Lee, "'An Anti-Democratic Habit of Feeling': Nationalism and the Rhetoric of Toryism in O'Sullivan's Democratic Review"

Sullen Fires Across the Atlantic:
Essays in Transatlantic Romanticism

"An Anti-Democratic Habit of Feeling": Nationalism and the Rhetoric of Toryism in O'Sullivan's Democratic Review

Sohui Lee, Stanford University

  1. America’s well-known quest for national literature began, as Benjamin Spencer relates, with the new republic's search for a surrogate British identity, making the great problem of American literature a problem of ontology—that is, a problem of being, as Poe observes, "a literary colony of Great Britain" (Poe 1044). For some nineteenth-century American thinkers, the unavoidable consequence of their colonial relationship with Britain was derivative literature: it was a question of whether American literature exists or could ever be established. D. H. Lawrence continued to marvel in 1923 how American writers seemed desperate to produce "true American" writing (Lawrence, foreword). Lawrence may also have been right to point out America’s obsession with "slough[ing] the old European consciousness completely" (58): this process of "sloughing" and the concern over the literary development of a nationalist text has been a long-standing subject of critical literary discussions. For early twentieth-century scholars who wrote about nationalism in American literature, their story of literary nationalism featured American’s ultimate flowering. Van Wyck Brooks’s America’s Coming of Age (1915), V. L. Parrington’s Main Currents in American Thought (1927-30), F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance (1941), Robert E. Spiller’s Literary History of the United States (1953) variously addressed and established the prevailing narrative in which American romantic literature finished its "sloughing" and achieved a uniqueness that distinguished it from the writings of Europe. Spiller’s account of American literary history, in particular, deserves notice as the American dilemma was resolved in the development of an "indigenous" strain of nineteenth-century American romanticism (Spiller 344, 345). More recently, Robert Weisbuch in Atlantic Double-Cross (1986) revisits arguments like Spiller’s and finds a persistent insecurity in the heart of the American romantic writer who struggles to redefine the British text. While this particular perspective tells an important story of the imaginative and psychological process of writing, another complicated story of American nationalism emerges from a discrete, contextual study of magazine literature. In this essay I’d like to offer one more way of thinking about antebellum literary nationalism and America’s obsession with "sloughing" by examining nationalism in John Louis O’Sullivan’s Democratic Review, one of the most prestigious and influential magazine of the period.

  2. By shifting the issue of nationalism from writers and anxieties of aesthetic independence to national anxieties about American readers and ideological dependency, I hope to show how the Democratic Review introduced a particular brand of democratic personality and aesthetics which was reinforced by the literature printed in its pages. Antebellum nationalism, as it surfaced in Jacksonian rhetoric of the 1830s and early 1840s, acknowledged the aesthetic problem of originality and dependency, but it also turned to a separate, though related, critical concern: the popularity of British books and its effect on American readers. A material study of creative works in the Democratic Review alongside the writings of its editor O’Sullivan reveal a nationalist strategy that focused on combating British literary power over American readers. The popularity of British literature was less an issue of national pride than one of political influence. For O’Sullivan, national literature doubly counteracted British influence: by visualizing a morally distinct American identity determined by affective ties amongst its people and by fashioning a British Tory identity dramatically opposed to the American Democrat’s. This essay explores O’Sullivan’s vital contribution to Jacksonian nationalism and, specifically, the importance of the misanthropic Tory figure to the nationalist imaginary in the Democratic Review. In writing articles as well as publishing works by authors as diverse as Hawthorne and Paulding, O’Sullivan assembled literary support for a political strain of American literary nationalism that needed to imagine Britain as the moral and sympathetic antithesis to the United States.

    I. Transatlantic readers and American nationalism

  3. Despite the political transition from colony to republic, Anglo-American readers of the early Republic, especially in its Northeastern communities, were famously known for preferring the literature of their former colonizer. Although Robert Weisbuch explains this preference in terms of America’s Bloomian transatlantic anxiety, a prolific and dominant British publishing industry serving a transatlantic audience of American and British readers no doubt exacerbated such psychological connections. Clarence Gohdes remarks that "publishers in the United States found more profit in pirating the books of well-established English writers than in gambling upon the success of new American authors and paying them royalty to boot" (Gohdes, American Literature, 15). In the absence of international copyright laws, Michael T. Gilmore asserts that "[a]bout three-quarters of the books published in the United States before 1820 were of English origin" (Gilmore 547). Even in 1850, the pirating of British literature—conducted by American as well as British booksellers—continued to out-print American ones; one contemporary report, pointing to America’s great love of British books and journals, claims "about ten times as many copies [of British fiction] are sold in the United States as in Great Britain" (Zinke 574).[1] Hence, the Athenaeum’s insightful and portentous twist on Sydney Smith’s 1820 sally "Who reads an American book?" seemed to merit the revised question: "Who reads an American book in America?" ("Literature of the Nineteenth Century" 9, my italics).

  4. The answer to the question posed by the Athenaeum in 1835 was, in reality, thornier than Smith’s pat response that Britain produced superior talents.[2] When Fisher Ames forecasted in 1801 that "[l]iterary curiosity will become one of the new appetites of the nation" ("American Literature" 442), he little knew how strong that reading appetite would become or how their appetite for British literature would affect middle-class readers of British-American society before and after the Revolution.[3] The taste for British literature was encouraged on at least two levels. First, as William Spengemann notes, "British books made up the bulk of every colonial library. Throughout the colonial period, the great majority of books offered for sale in American cities were written by Englishmen, and Americans constituted a large part of the readership for the periodical literature that has been called ‘the most important missionary of British culture’ abroad" ("American Writers" 219). In addition, eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans faced entrepreneuring English booksellers, armed with finer printers and established literary trade, who targeted and nurtured an American market for British books. James Raven's well-documented study of the transatlantic book trade points to an early colonial and post-colonial reliance on English printers and booksellers.[4]

