Early American Literature

lecture notes

Constitutional Government





Midterm return


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Check email Thursday or Friday, welcome to reply, discuss how you did, how to improve


Everybody's doing enough right to continue, but everybody can always do better


grade and note









writing as practice


writing as reading and writing back



liberal arts, humanities as models for engaged citizenship, x-peasant fatalism


liberal arts people don't make as much money early, but long-term success b/c ability to interact constructively with authorities, peers


college classes as models for post-industrial workplace--there's a boss, but there's also a team




content: Which America do we Teach? > dominant culture x multicultural


> multicultural:

diversifying student population

need for students to identify with historical actors

America not just as glorious triumph but problems, progress


> dominant culture

If we don't teach dominant culture to multicultural students, we're denying




Question or challenge: Can the dominant culture trust the multiculture to manage its operating system successfully?


Is America a universal idea of equality, or is it an exclusively Western European phenomenon?


Education and literacy as essential to self-government, democracy.    Texas Declaration of Independence


Will aging white voters support education for children who don't look like them? Or will white population continue "white flight" to suburbs, heartland interior (Idaho), Bible academies, home schooling?


Make America Great Again?


Another historical challenge to which we'll adapt in order to progress to the next historical challenge?







open with question 3: how to teach successfully?


with age, historical consciousness grows


periods: knowing one period helps you know another; building blocks of historical consciousness


final exam question on periods





question # 4: periods


covenant / social contract distinction



How or why does religion work to instruct early literature (esp. non-fiction)?


religion as identity, tribe, belonging


religion as emotion, imagination (metaphors)


authoritarian religion good to rebel against (Romanticism)


(U.S. Constitution avoids authoritarian religion, and populace generally agrees.)








Lessons on Constitutional Government


Covenant b/w people and God . . . Winthrop 11; Bradford 11.2


social contract between consenting, self-governing parties


people joined less by God than by self-interest (which also divides)



Declaration opening, Constitution prologue


socialism, communitarianism (with built-in hierarchies) > capitalism, competition, exchange between free agents with equal opportunities







Discussion Questions: 1. What upsides / downsides to reading legal or historical texts as literature?




literature supporting nation, literature as nation, patriotism with investment, not just cheerleading


literature as practical writing > law, policy


conservative patriots won't object and may endorse, though they may object to critical thinking and history about failures or repressions inherent in constitutional history.






no story, narrative, dialogue, characters, or . . .


history has to provide story


little emotion--instructor or community elder has to add ("This is important! We're Americans! This is who we are!")



practical writing > lack of figurative writing (metaphors, symbols, etc.)


why good? neutral, not impassioned--neutral common ground on which people can meet


Figurative speech adds color, vividness, but also divisive




2. What parts of texts come alive for literary interests and why? Which parts did you skim or ignore, and why?




Declaration's attack on England, pose of underdog (Romanticism)


rights (personal, human, not institutional)


Bill of Rights cf. Ten Commandments + lists simplify


read for confirmation of historical knowledge



why not?


collective x individual


public x private


(problem of human mind: social creatures, but individual consciousness)



3. Using process of elimination, if today's texts don't count as literature, what does? How do such questions and analyses help us define literature or extend our definition of literature? As teachers of literature, what are we teaching our students to do? If we should teach historical and legal documents, how can we do so successfully? If we don't, how do we justify teaching the texts that we do teach?




Declaration mirrors increasing individualism as social mechanism


Constitution models balance of competing powers or interests (institutions rather than individuals)


Horace on entertain & instruct



successfully: use religion (diplomatically)



historical documents + fictional texts (coming up in class)


intertextuality: read texts in relation to each other--contrast experience of reading fiction as one text or world at a time, self-enclosed




resolution of historical narrative: civilization advances, progresses > excludes, mistakes > resolves, progresses again > next set of problems


romance narrative



4. Compare the social and religious communities Seventeenth Century represented by the Mayflower Compact & A Model of Christian Charity with the Enlightenment social contracts described by The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. How are the religious documents more "literary" than the Enlightenment documents?



