The Overflowing of Friendship: Love between Men and the Creation of the American Republic

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When eighteenth-century American men described "with a swelling of the heart" their friendships with other men, addressing them as "lovely boy" and "dearly beloved," celebrating the "ardent affection" that knit their hearts in "indissoluble bonds of fraternal love," their families, neighbors, and acquaintances would have been neither surprised nor disturbed.

Richard Godbeer’s groundbreaking new book examines loving and sentimental friendships among men in the colonial and revolutionary periods. Inspired in part by the eighteenth-century culture of sensibility and in part by religious models, these relationships were not only important to the personal happiness of those involved but also had broader social, religious, and political significance.

Godbeer shows that in the aftermath of Independence, patriots drafted a central place for male friendship in their social and political blueprint for the new republic. American revolutionaries stressed the importance of the family in the era of self-government, reimagining it in ways appropriate to a new and democratized era. They thus shifted attention away from patriarchal authority to a more egalitarian model of brotherly collaboration. In striving to explore the inner emotional lives of early Americans, Godbeer succeeds in presenting an entirely fresh perspective on the personal relationships and political structures of the period.

Scholars have long recognized the importance of same-sex friendships among women, but this is the first book to examine the broad significance ascribed to loving friendships among men during this formative period of American history. Using an array of personal and public writings, The Overflowing of Friendship will transform our understanding of early American manhood as well as challenge us to reconsider the ways we think about gender in this period.

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Editorial Reviews

New England Quarterly
The Overflowing of Friendship is a sophisticated analysis of sources that have long confused historians. Offering a thoughtful window onto the world of early American men, it demonstrates that sympathy and affection were important qualities for the founding fathers.

— John Gilbert McCurdy

American Historical Review
His beautifully crafted book breaks important new ground.

— Anne S. Lombard

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
This is a splendid study that should be useful to students at every level and to scholars in the field... A thoughtful and careful study.

— George E. Haggerty

Journal of the Early Republic

Path-breaking... Godbeer has staked out bold ground with this book. Some early Americanists will surely scoff at the notion that sentimentality was relevant even in the macho arena of state formation, just as historians of sexuality will freeze at the inference that there is no sexual attraction or intimacy between these men. That one book could successfully intervene with both the oldest historiographical and the newest theoretical question is no small feat, but rather one for which Godbeer deserves the appreciation and admiration of his fellow historians.

New England Quarterly - John Gilbert McCurdy

A sophisticated analysis of sources that have long confused historians. Offering a thoughtful window onto the world of early American men, it demonstrates that sympathy and affection were important qualities for the founding fathers.

American Historical Review - Anne S. Lombard

His beautifully crafted book breaks important new ground by connecting the ideal of sympathetic fraternal love to the reconceptualization of politics and political community in revolutionary America.

Register of the Kentucky Historical Society - George E. Haggerty

Godbeer follows his earlier studies of sexuality in early America with this impressively erudite study of male friendship, as expressed in letters, journals, and other literary forms, from the Puritan days to the early republic of the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.

Journal of American History - Lisa Wilson

Godbeer's evocative narrative format allows the reader to enter a lost world of sentiment and even physical affection between men. Godbeer complicates, as others have before him, the modern binaries of sexuality, but he also argues that male friendship provides a new way of seeing familiar faces and analyzing familiar events of colonial British North American history in the eighteenth century.

College Literature - David Greven

I know of no other work that conveys so articulately and plangently the crucial role that male love played in the Revolutionary period.

Eighteenth-Century Studies - Christine E. Sears

Godbeer compels readers to rethink early American gender roles and to look beyond the modern tendency to see sex in all verbal and physical expressions of love.

H-Law, H-Net Reviews - David A. Reichard

A welcome addition to the literature on the formation of the United States. Through rigorous research, creative use of sources, and deep engagement with the work of scholars before him, The Overflowing of Friendship is a thoughtful and new look at the relationships between men of a certain class, race, time, and place.

Common-Place - Anne G. Myles

Godbeer stakes out a judiciously considered position at some length, emphasizing the very different ways early modern individuals understood sexuality and the possibilities of physical yet nonerotic love... An extremely readable work.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801891205
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 1/12/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Godbeer is a professor of history at the University of Miami. His books include Sexual Revolution in Early America, also published by Johns Hopkins, The Salem Witch Hunt: A Brief History with Documents, Escaping Salem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692, and The Devil's Dominion: Magic and Religion in Early New England.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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    Posted March 11, 2009

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