The American Democrat and Other Political Writings

Overview

Author James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), best known for his creation of Natty Bumppo and the Leatherstocking Tales, also wrote profound social criticism of the Jacksonian era. yet, while these three works -- Notions of the Americans, A Letter to His Countrymen, and The American Democrat -- come from a distinct era of American history, Cooper's thoughts on republicanism remain as relevant today as they were in the 1820s and 1830s. His argument, that the real American should be one rooted in virtue, honor, and ...
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Overview

Author James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), best known for his creation of Natty Bumppo and the Leatherstocking Tales, also wrote profound social criticism of the Jacksonian era. yet, while these three works -- Notions of the Americans, A Letter to His Countrymen, and The American Democrat -- come from a distinct era of American history, Cooper's thoughts on republicanism remain as relevant today as they were in the 1820s and 1830s. His argument, that the real American should be one rooted in virtue, honor, and honesty, transcend time and historical era. This edition is the first to combine all three works -- the entirety of Letter and The American Democrat, and numerous excerpts from Notions.

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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780895262424
  • Publisher: Regnery Publishing, Inc., An Eagle Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/15/2001
  • Pages: 508
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper is considered by many to be America's first great novelist. His most popular work, The Last of the Mohicans, has remained one of the most widely read novels throughout the world, greatly influencing the way many cultures have viewed both the American Indians and the frontier period of U.S. history.

Biography

James Cooper (he added the Fenimore when he was in his 30s) was born September 15, 1789, in Burlington, New Jersey, to William Cooper and Elizabeth Fenimore Cooper. In 1790 the family moved to the frontier country of upstate New York, where William established a village he called Cooperstown. Although cushioned by wealth and William's status as landlord and judge, the Coopers found pioneering to be rugged, and only 7 of the 13 Cooper children survived their early years. All the hardship notwithstanding, according to family reports, the young James loved the wilderness. Years later, he wrote The Pioneers (1823) about Cooperstown in the 1790s, but many of his other books draw deeply on his childhood experiences of the frontier as well.

Cooper was sent to Yale in 1801 but he was expelled in 1805 for setting off an explosion in another student's room. Afterward, as a midshipman in the fledgling U.S. Navy, he made Atlantic passages and served at an isolated post on Lake Ontario. Cooper resigned his commission in 1811 to marry Susan Augusta De Lancey, the daughter of a wealthy New York State family. During the next decade, however, a series of bad investments and legal entanglements reduced his inheritance to the verge of bankruptcy.

Cooper was already 30 years old when, on a dare from his wife, he became a writer. One evening he threw down, in disgust, a novel he was reading aloud to her, saying he could write a better book himself. Susan, who knew that he disliked writing even letters, expressed her doubts. To prove her wrong he wrote Precaution, which was published anonymously in 1820. Encouraged by favorable reviews, Cooper wrote other books in quick succession, and by the time The Last of the Mohicans, his sixth novel, was published in 1827, he was internationally famous as America's first professionally successful novelist. Eventually he published 32 novels, as well as travel books and histories. Cooper invented the genre of nautical fiction, and in the figure of Nathaniel or "Natty" Bumppo (Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans) -- the central character in the five Leatherstocking Tales Cooper published between 1823 and 1841 -- he gave American fiction its first great hero.

Shortly after publishing The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper moved his family to Europe, but in 1833 he returned to America, moving back into his father's restored Mansion House in Cooperstown. He died there on September 14, 1851.

Author biography courtesy of Barnes & Noble Books.

Good To Know

Cooper was expelled from Yale due to his passion for pranks, which included training a donkey to sit in a professor's chair and setting a fellow student's room on fire.

Between 1822 and 1826 Cooper lived in New York City, and was a major player on its intellectual scene. He founded the Bread and Cheese Club, which had many high-profile members, including notable painters of the Hudson River School and writers like William Cullen Bryant.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      September 15, 1789
    2. Place of Birth:
      Burlington, New Jersey
    1. Date of Death:
      September 14, 1851
    2. Place of Death:
      Cooperstown, New York
    1. Education:
      Yale University (expelled in 1805)

Table of Contents

Introduction vii
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
Index 497
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