Covenant b/w people and God . . . Winthrop 11; Bradford 11.2


social contract between consenting, self-governing parties


people joined less by God than by self-interest (which also divides)



absence of metaphor > numbers, structures, facts





5. As with zealously religious people who never read the Bible, many of the most avowedly patriotic Americans never read the Declaration or Constitution, even while claiming that these sources support their biases and ideologies. Instead they learn about the Bible from preachers or about the Constitution from family or office conversations or "hate radio." What happens when fundamentalists actually read their sacred texts for themselves?



cf. #3: enlightened democracy / capitalism as trade, exchange > moderation, golden mean

x-absolutes > pluralistic society, tolerance, benefit from difference > larger world, more beauty than one culture or interest group can offer






6. How to avoid extreme reactions of apathy or rebellion? Readers of government documents often respond fatalistically with "so what?", avoiding controversy. Correspondingly, any effort to read critically can identify one as a silly radical fighting the tide of history or disrespecting the past.









Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity


1 knit together, bonds of brotherly affection    [metaphor]


2b Put a difference between Christians and others    [tribal identity]

[2c]  Law of Nature would give no rules for dealing with enemies, . . . but the Gospel commands love to an enemy. Proof: If thine enemy hunger, feed him; "Love your enemies... Do good to them that hate you" (Matt. 5:44).    [allusion]


Hence it was that in the primitive church they sold all, had all things in common, neither did any man say that which he possessed was his own. . . . [See Acts 2: 42-45, copied at bottom]


5a Love is the bond of perfection. First it is a bond or ligament. Secondly, it makes the work perfect. There is no body but consists of parts and that which knits these parts together, gives the body its perfection    [extended metaphor + emotion; contrast Constitution's "more perfect union"]  romance narrative

7 If one member suffers, all suffer with it, if one be in honor, all rejoice with it. [unity of church = unity of community]


[8] . . . this sensitivity and sympathy of each other's conditions will necessarily infuse into each part a native desire and endeavor, to strengthen, defend, preserve and comfort the other.


[9]  . . . So a mother loves her child, because she thoroughly conceives a resemblance of herself in it.


11 Entered into covenant


12 knit together as one man, brotherly affection


12 Delight in each other, make other’s conditions our own


13 A city upon a hill   [allusion, symbol]



Bradford, Mayflower Compact


11.1 discontented and mutinous speeches that some of the strangers [non-Pilgrims] amongst them had let fall from them in the ship—That when they came ashore they would use their own liberty; for none had power to command them, the patent they had being for Virginia, and not for New England


11.2 in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick


enact, constitute, and frame, such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, . .  for the general Good of the Colony; unto which we promise all due Submission and Obedience



The Great Law of Peace


1 Dekanawidah, plant tree of great peace > Onandaga


[2] I name the tree the Tree of the Great Long Leaves

globe thistle


3 Council Fire


4 roots [metaphorical extension]  metaphor


5 trace the Roots to the Tree and if their minds are clean and they are obedient and promise to obey the wishes of the Confederate Council, they shall be welcomed


6 an eagle, who sees afar


7 caretaking and the watching of the Five Nations Council Fire.


8 business . . . messenger dispatched to fire keepers


9 fire kindled not with chestnut wood    [cultural anthropology]


[10] The Smoke of the Confederate Council Fire shall ever ascend


12 wampum to female families     [cultural anthropology]


The right of bestowing the title shall be hereditary in the family of the females legally possessing the bunch of shell strings and the strings shall be the token that the females of the family have the proprietary right


13 pledges or records of matters of national or international importance.


