A Speaking Aristocracy: Transforming Public Discourse in Eighteenth Century Connecticut by Christopher Grasso
This book is worth it for the second appendix alone (which discusses the historiography of the ‘Great Awakening’). In this powerful but overly long book Grasso traces the transformation of public discourse during the eighteenth century – from the Great Awakening to the early Republic. The transformation Grasso notes is one a discourse of a “speaking aristocracy” to the people to a discourse of the people about public affairs. Despite the transformation, however there was much continuity and the “speaking aristocracy” retained much of its power and influence even as discourse became more democratized by the coming of the nineteenth century.
What is most striking about Grasso’s book was his argumentative moderation. Grasso wades into many tense scholarly discussions in but always strikes a moderate course, arguing basically that these transformations are complicated and we can’t attribute them to just ONE factor. Grasso’s discussion of the ‘Great Awakening’ is case in point. Grasso does not argue that the ‘Awakening’ was unimportant but persuasively argues that its influence has been overblown. It was not a transformational moment and its impact was diverse – not just one trend of ‘New Light’ v. ‘Old Light’ or democratization.
This sometimes makes Grasso’s book hard to pin down but adds a texture to his arguments that is sometimes missing from more polemical books.