you see, is incurable, though I may from time to time succeed in holding it at bay. This present moment is one of those times, as it happens. And so, with your indulgence, dear reader, I’d like to discuss something which on the surface would appear almost entirely out of place in an orthodox discussion of the documentary history of the American Founding. I’d like to talk about a piece of art – a play, in fact – that was created by a woman.

            Here I shall pause for effect.


            Very good.

            Yes, a play. It is, in fairness, a drama whose political overtones are painfully obvious, so you see I have not wholly taken leave of my senses. Its author has also already been a subject of this series, though it was in her role as a political commentator and polemicist. I speak, of course, of one Mercy Otis Warren. Having done so, however, I feel compelled to admit that it is something of a shame that the only women whose work has been heretofore discussed in this forum shall be forced to remain so for the present. I would so like to explore the written efforts of other members of her sex, provided they are in some way relevant to the American Founding, but ready examples are not always so easy to find. I will, rest assured, continue my periodic search for such things. For the moment, however, we shall remain in the capable hands of Mrs. Warren. Hardly a consolation prize, I think – rather more a privilege – for the article to be examined henceforth is a rare and valuable thing.

            First published in 1773, The Adulterer was a compact, five-act drama intended as a send-up of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711-1780) and an encomium to the virtue, the fortitude, and the prudence of her fellow citizens of Massachusetts. Granted, she did not portray these things quite as plainly as that. As per the customs of contemporary satire, all subjects and settings under discussion were given false names. Massachusetts was “Upper Servia” and Hutchinson portrayed as “Rapatio” – because people in the 18th century, it turns out, liked bad wordplay as much as the creators of Rocky & Bullwinkle.  Rapatio’s various hangers-on, meanwhile, were given foolish-sounding names like “Hazelrod,” “Dupe,” and “Gripeall” and the good people of Servia granted noble Roman monikers like “Brutus,” “Junius,” and “Portius.” Subtlety, in short, was not much in evidence. And yet, in the bold strokes with which Warren painted her heroes and her villains it is possible to discern something of the popular mood in colonial Massachusetts on the very eve of the Revolutionary War. Hutchinson was not the tyrant Rapatio, and the colony he governed not the benighted land of Servia. In 1773, however, this mattered but little.

            While treatises and broadsides like John Dickinson’s Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-1768) or Thomas Jefferson’s A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774) explained at length what certain American colonists thought about British attempts to subvert their accustomed prerogatives, examples of artistic expression like The Adulterer seemed more interested in attempting to articulate how the crisis then unfolding made the citizens of British American feel. If her fellow citizens responded to Warren’s portrait of their plight – and indeed they did – it was no doubt because it felt to them like the truth. Or perhaps it was a matter of aspiration. The ancient Roman past that Warren was so keen to allude to in her dramatic recasting of the plight of Massachusetts was never as noble as 18th century commentators made it seem. Orators and statesmen like Cato the Younger (95BC – 46BC) and Cicero (106BC – 43BC) may well have been good, honest, noble men who were truly worthy of admiration, but the society from which they emerged was often plagued by corruption, civil war, and a latent quality of authoritarianism. By the same token, colonial Massachusetts could hardly have been considered a bastion of 18th century Enlightenment thought. Culturally conservative and staid, censorious, and equally characterized by a self-interested merchant class and a petty governing elite, the country of Warren’s birth did not favorably compare to the contemporary ideal of the balanced and virtuous Roman Republic.

            Warren’s intention, therefore, by portraying contemporary Massachusetts using decidedly Roman cultural markers, was perchance not to draw a literal comparison between the two societies. Rather, by using the image of ancient Rome that had come to exist within the discourse of the philosophical Enlightenment – with its self-sacrificing statesmen, carefully-constructed government, and lionization of public service – as a kind of costume for her like-minded countrymen, she perhaps sought to inspire and channel their better impulses towards a useful end. And just as 18th century students of ancient Rome needed figures like Julius Caesar (100BC – 44BC), Sulla (138BC – 78BC), and Catiline (108BC – 62BC) to represent the forces of corruption, avarice, and the betrayal of republicans ideals, Warren needed her Rapatio to take on the role of traitor and autocrat against which the citizens of Servia could set themselves as defenders of all that was good, and virtuous, and rational. Thus, as good satire often does, The Adulterer portrayed a heightened version of reality that bent the facts to suit its author’s intentions without twisting them so as to appear wholly unrecognizable. The people of Massachusetts, therefore, saw in the good people of Servia a version of themselves to which they might conceivably have aspired. And in Rapatio they saw a version of Governor Hutchinson which many of them doubtless expected was far too near at hand.
Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First, as always, let’s have a word or two on some of our principle players, and then several more on the times in which they lived and worked.