  5. For William Ellery Channing, this robust transatlantic book market seemed to be the source of America’s identity problem. Before Emerson's "American Scholar" speech of 1837, William Ellery Channing, Emerson’s mentor and friend, declared in an oration delivered in Philadelphia in October of 1823, that American readers unknowingly allowed themselves to be captivated by British literature—their fascination resulting in a mass behavior of consumption which Timothy Flint derisively called "Anglo-mania" (Flint 512).[5] Though often overshadowed in academic criticism by his more famous student, Channing delivered a speech that was as critical as Emerson’s in his trenchant censure of American writers and his assessment of the habits of American readers. Like Emerson, Channing was, as Richard Gravil discerns, a "disciple of Wordsworth and Coleridge," who also studied the works of Godwin, Price, Locke, and Blair (Gravil 41). While a great admirer of liberal British thinkers and their writings, Channing worried about the general negative effect of Anglo-mania to America’s emergent national identity. The Anglophilic reading public, Channing noticed, were undisciplined consumers whose practice fueled Britain’s colonization of America’s imagination.[6] Popular zeal for English books pointed to the reading public’s continual internalization of English culture. Only national literature could bring American readers up to a level of ideological awareness so that they could "counteract and [. . .] use wisely the literature [they] import" (Channing 89). In addition to Anglomania, Channing raised a concomitant problem of the ideology disseminated by British literature. "We boast of our political institutions," he revealed, "and receive our chief teachings, books, impressions, from the school of monarchy" (Channing 83). Because literature acted as a cultural vehicle of the political system which it inhabits, it was doubly dangerous for Americans of a democracy to read books from a monarchy—texts that would "bear [. . .] the traces of this inward degradation" (Channing 91).

  6. Channing’s seminal speech on political ideology hidden in British literature prepared the ground for nationalist arguments in the ensuing decades of the 1830s and 1840s; Democrats like John Louis O'Sullivan asserted that nationalist literature would not only help distinguish the literary culture of the United States from England’s but also would strengthen America’s foundational democratic principles. Of course anti-British American patriotism frequently inhabited newspapers and journals before 1837, but O’Sullivan’s nationalism as articulated in the Democratic Review defined an emergent political position that made his nationalist agenda distinct from previous nationalisms: he attempted to characterize American nationality by its moral difference to British monarchy and by its political adherence to Jacksonian Democratic political values. This nationalism, which helped shape Whitman’s Democratic Vistas as well as the modern rhetoric of American identity, must be understood as emerging directly from Jacksonian political thought.

  7. Distrusting Whig "internal improvements" projects and believing that their programs favored monopolies and advanced aristocratic privilege, Jacksonian Democrats advocated a reformed government whose laissez-faire economic and social principles were exemplified by the motto featured on every cover of the Democratic Review: "The best government is that which governs least." It is precisely these Democratic values that framed O’Sullivan’s literary nationalism in the Democratic Review. O’Sullivan and his Democrats promoted not only American works but also a populist version of the "Democratic" ethos by contrasting its "true principles" of laissez-faire egalitarian democracy against what was conceived as a monopolist class system of monarchal Britain. O’Sullivan’s attack on Britain was thus a means of emphasizing the superiority of a particular political and economic order of social relations. Consequently, in Democratic writings British Toryism plays a critical figure through which populists might assume the mantle of a more appropriate American identity and form of government.

    II. Whigs, Tories, and the Dissolution of Democracy

  8. In August of 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered "The American Scholar" to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College, chastising his audience for their intellectual dependency on British and European writers. Approximately two months later in Washington, D.C., O’Sullivan added a populist layer to the already familiar theme of nationalism. O’Sullivan worked as the literary and political editor of the Democratic Review while Samuel Langtree, co-owner of the magazine, primarily took care of publishing (Miller 11-12); political ideas and the aesthetic championed by the magazine are usually attributed to O’Sullivan. O'Sullivan’s multiple roles as owner, editor, and writer of fit the standard profile of American editors of the time. According to Charles Bristed, the editor of an American magazine is "owner, part-owner, at least, of the establishment. He does nearly all the original writing himself [. . .]. As representing and embodying his paper, he becomes an important political personage" (Bristed 680).

  9. Although O’Sullivan is better known as the coiner of "manifest destiny" and, among Hawthorne scholars, as the editor of Democratic Review under whose "glorious reign" a large portion of Hawthorne's short stories were printed (Miller 333), O’Sullivan was an important literary and political editor who, through his careful selection of topical articles and recruitment of excellent writers, built the Democratic Review into an influential and prominent journal. The Democratic Review rarely reprinted creative works and generally printed original material. In addition to Hawthorne and Whitman, other contributors during O’Sullivan’s editorship between 1837 and 1845 read as a list of "Who’s Who" of antebellum American literature, including William Cullen Bryant, Edgar Allan Poe, John Green Whittier, Alexander H. Everett, Catharine Sedgwick, Benjamin F. Butler, James Kirke Paulding, Lydia H. Sigourney, Elizabeth F. Ellet, Park Benjamin, William Gilmore Simms, Charles Taber Congdon, and James Russell Lowell. While his magazine did, on rare occasions, print original works by British poets (one by Sir Alfred Tennyson and another by Elizabeth Browning), it primarily focused on publishing American works.

