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Cicero and the Founding Fathers


The United States — more than even France — is a Ciceronian republic. The American founders rejected aspects of Roman republicanism such as aristocracy and militarism. Still, it was from Cicero that the major Founders learned that a republic needed a senate — aristocratic in Rome, democratic in America — to check popular passions. From Cicero, too, Americans learned to dread unchecked executive power based on armed force and populist demagogy — “Caesarism.” The honorific bestowed on George Washington, Father of his Country, was a translation of Pater Patriae, bestowed on Cicero by Cato. According to Carl J. Richard in The Founders and the Classics, Chief Justice John Marshall patterned the portrayal of George Washington, in his famous five-volume biography of the general, after Cicero, and told his grandsons that De Officiis was a salutary discourse on the duties and qualities proper to a republican gentleman. Marshall McLuhan wrote that “Thomas Jefferson is Ciceronian in all respects.” Franklin quoted Cicero in Poor Richard’s Almanac, and Rufus Choate, a great early American jurist, told lawyers: “Soak your mind with Cicero.” Allen Tate wrote, “I can think of no better image for what the South was before 1860, and what it largely still was until about 1914, than that of the old gentleman in Kentucky who sat every afternoon in his front yard under an old sugar tree, reading Cicero’s Letters to Atticus” — in the original Latin, of course.

 The above is an excerpt from an article by Michael Lind published in the Washington Post in 2002.  It is a wonderful article tracing the heritage bequeathed to us by the Founding Fathers ad fontes [to the font] from which they drew inspiration.  In this season when we celebrate the sacrifices and labors of these great men of our country, let us also begin to look anew at the manner in which they were inspired by the ancients.  And one in particular, the great Cicero.

You may read the full article here:

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