            As Warren’s biography was presented upon her first appearance in these pages some months ago, what follows will naturally be somewhat abridged. Of her birth and upbringing, it will suffice to say that she was born in 1732 in Barnstable, Massachusetts, that she was the third of thirteen children born to James Otis, Sr. (1702-1778) and Mary Allyne (1702-1774), that her father was a prominent lawyer and statesman, and that Mercy was accordingly raised in a household that prized literacy and tended towards a high degree of political engagement. Between studying under family tutor Johnathan Russell and aiding her brother James Jr. (1725-1783) with his graduate readings at Harvard, she managed to acquire an education of uncommon depth for a woman in 18th century Massachusetts. She subsequently put this intellectual cultivation to use, after having married Plymouth lawyer and merchant James Warren (1726-1808), as a fervent supporter, correspondent, and counsellor to a number of local political organizations – the infamous Sons of Liberty chief among them – as they became increasingly concerned by the emerging crisis between Great Britain and its American colonies. In consequence, over the course of the 1760s and early 1770s, Warren maintained regular contact with such soon-to-be-prominent figures as John (1735-1826) and Abigail (1744-1818), and Samuel (1722-1803) Adams, hosted political meetings in her Plymouth home, and even began to put her budding literary prowess to public use with the publication of several highly satirical plays. The first of these, The Adulterer, was published anonymously in preview on March 22nd, 1772 in the Massachusetts Spy, with a completed edition available the following year.  

            As mentioned above, the antagonist of Warren’s Adulterer, the tyrannical Rapatio, was intended as a pastiche of one Thomas Hutchinson, then Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Since Hutchinson’s life has likewise been related in these pages – in the final entry on one of Benjamin Franklin’s own satirical efforts – the following chronicle will once again strive for brevity.
            Born in 1711 to a prominent merchant family in the North End of Boston, Hutchinson graduated from Harvard at age sixteen, became established in business at age twenty-one, and entered politics at age twenty-six. Serving first as a Boston Selectman, he was thereafter elected to the colonial legislature in 1728, lost his seat in 1739 because of his opposition to the use of paper currency, was re-elected in 1742, and defeated again in 1749. These recurrent setbacks notwithstanding, Hutchinson was thereafter appointed to the Massachusetts Legislative Council, granted a seat on the Court of Common Pleas, and became Lieutenant-Governor in 1758 and Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature – in spite of the post having been earlier promised to James Otis Sr. – in 1760. Despite – or perhaps because of – this steady rise within the ranks of the colonial elite, however, the pinnacle of Hutchinson’s professional success proved also to herald the most trying years of his life. Between 1760 and his recall from the governorship in 1774, his every official action seemed to meet with accusations of tyranny and corruption by the increasingly belligerent – and increasingly organized – opposition to the colony’s traditional elite.

            In spite of his personal opposition to the passage and implementation of the Stamp Act (1765), for instance, his efforts to promote a moderate response by the colonial legislature earned him the epithet of traitor among his countrymen. This perception was hardly allayed by his first official act as Governor in 1771. Commensurate with instructions from London, the colonial legislature was to be relocated from Boston to Cambridge – away from the influence of the former city’s radicals. This met with yet another firestorm of criticism, which in turn evolved into a lengthy and passionate public debate between Hutchinson and his opponents over issues of executive authority, taxation, and parliamentary supremacy. The results were effectively twofold. First, Hutchinson’s ardently Tory-leaning positions left him increasingly isolated from his fellow countrymen in Massachusetts. Second, by effectively tying his own personal unpopularity to the efforts of Parliament to assert its sovereignty over the colonies, British colonial authorities observed that their chosen magistrate seemed only to have succeeded in further radicalizing elements of the colonial population who were otherwise moderate in their views. When a packet of latter written by Hutchinson to a correspondent in Britain – in which he expressed opinions unfavorable to the Massachusetts radical position and promoted increased executive authority at the behest of the colonial legislature – subsequently found their way into print, it didn’t take long for the colonial legislature to begin drafting a request for his immediate recall. This request was eventually granted in the aftermath of the so-called “Boston Tea Party” of December, 1773, and Hutchinson sailed for London in June, 1774.

