Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding

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by Darren Staloff
     
 

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Where The Ideas for which We Stand came from.

In this incisively drawn book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three Founding Fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe's grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John

Overview

Where The Ideas for which We Stand came from.

In this incisively drawn book, Darren Staloff forcefully reminds us that America owes its guiding political traditions to three Founding Fathers whose lives embodied the collision of Europe's grand Enlightenment project with the birth of the nation.

Alexander Hamilton, the worldly New Yorker; John Adams, the curmudgeonly Yankee; Thomas Jefferson, the visionary Virginia squire—each governed their public lives by Enlightenment principles, and for each their relationship to the politics of Enlightenment was transformed by the struggle for American independence. Repeated humiliation on America's battlefields banished Hamilton's youthful idealism, leaving him a disciple of Enlightened realpolitik and the nation's leading exponent of modern statecraft. After ten years in Europe's diplomatic trenches, Adams's embrace of the politics of Enlightenment became increasingly skeptical in spirit, and his public posture became increasingly that of the gadfly of his country. And Jefferson's frustrations as a Revolutionary governor in Virginia led him to go beyond his Enlightened worldview, and articulate a new and radical Romantic politics of principle. As a consequence, Americans demand a government that is both modern, constrained by checks and balances, and capable of appealing to our loftiest aspirations while adhering to decidedly pragmatic policies.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
By now it's commonplace to ascribe the principles of the American founding to the Enlightenment, and CUNY historian Staloff offers no startling new information or refreshingly original readings of this period. He contends that the epistemological turn to empiricism, the disenchantment with the metaphysical and the move toward urbanism provide the core of Enlightenment politics, and he uncritically uses these three principles as lenses through which to read the politics of three of America's founders: Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson. Hamilton "promoted rapid industrialization and urban growth fostered by a strong central government capable of projecting its interests and power in the world at large." While Adams shared with John Locke an optimism that scientific education could promote liberty, he knew too well that human nature was corrupt enough to need a political system with checks and balances. Staloff (The Making of an American Thinking Class) gives his most thoughtful readings to Jefferson, who he says fostered a Romantic sensibility in American politics. Jefferson, he says, most changed American politics by showing the need for those politics to be built on an idealistic vision. But among a continuing flood of books about these and other American founders, Staloff's provides little that is new or provocative. (July 4) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Responding to the continuing demand by the reading public for books about the Founding Fathers, Staloff (history, City Coll. of New York; The Making of an American Thinking Class) provides a biographical and intellectual comparison among three major early American statesmen. He shows how the personal experiences and regional cultural traditions of each man shaded his interpretation of the European Enlightenment. The austere, often arrogant Hamilton, born poor but manifestly upwardly mobile (he became the quintessential New Yorker), embraced a boldly realistic interpretation of the new nation's place in the world. The vain, short-tempered, but introspective and honest Adams, a New Englander from the middling farming class, held similar hardheaded views. The charming Jefferson, of the Southern landed gentry, was a Romantic visionary (and undoubtedly the most enduringly popular of this triumvirate) who opted for "enlightened compromises" in office. A scholar who has studied Northern intellectuals, Staloff here devotes most of his study to Jefferson. He prefers citing the papers of all three men to critiquing the work of those who have previously mined these same sources. Intended to be suggestive rather than conclusive, Staloff's is another, but not the definitive, contribution to the growing literature on America's original greatest generation. For a similar comparative treatment of these three (plus James Madison), see Andrew S. Trees's The Founding Fathers and the Politics of Character. Recommended for all collections.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Library of Congress Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429929868
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
02/06/2007
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
591,787
File size:
432 KB

Meet the Author

Darren Staloff teaches history at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is the author of The Making of an American Thinking Class: Intellectuals and Intelligentsia in Puritan Massachusetts.

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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
ampolthot More than 1 year ago
If you believe that people reveal themselves by the way they deliberate about practical matters, as Aristotle said, then you might find this book on Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson the most revealing biography of them available. The author does not abstract their thinking out of the context of problems they had to deal with and the rival opinions they had to contend with, as some political theorists do. Nor does he reduce their thinking to a reflection of the environment in which they thought and acted, as some historians do. He interprets the thinking and character and public deeds of these three statesmen against the background of a richly well-informed, insightful and precise conception of the Enlightenment. He shows how each revised his earliest Enlightenment beliefs----for example, unqualifiedly republican (Hamilton), optimistic on the benefits of diffused learning (Adams), hopeful but in the end unsuccessful in proposing reforms in the spirit of the moderate Enlightenment (Jefferson). Where each ended up after fundamentally revising his original beliefs, without ever joining the Counter-Enlightenment, cannot be summarized in familiar terms. To understand them, we would first have to learn where they started and what they went through in re-thinking their originial convictions. Doing that is, to my mind, the greatest merit of this book. The descriptions of it on this site from Publishers Weekly and The Library Journal are imprecise and misleading in treating it as a conventional history-book. They do not identify, I believe, what is distinctive about it---that it provides three finely insightful (but still arguable) analyses of how serious thought (and re-thinking) combined with character guided the statesmanship of Hamilton, Adams and Jefferson as founders of the United States.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago