Hugh Henry Brackenridge (BRAK-uhn-rihj) was brought to the United States at the age of five. His family settled in western Pennsylvania, where Brackenridge grew up on the frontier. He entered Princeton University in 1768. At his graduation in 1771, he recited A Poem on the Rising Glory of America. Epic in intention, the poem is an important contribution to early nationalism. For a brief period, he was the head of an academy in Maryland. During the American Revolution, in addition to serving as a chaplain, he published two plays, designed for private performance, which praised the heroism of American troops, as well as a collection of sermons exhorting the troops to carry on bravely.
After studying law in Annapolis, Brackenridge moved to Pittsburgh in 1781. He made many contributions to the cultural life of that frontier community, and there he wrote Modern Chivalry, the book for which he is best remembered. This picaresque novel, fashioned after Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote (1605, 1615), satirizes incompetence and corruption in the workings of democratic government. By ridiculing the weaknesses of democracy, Brackenridge hoped to strengthen it.
Despite the fact that he satisfied neither side during the Whiskey Rebellion, Brackenridge was sufficiently well thought of politically to win an appointment to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1799. He moved to Carlisle in 1801. There he wrote Law Miscellanies, his principal contribution to legal literature, and there he died on June 25, 1816.