During the many years that they were separated by the perils of the American Revolution, John and Abigail Adams exchanged hundreds of letters. Writing to each other of public events and private feelings, loyalty and love, revolution and parenting, they wove a tapestry of correspondence that has become a cherished part of American history and literature.
With Abigail and John Adams, historian G. J. Barker-Benfield mines those familiar letters to a new purpose: teasing out the ways in which they reflected—and helped transform—a language of sensibility, inherited from Britain but, amid the revolutionary fervor, becoming Americanized. Sensibility—a heightened moral consciousness of feeling, rooted in the theories of such thinkers as Descartes, Locke, and Adam Smith and including a “moral sense” akin to the physical senses—threads throughout these letters. As Barker-Benfield makes clear, sensibility was the fertile, humanizing ground on which the Adamses not only founded their marriage, but also the “abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity” they and their contemporaries hoped to plant at the heart of the new nation. Bringing together their correspondence with a wealth of fascinating detail about life and thought, courtship and sex, gender and parenting, and class and politics in the revolutionary generation and beyond, Abigail and John Adams draws a lively, convincing portrait of a marriage endangered by separation, yet surviving by the same ideas and idealism that drove the revolution itself.
A feast of ideas that never neglects the real lives of the man and woman at its center, Abigail and John Adams takes readers into the heart of an unforgettable union in order to illuminate the first days of our nation—and explore our earliest understandings of what it might mean to be an American.
Before the Civil War, slaveholders made themselves into the most powerful, most deeply rooted, and best organized private interest group within the United States. Not only did slavery represent the national economy's second largest capital investment, exceeded only by investment in real estate, but guarantees of its perpetuation were studded throughout the U.S. Constitution. The vast majority of white Americans, in North and South, accepted the institution, and pro-slavery presidents and congressmen consistently promoted its interests. In Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War, James Brewer Stewart explains how a small group of radical activists, the abolitionist movement, played a pivotal role in turning American politics against this formidable system. He examines what influence the movement had in creating the political crises that led to civil war and evaluates the extent to which a small number of zealous reformers made a truly significant political difference when demanding that their nation face up to its most excruciating moral problem. In making these assessments, Stewart addresses a series of more specific questions: What were the abolitionists actually up against when seeking the overthrow of slavery and white supremacy? What motivated and sustained them during their long and difficult struggles? What larger historical contexts (religious, social, economic, cultural, and political) influenced their choices and determined their behavior? What roles did extraordinary leaders play in shaping the movement, and what were the contributions of abolitionism's unheralded "foot soldiers"? What factors ultimately determined, for better or worse, the abolitionists' impact on American politics and the realization of their equalitarian goals?
Today the images of Robert Burns and Abraham Lincoln are recognized worldwide, yet few are aware of the connection between the two. In Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns: Connected Lives and Legends, author Ferenc Morton Szasz reveals how famed Scots poet Robert Burns—and Scotland in general—influenced the life and thought of one of the most beloved and important U.S. presidents and how the legends of the two men became intertwined after their deaths. This is the first extensive work to link the influence, philosophy, and artistry of these two larger-than-life figures.
Lacking a major national poet of their own in the early nineteenth century, Americans in the fledgling frontier country ardently adopted the poignant verses and songs of Scotland’s Robert Burns. Lincoln, too, was fascinated by Scotland’s favorite son and enthusiastically quoted the Scottish bard from his teenage years to the end of his life. Szasz explores the ways in which Burns’s portrayal of the foibles of human nature, his scorn for religious hypocrisy, his plea for nonjudgmental tolerance, and his commitment to social equality helped shape Lincoln’s own philosophy of life. The volume also traces how Burns’s lyrics helped Lincoln develop his own powerful sense of oratorical rhythm, from his casual anecdotal stories to his major state addresses.
Abraham Lincoln and Robert Burns connects the poor-farm-boy upbringings, the quasi-deistic religious views, the shared senses of destiny, the extraordinary gifts for words, and the quests for social equality of two respected and beloved world figures. This book is enhanced by twelve illustrations and two appendixes, which include Burns poems Lincoln particularly admired and Lincoln writings especially admired in Scotland.
