Ideals and Politics

New York Intellectuals and Liberal Democracy, 1820-1880

By Edward K. Spann

Hardcover : 9780873950831, 269 pages, June 1973

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Table of contents

1. The Road to New York (1815-25)
2. The Promised Land
3. The Dynamic Society
4. The Making of Jacksonians
5. Tariffs and Turmoil
6. Banks - and The Bank
7. "The World Is Governed Too Much!
8. The Vortex
9. The Natural Way
10. Press, Politics, and Public Opinion (1837-45)
11. The Barnburners (1840-46)
12. Cooper: Dissent and Death
13. Dissent from the Left: Parke Godwin
14. The Rise of the "Slave Power"
15. The Free-Soil Revolt (1845-52)
16. The Republican Triumph (1854-60)
17. The Death of Slavery
18. The End of Reform (1870-80)
19. The Road Home
20. Reflections of an Age (1820-80)


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.