US literary critics and historians often tell a version of the same story about sovereignty in the eighteenth-century Atlantic world. It proceeds as follows: Classical republican ideas were circulated and then debated alongside vigorous discussions of John Locke’s model of liberal individualism. Imperfectly synthesized, so the tale goes, republicanism and liberalism came to define nineteenth-century US politics, culture, and letters. Although this narrative was initially extolled by scholars such as Gordon Wood and Warner Berthoff, subsequent generations left it intact but critiqued. Joyce Appleby highlighted liberalism’s shortcomings, Gillian Brown located individualism and republicanism in the home, and Saidiya Hartman examined this political tradition’s role in inflicting violent spectacles on enslaved people. Cathy Davidson gave us one of the most enduring and generative histories of print and literature built around these political traditions. From the 1980s forward, in fact, most New Americanist and...
Hobbes, Sovereignty, and Early American Literature
Fictions of Mass Democracy in Nineteenth-Century America
John Funchion is associate professor of English and American studies at the University of Miami. He is the author of Novel Nostalgias: The Aesthetics of Antagonism in Nineteenth-Century U.S. Literature (Ohio State Univ. Press, 2015) and coeditor of Mapping Region in Early American Writing (Univ. of Georgia Press, 2015).