Abraham Lincoln as a Man of Ideas
Allen C. Guelzo, with a Foreword by Michael Lind Southern Illinois University Press, 2017 Library of Congress E457.2.G875 2009 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
Despite the most meager of formal educations, Lincoln had a tremendous intellectual curiosity that drove him into the circle of Enlightenment philosophy and democratic political ideology. And from these, Lincoln developed a set of political convictions that guided him throughout his life and his presidency. This compilation of ten essays from Lincoln scholar Allen C. Guelzo uncovers the hidden sources of Lincoln’s ideas and examines the beliefs that directed his career and brought an end to slavery and the Civil War.
"This book can take its place on the shelf beside Henry Nash Smith's Virgin Land and Leo Marx's The Machine in the Garden."—Choice
"[Gilmore] demonstrates the profound, sustained, engagement with society embodied in the works of Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau and Melville. In effect, he relocates the American Renaissance where it properly belongs, at the centre of a broad social, economic, and ideological movement from the Jacksonian era to the Civil War. Basically, Gilmore's argument concerns the writers' participation in what Thoreau called 'the curse of trade.' He details their mixed resistance to and complicity in the burgeoning literary marketplace and, by extension, the entire ' economic revolution' which between 1830 and 1860 'transformed the United States into a market society'. . . .
"The result is a model of literary-historical revisionism. Gilmore's opening chapters on Emerson and Thoreau show that 'transcendental' thought and language can come fully alive when understood within the material processes and ideological constraints of their time. . . . The remaining five chapters, on Hawthorne and Melville, contain some of the most penetrating recent commentaries on the aesthetic strategies of American Romantic fiction, presented within and through some of the most astute, thoughtful considerations I know of commodification and the 'democratic public' in mid-nineteenth-century America. . . . Practically and methodologically, American Romanticism and the Marketplace has a significant place in the movement towards a new American literary history. It places Gilmore at the forefront of a new generation of critics who are not just reinterpreting familiar texts or discovering new texts to interpret, but reshaping our ways of thinking about literature and culture."—Sacvan Bercovitch, Times Literary Supplement
"Gilmore writes with energy, clarity, and wit. The reader is enriched by this book." William H. Shurr, American Literature
Shows how American scientists emerged from a disorganized group of amateurs into a professional body sharing a common orientation and common goals
In this first effort to define an American scientific community, originally published in 1968, George Daniels has chosen for special study the 56 scientists most published in the 16 scientific journals identified as “national” during the period 1815 to 1845. In this reprint edition, with a new preface and introduction, Daniels shows how American scientists emerged from a disorganized group of amateurs into a professional body sharing a common orientation and common goals.
For all the recent attention to the slaveholding of the founding fathers, we still know remarkably little about the influence of slavery on American politics. American Taxation, American Slavery tackles this problem in a new way. Rather than parsing the ideological pronouncements of charismatic slaveholders, it examines the concrete policy decisions that slaveholders and non-slaveholders made in the critical realm of taxation. The result is surprising—that the enduring power of antigovernment rhetoric in the United States stems from the nation’s history of slavery rather than its history of liberty.
We are all familiar with the states’ rights arguments of proslavery politicians who wanted to keep the federal government weak and decentralized. But here Robin Einhorn shows the deep, broad, and continuous influence of slavery on this idea in American politics. From the earliest colonial times right up to the Civil War, slaveholding elites feared strong democratic government as a threat to the institution of slavery. American Taxation, American Slavery shows how their heated battles over taxation, the power to tax, and the distribution of tax burdens were rooted not in debates over personal liberty but rather in the rights of slaveholders to hold human beings as property. Along the way, Einhorn exposes the antidemocratic origins of the popular Jeffersonian rhetoric about weak government by showing that governments were actually more democratic—and stronger—where most people were free.
A strikingly original look at the role of slavery in the making of the United States, American Taxation, American Slavery will prove essential to anyone interested in the history of American government and politics.
The United States has always imagined that its identity as a nation is insulated from violent interventions abroad, as if a line between domestic and foreign affairs could be neatly drawn. Yet this book argues that such a distinction, so obviously impracticable in our own global era, has been illusory at least since the war with Mexico in the mid-nineteenth century and the later wars against Spain, Cuba, and the Philippines. In this book, Amy Kaplan shows how U.S. imperialism--from "Manifest Destiny" to the "American Century"--has profoundly shaped key elements of American culture at home, and how the struggle for power over foreign peoples and places has disrupted the quest for domestic order.
