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Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  418 ratings  ·  35 reviews
In this extraordinary book, Joanne Freeman offers a major reassessment of political culture in the early years of the American republic. By exploring both the public actions and private papers of key figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton, Freeman reveals an alien and profoundly unstable political world grounded on the code of honor. In the ab ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published August 11th 2002 by Yale University Press (first published August 11th 2001)
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3.97  · 
Rating details
 ·  418 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Apr 30, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: 19th-century-u-s
In Affairs of Honor, Yale University historian Joanne B. Freeman argues that the 1790s not only brought the dawn of a new nation, but also an entirely new culture of national politics. To Freeman, politics did not become personal with the rights revolution of the 1960s, but instead had been apparent in political debates, gossip and dueling since the incipient days of the new republic. Her argument stands against the often accepted assumption that politics in the new republic were well defined an ...more
Aug 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I still need to organize my notes on this book, but, having just finished Affairs of Honor, I feel that, despite some occassional repetitiveness, this book was fascinating. It had never occurred to me to think of the early days of American politics as being fraught with the etiquette of honor, but reading this, it seems fairly natural. The different chapters in this book all discuss a different form of honor and focus on one figure. Rather than feeling disjointed because of this, however, Freema ...more
Mr. Monahan
Jan 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
Historian Joanne Freeman undertakes a very unique task in portraying the early republic through the complex lens of social reputation. Freeman familiarizes the reader with the founding generation through a social institution as strange and often unfamiliar to the modern American as slavery is: honor. Often ignored, mocked, or oversimplified by previous scholars, Freeman chooses to analyze the social rules that governed the founders themselves. The results are crucial, interesting, bizarre, and—a ...more
Michael Kleen
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Joanne B. Freeman’s book, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (2002), is straightforward and compelling. In it, she argues that the political culture of the United States’ first generation of congressmen under the constitution of 1788 was based on a strong sense of personal honor, governed by “a grammar of political combat.” Because there were no formal political parties, representatives had to try to best represent their constituents in an unfamiliar environment, while worki ...more
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Joanne Freeman, "Dueling as Politics: Reinterpreting the Burr-Hamilton Duel" WMQ 53:2 (Apr. 1996), 289-318.

Early working out of ideas to be presented in the book.

Freeman begins the article by stating the problem -- why, in short, did Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr go to the dueling grounds in Weehawken, NJ on July 11, 1804? To answer that question, she needs to put the practice of dueling into cultural context. Fortunately, the duelists wrote a great deal about the practice. In the case of Ha
Mar 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, non-fiction, own
Essential commentary on Federalist-period American politics, and discussion of the oft-misunderstood honor code that lay at its core. So, read it.
Aug 22, 2015 rated it it was ok
More reviews available at my blog, Beauty and the Bookworm.

My pick for the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge's category "A book you should have read in school but didn't" was pretty much the only book that I could remember not reading for a class, Affairs of Honor. This is a book about the Founding Fathers' generation politicking and how politics was tied up with personal honor, all of it building up to the election of 1800. While the concept is interesting, and it did reveal a few things I didn't
Brent McCulley
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
What Freeman offers in "Affairs of Honor" is a comprehensive study of the personal culture of America's earliest years as a nation. This text is unlike anything we've ever seen before, largely digging into personal diaries from American colonial times, showing a new perspective that goes beyond the 'show' and the 'facade.'

When we study history, it's easy to fall into that very mindset, wherein we forget that the people we are studying were real human beings, with families, friends, and children
Oct 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
This is a fascinating look at the early republic from almost a purely emotional point of view--specifically, the culture of honor that was intrinsic to gentlemen at the time (but which is pretty damned foreign to most people now). I now know the nuances involved in caning, spitting, and dueling, although I have little cause to use them in my daily life.

I stumbled onto this while researching something else, but I'm glad I did. For one, it's engaging, and although I'm over the Revolution of 1800
Interesting narrative of the culture of politics from Adams & Jefferson to Burr & Hamilton. Different chapters on such political main issues as honor, gossip, the art of writing, and ultimately duels show how American politics was handled in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Using some of the writings of lesser-known figures of the time period (William MacLay and William Plumer) as well as the better-known events such as the Aaron Burr-Alexander Hamilton duel and 1800 electio ...more
Apr 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Affairs of Honor is an interesting and exciting commentary on the influence of the culture of honor in early American politics. It lends new insights into the motivations and thoughts of politicians that are often not easily understandable today.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, nonfiction
Probably more of a 3.5, but bumped up because of Freeman calling Alexander Hamilton "an arrogant, irritating asshole" on the Hamildoc. Kudos, doctor.