            At this point it perhaps also bears remembering – to some degree of detail – that much of what transpired in the lives of Warren and Hutchinson that is of particular interest to the forthcoming discussion took place against a backdrop of political tension and civil unrest. From where these condition arose is – I hope – well-known at this point. Nevertheless, a brief overview of events in the Thirteen Colonies through 1773:

            By the conclusion of the Seven Years War (1754-1763), Great Britain’s national debt had risen to a new and entirely unprecedented extreme at the same time that its military establishment had also grown tremendously. Eager to both retire the staggering obligations they had accrued and see to the continued employment of hundreds of army officers from well-connected families, the government of Prime Minister George Grenville (1712-1770) hit upon a controversial solution. Revenue was to be raised from Britain’s possessions in America through legislation like the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765), the stated purpose of which would be to fund the continued defense of said possessions by the surplus officers and their respective commands. While these measures effectively side-stepped the issue of either raising taxes in Britain itself or establishing a standing army in a nation whose political culture was violently opposed to the very idea, the response from Britain’s subjects in America was far from sanguine. A tax on sugar or on revenue stamps notwithstanding, it was the apparent violation of their accustomed rights that the colonists took particular issue with. Inculcated with many of the same core political and cultural values as their cousins in Britain, Americans from Massachusetts to Georgia vociferously objected both to the stationing of military personal in their home countries during a time of peace and to the levying of taxes by a legislature in which not one of them enjoyed direct representation. The Grenville Ministry, though otherwise willing to grant the primacy of these convictions, meanwhile reacted poorly to what they perceived as a challenge to the supremacy of Parliament and the loyalty it felt British subjects in America owed to the Crown. The result, in the immediate, was something of an impasse.

            For their part, colonial governments in America agreed amongst themselves to the need for a collective response to British intransigence. The resulting Stamp Act Congress of 1765 – during which delegations from nine colonies met in New York City for the purpose of crafting a strategy of resistance – generated a series of joint petitions intended to convey the shared objections of Britain’s American subjects to both Parliament and King George III (1738-1820), as well as plans for a non-importation agreement intended to secure the repeal of the hated statutes. While British authorities were alarmed by the decidedly unauthorized nature of the New York meeting, the complaints of British merchants which resulted from a total American boycott of their manufactured goods eventually succeeded in pressuring the vulnerable government of the Marquess of Rockingham (1730-1782) into replacing the Sugar Act and nullifying the Stamp Act. That this latter action was accompanied by a formal declaration by Parliament that it nevertheless possessed the unequivocal right to make law for the colonies in all cases, however, did not appear to bode well for the colonies. The subsequent passage of the Townshend Acts (1767) – a series of taxes on goods like paper, paint, and lead – seemed amply to bear this out. Colonists again widely rejected the premise of being taxed by a legislature in which they did not enjoy representation, and found additional fault in the notoriously corrupt Board of Customs Commissioners established in Boston to see the taxes collected and the heavy-handed tactics of the Admiralty Courts assigned to prosecute alleged violators. Smuggling became rampant, riots more and more common, and the attitudes of both sides seemed daily to harden.

            In the midst of these tensions, newly-appointed Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Hillsborough (1718-1793) made the arguably fatal decision to deploy military force as a means of ensuring colonial cooperation. First, the warship HMS Romney was stationed in Boston Harbor as a means of countering continued attempts to circumvent customs duties via the smuggling of taxed goods. Second, in response to the harassment regularly suffered by customs officials and the popular ire generated by the attempted prosecution of local residents accused of violating the Townshend duties, four regiments of the British Army under General Thomas Gage (1719-1787) were garrisoned in Boston beginning in October of 1768. While two of these regiments were removed shortly thereafter in 1769, the two that remained proved more than capable of arousing the suspicion and resentment of the city’s civilian population all on their own. The events of March 5, 1770 paid fatal heed to this conviction. Following an altercation between an apprentice wigmaker and a British sentry outside the Custom House on State Street, a confrontation between a growing mob of incensed Bostonians and a hastily-assembled patrol of British regulars ended in bloodshed when the soldiers fired into the crowd. Three people were killed instantly, one died the next morning, and another passed away two weeks later. Thomas Hutchinson, then acting-Governor of Massachusetts, arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and struggled to reassert order. Eventually the crowd was dispersed, the British soldiers arrested, and charges of murder drawn against them. The trial that followed – one of the most closely-watched in the history of Massachusetts, and during which Boston lawyer John Adams acted for the defence – ended in acquittal for six of the eight accused and guilty verdicts on charges of manslaughter for the remaining two.     

