American Virtues: Thomas Jefferson on the Character of a Free People / Edition 1

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Overview

Since the early days of the republic, Americans have recognized Thomas Jefferson's distinctive role in helping to shape the American national character. As Founder and statesman, Jefferson thought broadly about the virtues Americans would need to cultivate in order to preserve and perfect their experiment in republican self-government. Now in an age preoccupied with rights and divided over questons of character in public and private life, Jefferson can help us to think more clearly about our most urgent concerns.

American Virtues is the first comprehensive analysis of Jefferson's moral and political philosophy in over twenty years and the first ever to focus exclusively on the full range of moral, civic, and intellectual virtues that together form the American character. It asks what kind of character Americans as a people must cultivate to ensure their freedom and happiness and how we as a free society can nurture moral and intellectual excellence in our citizens and statesmen.

Beginning with the Declaration of Independence, Jean Yarbrough explores how Jefferson's conception of rights helps to form the American character. In subsequent chapters, she examines the moral sense virtues of justice and benevolence; the "agrarian" virtues of industry, moderation, patience, self-reliance, and independence; patriotism and modern republicanism; slavery and agrarian vice; the effect of commerce on character; the virtues connected with private property; the civic virtues of vigilance and spirited participation; the meaning of virtue and happiness for women; the virtues of republican statesmen; the place of the Epicurean virtues of wisdom and friendship in liberal republicanism; andpiety and the secularized virtues of charity, toleration, and hope.

In broadening the examination of virtue to include not only civic or republican virtue but the whole range of moral and intellectual excellences that perfect the individual character, American Virtues moves beyond the liberal-republican debates and makes a fresh contribution to the Jeffersonian literature.

This book is part of the American Political Thought series.

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Editorial Reviews

Jack Fruchtman Jr.
Yarbrough's study of Thomas Jefferson's concerns about character is more than a fresh investigation of Jefferson's ideas: it is in many respects a way to determine whether these ideas are useable in our own time. The results are manifold. Not only has Yarbrough crafted a provocative, occasionally maddening study, but she also brings a much-needed corrective to Jefferson studies, especially to the work of Garry Wills and Richard Matthews and also, to a lesser extent, Lance Banning. . . . There is a great deal to recommend this study--not only to Jefferson scholars, but to all those who have any sensibility about the virtue of a people's character."
American Historical Review
Jack P. Greene
This well-written, carefully-crafted, and thoughtful volume provides the most penetrating discussion yet published of Thomas Jefferson's moral and political thought. . . . The author is particularly effective in explicating Jefferson's ideas about the scope and nature of liberal republican government in America."
Political Science Quarterly
Robert M.S. McDonald
Transcending the tired liberalism vs. republicanism debate, Yarbrough's important new book is a crisp, tightly argued, and persuasive meditation on the attributes that Thomas Jefferson found at the heart of America's success story. . . . [This is] one of the fullest, fairest, historiographically circumspect, well-informed, and altogether on-target accounts of Jefferson's political and social thought to appear in decades."
H-SHEAR Review
American Political Science Review
The best exposition we have of Jefferson's thought.
Journal of American History
An elegantly written, cogently argued interpretation.
Booknews
Eschewing the liberal versus classical republican debate, Yarbrough (government and legal studies, Bowdoin College) examines the moral aspects of the Founders, as expressed in the political philosophy of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson wrote extensively on what virtues among its citizens would allow the new country of America to succeed. Acknowledging the limits to his philosophy, such as his resistance to the rights of women or his dislike of banks, the author begins by examining the Declaration of Independence, and finds that its basic principles, with those later expressed by Jefferson, may lead to an understanding of American virtues. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700609062
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 9/28/1998
  • Series: American Political Thought Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 280
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean M. Yarbrough is professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College and has published numerous articles on American political thought.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1 The Declaration and the American Character 1
2 The Moral Sense Virtues and Character Formation 27
3 Work, Property, and Character: Agrarian Virtue and Commercial Virtue 55
4 Civic Virtue, Statesmanship, and Republican Self-Government 102
5 The Liberal Ideal: Duties to Self, Friendship, and Duties to God 153
Notes 197
Works Cited 241
Index 251
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