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(29) Genres in the Literature of the American Revolution, their Basic Features, the Declaration of Independence.

(B. Franklin, T. Paine, T. Jefferson, J. Adams, and St J. De Crevecoeur).


L i t e r a t u r e  o f  t h e  A m e r i c a n  R e v o l u t i o n

[See "Background for Topic 29..."]


B e n j a m i n  F r a n k l i n  ( 1 7 0 6 – 9 0 )

- a printer, publ., journalist, essayist, philos., merchant, scientist, educator, inventor (Franklin stove, lighting rod, & oth.), politician, and diplomat

- rose from ‘poverty & obscurity’ to ‘a state of affluence & some degree of celebrity in the world’ = a distinctively Am. quality

- b. in Boston, son of a soap and candle maker

- educated at Boston Grammar School

- apprenticed to his half-brother James in his Boston printing shop: appreciated the access to books

- wrote some poems ridiculed by his father => began systematically develop his prose style

- publ. a series of humorous essays in his brother’s New England Courant under the pseudonym ‘Mrs Silence Dogood’ [<=> C. Mather’s Bonifacus, an Essay upon the Good] x but: his identity revealed, resulted in a quarrel with James

>> Philadelphia: worked in Samuel Keimer’s small and ill-equipped printing shop

>> London: promoted by the governor of PA Sir William Keith x but: disappointed, resulted in his employment in a famous London printing house

“A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain”: a metaphysical treatise x but: no J. Edwards => dismissed as one of the ‘errata’ of his life

>> Philadelphia: worked as a merchant’s clerk and in the Keimer’s printing shop

- developed a systematic schedule of work and self-improvement: his 13 virtues more secular than the 10 Commandments

- purchased a newsp, opened a stationer’s shop, and establ. the 1st circulating public library

- became the deputy postmaster general, organised the American Philosophical Society, and initiated the establ. of the Uni of PA

- establ. a magazine

Poor Richard's Almanach (1732): a mixture of poetic snippets, weather predictions, recipes, medical advice, proverbs, folk wisdom, and moral anecdotes; extremely pop. for the advice it gave

- establ. the ‘Junto’ = a club for mutual improvement to ‘be serviceable to mankind’

- promoted the colonial independence, helped General Braddock during the Fr. & Ind. War, and co-authored T. Jefferson’s “Declaration of Independence” (1776)

>> London: elected to the Royal Society of London, became an agent for the Province of PA, and repres. the colonies before the House of Commons

>> Fr.: received a diplomatic post

- began writing his series of amusing ‘bagatelles’: invented the short prose > anticipated M. Twain’s tall tale and hoax

- also conc. with electricity, magnetism, & oth.: famous for the theatrical public performance of his scientific experiments

Experiments and Observations on Electricity

Maritime Observations

On the Causes and Cure of Smokey Chimneys

>> Philadelphia: president of the Pennsylvanian Society for the Abolition of Slavery, delegate to the Constitutional Convention (1788)

The Way to Wealth (1757): a best-selling essay transl. in many languages (incl. Czech), the way to getting and keeping money = frugality and industry

- retired from public life, began writing his autobiog.

The Autobiography (1771 – 59):

- Part 1 (in En.), ends with his marriage to Deborah Read; addressed to his son William

- Part 2 (Paris), concentrated on his public career and the devices to ensure success & happiness

- Part 3 (Philadelphia)

- Part 4, brief and unfinished due to his death

< the self-made Am. man of C. Mather’s “Life of Sir William Phips” on the progress of the ‘enlightenment’ < John Bunyan’s Pilgrim's Progress > a kind of secular and less allegorical Pilgrim’s Progress: both pursue the moral purport

- incl. the 50 most important y. of his life

- neither a chronological nor a strictly accurate report, calls it ‘rambling digressions’ himself x but: a conduct book

- opening: an ordinary autobiog., amiable and unserious in tone, as if amused in retrospect x concl.: a story of success, a model tale for oth. people to serve as a manual of a successful man

- phases: an adolescent testing his powers >> an entrepreneur learning how to get ahead >> a promoter of public projects

- analyses his own conduct to find out what useful lessons could be extracted from his successes and blunders

- 1st ed.: emphasises luck x 2nd ed.: emphasises his initiative – the passage of his coming to Philadelphia: claims to travel 1st by ship (= social superiority), then by a boat, to row all the way (= hard work), and still to pay for the journey (= act of charity) x but: travelled only by a boat, did not make any act of charity; claims to inquire a Quaker for accommodation (= initiative, independence, self-reliance) x but: woken by a sextant

- the orig. of the Am. dream:

(a) the material progress of society: money, success, and social position

(b) the moral progress of an individual

=> virtues not given accord. to God x but: accord. to oneself

“Information to Those Who Would Remove to America”

“Remarks Concerning the Savages of North America”


T h o m a s  P a i n e  ( 1 7 3 7 – 1 8 0 9 )

L i f e :

>> Philadelphia on the eve of the Am. Rev.

- experienced a painful life with repeated misfortunes: his wife died, re-married unhappily, fired from several jobs, imprisoned for his views, etc.

- invented a smokeless candle, an iron bridge without piers, & oth.