14] When it is necessary to dispatch a shell string by a War Chief or other messenger as the token of a summons, the messenger shall recite the contents of the string to the party to whom it is sent. That party shall repeat the message and return the shell string


15 binding as soon as shell strings shall have been exchanged by both parties. [contract law]


16 a token that the men have combined themselves into one head, one body and one thought  [cf. Winthrop]


17 white portion of the shell strings represent the women and the black portion the men. The black portion, furthermore, is a token of power and authority vested in the men of the Five Nations


18] A broad dark belt of wampum of thirty-eight rows, having a white heart in the center, on either side of which are two white squares all connected with the heart by white rows of beads shall be the emblem of the unity of the Five Nations.


19 white heart in the middle represents the Onondaga nation


20] White shall here symbolize that no evil or jealous thoughts shall creep into the minds of the Lords while in Council under the Great Peace. White, the emblem of peace, love, charity and equity


The Cherokee Memorials

[3] By the will of our Father in heaven, the governor of the whole world, the red man of America has become small, and the white man great and renowned. When the ancestors of the people of these United States first came to the shores of America, they found the red man strong—though he was ignorant and savage, yet he received them kindly, and gave them dry land to rest their weary feet. They met in peace, and shook hands in token of friendship. Whatever the white man wanted and asked of the Indian, the latter willingly gave. At that time the Indian was the lord, and the white man the suppliant. But now the scene has changed.

as his neighbors increased in numbers, his power became less, and now, of the many and powerful tribes who once covered these United States, only a few are to be seen—a few whom a sweeping pestilence* has left.


4] Brothers—we address you according to usage adopted by our forefathers, and the great and good men who have successfully directed the councils of the nation you represen

We are troubled by some of your own people. Our neighbor, the state of Georgia, is pressing hard upon us, and urging us to relinquish our possessions for her benefit.

appealed to our father, the president, and begged that protection might be extended

We love, we dearly love our country,

make known why we think the country is ours, and why we wish to remain in peace where we are.


5] The land on which we stand, we have received as an inheritance from our fathers, who possessed it from time immemorial, as a gift from our common father in heaven.

when the white man came to the shores of America, our ancestors were found in peaceable possession of this very land.

This right of inheritance we have never ceded, nor ever forfeited. Permit us to ask, what better right can a people have to a country, than the right of inheritance and immemorial peaceable possession?

[rhetorical question] What crime have we committed, whereby we must forever be divested of our country and rights? Was it when we were hostile to the United States, and took part with the king of Great Britain, during the struggle for independence? If so, why was not this forfeiture declared in the first treaty of peace between the United States and our beloved men?...


6 the faith and pledge of the U. States, repeated over and over again, in treaties made at various times. By these treaties our rights as a separate people are distinctly acknowledged

In what light shall we view the conduct of the United States and Georgia, in their intercourse with us, in urging us to enter into treaties, and cede lands?

These governments perfectly understood our rights—our right to the country, and our right to self government.

The undersigned memoirists


7 your memorialists solemnly protest against being considered as tenants at will, or as mere occupants of the soil, without possessing the sovereignty.

To the land of which we are now in possession we are attached—it is our father’s gift—it contains their ashes—it is the land of our nativity, and the land of our intellectual birth. We cannot consent to abandon it, for another far inferior, and which holds out to us no inducements. [x-fair trade, bargaining]

the undersigned memorialists do most earnestly pray your honorable bodies. Their existence and future happiness are at stake—divest them of their liberty and country, and you sink them in degradation, and put a check, if not a final stop, to their present progress in the arts of civilized life, and in the knowledge of the Christian religion.

the people of these United States, who perhaps, of all men under heaven, are the most religious and free,

You represent a virtuous, intelligent and Christian nation.


10 requires that we should be heard by the immediate representatives of the people of the United States, whose humanity, and magnanimity, by permission and will of Heaven, may yet preserve us from ruin and extinction.


11] The authorities of Georgia have recently and unexpectedly assumed a doctrine, horrid in its aspect; and fatal in its consequences to us, and utterly at variance with the laws of Nations of the United States, and the subsisting Treaties

She claims the exercise of Sovereignty over this Nation


12] It is a subject of vast importance to know whether the power of self Government abided in the Cherokee Nation at the discovery of America, three hundred and thirty seven years ago, and whether it was in any manner effected or destroyed by the Charters of European Potentates?

