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The Romantic Revolution in America: 1800-1860 (Volume II of Main Currents in American Thought: an Interpretation of American Literature from the Beginnings to 1920 )

by Vernon Louis Parrington

First published in 1927, The Romantic Revolution in America: 1800-1860, is the second volume in Vernon Louis Parrington's widely acclaimed study of the development of American thinking entitled Main Currents in American Thought, An Interpretation of American Literature from the Beginnings to 1920. Parrington examines the writings of influential American thinkers from Jefferson to Lincoln in each section of the growing united States. His thesis is that the economic fluidity that prevailed in America after 1800 inspired in each geographical section of the country a version of a hopeful and confident romantic utopianism that ultimately proved to be self-defeating. It created federally protected money grubbing capitalists rather than a future of transcendent democratic fruitfulness. He is today regarded as the leading figure in the school of intellectuals known as "progressive historians." A key section of his introduction reads as follows: The older America of colonial days had been static, rationalistic, inclined to pessimism, fearful of innovation, tenacious of the customary. It conceived of human nature as evil, and accounting men incurably wicked, it opened no doors to Utopian dreams of a golden future. . . During the thirty-odd years between the Peace of Paris and the end of the War of 1812 that older America was dying. The America that succeeded was a shifting, restless world, youthfully optimistic, eager to better itself, bent on finding easier roads to wealth than the plodding path of natural increase. It conceived of human nature as acquisitive, and accounting acquisitiveness a cardinal virtue, it set out to inquire what opportunities awaited it in the unexploited resources of the continent.

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