This highly important work on the role of the Enlightenment, the eighteenth century intellectual movement that formed the philosophical basis for the divergent politics of Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in the early years of the American Republic, is an eminently readable, highly researched, and delightfully thoughtful contribution to the contemporary valuations of three of America's founders.
Darren Staloff's introduction on the Enlightenment is eminently clear, concise, and highly instructive in its exposition of the European backgrounds, features, forms, and politics of that intellectual system and well worth reading for its own sake. His treatment of Hamilton, the financial wizard of the young Republic who set the new country on a sound economic footing, explicates the New Yorker's place as one who both fulfilled the theories and practices of the Enlightenment in his own person and extended that fulfillment to the realm of public political economy.
The Yankee of the trio, John Adams, an American curmudgeon who, as President, was initially hamstrung by his retention of George Washington's Cabinet, receives equally thorough and clear treatment, especially as Staloff charts his intellectual and emotional development in espousing and then transcending the principles of Enlightenment thought.
Jefferson, the quintessential Virginian who embodied many of the contradictions inherent in eighteenth century thought and in the very impetus for liberty, receives thoughtful treatment as one who handed on the tradition of Enlightenment while at the same time becoming a harbinger of a revolutionary Romanticism that was to inform American thought as part of Jefferson's legacy in embracing the politics of principle.