Great Britain established with them relationships of friendship and alliance, and at no time did she treat them as subjects and as tenants at will to her power.

In peace she spoke the language of friendship, and they replied in the voice of independence


13 to the period of the Declaration of Independence by the United States

It remains to be proved, under a view of all these circumstances, and the knowledge we have of history, how our right to self Government was effected and destroyed, by the Declaration of Independence

not subjects, but a distinct Nation, and in that light viewed by Washington and by all the people of the union at that period.


14 most of the Treaties subsisting between the United States and this Nation, that the phraseology, composition, &c. were always written by the commissioners on the part of the United States, for obvious reason, as the Cherokees were unacquainted with letters. 


15 said by Georgia, and the Hon. Secretary of War, that one sovereignty cannot exist within another, and therefore we must yield to the stronger power; but is not this doctrine favorable to our Government, which does not interfere with any other.

The Constitution of the United States, (article 6) contains these words; "all Treaties made under the  authority of the United States shall be the supreme law of the land," and the "Judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the laws or constitution of any State to the contrary notwithstanding."  The sacredness of Treaties made under the authority of the United States are paramount and Supreme, stronger than the laws and constitution of any state.


16] Permit us also to make known to you the aggrieved and unpleasant situation under which we are placed by the claim which Georgia has set up


16 our border citizens are at this time placed under the most unfortunate circumstances by the intrusions of citizens of the United States; and which are almost daily increasing


16 Many of our people are experiencing all the evils of personal insult, and in some instances expulsion from their homes, and loss of property, from the unrestrained intruders let loose upon us,

we do hope that the United States will not suffer her to take possession of them forcibly and investigate her claim afterwards.


17 Arguments to effect the emigration of our people [to move to Indian Territory in the Southwest, now Oklahoma]

our attachment to the soil of our ancestors is too strong to be shaken. 

We have been invited to a retrospective view of the past history of Indians, who have melted away before the light of civilization, and the mountains of difficulties that have opposed our race in their advancement in civilized life.  We have done so, and while we deplore the fate of thousands of our complexion and kind, we rejoice that our Nation stands, and grows a lasting monument of God's mercy, and durable contradiction to the misconceived opinion that the aborigines are incapable of civilization.


19 The faith of your Government is solemnly pledged for our protection against all oppressions, so long as we remain firm in our Treaties; and that we have for a long series of years proved to be true & loyal friends, the known history of past events abundantly proves. 


20 a right we surely have





The Declaration of Independence (and its echoes) +



If you were asked to describe the Declaration as our "origin story," how would you do so?







Texas Declaration of Independence

1 lives, liberty and property

the people, from whom its legitimate powers are derived


2 Constitution of their country [Mexico], which they have sworn to support, no longer has a substantial existence, and the whole nature of their government has been forcibly changed, without their consent, from a restricted federative republic, composed of sovereign states, to a consolidated central military despotism, in which every interest is disregarded but that of the army and the priesthood*


3 agents who bear them are thrown into dungeons [cf. 9 below],


4 anarchy prevails, and civil society is dissolved into its original elements. In such a crisis, the first law of nature [cf. U.S. Declaration], the right of self-preservation, the inherent and inalienable rights of the people to appeal to first principles, and take their political affairs into their own hands


5 A statement of a part of our grievances is therefore submitted to an impartial world

severing our political connection with the Mexican people, and assuming an independent attitude among the nations of the earth. [cf. U.S. Declaration]


6] The Mexican government, by its colonization laws, invited and induced the Anglo-American population of Texas to colonize its wilderness under the pledged faith of a written constitution, that they should continue to enjoy that constitutional liberty and republican government to which they had been habituated in the land of their birth, the United States of America.


