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Reassessing the Impact of the “Republican Virago”


Karen Green

School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne, AU
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According to Edmund Burke, Catharine Macaulay was “the greatest champion” among a group of contemporary agitators for a Bill of Rights, whom he deemed to be “a rotten subdivision” of the Whig faction. However he did not deign to answer her criticisms of him, thus initiating a tendency among mainstream, male, political philosophers to refuse to seriously engage with her arguments. This tendency continues to this day, despite the increasingly sophisticated discussion of her ideas by female historians and philosophers, published since the appearance of Lucy Donnelly’s pioneering article and Bridget Hill’s biography. This paper builds on these discussions, by adding detail to our understanding of her impact on influential American individuals, who were deeply engaged in the political controversies that resulted in the American revolution – exploiting material from letters that were not available when Hill wrote her biography. It argues further, that an accurate understanding of the inter-relationship between the emergence of the discourse on the rights of men and that urging rights of women will not be properly appreciated until the nature and extent of the impact of Macaulay’s ideas on Mary Wollstonecraft is more widely and thoroughly acknowledged.

How to Cite: Green, Karen. 2016. “Reassessing the Impact of the “republican Virago””. Redescriptions: Political Thought, Conceptual History and Feminist Theory 19 (1): 29–48. DOI:
Published on 01 May 2016.
Peer Reviewed


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