In case you’re not following U.S. politics, right now is a special tetra-annual occasion. It’s election season! And with this current election, our two major political parties are doing everything that they can to convince you (the voting populous) that your vote belongs with them.
Talk of the town at the RNC last month was Ann Romney’s passionate speech about love. Deeply embedded within this speech is Ann’s concept of motherhood and nation. She says, “It’s the moms of this nation — single, married, widowed — who really hold this country together. We’re the mothers, we’re the wives, we’re the grandmothers, we’re the big sisters, we’re the little sisters, we’re the daughters.” Ann acknowledges the work that women do to keep this nation running, especially mothers.
“As a mom of five boys, do we want to raise our children to be afraid of success?” She asks the audience. “Do we send our children out in the world with the advice, ‘Try to do… okay?'” The obvious answer is no. Ann is reminding American women of a legacy of motherhood that instills entrepreneurial spirit and high morality into children. Ann is hearkening back to Republican Motherhood.
The phrase “Republican Motherhood” started cropping up around the time of the American Revolution. As the political and economic structures of the colonies shifted and became an independent nation, the expected roles of women changed with them. And one of the newest ideas was that women, not men, are be responsible for the moral upbringing of their children, so therefore they should be educated in virtue.
Abigail Adams famously begged her husband to “remember the ladies” and reminded him that “all men would be tyrants if they could.” Abigail’s outspoken desire for women’s rights led to the creation of schools and academies for women. Education for women (maybe even some autonomy?), within the budding nation, could only lead to stronger and better-developed citizens as generations progressed.
One chief example of a Republican Mother is Eliza Pinckney. Born Eliza Lucas, she was educated in England until her father George Lucas (yes) moved the family to Carolina. However, George was a traveling man and a major in the British army who spent much of his time in the West Indies. Eliza, at age seventeen, took control of the family plantation in Carolina and began coaching her brothers through school in England via letters.
Eliza believed in rationality and logic. She hated frivolity in anything, and thought men were easily carried away by violence. She was an avid letter writer, and kept copies of everything that she sent out. Logic and temperance, in everything, were essential to her being. She applied these traits to herself, and she applied herself to her work on the plantations. And her work changed Carolina’s entire economy. Within a decade of her first experiments growing indigo, for example, indigo became one of the main crops to be produced in Carolina.
And when she and her husband Charles started having children, she worked to ensure that her sons and daughter followed into this mold. Her sons Charles Cotesworth and Thomas became great Revolutionary War heros, embodying the spirit of the new republic. But Eliza’s work to raise her children within her ideals was not forgotten. President Washington took a tour of the South and spent a considerable amount of time with the Pinckney family at Hampton, the home of Eliza’s only daughter Harriott Horry. When Eliza Pinckney died, President Washington was one of the pallbearers at her funeral.
A Republican Mother was not just a housewife; she was an educated woman whose duty it was to instill national values and patriotism into her children. She taught them morality, temperance, and work ethic. Though she did not have political rights directly, a Republican Mother was able to influence the political world of men greatly by the sheer force of her character.
So when Ann Romney appeals to the women of the United States as mothers who make America what it is, she is adding into the tradition of Republican Motherhood.