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

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

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

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

Synopsis

In pursuit of a more sophisticated and inclusive American history, the contributors to Beyond the Founders propose new directions for the study of the political history of the republic before the Civil War. In ways formal and informal, symbolic and tactile, this political world encompassed blacks, women, entrepreneurs, and Native Americans, as well as the Adamses, Jeffersons, and Jacksons, all struggling in their own ways to shape the new nation and express their ideas of American democracy.

Taking inspiration from the new cultural and social histories, these political historians show that the early history of the United States was not just the product of a few "founding fathers," but was also marked by widespread and passionate popular involvement; print media more politically potent than that of later eras; and political conflicts and influences that crossed lines of race, gender, and class.

Excerpt

David Waldstreicher, Jeffrey L. Pasley, and Andrew W. Robertson

The dawn of the twenty-first century has turned out to be a flush time for the founding fathers. Pundits celebrated their appearance on the best-seller lists, cited them as a tonic for contemporary disillusionment with politics, and got to work writing biographies themselves.

The founders’ renewed popularity created opportunities for professional historians as well. Some dubbed “founders chic” a healthy antidote to academic attacks on the nation’s “greatest generation.” Joseph J. Ellis introduced his ensemble of paired founder studies with a “polite” but direct attack on social historians who vaulted “marginal or peripheral figures, whose lives are more typical” over “the political leaders at the center of the national story.” Critics, in response, decried “easy,” conservative, or “lite” history, and the entire “greatness studies” approach, with its all-too-contemporary obsession with personalities and “character.” As Alan Taylor pointed out, “In the recent spate of popular biographies of Founders, readers find one placed on a pedestal at the expense of foolish others.”

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