  10. Both as a literary and political journal, O’Sullivan’s magazine was well received and popular amongst the American literati. Noting that the "Democratic Review in 1837 had become the most successful political magazine in the country," Rufus Griswold stressed the review's creative contents and emphasized that it "published a better grade of material and was read by both parties alike" (Tassin 142). In 1842, Poe admitted that O’Sullivan’s magazine featured the highest quality of American literature:

    Were it not for its ultraism in politics, we should regard it as the most valuable journal of the day. Its editor is a man of fine matter-of-fact talents, and principal contributors are Brownson, the new-light philosopher, Bancroft, Whittier, Bryant, Hawthorne, and Miss Sedgwick. [. . .] Most highly do we esteem the Democratic Review, and take it all in all, we acknowledge only three as its superiors in any country; namely, Tait’s Magazine, Frazer, and Blackwood, and these it will fully equal when it has the advantage of their experience. (Qtd. in Tassin 142)

    Interestingly, Poe’s own assessment of the Democratic Review points to the typical habit of American critics in reviewing the quality of American works through transatlantic comparisons, a practice which inevitably favored British writers and writing: here, while Poe flatters the Democratic Review, he draws three "superior" British exceptions. By 1842, Whitman, already a regular contributor, claimed in the New York Aurora that the Democratic Review was the "leading magazine published this side of the Atlantic" (Widmer 82).[7] While hailing the magazine, Whitman, like Poe, is cautious to emphasize its importance relative to its British counterparts on the other "side of the Atlantic."

  11. Despite the magazine’s importance to contemporary writers and despite scholars’ acknowledgement of the magazine’s prominent role in the nation’s political and cultural discursive sphere, there have been very few significant studies on the Democratic Review in terms of its ideological rhetoric or aesthetics. While Spencer observes the "democratic implications and emphasis" provided in the Democratic Review (133), Spencer’s reading of the magazine, although more in-depth than most scholarly references to the magazine, typifies the critical misapprehension of the magazine’s ideological history and distinct nationalist origins. For instance, Spencer notes that its "conceptions of literature" arise from the expansionist "triumphs" of the 1830s and 40s (133), when in actuality the literary mission, announced with the magazine’s inception, well preceded O’Sullivan’s rhetorical turn toward "manifest destiny." More modern historian Edward L. Widmer in Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York (1999) mistakenly conflates Duyckinck’s nationalism through "Young America" with O’Sullivan’s nationalist program in the Democratic Review.[8] While in 1845 O’Sullivan would argue for America’s "manifest destiny" to challenge British imperialism through a vigorous democratic expansion[9], his focus in 1837 was an expansion of democratic principles through national literature. And unlike Duyckinck, O’Sullivan aggressively forwarded a nationalist mission which declared the literary as inextricably tied with the political.

  12. During O’Sullivan’s tenure as editor, he frequently wrote or published essays that identified and reminded readers of the nation’s problem of forgetting its political distinctiveness from the rest of the world. Not only did national literature create narratives and mythologies that invoke "one of the strongest bonds of common feeling" among the people ("American Poetry" 430), such literature emphasized the nation’s uniqueness and, thus, transnational difference. A country such as America whose identity was founded on liberal ideology was at risk if its reading publics were not taught and reminded of their political commitments. In 1839, an anonymous essay entitled "The Great Nation of Futurity" appeared in the November issue that condemned the cosmopolitan practice of America’s educated classes who read and consumed "foreign" goods. For the writer (most likely O’Sullivan), the biggest sin fell upon the "literati" who failed to appreciate America’s extraordinary "destiny": "Why cannot our literati comprehend the matchless sublimity of our position amongst the nations of the world—our destiny—and cease bending the knee to foreign idolatry, false tastes, false doctrines, false principles" ("Great Nation of Futurity" 428). What distinguishes American "principles" from European principles is what significantly differentiates American nationality from Europe or England’s. Unlike Europe, whose nationality is defined by place and blood, America’s "true nationality" is "not of soil" or "ancestry." Instead, its nationality is characterized by civic ideology, the political beliefs of the American people in "personal enfranchisement," "individual equality," and "political liberty" ("Great Nation of Futurity" 429). The "natural fruit" of such a nation must be literature that is inspired by these principles. But such literature, the writer complained, was yet to be written. Articles like "Great Nation of Futurity" pointed to a new kind of nationalism advocated by the Democratic Review, one that moved away from romantic nationalism (which ties blood and race with land) toward a more civic understanding of one’s relationship with the nation. Like O’Sullivan, who adopted the U.S. as his own, the new American citizen no longer needed to be "born" in America to be American; he only needed to accept and assume the democratic philosophy.

  13. The first issue of O’Sullivan’s magazine opens with a similar pedagogically themed article entitled "Introduction": the essay not only introduces the magazine’s political and literary agenda but also warned readers of existing "anti-democratic" literature from abroad and at home. First, he observes the proliferation of a "decided anti-democratic bias" in American periodicals and among educated youths ("Introduction" 10). Such propaganda, O’Sullivan argues, needs to be combated directly. Although the existing Presidential administration under Van Buren was Democratic, O’Sullivan worries about the disproportionate number of magazines, journals, and newspapers which were Whig run or owned: "[T]he anti-democratic cause," O’Sullivan writes of the American Whigs, "possess at least two-thirds of the press of the country, and that portion of it which best supported by talent and the resources of capital, under the commercial patronage of our cities" ("Introduction" 13).

  14. O’Sullivan, however, reserves the most "potent [negative] influence" on American democracy for last, the problem of literary consumption. The popularity of British works continued to erode American democracy. He observes, "We depend almost wholly on Europe, and particularly England, to think and write for us, or at least to furnish materials and models after which we shall mould our own humble attempts [. . .]. Our mind is enslaved to the past and present literature of England" ("Introduction" 13). Like Channing, who worried that British literature carried with it political propaganda for monarchy, O’Sullivan sees a corresponding relationship between the popularity of English literature in America and the popular view of the British system of government. He warns that currently Americans "look upon [English literature], as we do upon the political system of the country, as something magnificent, venerable, splendid, and powerful, and containing a considerable infusion of the true principle; yet the one no more suitable to be adopted as our own, as a model for slavish imitation than the other" ("Introduction" 14). As British monarchy is an unsuitable model for American government, O’Sullivan reasons, so is British literature an unsuitable model for American literature.

