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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson


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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.


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.

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.

"A lucid argument, usefully extending the intellectual history of the American Revolution by interrogating three great revolutionaries." --Kirkus Reviews"Thoughtful, infectious in its enthusiasm, and briskly argued." --Leslie Kitchen, History News Network

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