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Classics and National Cultures$
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Susan A. Stephens and Phiroze Vasunia

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199212989

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199212989.001.0001

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Classical Education and the Early American Democratic Style

Classical Education and the Early American Democratic Style

(p.78) 4 Classical Education and the Early American Democratic Style
Classics and National Cultures

Joy Connolly

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines classical rhetoric's central role in the formation of early American cultural identity. It surveys classical education in eighteenth‐ and early nineteenth‐century America, focusing on the way claims about the universalist appeal of eloquence and certain habits of elocution transformed the exemplary tradition of civic republican virtue into a lived stylistics of democracy. Inculcating a personal style of classical ‘simplicity’ and ‘naturalness’, classical rhetoric both reinforced notions of white male superiority and (through its own universalist claims) opened a way for women and people of colour to claim roles in civic life. In concluding, it argues that, like the imperfect or suicidal heroes dear to colonial and revolutionary Americans, rhetoric's status as an ethically and epistemologically suspect discourse reveals the dissonances and compromises resting at the heart of republican culture.

Keywords:   classical rhetoric, political imagination, democracy, Hannah Arendt, John Locke, Lord Kames, Hugh Blair, Thomas Reid, American War of Independence, Cicero, Quintilian, elocution, Charles Brockden Brown, Machiavellian moment, Alexis de Tocqueville

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