The neatly ordered kitchen in Catherine Beecher's household manual may seem remote from the battlefields of Mexico in 1846, just as Mark Twain's Mississippi may seem distant from Honolulu in 1866, or W. E. B. Du Bois's reports of the East St. Louis Race Riot from the colonization of Africa in 1917. But, as this book reveals, such apparently disparate locations are cast into jarring proximity by imperial expansion. In literature, journalism, film, political speeches, and legal documents, Kaplan traces the undeniable connections between American efforts to quell anarchy abroad and the eruption of such anarchy at the heart of the empire.
Anglophilia charts the phenomenon of the love of Britain that emerged after the Revolution and remains in the character of U.S. society and class, the style of academic life, and the idea of American intellectualism. But as Tamarkin shows, this Anglophilia was more than just an elite nostalgia; it was popular devotion that made reverence for British tradition instrumental to the psychological innovations of democracy. Anglophilia spoke to fantasies of cultural belonging, polite sociability, and, finally, deference itself as an affective practice within egalitarian politics.
Tamarkin traces the wide-ranging effects of anglophilia on American literature, art and intellectual life in the early nineteenth century, as well as its influence in arguments against slavery, in the politics of Union, and in the dialectics of liberty and loyalty before the civil war. By working beyond narratives of British influence, Tamarkin highlights a more intricate culture of American response, one that included Whig elites, college students, radical democrats, urban immigrants, and African Americans. Ultimately, Anglophila argues that that the love of Britain was not simply a fetish or form of shame-a release from the burdens of American culture-but an anachronistic structure of attachement in which U.S. Identity was lived in other languages of national expression.
In Jacksonian America, as Grund exposes, the wealthy inhabitants of northern cities and the plantation South may have been willing to accept their poorer neighbors as political and legal peers, but rarely as social equals. In this important work, he thus sheds light on the nature of the struggle between “aristocracy” and “democracy” that loomed so large in early republican Americans’ minds.
Francis J. Grund, a German emigrant, was one of the most influential journalists in America in the three decades preceding the Civil War. He also wrote several books, including this fictional, satiric travel memoir in response to Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous Democracy in America. Armin Mattes provides a thorough account of Grund’s dynamic engagement in American political life, and brings to light many of Grund’s reflections on American social and political life previously published only in German. Mattes shows how Grund’s work can expand our understanding of the emerging democratic political culture and society in the antebellum United States.
A fresh account of early American religious history that argues for a new understanding of ritual.
In the years between the American Revolution and the Civil War, there was an awkward persistence of sovereign rituals, vestiges of a monarchical past that were not easy to shed. In Awkward Rituals, Dana Logan focuses our attention on these performances, revealing the ways in which governance in the early republic was characterized by white Protestants reenacting the hierarchical authority of a seemingly rejected king. With her unique focus on embodied action, rather than the more common focus on discourse or law, Logan makes an original contribution to debates about the relative completeness of America’s Revolution.
Awkward Rituals theorizes an under-examined form of action: rituals that do not feel natural even if they sometimes feel good. This account challenges common notions of ritual as a force that binds society and synthesizes the self. Ranging from Freemason initiations to evangelical societies to missionaries posing as sailors, Logan shows how white Protestants promoted a class-based society while simultaneously trumpeting egalitarianism. She thus redescribes ritual as a box to check, a chore to complete, an embarrassing display of theatrical verve. In Awkward Rituals, Logan emphasizes how ritual distinctively captures what does not change through revolution.
In this intimate, engaging book, John Demos offers an illuminating portrait of how colonial Americans, from the first settlers to the postrevolutionary generation, viewed their life experiences. He also offers an invaluable inside look into the craft of a master social historian as he unearths--in sometimes unexpected places--fragments of evidence that help us probe the interior lives of people from the faraway past.
The earliest settlers lived in a traditional world of natural cycles that shaped their behavior: day and night; seasonal rhythms; the lunar cycle; the life cycle itself. Indeed, so basic were these elements that "almost no one felt a need to comment on them." Yet he finds cyclical patterns--in the seasonal foods they ate, in the spike in marriages following the autumn harvest. Witchcraft cases reveal the different emotional reactions to day versus night, as accidental mishaps in the light become fearful nighttime mysteries. During the transitional world of the American Revolution, people began to see their society in newer terms but seemed unable or unwilling to come to terms with that novelty. Americans became new, Demos points out, before they fully understood what it meant. Their cyclical frame of reference was coming unmoored, giving way to a linear world view in early nineteenth-century America that is neatly captured by Kentucky doctor Daniel Drake's description of the chronography of his life.
