Kendall's role in democratizing American politics is shown in a compelling narrative of his evolution from a republican idealist to a democratic individualist who contributed greatly to the rise of the Democratic party. His innovative campaign techniques and direct appeals to ordinary voters helped attract Americans to the polls; yet Kendall, like many of his contemporaries, also had a limited egalitarian vision that excluded the participation of women, African Americans, and Native Americans. In that sense, Cole demonstrates, Kendall was a man of his time, in an era of unprecedented transformations in politics, economics, and technology.
Unforgettable in appearance and manner a gaunt, white-haired, reclusive hypochondriac Kendall inspired mystery as well as awe in admirers and enemies. He exemplified the American self-made man in his rise from a struggling jack-of-all-trades to a wealthy Washingtonian. His story also offers a fresh look at important elements of the antebellum communications revolution: he was deeply involved in the expansion of the post office and in the rise of the telegraph, and as a philanthropist he founded the school for the deaf that became Gallaudet College. The first biography of Kendall, this superbly written and researched volume unfolds the rise of American democracy and the culture that created it.