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Sentimental Democracy The Evolution of Americas Romantic Self Image

ISBN 0809085356 / 9780809085354 / 0-8090-8535-6

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Book summary

The 1992 publication of Gordon S. Wood's The Radicalism of the American Revolution renewed interest in interpreting the War for Independence as an expression of national rather than regional values. Most of these studies trace the universal desire for republican governance in the 13 colonies to the Enlightenment's valorization of reason and intellect. In Sentimental Democracy, Andrew Burstein argues that this nation's forefathers were not just led by the power of their minds but by the feelings in their hearts.

Americans, according to Burstein, viewed their culture as exceptional because of their susceptibility to emotions. While European politicos coldly manipulated their subjects, Americans recognized both the benefits and temptations that their senses provided them. By the time of the Revolution, patriots such as "the martyr" Joseph Warren demonstrated their commitment to public virtue by exercising sentimental passion while restraining excess emotion. Later, both republicans and federalists defined themselves publicly as individuals moderately appeasing the appetites of democracy. During and after Andrew Jackson's administration, Burstein argues, the virtues of moral restraint were relegated to the domestic sphere, while men exerted their nationalistic sentiments in a vigorous campaign of territorial expansion.

All in all, Burstein sheds new light on the primary documents upon which the political history of this nation rests. His assertion that nationalist intellectuals such as Thomas Jefferson and J. Hector Saint John de Crèvecoeur invested as much faith in human emotion as in reason provocatively revises traditional interpretations surrounding the passionate nature of politics in the Republic's formative years. --John M. Anderson [via]