In his meditation on these three worlds, Demos brilliantly demonstrates how large historical forces are reflected in individual lives. With the imaginative insights and personable touch that we have come to expect from this fine chronicler of the human condition, Circles and Lines is vintage John Demos.
This unique pair of diaries offers an unforgettable account of the life of an average Northern family coping with the dangers and tensions of the Civil War. There were thousands like them, but few left such a clear and indelible record of their experiences.
Rachel Cormany (nee Bowman) met Samuel Cormany at Otterbein University in Ohio. After her husband enlisted in a cavalry unit, she writes poignantly of her anxieties, poverty, and loneliness. Samuel, on the other hand, is ambitious in his military career, and tells enthusiastically about his engagements that include camp life, cavalry raids, army politics, and his battles with alcohol. Editor James C. Mohr has arranged the diaries so that the voices of husband and wife alternate, and his notes enlighten many of the issues relating to the diarists and their daily lives.
Daniel Webster (1782–1852) embodied the golden age of oratory in America by mastering each of the major genres of public speaking of the time. Even today, many of his victories before the Supreme Court remain as precedents. Webster served in the House, the Senate, and twice as secretary of state. He was so famous as a political orator that his reply “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” to Senator Robert Hayne in a debate in 1830 was memorized by schoolboys and was on the lips of Northern soldiers as they charged forward in the Civil War. There would have been no 1850 Compromise without Webster, and without the Compromise, the Civil War might well have come earlier to an unprepared North.
Webster was also the consummate ceremonial speaker. He advanced Whig virtues and solidified support for the Union through civil religion, creating a transcendent symbol for the nation that became a metaphor for the working constitutional framework.
While several biographies have been written about Webster, none has focused on his oratorical talent. This study examines Webster’s incredible career from the perspective of his great speeches and how they created a civil religion that moved citizens beyond loyalty and civic virtue to true romantic patriotism. Craig R. Smith places Webster’s speeches in their historical context and then uses the tools of rhetorical criticism to analyze them. He demonstrates that Webster understood not only how rhetorical genres function to meet the expectations of the moment but also how they could be braided to produce long-lasting and literate discourse.
Executing Democracy: Capital Punishment & the Making of America, 1683-1807 is the first volume of a rhetorical history of public debates about crime, violence, and capital punishment in America. This examination begins in 1683, when William Penn first struggled to govern the rowdy indentured servants of Philadelphia, and continues up until 1807, when the Federalists sought to impose law-and-order upon the New Republic.
This volume offers a lively historical overview of how crime, violence, and capital punishment influenced the settling of the New World, the American Revolution, and the frantic post-war political scrambling to establish norms that would govern the new republic.
By presenting a macro-historical overview, and by filling the arguments with voices from different political camps and communicative genres, Hartnett provides readers with fresh perspectives for understanding the centrality of public debates about capital punishment to the history of American democracy.
This eye-opening and well-researched companion to the first volume of Executing Democracy enters the death-penalty discussion during the debates of 1835 and 1843, when pro-death penalty Calvinist minister George Barrell Cheever faced off against abolitionist magazine editor John O’Sullivan. In contrast to the macro-historical overview presented in volume 1, volume 2 provides micro-historical case studies, using these debates as springboards into the discussion of the death penalty in America at large. Incorporating a wide range of sources, including political poems, newspaper editorials, and warring manifestos, this second volume highlights a variety of perspectives, thus demonstrating the centrality of public debates about crime, violence, and punishment to the history of American democracy. Hartnett’s insightful assessment bears witness to a complex national discussion about the political, metaphysical, and cultural significance of the death penalty.
In 1776 the U.S. owed huge sums to foreign creditors and its own citizens but, lacking the power to tax, had no means to repay them. This is the first book to tell the story of how foreign-born financial specialists—the immigrant founders Hamilton and Gallatin—solved the fiscal crisis and set the nation on a path to long-term economic prosperity.
