Sentimental Democracy: The Evolution of America's Romantic Self-Image

Andrew Burstein, Author Hill & Wang $28 (400p) ISBN 978-0-8090-8535-4
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.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999
Release date: 04/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 432 pages - 978-0-8090-8536-1
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