Representative Words: Politics, Literature, and the American Language, 1776-1865

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's dictum "The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language" belongs to a long tradition of writing connecting political disorders and the corruption of language that stretches back in Western culture at least to Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Representative Words, which gives an account of the tradition from its classical and Christian origins through the Enlightenment, is primarily a study of how and why Americans renewed and developed it between the ages of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Drawing upon a wide range of materials from politics, linguistics, literature, history, rhetoric and law, this study focuses on the quest by statesmen and writers from John Adams and Noah Webster to Emerson and Lincoln to oppose the corruption of words or to establish a more representational language - a quest, Gustafson argues, that was at the heart of revolutionary politics and American Renaissance literature. By studying the history and dynamics of the relationship between fears of corruption and efforts at conservation and renewal in language - a relationship embedded in Emerson's reflections on language in Nature - Representative Words establishes an important context for understanding the connections between the classical rhetorical and republican traditions and the ideology of the Declaration and the Constitution as well as between the politics and the literature of antebellum America. The American Revolution, the Civil War, and works by such writers as Brackenridge, Cooper, Melville, and Stowe are viewed in part as arising from a crisis of linguistic as well as political representation that Gustafson terms the "Thucydidean moment" - a time when words are perceived to be not a representative sign of ideas but a sovereign, duplicitous force. Combining extensive historical investigation in grammars, rhetorics, political pamphlets, and journal essays with the perspectives provided by contemporary literary theory on the
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Thomas Gustafson's Representative Words is a sweeping summary of American writing about language between the Revolution and the Civil War. It is, among other things, a wonderful source....The book is a gold mine of information." Journal of American History

"A short review cannot begin to do justice to the wealth of information and insights provided by Gustafson's wide-ranging study." Robert S. Levine, Journal of the Early Republic

"There is an immense amount of reading in this book, and the work Gustafson has done will prove very helpful to others who want to travel his route." David Simpson, Studies in Romanticism

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Product Details

Table of Contents

Abbreviations and Editions Cited
Introduction 1
Pt. I The American Logocracy: The Nexus of Word and Act
1 Political and Linguistic Representation: Confidence or Distrust? 19
2 Language and Legal Constitutions: The Problem of Change and Who Governs 37
Pt. II Political and Linguistic Corruption: The Ideological Inheritance
3 The Classical Pattern: From the Order of Orpheus to the Chaos of the Thucydidean Moment 69
4 The Christian Typology: From Eden to Babel to Pentecost 99
5 Eloquence, Liberty, and Power: Civic Humanism and the Counter-Renaissance 117
6 The Enlightenment Project: Language Reform and Political Order 137
Pt. III The American Language of Revolution and Constitutional Change
7 The Language of Revolution: Combating Misrepresentation with the Pen and Tongue 195
8 The Grammar of Politics: The Constitution 270
Pt. IV From Logomachy to Civil War: The Politics of Language in Post-Revolutionary America
9 The Unsettled Language: Schoolmasters vs. Truants 301
10 Corrupt Language and a Corrupt Body Politic, or the Disunion of Words and Things 348
11 Sovereign Words vs. Representative Men 372
Afterword 397
Notes 401
Index 455
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