Jennifer R. Mercieca University of Alabama Press, 2010 Library of Congress E302.1.M47 2010 | Dewey Decimal 973.2
An extended analysis of how Americans imagined themselves as citizens between 1764 and 1845
Founding Fictions develops the concept of a “political fiction,” or a narrative that people tell about their own political theories, and analyzes how republican and democratic fictions positioned American citizens as either romantic heroes, tragic victims, or ironic partisans. By re-telling the stories that Americans have told themselves about citizenship, Mercieca highlights an important contradiction in American political theory and practice: that national stability and active citizen participation are perceived as fundamentally at odds.
Perhaps no other person could ever achieve the preeminent position in American history and culture occupied by George Washington. Born in 1732, Washington’s life–long commitment to self-improvement and discipline helped him become a legend in his own lifetime. Whether as a statesman, military man, or America’s first president, Washington created a legacy that has scarcely diminished in over two centuries. Yet the passage of time and the superlatives reserved for Washington have knit together and made it difficult to find the real man. Historian and editor John P. Kaminski has amassed an extraordinary body of quotations by and about George Washington that brings us closer to the essence of this great leader. This collection paints an intricate picture of the man who Henry 'Lighthorse' Lee of Virginia eulogized as: "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen."
In a masterful study Carl Richard explores how the Greek and Roman classics became enshrined in American antebellum culture. For the first time, knowledge of the classics extended beyond aristocratic males to the middle class, women, African Americans, and frontier settlers. The Civil War led to a radical alteration of the educational system in a way that steadily eroded the preeminence of the classics.
Foreign policies and diplomatic missions, combined with military action, were the driving forces behind the growth of the early United States. In an era when the Old and New Worlds were subject to British, French, and Spanish imperial ambitions, the new republic had limited diplomatic presence and minimal public credit. It was vulnerable to hostile forces in every direction. The United States could not have survived, grown, or flourished without the adoption of prescient foreign policies, or without skillful diplomatic operations.
An Independent Empire shows how foreign policy and diplomacy constitute a truly national story, necessary for understanding the history of the United States. In this lively and well-written book, episodes in American history—such as the writing and ratification of the Constitution, Henry Clay’s advocacy of an American System, Pinckney’s Treaty with Spain, and the visionary but absurd Congress of Panama—are recast as elemental aspects of United States foreign and security policy.
An Independent Empire tells the stories of the people who defined the early history of America’s international relationships. Throughout the book are brief, entertaining vignettes of often-overlooked intellectuals, spies, diplomats, and statesmen whose actions and decisions shaped the first fifty years of the United States. More than a dozen bespoke maps illustrate that the growth of the early United States was as much a geographical as a political or military phenomenon.
Born after the Revolution, the first generation of Americans inherited a truly new world—and, with it, the task of working out the terms of Independence. Anyone who started a business, marketed a new invention, ran for office, formed an association, or wrote for publication was helping to fashion the world’s first liberal society. These are the people we encounter in Inheriting the Revolution, a vibrant tapestry of the lives, callings, decisions, desires, and reflections of those Americans who turned the new abstractions of democracy, the nation, and free enterprise into contested realities.
Through data gathered on thousands of people, as well as hundreds of memoirs and autobiographies, Joyce Appleby tells myriad intersecting stories of how Americans born between 1776 and 1830 reinvented themselves and their society in politics, economics, reform, religion, and culture. They also had to grapple with the new distinction of free and slave labor, with all its divisive social entailments; the rout of Enlightenment rationality by the warm passions of religious awakening; the explosion of small business opportunities for young people eager to break out of their parents’ colonial cocoon. Few in the nation escaped the transforming intrusiveness of these changes. Working these experiences into a vivid picture of American cultural renovation, Appleby crafts an extraordinary—and deeply affecting—account of how the first generation established its own culture, its own nation, its own identity.
The passage of social responsibility from one generation to another is always a fascinating interplay of the inherited and the novel; this book shows how, in the early nineteenth century, the very idea of generations resonated with new meaning in the United States.
In this volume, Kevin J. Hayes collects thirty accounts of Thomas Jefferson written by his granddaughters, visiting dignitaries, fellow politicians, and others who knew him as a family man, public servant, intellectual, and institution builder. The letters and reminiscences of those who knew Jefferson personally reveal him to be a warm, funny man, quite unlike the solemn statesman so often limned in biographies.
To friends and enemies alike he was the model of a republican gentleman, profoundly knowledgeable in philosophy and natural history, able to converse in several languages, and capable of great wit but contemptuous of ceremony and fancy dress. Through these excerpts, we can see the nation’s third president as his family knew him—a loving husband, father, and grandfather—and as his peers did, as a tireless public servant with a fondness for tall tales.
