Texas Tech University

Sydnor Roy

Assistant Professor of Classics, Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures, Texas Tech University  

"Lawgivers or Tyrants: Plutarch's Lives and the contested status of the 'Founding Fathers' in Revolutionary -era America"

While the US Constitution is now enshrined in American government and law, at the time of its writing it faced strong resistance. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay strongly defended the document and the status of its writers as lawgivers; those opposed regarded the Constitution as anti-democratic, and viewed its writers as acting tyrannically. Both groups held up several individuals from ancient Greek and Roman history, such as Lycurgus, Solon, and Pericles, as models for thinking about the Constitution and its writers. Their common source was the biographer Plutarch (46-120 CE), whose accounts of these individuals offer ambivalent portraits that allow them to be understood as either noble lawgivers or tyrants.