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The Elusive Republic: Political Economy in Jeffersonian America (Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia) Paperback – January 1, 1980

ISBN-13: 978-0807846162 ISBN-10: 0807846163 Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg, Virginia
  • Paperback: 278 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; Reprint edition (January 1, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807846163
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807846162
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,961 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"The Elusive Republic" offers insights into the complex relationships between ideology and social change, between tradition and modernity. "Virginia Magazine of History and Biography"

Review

This superbly crafted book is both a literary treat and necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand America's Revolutionary era. . . . Filled with insights that a summary cannot begin to mention and argued with uncommon force, economy, and grace, this volume adds a new dimension to the evolving reinterpretation of the revolutionary vision of the 1770s.--Journal of American History

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By greg taylor VINE VOICE on September 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
We tend to forget that up until the late nineteenth century most economists saw their field as a branch of politics and/or ethics.

The purview of this altogether brilliant book is the Federalist period thru the Monroe administration. McCoy elucidates the main theories of political economy in the early Republic and examines how practical politics forced the likes of Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and many others to change or adapt their views.

What these men were concerned with was the longevity of our country. A republic required a virtuous citizenry. In order to maintain such a citizenry, the republic must be run in such a way as to produce such paragons.

It is important to keep in mind that this was a period of time that tended to see republics as doomed in the long run. Accelerating that decline was the development of the manufacture on non-essentials or luxuries that were typified by the advanced economies of Europe. The manufacturing of these luxuries seemed to inevitably lead to the sort of personal and governmental corruption that every good American saw in Great Britain.

What came to be seen as the Jeffersonian solution to this issue was the idea of the yeoman republic- that we would be largely a nation of independent farmers. Such men were beholden to no one so they would naturally be more inclined to look to the public interest. They would eschew luxuries and live a reasonably simple life. They would be busy enough to be free of the debilitating effects of indolence (it is evident from McCoy's pages that the fear of the Great Unwashed wandering without occupation thru the streets drove many a founding father to researching and writing about political economy).
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
Excellent survey of how the founders idealized the future of America as contraposed against the "old world" as well as how, even in the early stages of the Country, the founder's time was idealized as a kind of ever receeding eden to which the country aspires to return to. You can hear the echos of this today in family values rhetoric, the contining (if anachronistic) idealization of the family farm and "main street." McCoy sets up the American experience as a continuing striving to re-create that idealized world of the founders that never really existed. Central that idealized conception was the idea of "virtue" among all of the citizens that the founders saw as a pre-requisite of a lasting republic. That is a republic could only work if its citizens were "masters and slaves of none"--this is where the ideal of the single yoeman farmer of Jefferson comes in. Only with this economic self-sufficiency, the founders thought, could citizens act for the common good. This is why it is often said that the founders didn't like or anticpate poltical parties--they felt that in this ideal republic, the citizens would always abandon their self interest. McCoy also talks about how important it was to inculcate this vision of the way that the repulbic "should be" throough educational exhortation and poltical economics (open land in the west)so that future generations would both understand their vision and be able to take care of it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Chris on February 9, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book shows that in the years of American independence, it was the vision of America's ruling class leaders including Franklin, Jefferson and Adams that the United States be predominantly a nation of small independent farmers. These farmers also according to this vision would engage in very small scale manufacturing of household essentials from dishes to clothing and trade such products with one another. Manufactures that could not be obtained from the domestic market could be imported from Europe in return for American agricultural produce.

Franklin and Jefferson were horrified by the extreme inequality in wealth in Great Britain. British urban areas featured hideous slums and workers enduring horrific conditions in manufacturing establishments whose owners made huge sums of money off the virtual slave labor. Most American leaders were deeply concerned about preventing the development of a European style elite class of multi-millionaires who, under the mercantilist system, used the government to get special favors and subsidies as they lived lives of effeminate laziness and corruption. This fear took an extreme urgency for Jeffersonians during the reign of Treasury Secretary Hamilton who attempted to adopt the British mercantilist system to the United States and its Democratic republic.

America's leaders, the author shows, believed that the development of an urban proletariat that a large manufacturing economy entailed was incompatible with a Democratic republic. The Aristotles at the University of Chicago often quote Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, on the supreme efficiency of the Division of Labor.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on October 31, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book examines the social, economic, and political concept of "republicanism," dating from the Revolutionary period into the mid-19th century, which was fundamental to the thinking of those aligned with Thomas Jefferson.

Republicanism was synonymous with the notion of virtuous citizens, that is, those characterized by owning enough land for subsistence as well as excess production for the market, industriousness, disdain for luxuries, and capable of asserting tough-minded political independence. Such highly moral citizens were considered essential to viable republics, which is how the US was conceived. As the author notes, an ongoing concern of leading Americans after the Revolution was to identify the stage of economic development that the US was actually in and/or should strive for. The Jeffersonians wanted America to remain primarily agricultural, which was conducive to and based on virtuous citizenship. The next stage of economic development, large-scale manufacturing for export, including non-essential, luxury items, was considered to have highly detrimental social ramifications, not the least of which was the creation of a huge, nearly impoverished laboring class with attendant anti-social behaviors. Another reason to avoid this later stage was that social and economic decline were thought to inevitably follow.

How the US should develop economically was perhaps the most contentious issue of the 1790s, the first decade of the US government. The two principles in the debate were Alexander Hamilton, the Treasury secretary, and James Madison, at that time a Congressman. Hamilton insisted that the US must industrialize to become a leading nation.
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