            The already tenuous relationship between the people and government of Massachusetts and the Crown and Parliament of Britain took on an increasingly volatile aspect in the years that followed what quickly became known – thanks in no small part to the agitations of Boston radicals like Samuel Adams – as the Boston Massacre. While, soon after his ascension to the post of Prime Minister in 1770, Lord North (1732-1792) oversaw the repeal of most of the import taxes that had so aroused the anger of Britain’s American subjects, his government’s conviction that a tax on tea should remain – and that Parliament still possessed the inherent right to levy taxes upon the colonies of British America – did little to avert this potentially fatal trajectory. Indeed, it was the continuation and expansion of duties on tea that precipitated the next major episode in the series of events leading to outright war between the Thirteen Colonies and the Kingdom of Great Britain. Eager to aid the financially-struggling East India Company, and desirous of colonial recognition of its claimed right to tax, the North Ministry devised the Tea Act (1773) as a means of accomplishing both objectives simultaneously. Under its terms, Company tea could be exported from British warehouses duty free, shipped directly to ports in North America, offloaded by authorized co-signees in the colonies, and sold at a price deemed low enough to undercut the cost of smuggled Dutch tea. As the established Townshend duty on tea would remain in force, the relative savings compared to the contraband product would theoretically ensure the tacit public acceptance of Parliament’s acclaimed right of taxation.   
            In point of fact, however, the residents of the various British American colonies were not so easily distracted by the lure of a good bargain. Conscious of the political implications of the Tea Act, associations of merchants – whose business as importers of legal goods was being undercut – and smugglers – whose role as supplier of untaxed goods was similarly threatened – organized to harass Company co-signees and prevent the Company product from being offloaded or sold in American ports. In some cases this campaign resulted in tea being returned by ship to Britain, while in others it simply meant that the offending product was left to rot on ships anchored in American ports. Thomas Hutchinson, now fully the Governor of Massachusetts, sought to avoid the former outcome by order Company ships to remain anchored in Boston Harbor while prevailing upon local merchants to see reason. On December 16th, 1773, a small group of Bostonians took matters into their own hands. Disguised as Native Americans, a contingent of men boarded the Company ships and threw over three hundred chests of tea – the entire shipment – into the harbor. This “Boston Tea Party” subsequently inspired similar acts of defiance in other American ports where Company tea remained unloaded, enjoyed a full-throated defence from radicals like Samuel Adams, and brought about the harshest reprisals yet seen from a British Parliament now utterly convinced that America was on the verge of insurrection.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Jay Treaty, Part XIII: Meta-text

            Looking back, I don’t suppose that I anticipated the present series on the Jay Treaty to carry on quite so long as it did. I don’t suppose that you did either, dearest readers, so in that sense we’ve both been taken by surprise. Initially, all that I really wanted to do was explore the meaning and significance of what I believed was a seminal document in the history of the American First Party system. I believe I said as much in the first entry. The Jay Treaty seemed to me to crystalize what was in practice a fairly mutable political dichotomy between the contemporary Federalist and Republican factions. It thus appeared a fruitful proposition to attempt an exploration of the thing itself. Its various articles and clauses, I believed, might well communicate a great deal about the kind of country the United States was in 1795, how it saw itself within the world of Great Power diplomacy, and the kinds of priorities its citizens felt it ought to pursue. As it happened, however, understanding the significance of the Jay Treaty within the context of the First Party System required paying heed to more than just that single document. I suppose I knew that. Depth of context has always been a major focus of my writing here, and there was really no reason for me to think that this particular project would require anything less.

The thing of it is, though, this series has turned out to require the exploration of a great deal more context than just about any I’ve yet attempted. Because, as it turns out, you can’t really talk about the significance of the Jay Treaty within the American First Party system without delving into the Republican polemic response. That topic in itself might easily occupy an entire series of essays, of even greater length and depth than those presented here. Bearing that in mind, I tried, out of a sense of consideration for the patience of my audience, to confine my attention to the work of only two of the Jay Treaty’s Republican critics. Robert Livingston and Alexander Dallas each represent a different avenue of attack against the efforts of Jay, Hamilton, and their fellow Federalists to seal a substantial diplomatic agreement between the United States and Great Britain, though they were hardly alone in their efforts. Other of their fellow partisans offered different kinds of critiques, based on different assumptions and targeting different aspects of the final draft of the treaty. Granting that there was almost certainly a sense of broad agreement amongst them all as to core principles, this diversity of ideas and approaches is best not forgotten. Easy though it may be to conceive of the 18th century Republican faction as chiefly a mouthpiece for the ideological proclivities of one Thomas Jefferson, in was in fact about as united at any given moment as any American political party has ever been – that is to say, more in name and general direction than in terms of policy or platform specifics.

