Reflections on Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition
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Richard Hofstadter’s The American Political Tradition (1948) depends for its reputation on the author’s rich historiographical heritage, including the progressive vision of Charles Beard, a somewhat detached and ironic vision of America also shared with his friend, C. Vann Woodward, and the literary and intellectual traditions of his own time, running from Marx to Mencken. Hofstadter by no means spared American icons such as Jefferson, TR, Wilson and FDR; even Lincoln was treated the gloves off rather than on. Hofstadter was often at his best with marginal and dissenting figures such as Wendell Phillips and John C. Calhoun, but he treated the mixing of religion and politics, along with America's celebration of itself with considerable. Finally, though The American Political Tradition still repays study, including close re-reading, it also demands to be historicized and understood in its own context.