Philip Freneau

[ History ]

Philip Freneau

Champion of Democracy

By Jacob Axelrad

A detailed biography of this pensman of the American Revolution and early Republic.



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6 x 9 | 492 pp.

ISBN: 978-0-292-73979-6

Philip Freneau was a poet, editor, and mariner. A graduate of Princeton, he was the roommate of James Madison and a classmate of Hugh Henry Brackenridge and Aaron Burr. When the colonies rebelled against England, he supported his newly born nation as a privateer, spending some time in a British prison as a result. He also served, more effectively, as “the poet of the Revolution.” Later he became the journalistic voice of the democrats.

Ardently devoted to liberty, he believed himself to be a defender of the common man, for whom he fought selflessly and often vitriolicly throughout his life. In newspapers such as The Freeman’s Journal, The New York Daily Advertiser, The National Gazette, The Jersey Chronicle, and The Time-Piece, he published articles, letters, and poems, instructing the citizens of the new Republic about their rights, and attacking those who, he believed, were infringing on those rights. In the midst of the controversy in which he was so often involved, he also found time to write a small body of poetry whose sensitivity and beauty mark him as the poetic equal of his European contemporaries, and, in fact, as a precursor of the new Romantic movement

In Philip Freneau: Champion of Democracy Jacob Axelrad provides a detailed biography of this pensman of the Revolution and early Republic. He gives a sympathetic, imaginative, perceptive, yet objective interpretation of Freneau and his place in history, and at the same time he presents a delightfully readable and clear picture of the period during which the poet lived.

These pages not only re-create the battles between Whig and Tory, federalist and democrat, but they also are alive with the activities and philosophies of the men who made American history. James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, James Monroe go about the business of creating and shaping a new country, and as they do, they move into and out of the life of the poet of Monmouth, influencing him in a variety of ways.

Above all, Axelrad brings to life for the reader the man Freneau: simple, direct, often uncritical in his devotion to the cause he believed in; courageous in sustaining his stand against strong opposition; disillusioned and pessimistic about human nature, yet boldly optimistic about the future of humanity and of his country. And always behind the furor the reader is aware of the man struggling to provide a living for himself and his family, and never quite succeeding.

1. In the Beginning
2. Father and Son
3. A Poet at Princeton
4. Echoes in the Wind
5. The Law of Nature
6. The Muse of Liberty
7. The Study of Nothing
8. Revolt into Revolution
9. What Is a Rebel?
10. The Mask of Beauty
11. Soldier and Seaman
12. A Prisoner of the British
13. God-Attending Star
14. The Fruits of Victory
15. The Poet as Postal Clerk
16. Captain Philip Freneau
17. Honeysuckle and Other Delusions
18. Neptune and Clio
19. Silken Bands—and Others
20. Triumvirate
21. The National Gazette
22. The Issue of Democracy
23. Open Up the Doors!
24. Old Friends and New Foes
25. Fever and Failure
26. Treaties and Traitors
27. The Time-Piece
28. Men and Porcupines
29. The Reign of Terror
30. The Turning of the Tide
31. Poets Are Paupers
32. Man Shall Be Free
33. Reap the Harvest
34. Way of All Flesh
35. The Old—and the New
36. The Book Is Finished
Appendix A. Records of Deeds and Mortgages in the Hall of Records, Monmouth County, Freehold, New Jersey
Appendix B. Legal Dockets of Action for Debts
Published Sources
Books and Articles
Manuscripts, Typescripts, and Miscellaneous Collections

Jacob Axelrad (1889–1977), a resident of Connecticut, also wrote Anatole France: A Life without Illusions (1944), and Patrick Henry: The Voice of Freedom (1947). In addition to writing, he taught English and practiced law.