And of course, having sought out some of the various contemporary critiques of the Jay Treaty, a reasonably complete exploration of said document’s significance to the First Party System must of necessity also include a discussion of the Federalist response to the Republican response. Thus we find, as ever, the bullish, methodical, and oft-as-not exhausting rhetoric of Alexander Hamilton. Having helped to convince Washington that a final diplomatic entreaty was necessary before enacting retaliatory measures against Great Britain, and having in large part drafted the instructions that subsequently guided his friend and ally Jay in his endeavors in London, the by-then former Secretary of the Treasury had what might fairly be described as a vested interest in the success of any agreement subsequently reached between the United States and Great Britain. His ensuing response to criticism of the Jay Treaty, in the form of his and Rufus King’s The Defence, might consequently be said to have sprung from a place of personal conviction as well as official sanction. He was, after all, the de facto leader of the contemporary Federalist faction. And while his and King’s arguments were very much their own, Hamilton’s status as leader would seem to suggest that The Defence more or less represents the Federalist party line as he was then actively defining it. Indeed, it might fairly be argued that The Defence is nothing less than one of the principle documents by which the Federalists defined themselves as an organization, or a political movement, or simply a group of men with similar ideas.        

            In short, this project turned out to be much larger than I even intended it to be. And while I certainly enjoyed where the sources I dug up determined to take me, I do apologize if anyone out there in my audience was turned off by the mounting scale of the thing. I do hope that those of you who stuck it out have learned something, or been encouraged to learn something. And if you haven’t, well, I suppose I should offer some manner of conclusion myself.


            Let’s think for a moment. Why is the Jay Treaty at all important to living, breathing human here at the dawn of the 21st century? Perhaps it isn’t. The specifics of the treaty – who was permitted to cross this or that boundary, bearing which goods, under what circumstances – are certainly of interest to people like me, but they don’t really offer much in the way of penetrating insight into the origins and history of the American party system. For most people alive right now, it might simply suffice to say that the Jay Treaty was an agreement between the United States and Great Britain, that it mainly had to do with trade, and that it resulted in a fifteen year period of peace and stability. The contemporary reactions to the Jay Treaty on the part of the Federalist and Republican factions are, I would argue, or far great significance. That is to say, it wasn’t what was being argued about in 1795 that modern observers would do well to take note of, but rather how it was being discussed.

            Consider, once more, the commentaries offered by Republicans Robert Livingston and Alexander Dallas. Differences in approach and tone aside, both men seemed to ground their arguments against the Jay Treaty and its author in what they believed to be right, and moral, and adherent to the principles of republican government. In their eyes, it seemed, a treaty between the United States and Great Britain – or indeed between the United States and any foreign entity – could only be considered valid if it respected the core values upon which that nation had so recently been founded. Articulated thusly, the legitimacy of the Jay Treaty became a question of independence and identity rather than a simple measure of convenience or usefulness. The United States of America, Livingston and Dallas seemed keen to assert, was a sovereign nation. It was not to be dictated to by foreign authorities – in the form of regulations that, say, limited its ability to make whatever alliances it pleased, or prevented its citizens from offering aid and resources to foreign states – and its national priorities – the recognition of its territorial boundaries, the inviolability of its citizens’ property rights, etc. – were to be esteemed and considered by its diplomatic partners.

Within the context of Anglo-American relations at the end of the 18th century, this amounted to a fairly aggressive – if not outright belligerent – posture. Not only were Dallas and Livingston keen to denounce the very notion that the United States ought to have recognized certain British priorities, but they seemed to simultaneously demand that Great Britain acknowledge the rightness of the American position, cease attempting to restrict or constrain the actions of the individual American citizens, and endeavor to make amends via a lengthy list of concessions and reparations. Granting once again that the stated opinions of two men do not a comprehensive overview make, it nevertheless seems a reasonable supposition that the faction to whom Dallas and Livingston belonged was similarly inclined. In consequence, allowing for a certain margin of error, it would seem fair to conclude that the Republicans of the middle 1790s tended to be ideologically-minded, fairly rigid in their adherence to law as written,  highly sensitive of their nation’s sovereignty, and given to ascribing moral significance to the issues and policies placed before them. If the writings of the two cited representatives are any indication, it would also appear that the contemporary Republican faction was far more eager to assert its nation’s priorities upon the world at large than bend to the status quo.

