Eminent Victorians on American Democracy: The View from Albion

ISBN : 9780199640614

Frank Prochaska
184 Pages
148 x 222 mm
Pub date
Feb 2012
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Eminent Victorians on American Democracy surveys a wide range of British opinion on the United States in the nineteenth century and highlights the views of John Stuart Mill, Walter Bagehot, Sir Henry Maine, and James Bryce, who wrote extensively on American government and society. America was significant to them not only because it was the world's most advanced democracy, but also because it was a political experiment that was seen to anticipate the future of Britain. The Victorians made a memorable contribution to the continuing debate over the character and origins of democracy through their perceptive examination of issues ranging from the US Constitution to its practical application, from the Supreme Court to the party system. Their trenchant commentary punctures several popular American assumptions, not least the idea of 'exceptionalism'. To Victorian commentators, the bonds of kinship, law, and language were of great significance; and while they did not see the United States as having a unique destiny, they rallied to an 'Anglo-American exceptionalism', which reflected their sense of a shared transatlantic history. What distinguishes the Victorian writers was their willingness to examine the US Constitution dispassionately at a time when Americans treated it as a sacred document. Although the United States has changed dramatically since they wrote, much of their commentary remains remarkably prescient, if only because the American government retains so much of its eighteenth-century character. Today, when rival American priesthoods see the Constitution in the light of their particular altars, it is worth revisiting what leading Victorians had to say about it. It may come as a shock to American readers.


1. Introduction: Transatlantic Attitudes
2. John Stuart Mill: The Tyranny of Conformity
3. Walter Bagehot: The Tyranny of the Constitution
4. Sir Henry Maine: Democracy Denied
5. James Bryce: Anglo-Saxon Democracy
6. Conclusion: Anglo-American Exceptionalism

About the author: 

Frank Prochaska was born and educated in America but has lived much of his life in England. His previous books include The Eagle and the Crown: Americans and the British Monarchy (2008); Christianity and Social Service in Modern Britain (2006); The Republic of Britain 1760-200 (2000); Royal Bounty: The Making of a Welfare monarchy (1995); The Voluntary Impulse (1988), and Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (1980). He taught British history at Yale for many years and is an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Historical Research, London University.

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