What is an American? Bruce P. Frohnen and Ted V. McAllister argue that we are, in fact, a distinct people with our own common character that transcends race, gender, ethnicity, and class. They find in our current political conflicts a crisis of identity that stems from changes, not just in our political, economic, and technological environment, but in our ability to evaluate—and to value—the personalities that shaped our way of life. The history of the American character is filled with triumph as well as tragedy, and with virtue as well as vice. It is a story of cooperation and conflict among an unruly people, who from earliest days questioned authority even as they worked to establish communities of faith, family, and local freedom under extreme circumstances.
Bruce P. Frohnen is professor of Law at the Ohio Northern University College of Law and Senior Fellow at the Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal.
Ted V. McAllister is the Edward L. Gaylord Chair and professor of Public Policy at Pepperdine School of Public Policy.
Introduction: Self, Character, and People
Chapter 1: Unruly Pilgrims
Chapter 2: The Roots of American Culture
Chapter 3: Slavery
Chapter 4: A Plural Nation: American Liberties and the Birth of a People
Chapter 5: Conflict, Law, and Revolution
Chapter 6: The Constitutional Conversation
Chapter 7: Cane Ridge and the New Protestant Consensus
Chapter 8: “The Democracy” and Its Limits
Chapter 9: Changing Circumstances, Abiding Character
Chapter 10: American Women and the Power of Self-Sacrifice
Chapter 11: Civil War: The Deals that Failed
Chapter 12: Aftermath: Salvaging the Deal, or Replacing It?
Chapter 13: The West
Chapter 14: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day, but Oklahoma City Was
Chapter 15: The Pursuit of Consolidation
Chapter 16: Wall Street vs. Main Street: The Early Years. Or, from Populism to Progressivism
Chapter 17: A Generation of Change
Chapter 18: A Changed Generation
Chapter 19: Civil Rights and the Anti-Discrimination State
Chapter 20: Radical Origins and Ideals
Chapter 21: Conflicting Visions
Chapter 22: Administrative Centralization and Its Effects
Chapter 23: Two Peoples, Two Americas?
Conclusion: Law Among the Unruly
In Character in the American Experience: An Unruly People, Frohnen and McAllister plumb the American past to uncover the dispositions, habits, folkways, and institutions that have bound a people characterized by intense cultural, regional, and local differences. The burden of this remarkably readable and jargon free book is to disclose the unique ways such a diverse country have learned to cooperate and agree on matters of vital public interest and to disagree without rancor and division when consensus was unavoidable. For all those concerned about the forces dividing the country, and the means for containing those forces, this book is an essential must read.
In this bold and timely book, Frohnen and McAllister have revived the idea that the study of the American past can be a profoundly moral undertaking, offering us clues to sources of our current dilemmas, and gesturing toward the recovery of our troubled national soul. By emphasizing character, and its essential role in the life of a free people, the authors have advanced a very unfashionable position. But so much the worse for fashion, especially when it stands in the way of the truth. This book show by example how historians can help us recover what we are losing, before it is too late.
Character in the American Experience is worth reading to reacquaint Americans with both the national and local stories we tell ourselves. In this age of media fragmentation and scholarly specialization, this book is a welcome antidote in narrating the story of our country from its founding to today. What we discover is that we always have been an unruly people, from the very beginning. It is a fact that gives us hope that our current disagreements and fights are not signs of our democracy’s weakness but its enduring strength.