Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Richard Wolin


David Waldstreicher

Committee Members

Ervand Abrahamian

Subject Categories

European History | Intellectual History | Political History | United States History


republicanism, Algernon Sidney, John Adams, American Revolution, English Civil Wars and Restoration, government


This dissertation systematically examines the republican political ideas of the relatively unknown seventeenth-century English aristocratic Algernon Sidney, a passionate author and political activist who was executed for his ideas, and the famous but generally misunderstood eighteenth-century American revolutionary, Founder, and second President of the United States, John Adams. Republicanism is an entangled field of intellectual history in which historians, political scientists, legal scholars, and others have grappled for years, often without regard to the work of those in disciplines other than their own; yet we have consistently failed to take into account critical elements that inform the tradition, indeed, one might say the very radicle of the republican enterprise, viz., multiple layers of law, along with elements of balance and moderation. Because the basket of ideas that we ascribe to Anglo-American republicanism is materially incomplete, our understanding of the tradition is incorrect, which has led to other adverse consequences, including a continuing misunderstanding of the relationship between early modern republicanism and liberalism. The consequence has been obfuscation of the very nature of republicanism, which is essential to American governance and a dominant feature of early modern European political thought. Two facile illustrations of this are US citizens’ pledge of allegiance to the American flag and “the republic for which it stands,” and Article Four of the Constitution’s “guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government.” What does this living legacy mean? It is a story about republicanism, not democracy. Men Set on Fire. Algernon Sidney and John Adams: Remodeling Anglo-American Republicanism re-centers the Anglo-American republican tradition, enabling us to synthesize the disparate historiographic legacy and elucidate our understanding. In so doing we will gain new and much needed coherence and understanding in this important field of intellectual and political history. Close attention is paid to Sidney and Adams’ biographical, family, political, and historical contexts, as well as to the English and other traditions out of which Sidney’s and Adams’ political tenets emerged, and the place of their ideas in the evolution and pantheon of republican thought, including those of their peers and political antecedents.