Republican Fatherhood

 "When women become good mothers, men will be good husbands and fathers."

                                                                              Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile (Book I), 1762


Hints on Education; or, the Erroneous conduct of Many Parents pointed out by A True Lover of Domestic Peace.

Title page from Hints on Education.

Although much of 18th century and early 19th century educational literature was directed at mothers, fathers had a complementary role to play. Just as Scenes for Children by a Lady contrasts ideals of motherhood, Hints on Education presents a series of dialogues about contrasting fathers with Latinate names like Solandar (Sun) and Lenitas (Gentleness).

Lenitas, the ideal father, is described as watching

with an attentive eye, the various windings of [his children’s] dispositions, which, when they thought unobserved, have shewn themselves; whilst Solandar, impatient of the least error in their conduct, has…checked their hearts from disclosing themselves in their native colours.

Yet another father named Tillaman instills fear in his children and is “inattentive to the little arts whereby he might win their affection.” 


Contemporary readers would no doubt have recognized these fathers as allegorical figures, illustrating Montesquieu’s (1689-1755) The Spirit of the Laws, where he describes the principles whereby governments are regulated. Tillaman is the Despot, who rules by fear; Solandar, the Monarch, who dictates from above; and Lenitas the ideal father, who presides over a Republic regulated by virtue and free will. As Lenitas says:

I…make it a point of absolute duty to endeavor to gain the sincere love of all my children: without that, I have no idea of being able to guide them longer than the rod and the sugar-plumb will be inducements to obedience.


Filial Duty, Recommended and Enforced by a Variety of Instructive and Entertaining Stories, of Children who have been remarkable for Affection to the Parents. Also An Account of some striking Instances of Children, who have behaved in an Undutiful, and Unnatural Manner to the Parents. The whole founded on Historical Facts.

Filial Duty, Recommended and Enforced, by a Variety of Instructive and Entertaining Stories, of Children who have been remarkable for Affection to their Parents.

Engraving from Filial Duty Recommended and Enforced.


In this period of unabashed allegorical thinking, the study of history provided moral templates to guide good and bad behavior, as can be seen in the preface to Filial Duty, Recommended and Enforced. The author explains how the relationship between parent and child is, in microcosm, the relationship between the government and its people:

The obedience of Children to their Parents is the basis of all government; and set forth as the measure of that obedience which we owe to those whom Providence hath placed over us...and we presume to hope, that the historical facts here collected together will have a due influence on the minds of the youth of both sexes, whose instruction and entertainment the compiler had principally in view, and that they will imitate the examples of the good children, and see with detestation and horror, the vicious behaviour of the unnatural and degenerate.

The rise and fall of the Roman Empire was a particularly popular topic in historical books for children at this time.  

A New Roman History, from the Foundations of Rome to the End of the Commonwealth. Designed for the Use of Young Ladies and Gentlemen. 

The frontispiece to A New Roman History depicts the author offering his volume to Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, while the preface reflects on the study of history:

A New Roman History, from the Foundation of Rome to the End of the Commonwealth.

Frontispiece engraving from A New Roman History.




Above all, the young readers must remember, if they mean to derive any advantage from the perusal of this little Book, that they must read it with attention... they must remark, by what means men became great and powerful, and how they afterwards lost their credit and authority. By making such reflections as these, they will soon acquire a taste for the study of useful History, will become an ornament to their country, and grow in love with Virtue, Honour, and Prudence, and be a comfort and a blessing to their parents and friends.


On History-in-the-Making,

or the Misadventures of Benjamin Vaughan

Benjamin Vaughan



In the face of the growing violence of the French Revolution and France's declaration of war on Britain in 1793, the British parliament abandoned any tolerance it might have had for radical ideas. In this increasingly conservative atmosphere, Joseph Priestley's house and laboratory were burned by an angry mob in 1791, and, by 1794, he was forced to flee to America. 

On the eve of Priestley's departure, Benjamin Vaughan visited his house, where he met a man named William Stone, brother of a friend of a friend. Stone asked him to write a letter concerning the possibility of British citizens supporting a French invasion of Britain. In his letter, Benjamin wrote that such a scenario was unlikely, but, thinking the letter would remain private, he also openly criticized the Pitt ministry. Benjamin's letter, unfortunately, ended up in the wrong hands.

Copy of Arrest Warrant for Benjamin Vaughan.

Copy of the Warrant for Benjamin Vaughan's arrest and the terms of his release, signed by the Committee of Safety at Cherbourg.

After a month of interrogation, Benjamin was finally released and given safe passage to Switzerland, but this did not help him achieve his ultimate goal of sailing to America. Benjamin's situation was complicated by the fact that, although he claimed American citizenship, he had no American passport. In fact, he had left England without any British papers either, so he was essentially a man without a country.

This warrant for his arrest and release, signed by Robespierre and other members of the Committee for Public Safety, indicates that they agreed to give him passage to Switzerland. In Geneva, he was allowed relative freedom under the false identity of an American by the name of John Martin, but he was not granted passage to America.

One possible reason for the delay was that Benjamin's experience with diplomacy, his connections in England, and his facility with languages, all made him a valuable asset, perhaps even as a spy for the French government. There is little documentation about this period in Benjamin Vaughan's life, and, in later years, he preferred to keep it private.  

One way that Benjamin Vaughan--even under the identity of John Martin--attempted to convince his captors to help him find passage to America was to have friends vouch for his honesty and integrity.  In this letter of May 1796, his old associate and fellow Dissenter Thomas Paine (1737-1809) wrote with characteristic eloquence: 

Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

Portrait of Thomas Paine.



I do certify that I have been intimately acquainted with the citizen John Martin from the year 1787 which was the year I came from America to Europe. I was before that time acquainted with his father and mother in America, the latter of whom is a native of that country and both are citizens. The citizen John Martin was the intimate friend of the late Benjamin Franklin and the Doctors Price and Priestley, and it was at the house of the said John Martin that I first became acquainted with the last mentioned persons--my acquaintance with the said Martin has never been interrupted by any circumstance whatever. He was the steady friend of the American Revolution and has been the same of the French Revolution through all its changes of good or ill fortune. I have had much experience of his private friendship and I speak with the same confidence of his public principles.

 Even with such testimonials as these to hand, it would be another year before Benjamin Vaughan would be reunited with his family in America and free to carry out his plan to work for a new Republic in Hallowell, Massachusetts. (Maine would not become a state until 1820.)