            Do please stop me if you’ve heard this before.

            Turning to the previously-cited works of Hamilton and King, a very different understanding of diplomacy, statecraft, and political economy presents itself. Between the arguments put forth in No. XXXVII and No. III of The Defence, for instance, Hamilton demonstrated a strong affinity for pragmatism, utilitarianism, and a very broad style of legal interpretation. No. XXXVII gave evidence of these sensibilities in the context of countering accusations that the Jay Treaty was somehow inherently unconstitutional. Having freely admitted that a great many of the individual articles of said treaty explicitly invaded the prerogatives of the legislative branch of the federal government, Hamilton nevertheless avowed that the grant of treaty-making power to the federal executive in the text of the Constitution essentially justified all such evident invasions. The Framers, he asserted, had clearly been of a mind that the United States of America would occasionally be required to seek out and seal diplomatic agreements with foreign nations. And since that same Constitution had given no greater authority to Congress in that area than the right of the Senate to provide “Advice and Consent,” the only logical conclusion appeared to be that the treaty-making power of the Chief Executive was intended to function outside the remit of Congress.

By making this claim, Hamilton essentially expanded upon the meaning of the Constitution without changing a single word of it or denying what was written. Unlike the aforementioned Republican critics of the Jay Treaty, who pointed to the plain text of certain statutes, or constitutional provisions, or other treaties as evidence of contradiction and illegitimacy, Hamilton summoned the unwritten rationale which he perceived to be operating behind and amidst the various articles and subsections. One could not simply depend upon the words to explain themselves, he seemed eager to assert. Rather, the meaning of a given legal instrument – a law, a treaty, or even a constitution – could only be understood in full by situating its explicit meaning within the context in which it originated and in which it was intended to operate. In this sense, Hamilton’s particular style of legal interpretation seemed far more descriptive than it was prescriptive. That is to say, while his Republican opponents tended to read statutes, or treaties, or constitutional provisions fairly rigidly, with the apparent understanding that maintaining an adherence to the text was of itself a valuable exercise, Hamilton preferred instead to understand written law as mainly a tool by which to accomplish a desired end. Interpretations that aided that end were thus inherently valid, while those that frustrated it were not.

This tendency towards functionalism and interpretive flexibility was also in evidence in No. III of The Defence, wherein Hamilton attempted to dismantle the claims put forward by various critics of the Jay Treaty and its namesake. Jay had erred, certain of his detractors had asserted, in part because he failed to secure recognition of and reparation for the many slaves that had been taken into British custody during the late Revolutionary War. The manifest unwillingness of the American envoy to pursue this cause on behalf of his fellow citizens – many of whom claimed economic disadvantage as a result of their lost property – was consequently held as an example of Jay’s inadequacy as a diplomat, the willingness of the Washington Administration to sacrifice American interests to British priorities, and the general defectiveness of the treaty as a whole. To these claims, Hamilton offered a series of arguments intended to demonstrate that the American position vis-à-vis the absconded slaves was not nearly as strong as that nurtured by Great Britain. The laws of war, he wrote, ensured that the British military was well within its right to confiscate and redistribute all such personal property as had come into its possession. The laws of the various slaveholding states, meanwhile, declared that enslaved peoples possessed the legal status of personal property. Their capture by the British military having nullified their status as property of particular American citizens, therefore, any clauses of the Treaty of Paris that referred to American property could not be said to apply to the disputed slaves. And since treaties could not rightly be interpreted so as to cause something either “odious or immoral” to occur, it was simply not possible that the aforementioned Treaty of Paris had intended to cause thousands of former slaves to once more be sent back into servitude.

