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The Age of Charisma
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An innovative examination of American society, culture, and politics, The Age of Charisma argues that the modern relationship between American leaders and followers grew out of a unique group of charismatic social movements prominent in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Drawing on hundreds of letters and testimonials, Jeremy C. Young illustrates how 'personal magnetism' in public speaking shaped society by enabling a shift from emotionally-inaccessible leadership to emotionally-available leadership. This charismatic speaking style caused a rapid transformation in the leader-follower relationship, creating an emotional link between speakers and listeners, and the effects of this social transformation remain with us today. Young argues that ultimately, charismatic movements enhanced American democracy by encouraging the personalization of leadership - creating a culture in which today's leaders appeal directly to Americans through mass media.


‘With The Age of Charisma, Jeremy Young offers a richly suggestive, original, often brilliant and compelling history of how charisma stood at the center of American political culture from the 1880s to 1940. Fluidly written and wonderfully researched, it makes a significant contribution to our understanding of America's past. The scholarship is immensely sound, and I know of no book that comes close to contributing what Young does.'

Daniel Horowitz - author of On the Cusp: Yale College Class of 1960 and a World on the Verge of Change

‘This important book offers an innovative analysis and interpretation of many of the main intellectual, social, political, and religious currents of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. By providing such a clear, persuasive, and direct analytical framework, Young contributes new insights to what we know of the era, identifies some of the key agents of progressive change, and offers a clear and persuasive argument. The research behind this book is excellent and Young's writing is clear and succinct. In sum, this is an excellent book.'

Matthew Avery Sutton - author of American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

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Numerous collections of charismatic follower testimonials exist in American archives, usually in the public or private papers of charismatic leaders. Though all of these collections have been “selected” in some fashion by correspondence secretaries or by the leaders themselves, enough variety remains among the letters to provide a reasonably accurate picture of the follower experience. For this project, I located particularly rich veins of follower correspondence in the Papers of William and Helen Sunday at Grace College and Theological Seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana; the William Jennings Bryan Papers at the Library of Congress (particularly for the 1896 campaign); the (Eugene) Debs Collection at Indiana State University, Terre Haute, Indiana; and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Papers as President (President’s Personal File) at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Hyde Park, New York. Other useful manuscript collections containing follower correspondence include the Theodore Roosevelt Papers at the Library of Congress (for the 1912 election); the Woodrow Wilson Papers at the Library of Congress; and the Jane Addams Papers/Swarthmore College Peace Collection at Swarthmore College, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. A helpful collection of noncharismatic follower testimonials can be found in the Benjamin Harrison Papers at the Library of Congress (particularly for the 1888 election).

Several additional archival collections contain follower testimonials elicited through either surveys or oral histories. The two most valuable of these collections are J. Robert Constantine, ed., Debs Remembered: A Collection of Reminiscences (Terre Haute, IN: Indiana State University [unpublished], 1981) on reel 5 of the Papers of Eugene V. Debs microfilm edition; and the Charlotte Evangelistic Campaigns Research Project, Collection 295 at the Archives of the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, a sociological survey of Billy Sunday followers conducted by Ivan J. Fahs. Other useful collections include Robert Shuster’s interviews with Andrew Wyzenbeek and Kathryn Marie Hess Feldi, Collections 43 and 487 at the Archives of the Billy Graham Center.

Many valuable collections of follower testimonials have been published and are available in book or article form. Ruth Le Prade, ed., Debs and the Poets (Pasadena, CA: Upton Sinclair, 1920), is a collection of testimonials about Eugene V. Debs collected from supportive poets and writers. Jeannette Smith-Irvin, Footsoldiers of the Universal Negro Improvement Association: Their Own Words (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1989), contains six oral histories of followers of Marcus Garvey. “Personal Gains from the Sunday Campaign: A Sheaf of Testimonies,” The Congregationalist, February 22, 1917: 256–257, contains several testimonials from converts and followers of Billy Sunday. Selected letters to Franklin Roosevelt from the Roosevelt Papers as President (President’s Personal File) can be found in several published works; the three most useful for the study of charisma are Leila A. Sussmann, Dear FDR: A Study of Political Letter-Writing (Totowa, NJ: Bedminster Press, 1963); Robert S. McElvaine, ed., Down & Out in the Great Depression: Letters from the Forgotten Man (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1983); and Lawrence W. Levine and Cornelia R. Levine, The People and the President: America’s Conversation with FDR (Boston: Beacon Press, 2002). Louis R. Harlan, ed., The Booker T. Washington Papers, 12 vols. (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1972–1988), contains several letters from followers of Washington.

Finally, numerous additional collections contain manuscript writings and correspondence essential for understanding the mindset of various charismatic leaders and other commentators on charisma. The Rush Family Papers, Library Company of Philadelphia, include manuscript drafts and correspondence showing the development of James Rush’s ideas on public speaking and his connections with the Barber brothers and other influential forebears of the charismatic speaking style. Herbert Croly’s important unpublished manuscripts “Religion in Life” (undated) and The Breach in Civilization (1920) can be found respectively in the Houghton Library, Harvard University (MS Am 1291), and in the Papers of Felix Frankfurter at the Library of Congress. The Elbert Hubbard Papers at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, contain correspondence relevant to Hubbard’s views on charisma and his dealings with the Rockefeller and Carnegie families. The Henry Watterson Papers at the University of Louisville contain a number of Watterson’s Louisville Courier-Journal editorials on charisma and magnetism. For Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, several published collections reproduce useful archival correspondence. For Roosevelt, these include The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, 8 vols., ed. Elting E. Morison (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951–1954); Joseph Bucklin Bishop, Theodore Roosevelt and His Time, Shown in His Own Letters, 2 vols. (New York: Scribner, 1920); and Letters from Theodore Roosevelt to Anna Roosevelt Cowles, 1879–1918 (New York: Scribner, 1924). For Wilson, they include The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 69 vols., ed. Arthur S. Link (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966–1994); and The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 6 vols., ed. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1925–1926). Malvern Rosenberg Starkstein’s collegiate “Notes on Winifred Ward,” in the possession of Karen Raskin-Young (mother of the author), contain an invaluable record of Northwestern University professor Winifred Ward’s discussion of elocution teaching in the 1930s. Other useful collections include the W. E. B. Du Bois Papers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst; the Carry Amelia Nation Papers at the Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas; the Keith/Albee Collection at the University of Iowa Library; the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress; the United States Census of Population; and the Congressional Record.

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