In this persuasive work of intellectual history, Lucas E. Morel argues that the most important influence on Abraham Lincoln’s political thought and practice was what he learned from the leading figures of and documents from the birth of the United States. In this systematic account of those principles, Morel compellingly demonstrates that to know Lincoln well is to understand thoroughly the founding of America.
With each chapter describing a particular influence, Morel leads readers from the Founding Father, George Washington; to the founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and Constitution; to the founding compromise over slavery; and finally to a consideration of how the original intentions of the Founding Fathers should be respected in light of experience, progress, and improvements over time. Within these key discussions, Morel shows that without the ideals of the American Revolution, Lincoln’s most famous speeches would be unrecognizable, and the character of the nation would have lost its foundation on the universal principles of human equality, individual liberty, and government by the consent of the governed.
Lincoln thought that the principles of human equality and individual rights could provide common ground for a diverse people to live as one nation and that some old things, such as the political ideals of the American founding, were worth preserving. He urged Americans to be vigilant in maintaining the institutions of self-government and to exercise and safeguard the benefits of freedom for future generations. Morel posits that adopting the way of thinking and speaking Lincoln advocated, based on the country’s founding, could help mend our current polarized discourse and direct the American people to employ their common government on behalf of a truly common good.
Lincoln and the Constitution
Brian R. Dirck Southern Illinois University Press, 2012 Library of Congress E457.2.D574 2012 | Dewey Decimal 973.7092
In this highly readable study of Abraham Lincoln’s thoughts and actions concerning the U.S. Constitution, Brian R. Dirck combines extensive primary research and thoughtful, accessible consideration of Lincoln’s views to reveal new insights into Lincoln’s impact on the U.S. Constitution. In the statesman’s roles as a leading antebellum politician, an ardent critic of slavery, and the president of the United States during the Civil War, Lincoln fashioned a strong antislavery constitutional ideology and articulated a constitutional vision of the Civil War that reinforced his determination to restore the Union.
Grounding Lincoln’s constitutionalism in his reading habits and early legal career, Dirck masterfully balances biographical details, Lincoln’s value system, the opinions of his supporters and critics, and key events and ideas to show how his thinking about the U.S. Constitution changed over time. From Lincoln’s deep reverence for the work of the Founding Fathers to his innovative interpretation of presidential war powers, Dirck reveals Lincoln’s understanding of the Constitution to be progressive, emphasizing federal power as a tool to develop the economy, and pragmatic, in that he was often forced to make decisions on the fly during a remarkably volatile period in American history. Lincoln used his conception of presidential war powers to advance the twin causes of Union and emancipation, and Dirck explores the constitutional problems stirred by curbs Lincoln placed on civil liberties, internal security, and freedom of expression during wartime.
More than a straightforward overview of Lincoln’s constitutional views, Lincoln and the Constitution provides a starting point for further inquiry into interpretations and defenses as well as the political, intellectual, and cultural traditions of the founding document of the United States. In the end, Dirck shows, Lincoln viewed the political and legal traditions of the Constitution with optimism, emphasizing
throughout his life the possibilities he believed the document held—always keeping faith in it and swearing to protect it, even as he was awash in a sea of blood and controversy.
Univeristy Press Books for Public and Secondary Schools 2013 edition
In this classic work by one of America's most distinguished historians, Daniel Boorstin enters into Thomas Jefferson's world of ideas. By analysing writings of 'the Jeffersonian Circle,' Boorstin explores concepts of God, nature, equality, toleration, education and government in order to illuminate their underlying world view. The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson demonstrates why on the 250th anniversary of his birth, this American leader's message has remained relevant to our national crises and grand concerns.
"The volume is too subtle, too rich in ideas for anyone to do justice to it in brief summary, too heavily documented and too carefully wrought for anyone to dismiss its thesis. . . . It is a major contribution not only to Jefferson studies but to American intellectual history. . . . All who work in the history of ideas will find themselves in Mr. Boorstin's debt."—Richard Hofstadter, South Atlantic Monthly
Winner of the Russell P. Strange Memorial Book Award
This sweeping narrative presents an original and compelling explanation for the triumph of the antislavery movement in the United States prior to the Civil War. Abraham Lincoln's election as the first antislavery president was hardly preordained. From the country's inception, Americans had struggled to define slavery's relationship to freedom. Most Northerners supported abolition in the North but condoned slavery in the South, while most Southerners denounced abolition and asserted slavery's compatibility with whites' freedom. On this massive political fault line hinged the fate of the nation.