  15. O’Sullivan and his ideological fellows strategically point out that those who have falsely directed American readers to favor British texts were American Whig writers. These Americans were not only responsible for favoring British literature over American ones, but also for nurturing "antidemocratic" thinking and attitudes they acquired from British writers. The "Whig party" in America is, according to O’Sullivan and his cohorts, the "antidemocratic opposition" whose tenets are "founded on an irreconcileable [sic] hostility to the popular and liberal principles" of American democracy ("Sober-Thought" 280). In an essay within the same issue, a contributor to the Democratic Review argues that the American Whig party not only rejects democratic values but also appears to be identical "in principle" with "the Tories of Great Britain" ("European Views" 106). O’Sullivan faults these "better educated classes" of Whigs for "drink[ing] in an anti-democratic habit of feeling and thinking from the copious, and it must be confessed delicious, fountain of the literature of England; they give the same spirit to our own, in which we have little or nothing that is truly democratic and American" ("Introduction" 14). O’Sullivan’s assertion connects Whiggish habits with derivative writing that is doubly damaging, revealing a need to liberate American literature from British writing style as well as British ideological thinking.

  16. Thus what makes O’Sullivan’s complaint different from many others before him, including Emerson, is the motivation articulated in the passage above: while Emerson pointed to the creation of the "bookworm" and the loss of genius in ersatz American writing ("American Scholar"), O’Sullivan observes that the deferential custom of Whig writers inhibits not only the growth of distinctive or original "American" writing, but also the transference of "democratic" ideas. In addition, O’Sullivan’s nationalist campaign is distinctive in its adherence to a particular strain of Jacksonian politics and its symbiotic relationship with literature. Publishing articles and literature that were in line with his nationalist philosophy, O’Sullivan guided the Democratic Review with a unique nationalist program: no other contemporary magazine argued for such an interconnected relationship between politics and literature nor so powerfully reinforced its aesthetic theories in editorial statements and essays with forms of creative works that supported its national vision. In the following sections, I will discuss the critical component of O’Sullivan’s aesthetic and its manifestation in nationalist literature in his magazine.

    III. Democratic Sympathy

  17. Jacksonian nationalists like O’Sullivan characterized Democratic Americans with a particular sympathetic relationship; but before I explain this strain of sympathy and its political incarnation, I will relate how their arguments are drawn from theories of British moral philosophers such as Adam Smith and David Hume. As Kristin Boudreau notes, British moral philosophers like Adam Smith and David Hume saw sympathy as a conservative "mechanism of social control": "By seeing another person’s suffering through one’s own eyes, one might respond privately to scenes that would bring different selves together in sympathetic union" (Boudreau 6). This union does not dissolve differences of class or gender or politics, but rather lubricates social relations amongst people. Hume argues, "[W]e every day meet with persons who are in a situation different from us, and who could never converse with us were we to remain constantly in that position and point of view" (Hume 44). While sympathy, according to Hume, provides a bridge to "greater social intercourse and familiarity" (44), it inevitably builds in the sympathizer "some general unalterable standard" of moral taste. This awareness of distinction (i.e. those "different from us"), Lucinda Cole points out, support rank and social order (Hume 44; Cole 109).

  18. Americans also viewed this sympathetic communion as a means for providing social stability; but rather than reinforcing social hierarchy and relations, sympathy became a means for shared political connection and later, for Jacksonians, a conductor of nationalism. Americans like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush who "avidly read Hutchenson, Hume, and Smith" found sympathy useful in a similar way, "to provide the fundamental bond of political union" or even reason for dissolution (Boudreau 7). According to Jay Fliegelman, Jefferson’s strategic "aestheticized politics of pathos" stressed a difference in feeling between Americans and their "British brethren"—a loss of consanguinity that logically led to the termination of America’s relationship with Britain (Fliegelman 190). For American readers of the following century, Elizabeth Barnes explains, "[s]ympathy, as both felt emotion and cognitive press, became the mode by which familial, social, and even national bonds were reinforced; it represented the affective foundation of democratic society" (Barnes 25).

  19. Like the generation of readers before them, Americans familiarized themselves directly with Hume’s and Smith’s moral and aesthetic discourses, which were still popular in the antebellum period amongst middle-class readers. While Hume was known more famously in United States as a historian whose essays were universally studied by "reading people," [10] essays and reviews directly addressing Hume’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals in the North American Review (1819), Democratic Review (1840), New Englander and Yale Review (1843) and The Living Age (1846) all suggest that antebellum American readers actively revived and engaged with his ideas of moral sense and its shaping of individual character.[11] Adam Smith’s book Theory of Moral Sentiments was better received, its popularity reflected in the fact that the first American edition of the work was printed as early as 1817 in Philadelphia. Evert Duyckinck, an enterprising publisher as well as nationalist contributor and literary editor to the Democratic Review, also reprinted Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments in New York in 1822.

  20. The 1819 article in the influential North American Review, which claimed to be the first to "formally examine" Smith’s theoretical work on moral sentiments (372), highlights critical points about Smith’s theory of sympathy that shaped the thinking and writing of sentiments cultivated by Jacksonian nationalists. First, the North American reviewer sees the foundation of Smith’s moral sympathy in social interaction. He writes, "The great basis of moral sentiments, according to Dr. Smith, is sympathy. Sympathy is that principle of our nature, which leads us to enter into the feelings, affections and motives of other men. Hence it follows, that a being perfectly solitary,—as there would be none with whom he could sympathize,—could have no notions whatever of right or wrong, of merit or demerit." (374). Second, an individual identifies with others only through feelings that he already learned to value. "The sympathies of any individual, then," the reviewer argues, "must depend very much on the previous constitution of his habits and tastes. The ambitious will sympathize with the votaries of ambition; the voluptuary with the voluptuous; the avaricious with the greedy of gain" (377).

