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The story I learned in school (in th US around the turn of the millennium) was that democracy was invented in classical Greece and Rome, was quashed in both cases by rising empires, and then ceased to exist until enlightenment thinkers in Western Europe rediscovered it in old books. They resurrected it in the English, American, and French revolutions, leading to modern democracy.

There are a lot of things that seem questionable about this narrative. For one thing, it doesn’t jibe very well with the fact that many republics already existed nearby in Europe when these revolutions occurred. My sense is that the above narrative was passed down to me ultimately from the Enlightenment thinkers themselves, and in particular my sense is that this is more or less how the American revolutionaries saw things. (Question 0: is that more or less accurate?)

Question: What did the American founding fathers think about contemporary republics in Europe and elsewhere? Did they consciously imitate them? Where they unconsciously influenced by them?

I’m asking less about the republics created in the wake of the French Revolution and more about republics existing at or just before the time of the American revolution.

For example, what did they think of the Dutch republic, or Italian city -republics? Did they see them as models to follow, aristocratic dystopias? If it was something in between, what were their good and bad points?

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    ACOUP points out that the European republics were aristocratic republics, while the US was a Liberal republic. Beyond that I think the answer would be mired in particulars.
    – MCW
    Commented Jul 9 at 10:30
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    Dutch merchants actively supported the American Revolution but the Dutch Republic was a mess at that point, not likely seen as an example to follow.
    – Brian Z
    Commented Jul 9 at 11:06
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    To learn history, first unlearn (nearly) all that you have ever been taught about it in school. History as taught in schools was really bad when I was growing up in the '60's, and has only gotten worse since then. For one example: my Grade 5 history teacher was crushed to learn that Temujin - future Genghis Khan - was enslaved as a boy not due to being some racially oppressed minority, but rather because the family rival who had killed his father, and thereby assumed power as tribal head, was waiting for Temujin to grow tall enough to in turn be killed as a dangerous rival. Commented Jul 9 at 12:12
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    @ccprog - I personally love critiques of Enlightenment Liberalisim that point out how limited their admittedly expanded franchise was. However, we should admit that's our perspective, not that of a contemporary. We should also admit that sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 9 at 13:54
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    @PieterGeerkens the notion you should ignore everything you learned at school is frankly disturbing. School history has its defects, but taken as a whole it's better than what's on offer from the modern podcast-propaganda machine. Wouldn't it be better to tell people to be critical about what they learn at school, or anywhere, rather than telling them to forget it? Even outright lies are worth paying attention to, if only because they usually reveal something beyond what the liar intended to convey.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Jul 9 at 14:35

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