In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Republicanism

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Reference Guides
  • Reference Works
  • Republics at War in the Atlantic World

Atlantic History Republicanism
Clément Thibaud
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0004


The history of republicanism in an Atlantic perspective really begins with the “Republican Turn” in the historiography of the American Revolution. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the middle of the Vietnam War, a set of works by Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, and J. G. A. Pocock had in common, beyond their differences, the fact that they emphasized the importance of classical republicanism, in the form of radical Whiggism, during the United States’ struggle for independence. They revisited the hegemonic thesis, hitherto universally accepted, according to which the Revolution was the child of Lockean liberalism. First, it renewed interest in the history of ideas in an innovative approach that advocated the study of texts in context. For what was to become the Cambridge School, the concepts were not only a way of dressing up underlying interests, the presentable clothing for greed, they were organized around major paradigms that shaped the perception and understanding that individuals had of their actions. The second shift relates to the “Atlantic” dimension of the republican paradigm. We can trace the emergence of the concept of politics as an autonomous and secularized form of human action, moving from medieval Italy to Machiavelli, then on to the two English revolutions in the 17th century and, finally, to the American Revolution. The emergence of politics was linked to the modern development of the concept of republic, whose paradigm was to travel from Europe to America. Since the last few decades of the 20th century, forms of republicanism that emerged from colonial contexts, such as in Haiti and Ibero-America, have also attracted the attention of historians. The third shift consisted in showing the strangeness and alterity of this event, which did not necessarily herald possessive liberalism or triumphant capitalism. On the contrary, Atlantic republicanism, whether it is termed radical Whiggism, civic humanism, or a neo-Roman conception of civil liberty, was founded on premises that were the opposite of those of liberalism: the primacy of the common good over individual interests, the rejection of dependence between men, civic participation, and disdain for the accumulation of wealth. These considerations have piqued the interest of historians in those individuals and groups that have depended upon such emancipating repertoires: slaves, free people of color, popular republicans.

General Overview

The section on the Republican Tradition focuses on the oldest pillars of common good philosophy, addressing a set of major texts and their interpretations, as well as the ancient, medieval, and Early Modern models of kingless governments—Rome, Genoa, Florence, Venice, Switzerland, and the Netherlands—which served as a basis for reflection and political action. In the second section, Different Concepts of Republicanism, the bibliography thematically presents the great intellectual repertoires that have influenced the construction of the Atlantic world’s anti-monarchist regimes, while giving particular emphasis to the dialogue concerning classical republicanism and its role in the “Atlantic” revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The third section, Republicanism and its Atlantic Dimensions, focuses on spaces and events: the English, American, French, and Haitian revolutions, as well as republicanism in Spanish America and Brazil. It is also interested in the relationship between republicanism and the Atlantic thematic of race, as well as the question of war—fundamental to defining republican citizenship and patriotism.

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