Cover image for Sentimental democracy : the evolution of America's romantic self-image


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E163 .B88 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Examines the emotional dynamic and the metaphorically rich language which Americans developed to express their guiding principle: that the New World would improve upon the Old. Draws on newspapers, private letters, speeches, and diaries to show how the 18th-century "culture of sensibility" encouraged early Americans to make a heartfelt commitment to the Enlightenment's optimism about a global society. Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Although the founding fathers have long been enshrined as gods of wisdom, it is in their very human emotions that Burstein locates the power to forge a new national community. From eighteenth-century novels of refined sensibility to revolutionary ramparts defended by impassioned patriots, careful research traces a straight line of emotional romanticism that extends to the men who gathered in Philadelphia to proclaim American independence. Burstein teases out the implications of personal journals, private correspondence, and public rhetoric, so documenting the transmutation of inner emotions into political doctrines. These emotions, early Americans believed, would be continually renewed by the invigorating labors of pioneering a vast wilderness. But westward expansion helped foster a problematic shift in the country's mood, as Andrew Jackson's generation of brash frontiersmen brought a more reckless and boisterous emotionalism into the national culture. Although Burstein concludes his history with Old Hickory, his final chapter highlights the continuing importance of the emotions that first gave Americans their defining sense of moral mission. A valuable addition to the cultural history of America. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

As the season of impeachment subsides and the campaign season looms on the horizon, readers with an interest in American political expression would do well to turn to Burstein (The Inner Jefferson). The American Revolution, he writes, would have failed without the "language of feeling" that was used to articulate the Enlightenment ideal of a just society. He goes on to cite great examples of American expression, from the sublime phrasings of the Declaration of Independence, which combined "masculine sentiment and a kind of theater," to Patrick Henry's impassioned cry, "Give me liberty or give me death!" As America grew more powerful, however, the voices of the noble Washington and the humane Jefferson were supplanted by that of the pugnacious Andrew Jackson (who, writes Burstein, "seemed to enjoy killing"). A rarity among academic writers, Burstein minimizes his own rhetoric and instead uses a rich panoply of original sources that give every page a rich texture and render the whole stirring and convincing. Though the book focuses on the first decades after the Revolution, Burstein does discuss the relation of 18th-century political rhetoric to the contemporary variety. Accessible and insightful, Burstein's book explicates and vivifies the discourse of democracy. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Given Bursteins expertise regarding the Founding Father whose stirring words and political views did so much to shape Americas self-image, the topic of his newest book is a natural one. Previously, historians have traced the American sense of exceptionalism to a variety of sources: the Puritan ideal of a City on a Hill, George Washingtons warnings against entangling alliances, and the belief that Americans were a chosen people. Adding to these, Burstein (history, Univ. of Northern Iowa; The Inner Jefferson: Portrait of a Grieving Optimist, Univ. of Virginia, 1995) now adds the claim that the 18th centurys cult of sensibility (as exemplified in the sentimental fiction of Laurence Sterne and Samuel Richardson) had a lasting impact in America, contributing to a particularly emotional brand of patriotism and strong feelings of benevolence and generosity. Burstein shows that this pacific compassion could evolve into policies that might seem anything but gentle. Bursteins book sometimes shows signs of strain as it tries to demonstrate that sentiment was the all-pervasive root of the major traits in the American character. However, one must credit Burstein with producing a book that is stimulating, well researched, and relevant to todays debates about the nature of the American character and the role of the United States in world affairs.Thomas J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.