The provocative interpretation of American political rhetoric
Americans like to use words of sentiment and sympathy, passion and power, to explain their democracy. In a provocative new work, Andrew Burstein examines the metaphorically rich language which Americans developed to express their guiding principle: that the New World would improve upon the Old. In journals, letters, speeches, and books, an impassioned rhetoric of "feeling" set the tone for American patriotism.
Burstein shows how the eighteenth century "culture of sensibility" encouraged optimism about a global society: the new nation would succeed. Americans believed, as much by sublime feeling as by intellectual achievement or political liberty. As they grew more self-confident, this pacific ideal acquired teeth: noble Washington and humane Jefferson yielded to boisterous Jackson, and the language of gentle feeling to the force of Manifest Destiny. Yet Americans never stopped celebrating what they believed was their innate impulse to do good.