I hate to say it, but the country’s going to the dogs. “Luxury is surely the bane of a nation: Luxury! which enervates both soul and body, by opening a thousand new sources of enjoyment, opens, also, a thousand new sources of contention and want: Luxury! which renders a people weak at home, and accessible to bribery, corruption, and force from abroad… . Oh, that America, oh, that my country would, in this her day, learn the things that belong to her peace!”

Thus, the manly Colonel Manly, surveying the state of the nation in 1787. “There is a deal of ruin in a nation,” said Adam Smith in 1776. But eleven years’ worth? You don’t have to be Manly to fear for a republic fallen into post-Revolutionary decadence and softness.

Colonel Manly is the hero of The Contrast by Royall Tyler (later Chief Justice of Vermont). The playbill announced it as “A Comedy in Five...

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