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American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns; The Suppressed History of Our Nation's Beginnings and the Heroic Newspaper That Tried to Report It Paperback – September 15, 1998

4.4 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Federalist accounts of U.S. history are like fluoride in the water: no strong taste or odor, its something you grow up ingesting in order to strengthen the civic faith of America's citizens. But forget about Valley Forge, "I can not tell a lie," and all the other federalist propaganda you soaked up in civics class and consider for a moment that George Washington was a bald-faced liar and a poor military leader, that Benjamin Franklin was the true "father of his country" who fought with crypto-monarchists Alexander Hamilton and John Adams to preserve republican institutions, and that the Constitution drafted in 1787 was a sorry compromise of the revolution's ideals and an inadequate basis for republican government.

All these heresies and more are vigorously argued and defended in Richard N. Rosenfeld's revisionist account of America's revolutionary history American Aurora. Rosenfeld recounts the controversies surrounding constitutional debates and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 through the pages of The Philadelphia Aurora, a radical newspaper of the 1790s. Packed with original source material and plenty of footnotes, Rosenfeld's history is contentious--even inciteful--and it demonstrates the rich textual history of the United States both in terms of the newspapers he draws from and the story he tells in this expansive narrative history. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Contemporary Americans longing for a return to civility in public life will be quite amazed when they read the press accounts of the early years of the Republic. Independent scholar Rosenfeld, in an innovative approach to the historical record, uses daily clips from Philadelphia newspapers to portray the early struggles over civil liberties. The Aurora, edited first by Benjamin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin, and then by William Duane, led the fight for greater freedoms. Competitor papers, The Porcupine's Gazette and Gazette of the United States, advocated greater government powers. The arguments between the different factions, including editors and politicians, were heated, vituperative, and sometimes physical. In addition to press accounts, letters from leading figures of the time and the Annals of Congress are quoted. Rosenfeld creates a fictional voice for editor Duane, who tells the story in the present tense and provides context for the original source material. A remarkable and innovative work of history that belongs in most libraries.?Judy Solberg, George Washington Univ., Washington D.C.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1012 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; 1st edition (September 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312194374
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312194376
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2.2 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,556,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ewomack TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Can historical source material make for an exciting and engaging read? This book answers that question in the extreme affirmative. It contains documents mainly from the 18th century, but it reads like a political thriller. It also provides valuable peeks into the formation of the United States as we know it today. Magma hot controversy surrounded that formation. The press on all sides fervently spewed accusations that seem nearly heretical even today. Did John Adams want to be king? Was George Washington a bumbling and incompetent general? Did the French win the revolution for us, thanks to the diplomatic powers of Benjamin Franklin? Was Thomas Jefferson an atheistical French sympathizer? In light of these claims, Who is really the "father of our country?" Many unconventional opinions see light in this book. Some cherished political figures get shredded to bits, sometimes by their own words and sometimes by the words of others. In the end, no one is safe from abuse. Not even Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Shocking claims await on almost every page.

The drama begins in the city of Philadelphia in 1798. At this time it served as the capital for the very young United States (the government moved to Washington in 1800). John Adams holds the presidency. George Washington still has a year to live. Benjamin Franklin has been dead for eight years. His grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache runs a newspaper called the Aurora General Advertiser (or just "The Aurora"). For reporting on certain congressmen's less than professional behavior (spitting, insults, etc), congress bars the paper from the floor of both houses. The Aurora gets shoved into the balconies of congress, far above the whispers of congressman that Bache so often reported on without approval from the House Speaker.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was controversial in the historical community, in large part because of the author's decision to adopt the voice of William Duane as the book's "narrator." While Rosenfeld's interventions in Duane's voice are distracting and grating, ultimately they comprise only a tiny fraction of the book's ample content. The rest of the book offers a fascinanting exegesis into the character and climate of political and public life in the early republic. Critics who take aim at Rosenfeld's lack of objectivity (as a consequence of his adoption of Duane's voice) only end up revealing their own biases. Rosenfeld clearly has a stake in the story he wants to tell, but any scholar who invests time in a major research endeavor shares that position. Rosenfeld merely lays his cards on the table, without maintaining a pretense of objectivity. His argument is all the more compelling in that its constructed on a foundation almost exclusively built out of primary source materials. After reading this book, you will not necessarily be compelled that Washington was a murderer (to cite one minor example), but you will no longer be able to imagine that the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries were eras of enlightened, rational thinking.
This book is an engaging, illuminating read and the treasure trove of primary materials provided by the author offers readers the opportunity to draw their own conclusions about specific incidents and debates. At the same time, it leaves little room to hold onto myths about the nature of political and print culture in the so-called Age of Enlightenment.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
~American Aurora: A Democratic-Republican Returns~ recaptures the heated battles in American politics during the 1790s on the pages of newspapers in the early years of the American Republic. It was a time when passions flared, and when politics sparked heated battles. Political rhetoric remained acerbic, and there is no better insight into this reality than reading the newspapers from the time. Whether coming from the Federalist press or the Republican press, it tended to be much fanfare and hyperbole by way of criticism directed at perceived political foes. This is an anthology of primary sources, and carefully edited to recapture those struggles.
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Format: Paperback
You will notice that even the reviewers that hate this book are passionate in their hatred. Which is more than you can say for those damn text books that went something like Our FOUNDING FATHERS blah blah, Founding fathers blah blah, etc... that's because this book fleshes out these historical figures, makes you like them and hate them.
Part One sets the stage with the initial articles of The Aurora claiming that Adams is a monarchist who only wants to be king. Published by William Duane and Benny Bache (grandson of Benjamin Franklin) the Aurora pulls no punches and neither do its detractors. The historical background is told from the perspective of Duane which is irritating at first because you feel like you are being confronted rather than informed. The articles seem just a little bit like a radical college student rambling on about how bad everything is (Gore Vidal's history books are like this as well).
Part Two goes back to before the Revolutionary War to trace the personal and professional conflict between John Adams and Benjamin Franklin. Adams wants a government like England's while Franklin sees a one house parliament as ideal (much like Revolutionary France). Not only are they split in the professional sense but they don't like each other either. Washington is seen as a spoiled elitist who spends all his time whining about the army when its Franklin that wins the war by involving France.
Part Three comes up to the 1800s in which Adams' Sedition Law is in effect and one by one papers that are seen as disloyal face jail sentences and high fines. Most are shut down. Aurora stays in business even though the publisher has to go into hiding.
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