While each of these points, along with several others that Hamilton offered, had some basis in fact or precedent upon which his opponents might have agreed, his effort to weave them together into a comprehensive denial of their position presented any number of implications that were not otherwise obvious. As stated previously, American legislators responsible for codifying the property status of slaves doubtless didn’t intended for that status to interact with certain unwritten customs of European warfare in a way that actually aided in securing the freedom of thousands of those same enslaved persons. They fashioned their laws to be read and to have effect in isolation, just as Jay’s aforementioned critics seemed to read the relevant provisions of the Treaty of Paris in isolation and – if they thought it at all – conceive of the laws of war and their impact on British behavior in the United States of America in isolation. Hamilton’s thinking seemed to tend toward the opposite. The true significance of these laws, and customs, and treaties, he tacitly urged, lay not in what each of them said on their own, but in the way that they interacted and informed one another within a larger context.        
            Fellow Federalist Rufus King seemed to agree with Hamilton’s emphasis on context as meaning, though he appeared to prefer to direct his attention to the larger world in which the United States of America operated than the statutes and treaties that shaped its internal dynamics. His arguments in No. XXV of The Defence gave particular evidence of this sensibility in the way that they attempted to characterize success in diplomacy and commerce as measured against what it was possible to achieve rather than what it might have been desirable to achieve. Whereas Republican critics like Livingston and Dallas roundly objected to the apparent deference that the Jay Treaty appeared to show to British commercial and strategic priorities on the grounds that such blatant kowtowing was unwarranted, undignified, or unnecessary, King seemed far more concerned with whether or not the agreement between the United States and Great Britain adequately served the particular ends for which it had originally been commissioned. There were, to be certain, points of contention he nurtured against the final product of Mr. Jay’s efforts. As No. XXV of the Defence made clear, he felt that a number of the trade restrictions contained within Article XII of the treaty were unnecessarily severe. Britain could fairly admit American vessels of greater than seventy tons in its West Indian ports, he asserted, and a total ban on American cotton exports was simply not acceptable. That being said, King was far more willing than his Republican counterparts to situate Jay’s decisions – and calibrate his own expectations – within the context of contemporary British economic and diplomatic priorities.

After all, Great Britain was almost certainly one of the most powerful nations in existence at the end of the 18th century, and most definitely the world’s dominant naval power. In consequence, King seemed willing to admit, the United States could not simply demand – out of a sense of self-righteousness or moral certitude – that Britain wholly abolish its deeply-entrenched colonial trade policies. Rather, he avowed, progress to such a lofty end must be made slowly, persistently, and always with a due respect for what, at any given moment, it was possible to achieve. The war between Great Britain and the French Republic, for instance, had done much to hamper the former’s ability to extract the expected profits from its colonial possessions in the West Indies. This presented an opportunity for American merchants to insert themselves into the West Indies trade as a temporary replacement for the British merchants whose presence in the Caribbean had become increasingly endangered. British commercial authorities could sense this opportunity, and the circumstances that led to it, as well as anyone, but King cautioned his fellow countrymen that the result was bound to be far less revolutionary than the most liberal-minded among them might have hoped. It was a British world in 1795, he time and again admitted, and the United States was in no position to make demands upon so formidable an entity as the British Empire. In asserting this point, King appeared far more accepting of the possibility that the United States would at times be compelled by necessity to bow to the enforcement of certain foreign priorities if it wished to achieve even a relatively small portion of its desired objectives.

The perfect, he essentially argued, must not be made the enemy of the good. The Jay Treaty certainly wasn’t perfect, but King asserted that its namesake author’s ability to gauge what it was possible to achieve and seek out advantage where he could made the product of his labors in London good enough, at the very least, and hardly the execrable failure that certain Republican critics declared it. In so doing, King arguably demonstrated another potential aspect of contemporary Federalist thinking. As Hamilton, in No. XXXVII and No. III, made the case that the meaning and significance of statutes, treaties, and even the United States Constitution was in large part determined by context, King asserted in No. XXV that the difference between good policy and bad policy – that which was advisable or inadvisable – was similarly sensitive to circumstance. Also worth noting is the core rationale – the chief measure of worth – that Hamilton and King seemed to hold in common. Whether evaluating a particular interpretation of a provision of the Constitution or holding forth upon the value of a given article of a trade agreement, both men seemed to agree that merit sprang first and foremost from utility. The ability to achieve a desired end, in short, made something valuable; failing to achieve that end made it worthless. Admitting again (again, again, again) that the expressed views of Hamilton and King should not be taken as a substitute for the many and diverse opinions nurtured by their various fellow Federalists, it nevertheless appears a fair construction that contemporary Federalism was in no small part built upon the opinions and ideology of its more vocal members. Thus, allowing for some degree of personal divergence, it appear reasonable to characterize the Federalist faction of the mid-1790s as policy-minded, favoring a flexible model of legal interpretation, comparatively unconcerned with outward perceptions of American prestige, and willing to seek accommodation and compromise in diplomatic relations.    


