Master of Arts (M.A.)
Nicholas S Popper
Prior Knowledge: Understanding the world and creating the Treaty of Utrecht through maps and atlases. Much of the negotiation for what would become the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 actually happened in London in 1711 in the house of Matthew Prior (1664-1721), a poet and diplomat and one of the negotiators. It is possible to reconstruct the information filtering back from across the Atlantic to the actors in this metropolitan space thanks to an inventory of Prior’s property, including his personal library. This was an collection of approximately two thousand books, including maps and atlases, known through an inventory taken at Prior’s death which is now in the British Library. The peace signed at Utrecht secured several British territorial claims in what is now Canada, but left unresolved colonial borders which were to be at issue for many years. It also opened the Pacific to British and French imperial competition. Most importantly, it granted Britain the asiento contract to supply slaves to all of Spain’s American colonies, a contract which would put Britain on track to become the largest slave trading nation of the eighteenth century. An examination of geography books and atlases with information on the Americas and available to one of the principal negotiators helps in understanding the ways in which empire and territorial boundaries were imposed upon the world from an imperial centre and how the lives of millions of people were determined by partially informed agreements made in a house in London. Esto perpetua respublica americana: Use of Fra Paolo Sarpi and of the Venetian example in political discourse by the founders of the American republic. In 1819, at the height of the Missouri Crisis, John Adams wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson in which he expressed his hope that the young American republic would weather this storm, saying “Esto perpetua.” These were the reputed last words of a Venetian priest who was famed throughout Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for his vigorous defence of the liberty of Venice against the temporal power of the Papacy, Fra Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623). Adams quoted this phrase many times in his correspondence, and he was not alone, the phrase was used throughout the early republican period at times of strain to address concerns over the ability of the republic to endure. Many of the American founders read Sarpi’s works, James Madison even recommending that Congress buy two of them for its own library and suggesting that a third was the best source for discussion of the need to keep churches from becoming powerful in the temporal world by restricting their ability to hold land and incorporate themselves. Although many American thinkers dismissed the Venetian republic as not a useful example of a republic or indeed as not even a republic at all, the idea of Venice as an enduring polity, and the threat to republics which some saw in its fall, was a good reason to look to the Italian city and to Sarpi as sources of inspiration in a young country still struggling with what it meant to be a republic.
© The Author
Emanuel, Phillip Louis, "Prior Knowledge/esto Perpetua Respublica Americana" (2016). Dissertations, Theses, and Masters Projects. Paper 1477068276.