Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

Making the American Self: Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln

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By (author) Daniel Walker Howe

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  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
  • Format: Paperback | 352 pages
  • Dimensions: 155mm x 231mm x 20mm | 499g
  • Publication date: 15 October 2009
  • Publication City/Country: New York
  • ISBN 10: 0195387899
  • ISBN 13: 9780195387896
  • Illustrations note: black & white illustrations
  • Sales rank: 585,373

Product description

Originally published in 1997 and now back in print, Making the American Self by Daniel Walker Howe, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of What Hath God Wrought, charts the genesis and fascinating trajectory of a central idea in American history. One of the most precious liberties Americans have always cherished is the ability to "make something of themselves"-to choose not only an occupation but an identity. Examining works by Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and others, Howe investigates how Americans in the 18th and 19th centuries engaged in the process of "self-construction," "self-improvement," and the "pursuit of happiness." He explores as well how Americans understood individual identity in relation to the larger body politic, and argues that the conscious construction of the autonomous self was in fact essential to American democracy-that it both shaped and was in turn shaped by American democratic institutions. "The thinkers described in this book," Howe writes, "believed that, to the extent individuals exercised self-control, they were making free institutions-liberal, republican, and democratic-possible." And as the scope of American democracy widened so too did the practice of self-construction, moving beyond the preserve of elite white males to potentially all Americans. Howe concludes that the time has come to ground our democracy once again in habits of personal responsibility, civility, and self-discipline esteemed by some of America's most important thinkers. Erudite, beautifully written, and more pertinent than ever as we enter a new era of individual and governmental responsibility, Making the American Self illuminates an impulse at the very heart of the American experience.

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Author information

Daniel Walker Howe is Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University and Professor of History Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of What Hath God Wrought (OUP 2007), which won the Pulitzer Prize in History, The Unitarian Conscience, and The Political Culture of the American Whigs. He lives in Los Angeles.

Review quote

"An erudite, original, and often eloquent reconstruction of, and tribute to, a vital and protean tradition in American liberal culture."--Charles Capper, Boston University "By reinvigorating a vanished past...Howe provides also much to ponder for the present. We have no better historian on broad questions at the intersection of mind and culture in the American past than Howe."--Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame "Howe succeeds triumphantly in linking the cultural gestures of politicos like Madison and Lincoln with the formal systems of thinkers like Edwards, and middle-brow culture brokers like Mann, Emerson, and Fuller. His skill in dovetailing these otherwise angular and resistant minds illuminates landscapes of the American intellect...long closed off to view."--Allen C. Guelzo, Books & Culture

Table of contents

INTRODUCTION ; I VIRTUE AND PASSION IN THE AMERICAN ENLIGHTENMENT ; 1. Benjamin Franklin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Problem of Human Nature ; 2. The American Founders and the Scottish Enlightenment ; 3. The Political Psychology of The Federalist ; II CONSTRUCTING CHARACTER IN ANTEBELLUM AMERICA ; 4. The Emerging Ideal of Self-Improvement ; 5. Self-Made Men: Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass ; 6. Shaping the Selves of Others ; III THE CULTIVATION OF THE SELF AMONG THE NEW ENGLAND ROMANTICS ; 7. The Platonic Quest in New England ; 8. Margaret Fuller's Heroic Ideal of Womanhood ; 9. The Constructed Self Against the State ; CONCLUSION ; NOTES