Affairs of Honor is a fascinating look at the politics in early American history. Politics today clearly has little, if anything, to do with honor; in the late 18th century, it was entirely about honor. Politicians were gentlemen, and their word was their bond. Appearances were everything. When there were arguments, there were many ways to has them
Christopher Saunders
Fitfully interesting look at the savage, often-violent early days of American politics. Freeman treats the quarrels of Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr and others less prestigious as resulting largely from personal clashes and strict, archaic "codes of honor" that required insults to receive responses. Thus their feuds became much more personal than modern political spats; no surprise, then, that many of the era's rivalries culminated in savage newspaper feuds, public brawls or formalized duels. ...more
Maura Cuneo
Aug 14, 2018 rated it liked it
An excellent (and highly readable) study of political culture in the Early Republic. Freeman argues that eighteenth-America gentlemen lived in a social world defined by personal honor. The political behavior of the elite reflected this fact; politicians were keenly sensitive at all times to threats to their own reputations or to those of others, and they obeyed an elaborate unwritten code in their relations with each other. In the new republic, public life offered a chance for many gentlemen to ...more
Craig W.
Jan 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
The centerpiece of this book is the Hamilton-Burr Duel of 1804, but the thesis is this duel was only a dramatic manifestation of a political culture based on personal reputation and honor in early America. Freeman states that the culture of honor “is a key that unlocks countless mysteries of the period, rationalizing the seemingly irrational, justifying the seemingly petty and perverse, and recasting our understanding of America’s founding.”

In the period immediately after the ratification of the
Fran Becker
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it
The best thing about this book, which reads like a gifted student's dissertation, revamped for publication, is the comfort it gives while explaining the role of honor in the earliest years of the founding of the United States. Why did I find it so comforting? Because there is really nothing new under the sun. The rancorous arguments between representatives from the left and the right, the maneuvering and jockeying for positions in Washington, the maneuvering to sway votes, and the undermining of ...more
Nov 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
The author examines the political sphere in the early republic, mostly in the 1790s and early 1800s, through the lens of the culture of honor. By looking at the actions of men like Burr, Jefferson, Hamilton and Adams through the code of honor, their actions become more logical than if seen through a modern perspective. The central point of the book seems to emphasize the importance of seeing these men in their historical context to make sense of their actions. The author looks specifically at a ...more
A great example of why understanding culture and context (and not ignoring certain troves of documentary evidence) is important with history (and political history, especially). And yet it doesn't overreach. No annoying psychologizing. Most importantly Freeman resists the urge to over dramatize and sex up the Hamilton-Burr duel. Those looking for scandal and drama related to Hamilton-Burr should look elsewhere. Those looking to understand it -- to understand why it isn't just some weird, flaring ...more
Nov 05, 2008 rated it it was ok
This book will appeal only to people interested in the political history of the early republic. The author argues that politics in the nation's early years reflected personal alliances that could be frayed easily. Individual reputation, or honor, was the most important attribute for a successful politician, which meant that opponents focused on the personal attack (through publications, gossip, and violence) as a way of defeating a rival. Politicians who were under attack resorted to the same me ...more
Oct 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this for my junior seminar, and I must say this is one of the best non-fiction history books I have read. My professor said that this is one of the most perfect books he has used in the classroom. Yes, it's about politics, but the politics and the circumstances of the new Republic are fascinating--as are the interactions of the founding fathers. It is their relationships to each other and to their political views that drive the narrative. The writing is wonderful, it reads almost like fic ...more
Robert Rich
Dec 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nf-history
A unique take on the revolutionary era told through a different lens than most. By analyzing key moments in early America (the election of 1800, the Burr/Hamilton duel, among others) in the context of the honor code and the critical need to protect one's reputation, familiar stories take on a new meaning. The book is a bit dense and could have used a little more narrative flourish as opposed to the clinical research paper styling Freeman uses, but the content is so interesting that it doesn't hu ...more
Oct 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Freeman's book is a great example of political/cultural history. While, Freeman never explictly mentions gender and masculinity, her analysis does seem to suggest that she sees them'as an useful category for historical analysis'. For historians it is also a great reminder that primary sources should be examined very critically for personal biases.
Mar 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
An excellent book detailing the code of conduct that politicians followed in the early days of the US republic. A stirring, lively account. Also sheds light on dueling practices and dispels some of the romanticized fluff surrounding duels that persists to this day.
Feb 05, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
too much of a bore because far too many repetitions
I don't know if it is really reassuring to see that at the very beginning of a republic, politicians were just as horrrible as they are now...I don't see much honor in all these pages
George Anderson
Jun 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Explore the wonderful world of National politics in our formative years. Gossip, print warfare, and dueling supposedly substituted for a lack of a party system.
One can enjoy this book without taking the author's thesis too seriously. If she is offended, she can always drop the glove.
Feb 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Amazing review of early U.S. history
Dec 02, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: school
A more interesting way to read about history, but i'd still probably never have read it if it wasn't for a school assignment.
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: us-history
Notes the importance of honor and esteem felt by the founders and how it affected their actions.
Oliver Bateman
Feb 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Utterly brilliant. Some of the conclusions are undoubtedly overstated, but this is primary source analysis at its finest.
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