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AMERICAN AURORA by Richard N. Rosenfeld


A Democratic-Republican Returns

by Richard N. Rosenfeld

Pub Date: May 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-312-15052-0
Publisher: St. Martin's

 Here is a view of America's postrevolutionary era so subversive it makes Gore Vidal look like a traditionalist: John Adams wants to be king, George Washington is a hypocrite, a standing army is a mercenary force. Yet it's not fiction--well, not totally. It is based on the Philadelphia Aurora, a newspaper founded by Benjamin Franklin's grandson, Benjamin Bache, and whose political barbs, according to independent historian Rosenfeld, led to the passing of the Sedition Act of 1798. Rosenfeld constructs a narrative in the voice of William Duane, Bache's successor, punctuated by excerpts from the Aurora itself, as well as other records of the time and the responses of those politicians targeted by the paper. The result is an odd agglomeration of texts and framing narrative, centering on the growing hostility between America and France in 1798. The bellicose Adams is castigated for an eerily familiar locution: ``We are told we must go to war [with France] in order to prevent war.'' Despite its ungainliness, this volume leaves one wondering why we have no such spirited paper as the Aurora today.