Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rodda on Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow is a figure from the American Founding I've much neglected. We have the "key Founders" -- the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin -- who I, after much meticulous research, see as something in between orthodox Christians and strict Deists, whatever we term them (Christian-Deists, theistic rationalists, small u unitarians, etc. etc.). There were some very important second tier Founders who were orthodox Christians -- Roger Sherman, Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon and others. And then there were some who were closer to strict Deism; Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer are the ones we've stressed so far. We should probably add Joel Barlow to the list with Paine, Allen and Palmer.

In doing research on Barlow, I came across this nifty post on him by Chris Rodda.  A taste:
Much of Barlow's other writing during this time was for The Anarchiad, a satirical political paper anonymously published from time to time by his literary club, the Hartford Wits. Among the original members of this club was David Humphreys, who, in 1797, as Commissioner Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, was the official who approved Barlow's translation of the Treaty of Tripoli and submitted it for ratification. Among those rejected for admission to the club were Oliver Wolcott and Noah Webster, two of the very religious founders that David Barton makes a point of associating Barlow with in his biographical sketch. Barlow may have started out together at Yale with Wolcott and Webster, but couldn't have ended up more different from these former classmates in both politics and religion. While Wolcott and Webster were die-hard New England Federalists and Congregationalists, Barlow became a Jeffersonian Republican and a deist.
Noah Webster, by the way, may well have ended up some sort of pious Christian; but I'm not so sure he was so while the Constitution was being ratified. He seemed, like many others, caught up in the Enlightenment rationalist zeitgeist.

I think the French Revolution may have killed Webster's Enlightenment buzz.

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