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Susquehanna University Press

     

 

Advocate for America
The Life of James Kirke Paulding
Author: Ralph M. Aderman and Wayne R. Kime
ISBN 1-57591-071-3

Advocate for America is the first full-length biography of James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860), an American writer and public servant who for much of his long career stood in the first rank among native authors. Born in Westchester County, New York, Paulding was the lifelong friend of Washington Irving, the nation's first professional man of letters, and collaborated with him in early works including the celebrated Salamagundi series (1807-1808). In later decades he played a continuing role in the cultural life of the young nation, numbering among his friends and associates a great many other writers, editors, and publishers.

Over the years his writings, together with a large circle of acquaintances, afforded Paulding familiar access to the seats of political power and influence. Although he preferred to remain out of the limelight and often published his views anonymously, decision makers recognized in him a source of good counsel and a figure to be reckoned with. He offered suggestions to presi-dents, including James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, and James K. Polk, as well as to other national leaders such as Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, James Bu-chanan, and Joel Poinsett. During his long asso-ciation with the U.S. Navy, Paulding was also the colleague of stalwarts like David Porter, John Rodgers, Isaac Hull, and Charles Wilkes. From 1838 to 1841 he served as Secretary of the Navy, setting his tradition-bound department on a new course. Despite his sentimental attachment to warships under sail, as Secretary he oversaw innovations that led toward construction of a new fleet propelled by steam.

A man of diverse interests, in these and other activities Paulding kept closely attuned to the trends of his time. Possessed of an alert intelligence and an easy verbal facility, he set down his responses to the passing scene in a long series of publications, many of which caught the attention of readers on both sides of the Atlantic. His writings in support of the beleagured nation during the War of 1812 had established him as the foremost spokesman for literary and political nationalism in the young United States. In the decades that followed he sustained this position, inveighing sometimes bitterly against British misrepresentation of America and assumption of its own superiority. As a writer he acquitted him-self competently, sometimes innovatively in sev-eral genres: poetry, the essay, biography, short stories, novels, travel narratives, even plays. He loved to write, but in literature as elsewhere he pursued a lifelong purpose of defending his country and the institutions and beliefs that un-derlay it. As he grew older Paulding often ex-pressed himself in opposition to prevailing opin-ions, especially those promoting "progress." A spirited controversialist and a man of deeply held beliefs, even at the risk of disrepute he held to his conservative views, an advocate for the America he envisioned.

In the present volume Aderman and Kime offer a multifaceted portrait of this intriguing figure, both individual and contextual. Drawing upon the author's family papers and extensive corre-spondence, they describe his family and social life while surveying the primary enterprise of his career, his work as a writer. Drawing additionally upon newspapers and magazines of the day and on the letters, documents, memoirs, and speeches of Paulding's associates, they establish a back-drop for viewing his personality and ideas as his contemporaries perceived them. This double focus brings into living perspective a loving hus-band and father, a versatile literary artist, an ar-dent nationalist, and a clear-eyed observer of the American scene. As one observer put it, James Kirke Paulding was "not an ordinary man." Rather, he embodied "the bright Example of unsullied integrity and honor."

Jacket illustration: James Kirke Paulding. From a photograph in the Frick Art Reference Library of a painting by John Wesley Jarvis.