7 changes made in the government by General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna,

combined despotism of the sword* and the priesthood. [metonym: “sword” = military force]


8 a far distant seat of government, by a hostile majority, in an unknown tongue


9 dungeon, one of our citizens [cf. 3]


10 right of trial by jury


11] It has failed to establish any public system of education*, although possessed of almost boundless resources

11 unless a people are educated and enlightened, it is idle to expect the continuance of civil liberty, or the capacity for self government.


12 military commandants, stationed among us, to exercise arbitrary acts of oppression and tyranny, thus trampling upon the most sacred rights of the citizens, and rendering the military superior to the civil power.


16] It denies us the right of worshipping the Almighty according to the dictates of our own conscience, by the support of a national religion*


17 our arms, which are essential to our defence, the rightful property of freemen, and formidable [threatening] only to tyrannical governments.


18 a large mercenary army advancing, to carry on against us a war of extermination.


19 incited the merciless savage, with the tomahawk and scalping knife, to massacre the inhabitants of our defenseless frontiers. [cf. U.S. Declaration]


20 victim of successive military revolutions


21 Mexican people have acquiesced in the destruction of their liberty, and the substitution therefor of a military government; that they are unfit to be free, and incapable of self government.


[22] The necessity of self-preservation, therefore, now decrees our eternal political separation.


23 a free, Sovereign, and independent republic

23 the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations






U.S. Constitution


attitude toward reading: reference work, cf. dictionary, phone book, encyclopedia, guidebook

cf. problem with reading Bible as literature: already know it more or less, willing to let others remind us

cf. Bill of Rights and 10 Commandments--I remember a few!


potential advantages to reading: expands literature to practical, citizenship uses



We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


1.2.3 Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.


1.3.1 two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof,


1.6.1 The Senators and Representatives shall receive a Compensation for their Services, to be ascertained by Law, and paid out of the Treasury of the United States. They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace, be privileged from Arrest during their Attendance


1.6.2 no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office.


1.7.1 All Bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives


1.8.1 The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States


3 regulate commerce [Obamacare]


4 Naturalization


5 coin money


7 post offices


8 promote progress of science and useful arts [patent, copyright]


11 declare war


13 provide and maintain navy [Atlantic nation]


1.9.5 No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State. [oil export tax?]


1.9.8 No Title of Nobility shall be granted


2.1.2 electors of president


2.1.5 natural born citizen


2.2.1 The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States


2.3 state of the union


2.4 impeachment


3.1 one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts


3.3.1 Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.


4.2.1 The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States. [same-sex marriage]


6.3 no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.


 (The Preamble to The Bill of Rights)

further declaratory and restrictive clauses


1 no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [apply to Cherokee?]


2 well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms


3 soldiers in house


4 against unreasonable searches and seizures


5 nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself


6 right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury


8 Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.


10 reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.


13 Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude


14.1 All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


14.2 counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed.

male inhabitants


14.3 insurrection or rebellion


14.4 validity of the public debt


15 The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.


16 power to lay and collect taxes on incomes (1913)


17 two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof (1913)


18 manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. (1919)


19 The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. (1920)


21. 1: The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.


22 No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice (1951)


23 DC votes for president (1961)


24  failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.


26 18 years of age or older, to vote






Articles of Confederation,  

I. The Stile [e.g. "styling" or name] of this Confederacy shall be "The United States of America".


4 all privileges and immunities of free citizens in the several States; and the people of each State shall free ingress and regress to and from any other State, and shall enjoy therein all the privileges of trade and commerce, subject to the same duties, impositions, and restrictions as the inhabitants thereof respectively


6 [Two important implications: 1. limited militarism of early USA; 2. references to militia relate to second Amendment to U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."]


8 a common treasury, which shall be supplied by the several States in proportion to the value of all land within each State


taxes for paying that proportion shall be laid and levied by the authority and direction of the legislatures of the several States


13 Great Governor of the World