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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding Paperback – February 6, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0809053568 ISBN-10: 080905356X

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang (February 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080905356X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809053568
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,562,311 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Hamilton, Adams, and Jefferson were each self-consciously men of the Enlightenment, but each placed his own particular spin on certain Enlightenment concepts. It was the interaction between their sometimes-antagonistic interpretations that resulted in the unique American political and economic milieu that emerged from the Revolutionary epoch. Staloff (The Making of an American Thinking Class, 1997) teaches history at the City College of New York. In profiling the lives and beliefs of these Founders, he has masterfully shown how their particular visions continue to influence our nation. Hamilton brought a strain of realpolitik and skepticism regarding the abstraction of the "popular will." Adams, constantly fearful of the corruption of concentrated power, sought solace in checks and balances. Jefferson's soaring (and sometimes dangerous) visions provided a romantic streak to our political discourse. This book is a wonderful reexamination of three men who jointly molded the underpinnings of the new republic. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By David Montgomery on November 8, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Darren Staloff offers a compelling and insightful study on the influence of Enlightenment thought on Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. Staloff starts with an introduction on the Enlightenment, followed by a lengthy chapter on each of his three subjects in question, with a little more emphasis on Jefferson. Staloff asserts that the influence of the Enlightenment was most evidenced and put into practice in this country during the period of the framing of our government, and especially through the thoughts and actions of these three prominent founders.

As Staloff mentioned, the Enlightenment was the combination of a diverse set of ideas and beliefs espoused by a host of philosophes, including Newton, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and so many others who helped define this new mode of thinking. They were believers in science and railed against `enthusiasm', defined as political and especially religious zeal. They believed in the importance of education, reason, commerce, and in most cases a more republican form of government. Staloff discusses this much better than I can. In essence, these philosophes and their writings contributed fodder to the three founders he discusses in their attempts to help frame our government and setting forth the direction they wanted the country to take.

Hamilton was a most accomplished man in life, championing the American cause during its struggle against Great Britain, serving in the continental army as an aid to General Washington, primary author of many of the essays in the Federalist Papers supporting the Constitution, serving as Secretary of Treasury during the Washington Presidency, and symbolizing the primary voice for a stronger central government. Hamilton was never beloved, nor is he today.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ricardo Mio on November 20, 2011
Format: Paperback
A well-reasoned, well-researched, biographical sketch of three leading intellects of the founding generation, and a page-turner to boot. Of the book's 396 pages, historian Darren Staloff devotes 43 pages to the Enlightenment, 88 pages to Alexander Hamilton, 102 pages to John Adams, and 128 pages to Thomas Jefferson. If you've ever dreamed of spending an evening with these distinguished Americans to understand what made them tick, Staloff delivers. Harmilton and Jefferson are charming and brilliant--and ultimately inflexible in their beliefs--while Adams is decidedly contrarian, brutally honest, and his own man. In Stalof's narrative, Adams' prickly personality rankles but he's the one you come away respecting most.

The chapter on Alexander Hamilton is mostly about Enlightenment economic principles and how Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury applied them in resolving the young nation's crushing war debt and thereby jump-started American capitalism. Hamilton was a visionary intent on recasting the nation's economy, from one of agriculture and IOUs to one of manufacturing and liquid capital. Hamilton may not have been an egalitarian, but he saw his economic policies as having a leveling effect on society. He did not want money tied up in land or horded by the wealthy few, but put to work as investment capital, free-flowing and changing hands, rewarding the initiative of anyone willing to work hard to get ahead. Hamilton was among the first abolitionists, pointing out that slavery was not cost-effective and a waste of human talent, and that African-Americans did in fact possess the same capacity for intellectural growth as those of European stock (a revolutionary idea that Jefferson would not or could not accept).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By dtrain487 on December 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
Like few other countries, the United States was founded upon principles. Not religion, conquest, hegemony, or monarchy. The author provides us with support to illustrate that many of these principles take root in the English Enlightenment (1680's-1800). This was a time in which thinkers and philosophes garnered the self-awareness and democratic principles that swept the diaspora and published them in mass (thanks the evolving printing press). Through essays, newspapers, broadsides, and art, enlightened thinkers were able to coerce public opinion into a formidable force like never before. The movement created a perfect storm in the colonies when men such as Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams harnessed its power in the wake of British dominance. Staloff shows just what principles each of the three founders embraced and how this influence helped to shape our nation. Hamilton's embrace of commerce, urbanity, and finance provided a solid structure for the young republic. Adams' belief in the distribution of information (through newspapers and schools), federalism, and truth helped form a moral foundation. And Jefferson's politics of principles (based upon agrarianism and democracy) created the romantic idealism about what the United States of American stands for acted as an adhesive to hold the country together through the Revolution and the subsequent founding (and lasted through the Civil War and the changes of the twentieth century). A must read for those interested in the principles on which our country was founded.
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Hamilton, Adams, Jefferson: The Politics of Enlightenment and the American Founding
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