Emeritus Bookshelf

Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson

  • Published Date: 1999

William C. Dowling
University of South Carolina Press, 1999


The Port Folio magazine, America's first major journal of literary and political opinion, was edited by Joseph Dennie between 1801 and 1811. This new study argues that as The Port Folio mounted a last spirited defense of classical republican values against "American Jacobinism," the struggle between its Federalist writers and the forces of Jeffersonian ideology gave rise to an important tradition in American writing.

"The triumphing of Jefferson's party will be but short," Dennie optimistically predicted in 1801. "Men will wake from the dreams of apathy, and the darkness of delusion." By the end of 1807, however, Dennie and the Port Folio writers had come to realize that they were on the losing side of history, and that the triumph of Jeffersonian ideology would be total and permanent. Literary Federalism then originates as a tradition, argues William C. Dowling, in the attempt of Dennie and The Port Folio to provide a sanctuary for classical republican values within a separate world of the literary imagination, a mode of writing that might serve as a permanent refuge from the degraded conditions of American social existence.Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson contends that, in the struggle of thePort Folio writers against Jeffersonian ideology, lie the hidden origins of American literature, conceived of as "a world elsewhere" in Richard Poirier's celebrated phrase—a sustained tradition of literary alienation and estrangement stretching from Washington Irving through Henry David Thoreau and Herman Melville to Henry James and Henry Adams in the twentieth century.