Politics and the Creative Imagination 5

Ellsworth—a lawyer, jurist, and politician; a key figure in the Philadelphia convention; one of the first to formulate the principle of judicial review of legislation, hence the juridical enforcement of a written constitution. As a senator, he drafted the great Judiciary Act of 1789, which created the federal court system, and he devised the first set of Senate rules and the legislative procedures for admitting new states, something unheard of in European public law. There¬after he served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and commis¬sioner to France.
Like the Halletts and Andrewses, Ellsworth and his wife present themselves as a prosperous couple against the background of their property: in the Ellsworths’ case, their renovated “seat,” as it was called, in Windsor, Connecticut. But the contrast of this proud, stiff, carefully dressed provincial couple with the Halletts and Andrewses could not be more vivid. There is no studied casualness here, nothing leisured or witty in the pose. The Ellsworths sit rigidly alert, their posture and appurtenances unso¬phisticated, old-fashioned. Mrs. Ellsworth, then only thirty-six but the mother of nine children, has on a silk robe over a matching silk skirt; she wears a stiff muslin collar and that strange, starched head¬dress typical of provincial gentlewomen of the time. And Ellsworth seems almost didactic as he sits displaying a copy of the Constitu¬tion. His expression is arresting. Earl caught the man’s intelligence and firmness, his essential gravitas, lightened, though, by a very slight suggestion of good humor. There is about this forth¬right, self-confident, unaffected man an understated, quiet dignity and the simplicity that made him a popular figure in his native Con¬necticut village even at the height of his national and international fame. And behind the couple are their fields and house. The landscape is plain, unadorned, unromanticized—no gleaming acres of idealized golden wheat, but a few elm trees and a bare, spacious yard divided by fences of palings behind which, on a slight rise, is their clapboard two-storey house.
Even more revealing is Earl’s portrait of Roger Sherman, the self- educated farmer, shoemaker, surveyor, lawyer, jurist, merchant, and landowner; a member of the committees that drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation; chairman of the committee at the Philadelphia convention whose “Connecticut Compromise” created the bicameral structure of the United States Con¬gress; Federalist pamphleteer in the ratification struggle; controversial figure in devising the Bill of Rights; and United States senator. He was, John Adams said, as “honest as an angel and as firm in the cause of American Independence as Mount Atlas.” Sherman did not “pose” for Earl—he was incapable of “posing” for anyone. He quite literally “sat” for him, and the result is one of the most striking por¬traits of the age [fig. 39; see also color insert].
Sherman is utterly unpretentious and unselfconscious. The paint¬ing is honest down to the worn spot on the right knee; he is wigless and sternly, starkly unfashionable. Later, in the nineteenth century his image would be wonderfully transformed into that of a Roman statesman suitable for the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. But Earl’s portrait tells the truth. Sherman was rustic, clumsy in manner, terse, a severely self-disciplined and unbending Calvinist, close to the soil and to small-scale mechanical arts. Yet, though the ultimate American provincial, he was one of the most innovative political thinkers of his age. He was awkward, a contemporary wrote, and “unac-countably strange in his manner”—“the oddity of his address, the vulgarisms that accompany his public speaking … make everything that is connected with him grotesque and laughable.” Yet, despite all of that, “in his train of thinking there is something regular, deep and comprehensive.”
Earl’s stiffly posed, resolute faces—and even Copley’s glossier and more fashionable portrayals of American businessmen, lawyers, and politicians—reflect the consciousness of recently earned distinctions and relatively shallow prosperity. If these people formed an aristoc¬racy it was not a very secure, graceful, or elevated aristocracy. Their acquisitions were within the reach of everyday competition; they lacked the magnificence by which a ruling order in the eighteenth century reinforced itself. Striving, searching, and tense, they were, and were aware of being, provincials.
But what of such worldly figures as Jefferson and Franklin? Jeffer¬son was the friend, indeed confidant, of Condorcet, Lafayette, and La Rochefoucauld; advisor to the liberal noblemen who began the French Revolution; correspondent of Scottish philosophers and En¬glish scientists alike. Was he not the ultimate cosmopolitan in his deep appreciation of European art, architecture, technology, philos¬ophy, science, and history? But it was he who wrote so famously from Paris that “no American should come to Europe under thirty years of age.” For in Europe, he warned, an American acquires a fondness for luxury and dissipation and a contempt for the simplicity of his own country, gets entangled in “female intrigue destructive of his own and others’ happiness, or a passion for whores destructive of his health, and in both cases learns to consider fidelity to the marriage bed as an ungentlemanly practice and inconsistent with happiness.” Jefferson was, in fact—despite the breadth of his learning and his likely relation¬ship with a slave woman—a provincial puritan. He lectured his daugh¬ter Patsy, studying at a fashionable French convent, on the importance of “the needle and domestic economy” in the simple society to which they would return, and he longed to be back in Monticello.

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