Joseph J. Ellis. After the revolution – History Essay (200 Level Course)
Joseph J. Ellis. After the revolution: profiles of early American culture. (1979; reprint, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2002) Joseph E Ellis, an acclaimed historian biographer and a professor, is acknowledged as the best selling author for the books on the founding fathers of United States of America. His famous book Founding brothers: The revolutionary generation won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2001. His other famous works include Founding brothers of the United States, American Sphinx: The character of Thomas Jefferson and His Excellency: George Washington.
Joseph E Ellis’s, After the Revolution, is one more masterpiece on the revolutionary era. There was an outbound optimism prevalent in the minds of America scholars as well as civil citizens that the new world had the ideal environment for the flowering of arts and sciences; and the cultural traditions established by the Athenians were moving westward. Ellis in his creation tries to argues, why in spite of such rampant optimism the cultural explosion, as we all know of never happened? In the opening chapters he sufficiently explains, that how could such buoyant and unprecedented expectations of cultural explosion develop in Provincial America? And how the endorsements of freedom which the dominant ideology of liberal capitalistic society led to the degeneration of arts and culture? To explain the rapidly changing social condition of pre-Revolutionary America, Ellis gives the life stories of four men whose lives were centered on that social change, Charles Willson Peale, an artist; Hugh Henry Brackenridge, a novelist; William Dunlap, a dramatist and theater manager; and Noah Webster, an educator, linguist, and all purpose polemicist. In my opinion, even though America has succeeded economically, and in subsequent years after the revolution championed the policy of manifest destiny, it has drastically failed as far as compared to the Arts and culture of contemporary Western Europe. There is no artist in the American history, who ever had the caliber of Shakespeare or Leonardo Da Vinci.
During the mid eighteenth century the colonists experienced tremendous demographic as well as economic growth. Ezra Stiles explaining the reason for such rapid growth proclaimed, “Free polity, free religion and free property, and matrimony, will soon populate a fertile country.” Faith in power and prefer ability of freedom had championed the minds of the revolutionary people, and they presumed that the artistic, political, and economic life of any society was a single thing. It was widely believed that arts and sciences couldn’t flourish without free government. Eventually, the idea of freedom gave birth to the liberal capitalistic society. Artistic creativity and economic productivity were expected to grow with liberating process, and commercial and cultural ascendancy were expected to go hand in hand.
No sooner after the revolution American’s premonitions of Athens, provide utterly apocalyptic, as arts proved to be poison for the new republican life. The hostility of high culture was the product of the capitalistic society. As observed by Charles Wilson Peale, there was no group of artists which remain distinguished from the political and ideological issues. There were three main reasons mainly associated with the degeneration of arts. First according to Plato, artists and poets undermined the morality of the community because they tended to incite passions into reason. It is very surprising that Rome and other renaissance city states also began to degenerate just when the arts began to flourish. Secondly, “luxury and corruption…seem the inseparable companions of Commerce and the Arts;” claimed the Puritans who believed that a Christian must earn the fruits of his own industry. Puritans believed that prosperity was the path to the decadence and the social collapse. Thirdly, the republican ideology which had shaped American ideology led to the suspicious attitude towards individual freedom and the fine arts. The reason was the criticism of English society and the government as corrupt was in effect criticism of the values produced by the burgeoning capitalist economy. Another important reason was the more emphasis that was placed on order and disciplined freedom, which were circumscribed by the civic obligation imposed by public virtue and more emphasis was placed on ordered, disciplined freedom.
In spite of artistic independence, Ellis’s men were torn by dual allegiances. Their lives coincided with the emergence of modern social conditions-democratic politics and a capitalistic economy on the verge of industrialization. But as we all know theses men were masters of their own time. Peale’s contribution to art, and Noah Webster’s understanding of the word culture is enough to justify Ellis’s claim.
Ellis’s central concern in writing the book has been historical rather than aesthetic. Elli efficiently clings to his argument and there are very few areas where he tends to digress from the main concern. His persuasive argument justifies his claims, explaining, why the American society didn’t flourish. At times, in his examples, Ellis tends to exaggerate the problems faced by the personalities to adjust to the modern institutions. Being from a socialist country, Ellis’s After the revolution helps me to understand the drawbacks of the capitalistic society and why arts and high culture never flourished.