Paulding was the first American writer to devote his career to describing America and Americans, to social commentary and social criticism. This book describes America as Paulding saw it and reveals the tensions in American thinking as the Revolution became history.
For many decades after the American Revolution, the image of the Republic shaped people's thinking and influenced events. Yet the simple republic and a growing, increasingly complex, capitalist America represented a clear paradox in American thinking. James Kirke Paulding was at one pole of that paradox. The first American writer to devote his career to describing America and Americans, to social commentary and social criticism, Paulding came to his subject as a crusader, his cause being the defense of the republic as a way of life, an economic and social system, and an ethical code.
Although this book is Paulding's story, it is even more an attempt to describe America as Paulding saw it. Chapter 1 focuses on Paulding's part in urging the ongoing reasons for liberation from England and the protection of a unique American society. In Chapter 2, the discussion shifts to Paulding's view of the simple republic, and Chapter 3 considers the role of the West in preserving the simple republic. Although Paulding considered the West to be America's future, the South became for him its present. Chapter 4 considers his focus on the South in his struggle to save the heritage of the Revolution. Yet society was changing, and Chapter 5 focuses on Paulding's role in politics and his relationship with politicians in his last efforts to have both a noble past and a rapidly changing present. As the Civil War approached, the country, in Paulding's eyes, fell into the hands of fanatics who would sacrifice its heritage for the sake of a cause. His efforts to resist that fanaticism are the subject of the final chapter.