Graham A. Peck meticulously traces the conflict over slavery in Illinois from the Northwest Ordinance in 1787 to Lincoln's defeat of his archrival Stephen A. Douglas in the 1860 election. Douglas's attempt in 1854 to persuade Northerners that slavery and freedom had equal national standing stirred a political earthquake that brought Lincoln to the White House. Yet Lincoln's framing of the antislavery movement as a conservative return to the country's founding principles masked what was in fact a radical and unprecedented antislavery nationalism. It justified slavery's destruction but triggered the Civil War.
Presenting pathbreaking interpretations of Lincoln, Douglas, and the Civil War's origins, Making an Antislavery Nation shows how battles over slavery paved the way for freedom's triumph in America.
In this sweeping reinterpretation of American political culture, James Block offers a new perspective on the formation of the modern American self and society. Block roots both self and society in the concept of agency, rather than liberty, and dispenses with the national myth of the "sacred cause of liberty"--with the Declaration of Independence as its "American scripture." Instead, he recovers the early modern conception of agency as the true synthesis emerging from America's Protestant and liberal cultural foundations.
Block traces agency doctrine from its pre-Commonwealth English origins through its development into the American mainstream culture on the eve of the twentieth century. The concept of agency that prevailed in the colonies simultaneously released individuals from traditional constraints to participate actively and self-reliantly in social institutions, while confining them within a new set of commitments. Individual initiative was now firmly bounded by the modern values and ends of personal Protestant religiosity and collective liberal institutional authority. As Block shows, this complex relation of self to society lies at the root of the American character.
A Nation of Agents is a new reading of what the "first new nation" did and did not achieve. It will enable us to move beyond long-standing national myths and grasp both the American achievement and its legacy for modernity.
Table of Contents:
1. The American Narrative in Crisis
Part I. The English Origins of the American Self and Society 2. The Early Puritan Insurgents and the Origins of Agency 3. The Protestant Revolutionaries and the Emerging Society of Agents 4. Thomas Hobbes and the Founding of the Liberal Politics of Agency 5. John Locke and the Mythic Society of Free Agents
Part II. The Ascendancy of Agency and the First New Nation 6. The Great Awakening and the Emergent Culture of Agency 7. The Revolutionary Triumph of Agency
Part III. The Dilemma of Nationhood 8. The Liberal Idyll amidst Republican Realities 9. From the Idyll: Liberation and Reversal in a World without Bounds
Part IV. The Creation of an Agency Civilization 10. National Revival as the Crucible of Agency Character 11. From Sectarian Discord to Civil Religion 12. The Protestant Agent in Liberal Economics 13. John Dewey and the Modern Synthesis
Conclusion: The Recovery of Agency
Reviews of this book: A Nation of Agents is a work of extravagant erudition and originality. James E. Block has read voraciously in the sources, seen things that few have seen before, and put them together as none have done before. He sets forth a new view of American culture, threading his thesis through three centuries of American thought and the preceding century of English thinking besides. --Michael Zuckerman, Journal of American History
Reviews of this book: What a wonder then is James Block's book, a daring master narrative and bracing theoretical exercise of the first order. It promises and delivers nothing less than a fundamental recasting of 'the American path to a modern self and society.' --Robert Westbrook, Christian Century
Reviews of this book: James Block's big, ambitious A Nation of Agents leaves no doubt about its aspirations in the contest to solve the Gordian knot of the relationship between the one and the many in American social thought...The subtlety and acuity with which Block develops these themes through scores of thinkers and over 500 pages can scarcely be exaggerated. A Nation of Agents is a genuinely prodigious work of scholarship. --Daniel T. Rodgers, Modern Intellectual History
This is an original and exciting work of scholarship, in which the idea of agency takes on the characteristics of a deep cultural imperative in American life. Block's agency thesis is at once a genealogy of modern American identity and a theoretical exploration of the horizon within which American political and moral self-reflection is conducted. --Eldon J. Eisenach, The University of Tulsa
The most remarkable aspect of this book is the author's ability to weave a single thread -- the thread of "agency" -- through four centuries of Anglo-American intellectual history. Block's great achievement is to propound a new "common theme" to American history. A Nation of Agents is a beacon for scholars seeking a usable past. If ever intellectual history is to regain its prominence in the field of American history it will require works like this. --Harry S. Stout, Yale University
In the midst of the United States' immense economic growth in the 1850s, Americans worried about whether the booming agricultural, industrial, and commercial expansion came at the price of cherished American values such as honesty, hard work, and dedication to the common good. Was the nation becoming greedy, selfish, vulgar, and cruel? Was there such a thing as too much prosperity?
