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Pub Date: Jan. 18th, 1977
Publisher: Knopf

Believing that ""enduring traits of temperament"" shape belief and action, and that those traits are shaped by childhood experiences, Greven approaches the Protestant temperament in early America through its methods of child rearing. Neatly, he finds three distinct patterns. ""Evangelical"" families, authoritarian and ""rigorously repressive,"" tried to break the child's corrupt will to prepare it for submission and salvation. In later life, Evangelicals--such as Jonathan Edwards and Michael Wigglesworth--were preoccupied with obedience, self-denial, and purity, but they had built up an ""unfathomable reservoir of hostility."" ""Moderate"" families were, as the term implies, more temperate and flexible in asserting authority; ""love and duty"" (not fear) were the watchwords. Moderate families (like those of John Adams, Jefferson, Franklin) produced ""sober, virtuous, and pious people"" with a sense of the limits of self and authority. ""Genteel"" families of ""ease and elegance"" (represented by southern gentry) were intensely affectionate and indulged their children who consequently became ""a polite and hospitable people"" remarkably able ""to assert their wills. . . as mature men."" (The girls, too?) Based on this ""paradigm""--which seems to rely as much on cliche as history--Greven analyzes religious and political attitudes of early Americans: the Evangelicals were evangelical in religion and revolutionary in politics (all that hostility); the Genteel liked the Church of England and the King; the moderates were--you guessed it--moderate, more or less, in everything. The paradigm leads Greven (who is enamored of the Genteel) not only to the obvious but to the downright silly: the beautiful furnishings and ""personal adornments"" of the Genteel are ""visible testaments,"" he says, to their ""aesthetic sensibilities"" and ""absence of inner repressiveness."" (And their money, perhaps?) The book is wordy and repetitious but rich in examples, drawn from diaries and correspondence, far more interesting than the paradigm they are forced into.