Monday, December 7, 2015
December 7, 2015: Circles of Friends: Revolutionary Circles
[December 12th will mark the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth, and since Sinatra was as well-known for his famous group of friends as for his individual achievements, I wanted to spend the week AmericanStudying such circles of friends. Leading up to a special weekend post on the Rat Pack!]
Three tight-knit communities that helped create the Revolution—and the nation it produced.
1) The Junto: Ever precocious and forward-thinking, Ben Franklin was only 21 years old when he organized this “club of mutual improvement” in Philadelphia in 1727. This group of philosophically and civically minded men would go on not only to debate questions of morality, theology, and social responsibility, but also to help found the Library Company of Philadelphia (the nation’s first public library), among other communal efforts. Moreover, I would argue that it was precisely from the Junto’s model of shared philosophical and civic engagement among friends that Franklin developed his sense of the crucial role played by conversation, ideas, and collegiality in producing communal change—a role that he himself would embody throughout the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary period.
2) Hamilton and Friends: As dramatized in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton, Alexander Hamilton and a group of fellow young military officers became very close in the early years of the Revolution. The letters between Hamilton, French emigrant the Marquis de Lafayette, and South Carolinian and abolitionist John Laurens (among others in this cohort) offer an intimate glimpse into both the Revolution and the role played by homosocial male relationships in this late 18th century moment (so intimate, indeed, that one historian has argued that these relationships were gay love affairs). Given the crucial role that Lafayette played in the Revolution’s successful conclusion, and the role that American friends like Hamilton played in maintaining the connection with Lafayette, it’s fair to say that these letters did no less than help win independence.
3) Stockton’s Circles: Also helping win independence was one of the close-knit communities in which Annis Boudinot Stockton played a significant role: Stockton (wife of Declaration signer Richard Stockton) was the only woman elected to the secretive American Whig Society, and safeguarded the group’s documents at her New Jersey home (where she also hosted George Washington and many other leaders) throughout the Revolution. But if this community of Stockton’s helped argue for and win the Revolution, another, the Mid-Atlantic Writing Circle, helped create in literature and culture the new nation birthed by that event. Writing Circle members Philip Freneau and Hugh Henry Brackenridge would write some of the “Prospect Poems” that helped provide history, mythos, and imagined futures for the new nation. And female members Stockton, Susanna Wright, and Hannah Griffits (among others) made sure that women’s voices, perspectives, and rights would be part of that evolving national conversation as well.
Next friend circle tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?