Affairs of Honor
The purpose of this paper is to introduce and analyze the book "Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic" by Joanne B. Freeman. Specifically, it will contain a book review of the book. This American history volume discusses the early American Republic and its stability. It describes a fledging nation not united under a new found freedom, but a nation deeply divided over political power, control, and governing, all based on a complex code of honor that helped decrease the division between parties, people, and politicians by creating a complex set of rules that governed the "gentlemen" of the New Republic. The author notes, "Particularly in a nation lacking an established aristocracy, this culture of honor was a crucial proving ground for the elite" (Freeman xv). Set in the early years of the American Republic, this politically charged book engages the reader and uses detailed research to illustrate the author's main thesis. This thesis contends that a strict code of honor helped lead political relationships and debate in the early years of the United States, and that this code of honor was crucial in maintaining civil relationships in a time of torment, discontent, and revolution, even after the Revolutionary War ended.
The author's purpose is clear throughout this text. She presents a detailed look into the lives and political histories of some of America's greatest leaders like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and Aaron Burr. She delves into their personal lives in an attempt to illustrate how the accepted code of honor permeated every aspect of their lives, and led to some rash decisions such as the duel between Hamilton and Burr that resulted in Hamilton's death. This code of honor was so deep, it could lead to destruction and mayhem, even as it attempted to keep the peace and maintain order. Freeman writes, "Convinced that Burr was a threat to the republic, personally invested in his public role to an extraordinary degree, Hamilton perceived the duel as both a public service and a personal sacrifice" (Freeman 198). If the reader attempts to find any modern politician so deeply invested in his "public role," it could prove impossible. Freeman shows how this code of honor led to disagreements and political suicide by many early American politicians, but also helped maintain an element of decorum and civility in dealings that could quickly turn into arguments, disagreements, and misunderstandings.
Delving deep into the early history of our country is not a new endeavor, but this author manages to uncover new and thought-provoking material that helps explain some of the chaos that greeted the country and politicians in 1789. It would seem the new government and its representatives would be eager to get to work in creating a new democracy, but in fact, the country's government was disorganized, even haphazard, at first. The reader is thrown into the middle of the political mayhem, which might seem a little disheartening at first glance. I wondered if the country began on such rocky foundations, how could its citizens possibly expect things to change through time. The author notes, "Things were no more auspicious when Congress finally got under way. Personal ambitions and regional jealousies clogged the wheels of government, often reducing the national legislature to little more than a hotbed of name-calling and petty accusations" (Freeman 3). After reading this book, it is a wonder the government worked then, and still works now at all, and it seems that many things have never changed throughout history - legislators are still petty, name-calling, and embroiled in controversy. There is one difference, however. The code of honor Freeman cites as such an important aspect of early political life seems largely absent, and even outmoded, today.
Any good history text must rely on extensive research combined with the skill to bring that research to life. Freeman has the ability to delve into the past and detect nuances of personality and behavior that help explain the actions of the leaders she chooses to analyze. The scope of her…