  21. The first point of social interaction would become critical for Jacksonian nationalists like O’Sullivan who read sympathy through a Democratic lens: he and other nationalists interpret social sympathy as that emotional tie of religio-political feeling of brotherhood and equality. The second observation would reinforce O’Sullivan’s point of political inculcation: if there were no "previous constitution" of democratic habits and tastes, it can only emerge in the active cultivation of democratic sympathies. Believing that one of the primary functions of national literature was democratic pedagogy, O’Sullivan thus turns to sentimental literature, one of the most popular genres of the day, to become the ideal vehicle of democratic education through feeling. While the Democratic Review published sentimental poetry and fiction that clearly propped the domestic and sometimes drew conservative roles for women in sentimental arguments for "Republican public mothers" (Baym 70), [12] this essay focuses on elements of Democratic rhetoric underlying sentimental language in the magazine’s essays, poetry, and short stories.

  22. Heavily influenced by the theories of eighteenth-century moral philosophers such as Hume and Smith, who argued for the virtuous nature of intuitive human feelings or "moral sentiments," as well as the literature of early and late British Romantics like Godwin, Wordsworth, and Coleridge, whose narratives illustrated the individual’s emotional capacity to transcend oneself to experience the Other (cf. McCarthy 10), O’Sullivan and other Jacksonian writers in the Democratic Review contend that moral sympathy is crucial for nurturing interpersonal and, consequently, communal relationships that characterize American democracy. The importance of moral sentiments lies in the ability of feelings to help the individual evaluate moral and political virtue (nearly synonymous in the magazine) and to connect America’s disparate classes and ethnic groups in a democratic civic community of feelings. [13] In his "Introduction," O’Sullivan lists three primary Christian feelings experienced and articulated by writers who are "truly democratic and American": human sympathy, optimism, and brotherhood. The first creed of human sympathy, which he calls the "cause of Humanity," is rooted in the Christian belief in the "fundamental goodness" of human nature and represents a crucial moral basis of the Democratic faithful that distinguishes them from elitist Whigs ("Introduction" 11). The second, optimism, is a variation of the first, "a cheerful creed, a creed of high hope and universal love, noble and ennobling" ("Introduction" 11). Finally, brotherhood reinforces the moral principle of human sympathy by evoking a sense of kinship amongst community members. Such kinship metaphors were a common sentimental strategy in American literature (cf. Barnes x). For O’Sullivan, however, metaphors of "brothers" and "sisters" represent the deep common interests of the community, illustrating the feelings not only of fellow members of humanity but also of citizens of the State. For Democrats, brotherhood suggests that each see of their relationship with each other as moral and social equals. Consequently social sentiments are rendered into powerful ideological position-statements, one that associates Christian sympathy with Democrats in contrast to the misanthropic elitism of "gloomy and selfish" British Tories and their American Whig counterparts. As another contributor put it, "Democracy is the only creed which does justice to man, or that can bind the entire race in eternal chains of brotherhood and love" ("Democracy" 215).

  23. No doubt reflecting on the power of popular sentimental literature by British female authors like Felicia Hemans and Maria Edgeworth, O’Sullivan forwards an American version of sentimental literature that carries a more pronounced ideological agenda. Although O’Sullivan argues that democratic principles should be taught and rationally understood, he also encourages political inculcation. O’Sullivan notes in various essays that these political beliefs were best supported through common "habit[s] of feeling" ("Introduction" 15)—ritualized habits that turn political notions into a natural and reflexive way of responding and thinking. These habits of feeling were nurtured and disseminated through sentimental narratives of the home and family by male and female writers, who "appeal to the reason and conscience and heart of man" ("Democracy" 217, my italics; see also "American Poetry" 430). Consequently, he hails American authors like Catharine Sedgwick as "thoroughly American and Democratic"—model writers of national literature who combine domestic subjects, sentimental techniques, and Democratic morals in their works to inculcate readers to Democratic modes of thinking and feeling ("American Women" 130).

    IV. Tragic Toryism

  24. Whereas Democratic writers are obligated by their beliefs and feeling to produce literature that engaged with Democratic views of Christian sympathy, human progress, and political egalitarianism, American Whig and British Tory writers are, according to O’Sullivan and Jacksonian nationalists, influenced by the elitist premise of their political organization. Accordingly, literature by Whigs illustrate deep "distrust of mankind" and presuppose the existence of "original superiority [of one group] [. . .] above the great mass of the community in intelligence and competence for the duties of government" ("Introduction" 14). Tory politics and writings reflect the social sins of pride, gloom, arrogance, and the rejection of "human sympathy." This rejection, more importantly, is depicted as unnatural conditioning—a learned and purposive behavior that was the chilling result of Tory indoctrination. As one Democratic reviewer asserts, pessimism toward life is one tragic effect of "gloomy" Toryism. "For what does High-Toryism in England mean, but despair of humanity?" the writer asks, "It looks around and abroad over the mass of men with no eye of hope, no heart of love. It distrusts, it fears, it despises, it hates. [. . .] It recognises no equality, no brotherhood, and but faint and feeble human sympathy, with those wretched ninety-nine. It hardens its heart against them, and shuts its ear to the moaning of their misery." ("Motherwell" 20-21). In his description of Toryism, the author applies key terms that are common in the Democratic vocabulary but are absent in the language of Toryism: "equality," "brotherhood," and "human sympathy" with the masses. Employing a type of "aestheticized politics of pathos" that Fliegelman describes of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, this author also stages the differences between Tory Britons and Democratic Americans in terms of separate moral and political sensibility that must then inevitably result in the incompatibility of British aesthetics with American life.

