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In Notions, using a fictional European aristocrat and his American guide (Cooper himself), Cooper explores the American character. Cooper's most optimistic work, Notions exhibits pieties regarding America's purpose common in early nineteenth-century America. He covers numerous topics, ranging from universal suffrage to the intricacies of government taxing and spending to the real meaning of the War of Independence.
A Letter to my Countrymen remains Cooper's most trenchant work of social criticism. In it, he defines the role of the "man of letters" in a republic, the true conservative, the slavery of party affiliations, and the nature of the legislative branch of government. He also offers his most persuasive argument on why America should develop its own art and literary culture, ignoring the aristocratically and monarchically tainted art of Europe.
In its scope and argumentation, Cooper's most famous and last work of social criticism, The American Democrat, shares elements with both Notions and Letter. Like Notions, it is comprehensive in its examination of American politics. But, as with Letter, it is mature and can be biting in its sarcasm regarding the excesses of Jacksonian plebiscitary democracy.
Cooper's three works add not only to our understanding of him as a novelist and great American, but also to our understanding of a watershed in American political life -- when America began the shift from republican to mass democratic forms of governance. In Cooper, the American political tradition has one of its greatest public defenders of republicanism, whose roots, Cooper says, lie in ancient Greece and Rome.
|Note on the Text||xxv|
|Part I||Notions of the Americans||1|
|Part II||A Letter to His Countrymen||267|
|Part III||The American Democrat||361|
|Note on the Editors||495|