Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic

By Estes, Todd | The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, January 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic


Estes, Todd, The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography


Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic * Jeffrey L. Pasley, Andrew W. Robertson, and David Waldstreicher, eds. * Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004 * xii, 435 pp. * $59.95 cloth; $24.95 paper

Is there a new new political history? And if so, how does it differ from the old new political history? This important collection of essays on early U.S. political culture develops a strong case for the existence of a newer model, arguing that the influence of cultural history has broadened the study of politics and political culture and built on earlier work done by social historians and students of political culture. This newer history had three significant precedents: the social histories of politics of the 1960s and 1970s, which showed elites and commoners responding to each other and interacting; the older "new political history" of the same period, which examined constituents and voters in addition to political leaders; and the "linguistic turn" in scholarship, which took ideology seriously but looked at the relationship between words, actions, consciousness, and power. The melding of these influences has produced a newer political history that looks different from previous approaches and that-as exemplified by the essays gathered here-"depicts a deeply politicized culture and an indefatigably cultural politics" (p. 10).

One of the ways the newer history stands out is by its focus on the political participation of non-voters in parades, celebrations, at taverns, and in other activities that gave ordinary, non-voting Americans a political voice and revealed their attitudes, identities, and rhetoric. Above all, the intent of this newer history is to go beyond the founders to uncover a deeper, fuller, and richer political culture. This potential, the editors argue, is realized when the newer history "succeeds in connecting elites and plebeians and middling sorts along various trajectories of thought, experience, and political action" (p. 5).

These essays are particularly eclectic and suggest the breadth and range of the newer political history. …

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