  25. Many of Hawthorne’s short stories suggest a variation of this theme: a fascination with (presumably Whig) individuals who, like Tories, reject social sympathy to become moral and social outcasts in American society. F. O. Matthiessen points to a curious set of sketches from 1842 and 1843 that appear to show Hawthorne’s concern with "human nature in the mass" (Hawthorne qtd. in Matthiessen 239). While Matthiessen lists stories such as "The Intelligence Office", the "Christmas Banquet, "The Hall of Fantasy," and "Earth’s Holocast," we could easily include in this list earlier short stories such as "Lady Eleanore’s Mantle" which also relate another story of a sin against general humanity: misanthropy. Hawthorne records his interest in this theme as early as 1835 in his notebook. He describes one idea in the following paragraph:

    The story of a man cold and hard-hearted, and acknowledging no brotherhood with mankind. At his death, they might try to dig him a grave, but, at a little space beneath the ground, strike upon a rock, as if the earth refuse to receive her unnatural son into her bosom. Then they would put him into an old sepulcher [. . .] Then the body would petrify; and he having died in some characteristic act and expression, he would seem, through endless ages of death, to repel society as in life; and none would be buried in that tomb forever. (Hawthorne’s Lost Notebook 16)
  26. For his sin of sympathetic disengagement, this particular misanthrope is cut off from social sympathy in death as well as in life. Hawthorne, however, made more explicit connections between misanthropy, sympathy, and politics in the sketches published in the Democratic Review, particularly in his descriptions of a misanthropic "moral monster" in "The Christmas Banquet" (87). Appearing in the Democratic Review in January 1844, "The Christmas Banquet" relates a tale of young, wealthy Gervayse Hastings, who appears to "possess all that other men have [. . .] [but] have really possessed nothing, neither joys or griefs" ("Christmas Banquet" 87). An allegory of a Tory soul, Hastings is appropriately cursed with a "cold heart" ("Christmas Banquet" 87), unreceptive to the loving touch of wife or the "sympathy" of mankind ("Christmas Banquet" 86). As the aristocratic Eleanore of Hawthorne’s "Lady Eleanore’s Mantle" who suffers in lonesome misery due to a deadly disease brought about by what many in the story speculate as her rejection of "human sympathies" ("Lady Eleanore" 326; Lee), Gervayse falls victim to a similar Tory curse—the want of social feeling. Moreover, Gervayse like Eleanore is good looking, young, and (at least figuratively) aristocratic. In fact, Gervayse is crowned the sovereign of an annual Christmas Banquet ("Christmas Banquet" 78), wearing "a wreath of cypress" that symbolizes his "wofullest" claim to human misery ("Christmas Banquet" 79). Gervayse’s connection with misery represented in the symbol of monarchy suggests Hawthorne’s play on O’Sullivan’s anti-Tory rhetoric in the Democratic Review—a magazine he referred to later in the year as "La Revue Anti-Aristocratique" ("Writings of Aubépine" 545). [14]

  27. Although short fiction representing the "anti-democratic habit of feeling and thinking" of Whigs was less common in the pages of the Democratic Review than the depictions of industrious, moral, and charitable Democrats, when they did appear they sometimes traced the inevitable foreign origins of anti-democratic manners and taste to England or Europe. Another example of a narrative illustrating anti-democratic Americans is James Kirke Paulding’s "The School of Reform; A Domestic Tale," published in March 1838. A frequent contributor to the Democratic Review and Secretary of the Navy in Van Buren’s cabinet, Paulding provides a morality tale of a self-indulgent American Frank Weatherhead and the eventual reform of his dissipation. However, frequent readers of the Democratic Review may have seen the story of Weatherhead as satire on the American Whig through his Jacksonian perspective on Eurocentrism (Paulding 426).

  28. My interest in this story is Paulding’s epistemology of Weatherhead’s extravagant follies and taste, cultivated both by a class lifestyle and by his excursions to Europe. In light of O’Sullivan’s earlier complaint that Whigs "drink in an anti-democratic habit of feeling and thinking," Paulding not only illustrates such anti-democratic habits but describes how such habits are acquired. Weatherhead is "indulged to excess" as a child of an upper-class family and does what many privileged and ambitious Americans have done when they come of age—travel abroad to further their education. Of course, traveling abroad itself is not a national sin; nor is it a sin to study European art. The sin—or, at least, Weatherhead’s sin for Paulding is the absolute rejection or disavowal of American art due to his blind preference for European works. Paulding writes of Weatherhead, "Having seen all the fine pictures and statues of Europe, [Weatherhead] valued himself on his taste, and did little but find fault with every thing he saw on his return home. In short, he was mentally and personally vain, ireful, impetuous, extravagant and overbearing" (Paulding 425).

  29. Ultimately, "Europe" is the site of his dissolute and derivative aesthetic as well as political education; this point is further emphasized in the comparison between Weatherhead and Lord Byron. Paulding asks readers to evaluate Weatherhead’s extravagance alongside the "false taste as well as false principles" of the famous English poet—not only to suggest that Weatherhead’s arrant social taste is analogous to the loose moral principles of this British aristocrat, but also to remind readers of the connection between aesthetic taste and national politics. Other writers like William Gilmore Simms, who supported this Jacksonian notion that "one’s country" and politics shaped both the disposition of the writer and the quality of his/her writings, also related Bryon’s faulty character with British nature: "Lord Byron’s egotism and passion—his vain pride—[. . .] declare the genuine English character." [15] In pairing "false taste" alongside "false principles," Paulding points the American reader back to the familiar argument of Hugh Blair and other early nineteenth-century rhetorical theorists who believed that "the acquisition of taste, or the development of critical judgment" influences the growth of intellectual, moral, and civil virtues (Johnson 34). But for Paulding and the writers of the Democratic Review, taste did not merely direct intellectual, moral, and civil virtues. It shaped and was shaped by political principles. Good taste, then, for Jacksonian Democrats, is like "feeling"; it is an observable social phenomenon that belies one’s ideological commitment to Jacksonian democracy. Ultimately in this tale, Weatherhead’s journey away from America to Europe allegorizes not only his wayward cultural preference for European art but also his wayward political philosophy, hinting of British Toryism.

