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The story of an ambitious family at the forefront of the great middle-class land grab that shaped early American capitalism
American Aristocrats is a multigenerational biography of the Andersons of Kentucky, a family of strivers who passionately believed in the promise of America. Beginning in 1773 with the family patriarch, a twice-wounded Revolutionary War hero, the Andersons amassed land throughout what was then the American west. As the eminent religious historian Harry S. Stout argues, the story of the Andersons is the story of America's experiment in republican capitalism. Congressmen, diplomats, and military generals, the Andersons enthusiastically embraced the emerging American gospel of land speculation. In the process, they became apologists for slavery and Indian removal, and worried anxiously that the volatility of the market might lead them to ruin.
Drawing on a vast store of Anderson family records, Stout reconstructs their journey to great wealth as they rode out the cataclysms of their time, from financial panics to the Civil War and beyond. Through the Andersons we see how the lure of wealth shaped American capitalism and the nation's continental aspirations.
About the Author
Harry S. Stout is the Jonathan Edwards Professor of American Religious History at Yale University and lives in Branford, Connecticut.
Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Stout writes so revealingly about the upper class on the frontier that one longs for a deeper look into the members of the other social strata that took the young United States westward."
"A family's history reveals the roots of America's 'capitalist
ethos.' Drawing on abundant archival sources, Stout presents a detailed history of the fortunes and aspirations of a single American family, the Andersons of Kentucky, from 1750 to 1888..."
New Criterion, Editor's Pick
"Tackling social, economic, cultural, and religious issues, Stout's book provides a fresh counterpoint to the often undue focus on the Eastern seaboard by historians of our nation's birth and first century."
"Using the story of one multi-generational family as the narrative thread, Harry S. Stout weaves the economic, social, and cultural history of 19th century America into a saga of relentless quest for land. Stout is a master stylist, and his prose is crisp, elegant, and, often enough, both witty and poignant. American Aristocrats gives erudition new dimensions of meaning. It draws readers not only to think about, but also to wrestle with the moral complexities of the building of the nation."
—Grant Wacker, author of America's Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation
"American Aristocrats introduces the absorbing family story of the Andersons and their westward movement. More than that, it illuminates the centrality of land acquisition and capital to the development of the nation, focusing on the winners and losers, the patriarchs and the women who kept families intact across distances. In sparkling and elegant prose, Harry S. Stout prompts us to sober reflection on the greatest land grab in U.S. history."
—Laurie Maffly-Kipp, Washington University in St. Louis
"Harry S. Stout's account of one family's ups and downs provides an intimate perspective on America's territorial expansion and economic development during the first century of independence."
—Daniel Walker Howe, author of Pulitzer-Prize-winning What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848
"As in a sweeping, multi-generational historical novel, in American Aristocrats, characters the reader comes to know intimately brush up against famous historical figures-George Washington, Henry Clay, Robert E. Lee, and many more. The Andersons are not fictional creations, however, but real people who left an extraordinary collection of letters and diaries that Harry S. Stout exploits with rare skill. In this intertwined history of family and nation, we see the Andersons trying to make sense of their lives as they experience the great events of the age, from the Revolution through the collapse of Reconstruction. Through the Andersons, who built their fortune primarily through the anxious acquisition of land, Stout explores the personal dynamics of American expansion and how middling white men experienced the rise to wealth and power."
—Christopher Grasso, Professor, Department of History, College of William and Mary
"Harry S. Stout's insightful story of the Andersons and their times illuminates the very personal ways privilege and acquisitiveness have operated in the capitalist United States. American Aristocrats is an important work that enables readers to understand how the past shapes the present."
—Richard D. Brown, author of Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War
"Harry S. Stout offers a fresh perspective on the first century of our national history in his account of how the Andersons of Kentucky and Ohio achieved and perpetuated wealth and prominence across three generations. Deeply researched and engagingly written,American Aristocrats illuminates the crucial role families have played in shaping our collective experience. It is a most welcome addition to the literature."—Peter S. Onuf, Thomas Jefferson Professor of History, Emeritus, University of Virginia
"American Aristocrats is the unforgettable story of the Anderson clan of Kentucky, who spent their lives in avid pursuit of land and wealth, written by a brilliant historian. Reading this haunting book will make you ask yourself what it means to be an American, and how much you are willing to sacrifice for the American Dream."—Catherine Brekus, Harvard University
"Harry S. Stout's story of the Anderson family provokes a new understanding of American social life from the War for Independence through Reconstruction. Avoiding simplistic moralization, he reveals a family history shot through with ambiguity as its members seek land and more land on the frontiers of Kentucky and Ohio: democratic aspirations and disregard for the lives of native inhabitants, heroic successes and speculative failures, family tenderness and constant warfare, capitalist opportunities and crushing anxieties. This account of American, land-based capitalism offers marvelous insights given through a compelling narrative."—Mark Valeri, John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, Washington University in St. Louis
"Harry S. Stout's chronicle of an extended family's rise to wealth and influence documents the innumerable ways American prosperity was rooted in native dispossession and African American enslavement. This compelling history reminds us once again that the personal has always been political."
-John Mack Faragher, Howard R. Lamar Professor of American History Emeritus, Yale University