(Masterpieces of American Literature)

This poem, which is sometimes published under the title “To a Republican, with Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man,” was written immediately after the publication of Thomas Paine’s great and influential book in defense of the French Revolution. It was later included in Freneau’s Poems (1809). In many ways, the poem is uncharacteristic of Freneau: While trenchant in its criticism of monarchy and enthusiastic in its endorsement of Paine’s thinking, it is neither overtly satiric nor especially lyrical, though it does make reference to the laws of Nature and to personified Virtue. As might be expected, it makes no allusion to God: It is, therefore, essentially a rationalist-Deist poem on the morality of the national polity.

Further, the structure of the poem is a departure from the usual forms that Freneau used: The fifty lines are divided into four stanzas of ten, fourteen, ten, and sixteen lines of iambic pentameter that are end-rhymed—that is, in closed couplets. The first three stanzas bemoan the ugly fate of the “sacred Rights of Man” as they have been travestied by monarchs; the final two celebrate the great plan for the enunciation and protection of the natural rights of the common person that was contained in Paine’s treatise and was being worked out in the new Constitution of the United States, which is addressed as “Columbia.”

Just as “A Political Litany” and “To Sir Toby” are characterized by catalogs of deficiencies and shortcomings, so too is “On Mr. Paine’s Rights of Man.” Kings are presented as the source of discord, murder, slavery, knavery, plunder, and—worst of...

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(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Andrews, William D. “Philip Freneau and Francis Hopkinson.” In American Literature, 1764-1789: The Revolutionary Years, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.

Elliott, Emory. “Philip Freneau: Poetry of Social Commitment.” In Revolutionary Writers: Literature and Authority in the New Republic, 1725-1810. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Leary, Lewis. “Philip Freneau.” In Major Writers of Early American Literature, edited by Everett Emerson. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1972.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. “Antecedents: The Case of Freneau.” In The Continuity of American Poetry. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.

Ronnick, Michele Valerie. “A Note on the Text of Philip Freneau’s ’Columbus to Ferdinand’: From Plato to Seneca.” Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994): 81.

Tichi, Cecelia. New World, New Earth: Environmental Reform in American Literature from the Puritans Through Whitman. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1979.

Wertheimer, Eric. “Commencement Ceremonies: History and Identity in ’The Rising Glory of America,’ 1771 and 1786.” Early American Literature 29, no. 1 (1994): 35.