- ed. the journal Pennsylvania Magazine, or American Museum, publ. his numerous topical essays on unhappy marriages, duelling, inventions, slavery, and the rights of the ‘Female Sex’

- converted into a pop. advocate of independence

W o r k :

Common Sense:

- his most famous pamphlet on the source and function of government

- made use of conversational idioms of taverns, coffee-houses, and street-corner oratory

- advocated the “Declaration of Independence”

- made him the spokesman of the Am. Rev.

American Crisis:

- pamphlets encouraging the failing troops of the Am. Revolutionary forces

< his own experience as an enlisted volunteer

The Rights of Man:

- advocated the ‘natural rights’: independence, personal freedom, freedom of speech, and franchise

- defended the Fr. Rev. < observed himself

The Age of Reason:

- praised both an impersonal God and the common people

- defended Deism

=> reproached and persecuted for his criticism of the Bible, called a ‘filthy little atheist’ by T. Roosevelt x but: his humanitarian impulses shaped much of the new nation’s thinking of the ‘natural rights’ and independence


T h o m a s  J e f f e r s o n  ( 1 7 4 3 – 1 8 2 6 )

L i f e :

- versatile personality: a diplomat, statesman, architect, environmental planner, scientist, politician, and theorist of education

- received uni education:

(a) < Dr. William Small

(b) < the Scott. Common Sense school

- shed the orthodox heritage, embraced Deism, and believed in moral sense as man’s highest faculty equally present to all [see his “Declaration of Independence”]

- as an architect designed the estate Monticello, took part in the plan for the nation’s Congress, and designed the Uni of VA

- governor of VA >> member of Congress >> member of G. Washington’s Cabinet > Vice-President under John Adams > President for 2 terms

W o r k :

A Summary View of the Rights of British America:

- defended colonial rights

“The Declaration of Independence as Adopted by Congress”:

- ‘an expression of the American mind’ = the common sense

- states the self-evident truths coming from nature / God: all men created equal with unalienable Rights for Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

- founds the principal equality in the most fundamental aspects of life

- defends relig. freedom, and abolition of slavery (his half-a-life-long relationship with the slave woman Sally Hemings)

Notes on Virginia:

- his major work of natural science

- defends Am. against the widely held Eur. view of Am. being an unhealthy place causing degeneration of its species

< evident rhetorical strategies

also wrote: letters, political documents, and geography


J o h n  A d a m s  ( 1 7 3 5 – 1 8 2 6 )

L i f e :

- husband of Abigail A., one of history’s best-known First Ladies; father of John Quincy A., the 6th US President

- received uni education (studied law at Harvard)

- an all-purpose diplomat for the New Rep. >> Vice-President under G. Washington >> President for 1 term, respected x but: not beloved, defeated by his long-time political rival T. Jefferson the next term

- his policies = a balance wheel btw the contrary T. Jefferson and A. Hamilton’s policies

- a central figure in the Revolutionary group opposing the Br. measures, member of the drafting committee of the “Declaration of Independence”, one of the negotiators to draw up the Treaty of Paris to end the Am. Rev.

W o r k :

Diary of John Adams:

- detailed and highly personal commentaries on numerous subjects and individuals

- one of the most important firsthand records of life and politics during the late Colonial and Revolutionary eras

Thoughts on Government: Applicable to the Present State of the American Colonies (1776):

- attempts to find the balance btw New En.’s republicanism x South’s democratic scepticism

A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America Against the Attack of Mr Turgot (1788):

- a 3-vol. response to the Br. critics questioning the political and economic promise of the US


- to and from his wife written during his being absent to participate in the political controversies of the coming Rev., to and from T. Jefferson written after his own retirement, etc.


S t  J o h n  d e  C r e v e c o e u r  ( 1 7 3 5 – 1 8 1 3 )

L i f e :

- introd. the psychosocial phenomenon of the Am. identity: ‘What then is the American, this new man?’

- himself an amalgam of identities: served as a commander of the Fr. army under General Montcalm in Canada x but: adopted physically and philosophically the role of ‘a simple American farmer’

- despite his attempts to remain neutral suspected by both sides during the Rev. >> Fr.

W o r k :

Letters from an American Farmer:

- a series of epistolary essays, publ. in London

- sentimental on the values of agricultural life, rather mythical than real

=> lured many people into the frontier conditions

Sketches of Eighteenth-Century America:

- the 2nd series, unpubl. x but: rediscovered

- shows also rural hardship and the ordinary tasks of agricultural life

“What is an American”:

- an essay investigating the Am. character

- an Am. = a sober, honest, and industrious new man

- the motivating force self-interest x B. Franklin

- introd. the idea of Am. as a ‘melting point’

- concl. with a case study of a single immigrant’s history as an answer to the central question: could have appended his own biography of a versatile, pragmatic, self-reliant, and self-inventive man of multiple loyalties

- the question still intriguing


Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1995.

Bercovitch, Sacvan, ed. The Cambridge History of American  Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Cunliffe, Marcus. The Literature of the United States. London: Penguin, 1991.

Lauter, Paul, ed. The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Lexington: D. C. Heath, 1994.

McQuade, Donald, gen.ed. The Harper American Literature. New York: Harper & Collins, 1996.

Ruland, Richard, Malcolm Bradbury. Od  puritanismu k postmodernismu. Praha: Mladá fronta, 1997.

Vančura, Zdeněk, ed. Slovník spisovatelů: Spojené státy americké. Praha: Odeon, 1979.

Other Sources

Peprník, Michal. Semináře: Americká literatura 1. ZS 2004/05.



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