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The American Political Tradition: And the Men Who Made it Paperback – April 23, 1989

4.2 out of 5 stars 29 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

A revised edition of the clasic study of American politics from the Founding Fathers to FDR.

About the Author

The late Richard Hofstadter was DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University. He was the author of many books and articles on American History and twice received the Pulitzer Prize: in History in 1956, and in general nonfiction in 1964.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (April 23, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679723153
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679723158
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"American Political Tradition" became an immediate milestone in the field of American political study, propelling author Richard Hofstadter to the frontal ranks of historians at the age of 32 upon its publication in 1948. The history professor at Columbia University would ultimately win 2 Pulitzer Prizes before dying at the age of 54 in 1970.
The point Hofstadter consistently made is how important pragmatic considerations were in the evolution of the great political shakers and movers of American political annals. He rejects the view of historian Charles Beard and others about the impact of economic determinism in the foundation and shaping of early America. Hofstadter does not discount its impact, but cites the pragmatic necessity of studious compromise involving the interests of important American sociological groups which were often disparate, such as the manufacturing interests of the north and the rural farming interests of the south, as well as slavery and anti-slavery interests. The need for compromise influenced Thomas Jefferson in constructing a U.S. Constitution, which relied on the separation powers doctrine of English philosopher John Locke and that of separation of powers advanced by French social scientist Montesquieu.
The chapter on Franklin Delano Roosevelt is fascinating as a study in political pragmatism. Roosevelt ran on a Democratic Party platform for 1932 which rivals one of the most conservative doctrines ever put on paper by an American political party. He initially criticized incumbent President Herbert Hoover for spending too much money in dealing with the Depression and its related effects. Once in office he changed his mind and forged a government activist agenda embraced by progressive reformers.
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The classic story of American History, as told by Richard Hofstadter, has rightly come to be thought of as a masterpiece of American history since its original publication in 1948. This well deserved reputation comes from the rich storytelling, attention to detail, and thoughtful and complete narrative Hofstadter puts forward in this book.

Hofstadter takes as his guide one figure from each generation starting from the beginning of the Republic, and through biographical sketch describes both the historical figure and the time period he is depicting. Beginning with Jefferson and including people such as Jackson, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Hofstadter demonstrates how a combination of the great men and the times they lived in shaped what have come down to us as the leading tradition in American politics: the belief in American greatness, individualism, and compassion.

The most significant contribution of this book is to show how these men, who have come down to us as legendary and nearly mythological figures were very much political animals. Just like Bill Clinton and George Bush make decisions today based on political calculation, so to do Lincoln and Jefferson. That these men were not demigods but in fact mere humans makes their achievements that much more incredible.
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Format: Paperback
This wonderful book fills a hole in American history that's been open too long. Instead of treating great figures as saints or unapproachable geniuses Hofstadter gives a realistic picture of what they believed and what they stood for. More than that he points to the philosophic and cultural continuity that these figures embodied, struggled with, and sometimes redefined. It's as much about how the greater American view on work and indivdualism evolved from the founding as about the men who made it. Also, kind of inadvertantly, the author weaves in a history of the American liberal idea and how Jeffersonian liberalism stressing free markets, small business, and individualism, was transformed into New Deal liberalism. He argues that the transformation wasn't a betrayal but was instead a development based on necessary responses to an economically and socially changing world. Enjoy!
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This marvelous series of essays on American leaders made Richard Hofstadter's reputation as one of the most important young historians in the country during the late-1940's. Professor Hofstadter took on this assignment at a very early age. He was only 28 years old when he started this book, now a bit of a cult classic in American history, and finished it when he was 32. In spite of his youth, he clearly had fully formed opinions on what drives American politics. Hofstadter throws new lights on American history in a series of twelve finely-drawn portraits, mostly of Presidents but one of a stern moralist, Wendell Phillips, and one of a constantly disappointed Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan.

In each of these sketches, all masterful in their unique viewpoints and careful analytical approach, Hofstadter sees similarities that quickly bubble to the surface. In all of them, the consistent struggle is that of the conflict between differing views of economic organization. That is the prism through which Hofstadter constructs his view of American political development. In all of this, we are treated to a great ride through our nation's history from an historian who refuses to tell the familiar story but reaches for an understanding of how opinions change over time.

Jefferson, the great Virginia aristocrat, is as clear and eloquent as any of the founders in his defense of the common man, both his rights and his liberties. But of course Jefferson's love of liberty had its clear limits: he was a lifelong slaveowner and almost assuredly the father of one of his slave's children.
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