Front Page Titles (by Subject) Rival Notions of Republicanism - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
Rival Notions of Republicanism - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1982, vol. 5, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
This work is copyrighted by the Institute for Humane Studies, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia, and is put online with their permission.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Rival Notions of Republicanism
“The Political Thought of Fisher Ames.” Journal of the Early Republic 2 (Spring 1982): 1–20.
Fisher Ames (1758–1808), a Federalist representative from Dedham, Massachusetts in the first four Congresses, is mistakenly viewed as a paranoid conservative zealot. Ames' vitriolic anti-populism was rather an expression of “his political ideology which more closely resembled seventeenth century classical republicanism than the definition of republicanism which emerged in America following the Revolution.”
On several critical issues, including his pessimistic view of mankind's depraved nature, the chaotic condition of the pre-civil state of nature, and his insistence on a strong, centralized, and paternalistic government, Ames' political thinking differed from his chief enemies, the Jeffersonian Republicans. Growing increasingly pessimistic with the successes of Jefferson's version of populist republicanism, Ames feared for the survival of constitutional government. “In essence, then, Fisher Ames was a classical republican theorist attempting to deal with a political system which was no longer based on those ideals.”
The post-Revolutionary period witnessed the subtle transformation of Ames' classical republican ideal of a “mixed constitution” made up of a balance of social groups or estates (monarchical, oligarchic, and popular) into a predominantly democratic separation of governmental powers. This shocked such classical republicans as Ames who feared the undisciplined people as a mobocracy and who insisted on the rule of “virtue” through a “natural aristocracy” and powerful, paternalistic government.
Believing in the idea that liberty could be secured only by such a vigilant central government, Ames was baffled by the contrary Jeffersonian republican ideology which believed that individual liberty grew as government declined. Ames' classical republicanism also differed from the Jeffersonian approval of multiple factions, an optimistic view of human nature, and democratic populism. Republicanism as Ames understood it in the classical sense did indeed decline during the early national years under the pressure of a more modern and pluralistic republicanism espoused by Jefferson and Madison.