Ideals and Politics
New York Intellectuals and Liberal Democracy, 1820-1880
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Ideals and Politics is a group biography that examines the shifting personal, moral, and intellectual relationships of several prominent Americans from 1820 to 1880. It considers the divergent social visions of William Cullen Bryant, James Fenimore Cooper, William Leggett, Gulian C. Verplanck, Parke Goodwin, and members of the Sedgwick family in an effort to understand various attitudes within a basic liberal democratic ideology, amid the changing demands and opportunities of an American pluralistic society.
The members of this group left a considerable record of newspaper editorials, novels, poems, essays, and letters from which the author draws judiciously to illustrate his subjects, whose involvement in the political and social questions of their day demanded from them efforts to reconcile their ideals with political realities. The author discusses in detail the positions of Bryant and the others regarding the issues of government economic policy, the roles of parties and newspapers in a democratic society, poverty, and slavery and race.
At another level, this book illustrates the fundamental attitudinal differences that exist beneath the apparent ideological conformity of Americans.
Although based on some new information and sound interpretation, the greatest value of this book is in its approach—a group biography which emphasizes not only the members of the group but their relationships with one another. The author succeeds in giving essential human meaning to the major developments of the period.
Edward K. Spann is professor of history at Indiana State University in Terre Haute.