During the fall semester, 2011, AHI Undergraduate fellow Ian Thresher attended a seminar, “The Making of American Scripture,” taught by AHI Charter Fellow Robert Paquette. The course, derived from the AHI’s 2010 Carl B. Menges Colloquium, focused on the evolving relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution from the founding of the Republic to the end of the Civil War. Students in this writing-intensive course had to read a daunting list of sources, including all of the first state constitutions, debates from the Annals of Congress, presidential speeches, and pamphlet literature. Before he had entered the course, Mr. Thresher, a senior government major at Hamilton College, had never heard of the Scottish Enlightenment nor of its influence on the meaning of American republicanism on such founding notables as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson.
In Professor Paquette’s class,” Ian observed, “I was especially intrigued by early American republican values, which are, to say the least, rather different from the values many Americans hold today. One of the chief differences has to with the importance of tradition or, more accurately, with experience. This first drew me to the Scottish Enlightenment because it emphasized experiential knowledge, as opposed to the French Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationalism. While several of the Founders, like Thomas Jefferson, were supportive of French rationalism, primary sources I read for class revealed that early Americans (that is to say the people living in the thirteen states) were concerned predominantly with their material possessions and their liberty. I knew I wanted to study the link between early American political ideals and figures such as Adam Smith and Thomas Reid. The question then became, which Scottish university would give me the greatest opportunity to really explore the ideas floating around in eighteenth-century Scotland. I settled on the University of Glasgow for three reasons. The first, and perhaps most important, was that I thought I had a fair chance of actually getting in. The second reason was that the University of Glasgow was one of the centers of the Scottish Enlightenment. Adam Smith worked and studied there, as did Thomas Reid. Finally, the University of Glasgow possesses the Baillie Collection, perhaps the finest collections of primary source documents on British and Scottish history in the world.”
Ian has aspirations to attend law school on his return from receiving an advanced degree in Scotland. “I would not have even thought to apply without Professor Paquette and various other AHI speakers and members,” said Ian. “They have done, and continue to do, an excellent job of teaching early American history and explaining the importance of the past in relation to the present. I am in their debt.”
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