Save 40% on UNC Press books during our American History SALE

Save 40% on UNC Press books during our American History SALE

The Strength of a People

The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in America, 1650-1870

By Richard D. Brown

272 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 16 halftones, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4663-6
    Published: September 1997
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6058-8
    Published: November 2000

Buy this Book

Thomas Jefferson's conviction that the health of the nation's democracy would depend on the existence of an informed citizenry has been a cornerstone of our political culture since the inception of the American republic. Even today's debates over education reform and the need to be competitive in a technologically advanced, global economy are rooted in the idea that the education of rising generations is crucial to the nation's future. In this book, Richard Brown traces the development of the ideal of an informed citizenry in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries and assesses its continuing influence and changing meaning. Although the concept had some antecedents in Europe, the full articulation of the ideal relationship between citizenship and knowledge came during the era of the American Revolution. The founding fathers believed that the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of the press, religion, speech, and assembly would foster an informed citizenry. According to Brown, many of the fundamental institutions of American democracy and society, including political parties, public education, the media, and even the postal system, have enjoyed wide government support precisely because they have been identified as vital for the creation and maintenance of an informed populace.

About the Author

Richard D. Brown is professor of history at the University of Connecticut. His books include Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700-1865.
For more information about Richard D. Brown, visit the Author Page.


"This excellent book is illuminating and provocative; it is timely as well. . . . Readers who turn to this book . . . may be assured of acquiring a solid grounding in the origins and complexities of the idea of an informed citizenry."--American Historical Review

"[An] important and timely book."--Journal of American History

"A rich exploration of the connections among ideas of education, citizenship, and political participation in American thought. . . . Will be of great usefulness not only to historians interested in the tensions over democratization in the early American republic but also to those interested in the roots of problems of democracy we still face."--Journal of the Early Republic

"Using a rich variety of primary sources, [Brown] traces the origins of the ideology of an informed citizenry to English beginnings but sees growth of the concept in the age of the American Revolution, refined under the early republic and mobilized during the years before sectional conflict. . . . An important book in the ever-growing fields of book history, printing, and literacy; highly recommended for all academic and larger public libraries."--Library Journal

"A superb intellectual history of a subject that, unlike the principle of freedom of the press, has never been explored in a thoroughgoing and systematic way."--College and Research Libraries

"In this rich, wonderfully informative study, Richard Brown traces the emergence and transformation of the idea of an informed citizenry in America."--History of Education Quarterly