  30. Weatherhead appears to be a Democratic caricature of an American Whig, representing the majority of ailments that O’Sullivan complained of in the "better classes." He is "vain"; he pays "little or no respect to the feelings of others" (Paulding 429); he is "extravagant"; and finally, he believes that all American art is inferior to that of European art. Although the surface narrative relates Weatherhead’s reform from profligacy to prudence, Pauldling’s "The School of Reform" carries another message. The story is a tale of politics by way of aesthetics, demonstrating not only the incompatibility of British-style elitism in democratic America, but also the aesthetic consequence of foreign "taste" and aristocratic connoisseurship on wealthy, impressionable young Americans—the rejection of homespun art and writing.

    V. Conclusion

  31. In defining national literature as Democratic popular writings, O’Sullivan deliberately excludes the works of Whigs. Moreover, nationalist writers who sympathized with O’Sullivan’s aesthetic populate their tales with American Whigs who, as alienated, misanthropic Anglophiles, seem synonymous with British Tories. Yet, despite the overwhelming depictions of conservative, monarchist Britain, the magazine’s numerous references indicate both its unavoidable fascination with British liberal thinkers and writers and its rejection of the political system of the "mother-country." The Democratic Review’s own rhetorical ambivalences and its often unacknowledged indebtedness to British thinkers reflect a lettered America whose intellectual hybridity reveals profound, continual engagement with British literary culture. Consequently, the nationalist rhetoric within the Democratic Review cannot be seen as merely a reactionary response to Britain, but rather a discursive consequence of a transatlantic public sphere, or what O’Sullivan himself calls the "universal ‘Republic of Letters’" ("Literary Properties" 308).

  32. Although O’Sullivan, like many of his early twentieth-century predecessors, would deny the effect of this "sphere" by claiming that "every nation is a separate being" ("Literary Properties" 308); the best and worst imaginings of Whig and Democratic America require the specter of England, for it is this projected "alternity," to borrow Paul Giles’s term, that gives meaning and purpose to O’Sullivan’s nationalism. Giles may be right to assert that transnational texts in America and Britain build "narratives of dislocation and alternity" with discursive responses transcending the conceptual category of nationalism and single national identities (Giles 1). "Transnationalism [. . .]," Giles writes, "positions itself at a point of intersection [. . .] where the coercive aspects of imagined communities are turned back on themselves, reversed or mirrored, so that their covert presuppositions and ideological inflections become apparent" (Giles 17).

  33. More productive transatlantic studies of American and British writings, then, seek not only to reveal the intellectual, commercial, political, or personal connections between these two nations, but also to illuminate and investigate what Susan Castillo calls the "transatlantic dynamic [. . .] an irresistible force of attraction and repulsion, absorption and distinction" in transnational discourse (Will Kaufman and Heidi Macpherson xix). Early Democratic nationalism demonstrates this type of "transatlantic dynamic" in a rhetoric that reveals double strategies to distract readers from what might be the horrific—but not so shocking—truth, that Americans can be elitist, selfish, and gloomy; or that the British might be liberal, cheerful, and charitable Christians.

  34. This story of alternity identifies the smoke and mirrors itself as a heuristic; it is the visible which reveals the hidden. A remarkable example of this alternity can be found in Hawthorne’s story "Howe’s Masquerade," also published in the Democratic Review in 1838. Hawthorne’s tale involves the last British royal governor, Sir William Howe who holds a lavish masquerade near the conclusion of the Revolutionary War. In order to distract his audience from the reality of Britain’s imminent defeat, Howe sets up "scare-crows" of George Washington and his officers. The procession of "scare-crows" is necessary in the narrative for it foreshadows the real spectral procession of past royal governors, which inevitably exposes their collected celebration to be as phony as the straw persons they’ve created.

  35. Unlike Howe’s scarecrows, O’Sullivan’s are English, and the spectral procession, which readers observe in the Democratic Review, tell of a different type of façade. The spectral procession in the magazine appears in the form of reviews of Byron, Scott, Dickens, Wordsworth and Bentham within a four months period in 1842. This procession of characters, however, is not of writers whose politics support the Democratic imaginary of Britain, but of British writers whose liberal views actually undermine it. The "great poet" Wordsworth is charged for supporting a political cause that is inconsistent with the humanitarian spirit that generally pervades his poetry; Dickens is hailed for illustrating the "idea of human equality"; Bentham is lauded for his "benevolent" and liberal principles ("The Reception of Mr. Dickens" 317; "Early Life of Jeremy Bentham" 546). [16] At such moments, the chimera of alternity fades, and the Democratic Review, like Hawthorne’s narrator in "Howe’s Masquerade," calls attention to its failed attempt to throw a tinge of Democratic romance over the realities of these transnational literary scenes. And at such moments, when we are again reminded of the intellectual commonality nurtured in the outgrowth and exchange of Anglo-American Romanticism, we realize, as Richard Gravil shrewdly discerns, that "America did share in the genesis of Romantic ideology" (Gravil 37).

  36. Yet, American Romantic ideology, as it emerged in the Democratic Review through the use of civic nationalism and sentiment, fostered the notion that a radical split from Britain was not only aesthetically desired but also ideologically necessary if its literature was to appear as an original, inspired, and autochthonic thing. To the problem of the ever-threatening and pervasive presence of British thought and social values in America, the editor and his adherents in the Democratic Review offered literature as the solution. As writings in the magazine identified the problem of Anglophilic texts and justified the need for national literature, the Democratic Review proffered itself as an edifying instrument, providing the remedy for that curious national ailment known as "Anglo-mania."


Many thanks to Joel Pace for feedback on earlier drafts and my Stanford reading group, especially Mark Feldman, Naomi Greyser, and Chris Phillips, for their constructive comments.

