Liberty, Equality and God: The Religious Roots of Catherine Macaulay’s Feminism

  • Sarah Hutton


Catherine Sawbridge Macaulay Graham (or Catherine Macaulay, as she is most generally called) is well known as an historian and as a feminist. Her credentials as both political radical and feminist rest on her championship of liberty and equality in writings which span the two revolutions of the eighteenth century, the American and the French. The work for which she is most famous, her History of England was published between 1763 and 1791 and therefore coincides with this revolutionary period. Her A Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth (1783) appeared in the year that marked the end of the American War of Independence. Her Letters on Education (1790) appeared shortly after the French Revolution. In addition to these, she intervened directly in the political debates of the time, most prominently in her attacks on Edmund Burke whom she criticised in 1770 in her Observations on a Pamphlet entitled Thoughts On The Cause of the Present Discontents published in the same year. She also defended the French Revolution against Burke in her Observations on the Reflections of the Right Honourable Mr Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France (1790). This last is just one of several famous responses to Burke written in defence of the nonconformist preacher, Richard Price, already notorious for his defence of the American revolution.1 It was Price’s positive assessment of the French Revolution in his sermon, A Discourse on the Love of our Country (1789), which occasioned Burke’s anti-revolutionary Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Macaulay’s Observations were followed by two other well-known defences of Price against Burke: Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man (1791) and Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Man (1792). Macaulay’s feminism is most apparent in her Letters on Education (1790) in which she argues for the equality of the sexes, and for equality in the education of boys and girls.2 Letters on Education recapitulates ethical themes from her least read book, A Treatise on the Immutability of Moral Truth (1783).


Gender Equality French Revolution Feminist Argument Providential Design Divine Providence 
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  1. 1.
    Richard Price, Political Writings, ed. D. O. Thomas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991); H. Laboucheix, Richard Price as Moral Philosopher and Political Theorist, trans. S. and D. Raphael (Oxford, 1982; French original, 1970); D. O. Thomas, The Honest Mind: the Thought and Work of Richard Price (Oxford, 1977).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Lynne E. Wythey, ‘Catherine Macaulay and the Uses of History: Ancient Rights, Perfectionism and Propaganda’, Journal of British Studies, 16 (1976), pp. 59–83; Hill, The Republican Virago, ch. 8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Sarah Hutton 2005

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  • Sarah Hutton

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