            Well, bearing all of what has just been stated in mind about the Republicans and the Federalists at the time of the ratification of the Jay Treaty, I’d like to ask you to consider whether or not the characterizations offered here of those two factions sound at all familiar. If they do not, then I heartily apologize for wasting your time. I understand there are many other corners of the Internet which you might wish to seek out in order to salve the frustration you must now be feeling. By all means, do so now. If, on the other hand, you perceived in what was described of the Republicans and Federalists of 1795 an eerie similarity to the matched set of party organization currently waging war upon each other across the length and breadth of American public discourse, I invite to consider what the implication of this similarity might be. In spite of all that has transpired in the last two hundred years, and notwithstanding the many and various issues that have captured the public’s attention and become flashpoints for conflict, or change, or retrenchment, it may just be that American political culture hasn’t changed quite so much since its inception as it sometimes appears.

Granted, the defining issue of public life in the United States is (arguably) no longer slavery. Congressmen don’t blather on about Manifest Destiny like they used to, and currency reform has long since ceased to be an issue upon which presidential elections pivot. That being said, the contours of many of the arguments that were historically articulated on either side of these issues – and those that have risen to prominence in the decades and centuries since – seemed to have followed a strikingly consistent pattern. Whether they call themselves Democrats or Federalists, Republicans or…Republicans…there always seems to be a voice for ideological purity and a voice for political pragmatism; aggressive foreign policy and reactive foreign policy; delineated power and assumed power. Bearing this in mind, it would seem that the basic framework of American political culture may have been set long ago, amidst the very founding of the United States of America. Of course there have been realignments and break downs, moments of explosive change and devastating decay. And yet, two centuries past the ratification of the Jay Treaty and the politically-charged public discourse that ensued, the basic division then in evidence has more or less reappeared. Each side had been augmented or diminished, by Supreme Court rulings, constitutional amendments, legislative milestones, or general shifts in popular opinion, but they nevertheless remain largely extant. The American republic, it seems, is as American now as it have ever been.

The implications of this evident changelessness at the core of American political culture are, in my opinion, several. On one hand, the gulf that so often seems to exist in the popular mindset between the experiences and understanding of the average American and those of the Founding Generation would appear far less intimidating – if not wholly nonexistent – in light of the existence of demonstrable parallels between the political assumptions of the late 18th century and the present day. Certainly the United States of American is not the country now that it was when George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams held high office. A great many assumptions – some as basic as the meaning and origin of citizenship – have changed drastically since then, and the current cultural makeup of the American republic alone would doubtless be enough to boggle the minds of those cited worthies. Nevertheless, being able to acknowledge that the Founders of the United States nurtured many of the same core ideological convictions as their 21st century successors would seem to provide a tremendous opportunity for a far deeper understanding on the part of contemporary Americans as to how and why they nation looks and behaves the way that it does.

Seeing their own concerns and convictions reflected in the words and deeds of the Founders may also aid in promoting a greater sense of perspective among contemporary citizens of the United States. Rather than understand the present split in their political discourse – the differences in approach to jurisprudence, diplomacy, trade, etc. – as a problem that needs to be solved, they may yet come to appreciate that the American republic is in many ways more an ongoing conversation than it is some great puzzle that it is possible to decipher. Issues, crises, even civil wars – these things rise and fall in importance; come and go, threaten, and are dealt with. But the fact of debate, that Americans don’t agree on certain basic concepts – the proper way to read the Constitution or the preeminence of principle or utility – is seemingly eternal. As dour as this may sound, however, the revelation may yet contain a seed of hope. If the knowledge that American political discourse has historically been defined by the same basic ideological cleavages since the late 18th century makes it possible for contemporary citizens of that country to more fully and actively engage with the literature and personalities of the Founding Era, it also offers the existence of viable solutions to any number of political conflicts. After all, though the Founders were as capable of fundamentally disagreeing with each other upon core principles of law, diplomacy, and political economy as their various successors have every shown themselves, they also managed to construct and to govern a functioning republic. Clearly they found ways to work around their differences, or work through them, or simply came to understand that sometimes it was better to get half of what they wanted than nothing at all. These are exceedingly valuable lessons, and freely available to any capable of appreciating the innate correspondence between the founding of American political culture and its current incarnation.

Examining the Jay Treaty, and the public debate that followed its ratification, is not the only way one might achieve this appreciation. But it is certainly one way.

To that end, the text of the Jay Treaty may be found here, The Defence is here, Livingston's Cato is here, and Features of Mr. Jay’s Treaty is right over here.