1 Cheap, pirated editions fueled the reading market in America. For example, cheap editions of Macaulay's History of England (1848) sold at highest $4 (16s.6d.) and at lowest 50 cents (2s.) Zincke finds the accessibility of literature to be the prime proponent of America's high literacy. Gohdes, in American Literature in Nineteenth-Century England points to evidence that English booksellers might also be literary pirates, although this practice lessened by the second half of the century (25).

2 For a reading of Sydney Smith’s article and its periodical context (Edinburgh Review) see chapter 3 in Richard Gravil, Romantic Dialogues: Anglo-American Continuities 1776-1862 (New York: St. Martin Press, 2000).

3 David S. Shields, "British-American Belles Lettres" in The Cambridge History of American Literature, ed. Sacvan Bercovitch, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994): 309-343. Shields’s "British American society" refers to the colonial reading community of British Americans before the Revolution.

4 James Raven, "The Export of Books to Colonial North America," Publishing History 42 (1997): 21-49.

5 William Ellery Channing, "Remarks on National Literature." Oration delivered before the Philadelphia Society at the University of Philadelphia, 18 October 1823. From The Works of William Ellery Channing, D. D. (Glasgow: Richard Green and Co., 1885): 83-95.

6 In the same way, Channing was horrified by the proliferation of "cent papers" that were dangerously "adapted to the most uncultivated minds" to exploit the imagination and purse of the people. See "An Address on Self Culture," in The Works of William Ellery Channing, D. D. (Glasgow: Richard Green and Co., 1885): 243-263, 258.

7 Whitman published short stories as "W.W." and "Walter Whitman." See "Death in the School-Room—A Fact," Democratic Review 9 (August 1841): 177-181; "Wild Frank’s Return," Democratic Review 9 (November 1841): 476-481; "Bervance; or Father and Son," Democratic Review 9 (December 1841): 560-567; "The Tomb-Blossoms," Democratic Review 10 (January 1842): 62-68; "The Last of the Sacred Army," Democratic Review 10 (March 1842): 259-263; "The Child-Ghost; A Story of the Last Loyalist," Democratic Review 10 (May 1842): 451-459; and "Angel of Tears," Democratic Review 11 (September 1842): 282-283.

8 Historians have noted, of course, the magazine’s connection with the Young America nationalist movement in the mid-1840s. Edward L. Widmer’s Young America (1999) claims that the Democratic Review was a vehicle of "Young America," a circle of New York writers promoting literary nationalism. "Young America" founder Evert Duyckinck did not begin to write in the Democratic Review until a year after the magazine moved its printing office to New York in November of 1840. "Young America" contributors included William Gilmore Simms, Cornelius Mathews, and William A. Jones. Moreover, while noting the Locofoco tenor of the magazine, Widmer does not distinguish O’Sullivan’s Locofocoism from the goals of Young America. O’Sullivan’s and Duyckinck’s politics, for instance, were sometimes at odds. Duckinck seemed to have little patience for Locofoco-type radicalism and O’Sullivan’s magazine editorials indicate that it did not support Young America’s petition for the International Copyright Act.

9 See John Louis O’Sullivan, "The Texas Question," Democratic Review 14 (April 1844): 423-430. Also, Sohui Lee, "Manifest Empire: Anglo-American Rivalry and the Shaping of U.S. Manifest Destiny." Manuscript. In Romantic Border Crossings, eds. Jeffrey Cass and Larry Peer. Forthcoming.

10 "Causes of Poverty," Democratic Review 5 (May 1839): 448-466, 457.

11 Hume’s writing seemed to gain more attention from American reviewers during the 1840s. See "Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments," North American Review 8 (March 1819): 371-396; "The History and Moral Relations of Political Economy," Democratic Review 8 (October 1840): 291-311; "Hume, Voltaire, and Rousseau," New Englander and Yale Review 1 (April 1843): 169-184; "Life and Correspondence of David Hume," The Living Age 10 (August 1846): 249-265.

12 For a historian’s argument on Republican motherhood in America see Joan R. Gunderson, To Be Useful to the World: Women in Revolutionary America, 1740-1790 (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996). In addition to Smith’s notion of moral sentiments, texts in the Democratic Review also channeled arguments on domesticity that connected domestic roles of women with the development of political consciousness and national loyalty. Poems in the Democratic Review like the anonymously published "Psyche" suffused woman’s world with republican duty and significance. For the poet of "Psyche," the moral and political worth of woman’s world is grounded in the fact that man’s "[p]atriotism [. . .] grew" in "home’s sweet scenes." "Psyche, a Poem," Democratic Review 2 (April 1838): 17-31, 27 and 25.

13 Recent works on the politics of sympathy include Elizabeth Barnes, States of Sympathy: Seduction and Democracy in the American Novel (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997). In addition to Glenn Hendler’s Public Sentiments (2001), see also Kristin Boudreau, Sympathy in American Literature: American Sentiments from Jefferson to the Jameses (Gainesville, Fl.: University Press of Florida, 2002).

14 For an extended argument about Hawthorne’s connection with O’Sullivan’s magazine and his political rhetoric please refer to Lee, "Hawthorne’s Politics of Story Telling: Two ‘Province-House’ Tales and Anglomania in the Democratic Review."

15 William Gilmore Simms, "The Epochs and Events of American History, as Suited to the Purposes of Art in Fiction," 53.

16 [John L. O’Sullivan] "Wordsworth’s Sonnets on the Punishment of Death" Democratic Review 10 (March 1842): 272-288. The abolition of capital punishment was one of O’Sullivan’s pet political projects and the Wordsworth article should be considered in light of the publication of O’Sullivan’s tract on capital punishment a month earlier. A month earlier, the Democratic Review notified its readers: "Mr. O’Sullivan’s ‘Report on the Abolition of Capital Punishment’ has also attracted considerable attention. We hope that this important subject, which is now again before the Legislature of this and several other States, will awaken that interest which it so well deserves." Democratic Review 10 (February 1842), 201.

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