At the same time, the United States felt the influence of the rise of popular mass-circulation newspapers and magazines and the surge in American book publishing. Concern over living correctly as well as prosperously was commonly discussed by leading authors and journalists, who were now writing for ever-expanding regional and national audiences. Women became more important as authors and editors, giving advice and building huge markets for women readers, with the magazine Godey's Lady's Book and novels by Susan Warner, Maria Cummins, and Harriet Beecher Stowe expressing women's views about the troubled state of society. Best-selling male writers--including novelist George Lippard, historian George Bancroft, and travel writer Bayard Taylor--were among those adding their voices to concerns about prosperity and morality and about America's place in the world. Writers and publishers discovered that a high moral tone could be exceedingly good for business.
The authors of this book examine how popular writers and widely read newspapers, magazines, and books expressed social tensions between prosperity and morality. This study draws on that nationwide conversation through leading mass media, including circulation-leading newspapers, the New York Herald and the New York Tribune, plus prominent newspapers from the South and West, the Richmond Enquirer and the Cincinnati Enquirer. Best-selling magazines aimed at middle-class tastes, Harper's Magazine and the Southern Literary Messenger, added their voices, as did two leading business magazines.
Howe studies the American Whigs with the thoroughness so often devoted their party rivals, the Jacksonian Democrats. He shows that the Whigs were not just a temporary coalition of politicians but spokesmen for a heritage of political culture received from Anglo-American tradition and passed on, with adaptations, to the Whigs' Republican successors. He relates this culture to both the country's economic conditions and its ethnoreligious composition.
In The Liberal Tradition in America (1955), Louis Hartz first put forth his thesis that the American political tradition derives essentially from consensual liberal principles. The many detractors to this theory include Bernard Bailyn, who argued that preliberal, republican values initially held sway in eighteenth-century American politics. In The Shaping of American Liberalism, David Ericson offers an innovative reinterpretation of both positions by redefining the terms of the argument.
Focusing on three critical debates in American history—the debate between Anti-Federalists and Federalists over the ratification of the Constitution; the debate between the national republicans and the states-rights republicans over the nullification of the tariff; and the Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery and pluralist democracy—Ericson shows that republicanism, rather than being opposed to liberalism, is in fact an offshoot of it. His descriptions of republicanism and pluralism represent the poles of an evolving tradition of liberal ideas in America: the former championing the claims of the public sphere, general welfare, and civic virtue; the latter protecting the rights of the individual to liberty, property, and privacy.
Republicanism and pluralism are therefore more properly understood as two sets of competing ideas that evolved from common roots. Ericson concludes that although republican themes persist in American politics, the profound transformations brought about by the Civil War made the ascendancy of pluralism virtually inevitable.
This highly original discussion of the relation between liberalism and republicanism—the central concern of much of the recent scholarship in American political thought—will be important reading for those interested in American politics, history, and culture.
Most leaders of the U.S. expansion in the years before the Civil War were southern slaveholders. As Matthew Karp shows, they were nationalists, not separatists. When Lincoln’s election broke their grip on foreign policy, these elites formed their own Confederacy not merely to preserve their property but to shape the future of the Atlantic world.
How is a nation brought into being? In a detailed examination of crucial texts of eighteenth-century American literature, Christopher Looby argues that the United States was self-consciously enacted through the spoken word. Historical material informs and animates theoretical texts by Derrida, Lacan, and others as Looby unravels the texts of Benjamin Franklin, Charles Brockden Brown, and Hugh Henry Brackenridge and connects them to nation-building, political discourse, and self-creation. Correcting the strong emphasis on the importance of print culture in eighteenth-century America, Voicing America uncovers the complex process of early American writers articulating their new nation and reveals a body of literature and a political discourse thoroughly concerned with the power of vocal language.