William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic is an amazing piece of historical writing. Alan Taylor, the author of this non-fiction work, engages the reader with detailed descriptions and thoroughly researched facts, bringing the society of New York in the 1780’s and 1790’s to life. The book portrays the true story of William Cooper and his American dream-come-true. William Cooper, the main character, is the middle child of a poor Quaker farming family, who lived in Byberry, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
From such meager beginnings, he slowly climbs the social hierarchy to become a prominent land owner and a U. S. congressman. Alan Taylor uses the events of William Cooper’s life to portray important shifts in American society, such as the emergence of a more dynamic and competitive social order and the fight and struggle over political offices after the American Revolution. Over all, Alan Taylor does an excellent job portraying these themes throughout his work, William Cooper’s Town, through his incredibly detailed and precisely historically accurate writing.
William Cooper is born in “social obscurity” in a log house in Smithfield on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He is the middle child of Hannah and James Cooper, who were “exceedingly poor” Quaker farmers. The Cooper family was manually educated which meant that William did not learn how to write grammatically or to spell correctly. He was so bad at spelling and grammar that in 1789 he apologized for his spelling in a letter that he wrote.
William Cooper was not thought to be very promising by either of his parents, but eventually most of his brothers and sisters had to rely on him for financial support. On the path to becoming an elite, William tries to act like an elite. He gets a Manor House and has servants. Even though Cooper is from new money, he does a lot to behave and become like someone who has come from an elite family. William Cooper does three main things on his path to becoming an elite. To become an elite William Cooper becomes rich, gains an education, and becomes a leader in the community.
William Cooper’s goal is to become an elite so he can hold a position in the government. He starts to achieves this goal of becoming an elite by marring Elisabeth Fenimore the daughter of a rich Quaker farmer, and buying land to become an elite. Owning a certain amount of land, becoming an elite meant that you could vote because of the property qualification on voting at that time. William, wanting the position in the government, knew that he needed to relate to rich elites so he would get votes from them.
William ran as an elite Federalist, which meant that he did not have to acknowledge a large part of the population because they could not vote, he only needed to please the elite Federalist land owners and to do this he needed to be one of them. In William Cooper’s Town, the author uses evidence throughout the book to support the thesis. The fight over political offices are a major theme in the book. Alan Taylor ties William’s life to the theme by tying the marriage of William to a rich Quaker farmer’s daughter. The author expresses these themes through the character of William Cooper by using events in his life to reflect the book’s theme.
For example, William strives to become an elite because he wants to have a position in the government. This reflects the struggle over political offices during the American revolution because William realizes that relating with common people will not benefit him and it will be better to achieve his final goal of becoming a figure in the government by becoming an elite so he can relate to other elites that will vote for him. William Cooper also gets a library membership to become an elite. He reads “six volumes in 1780, ten in 1781, and seventeen in 1782.
There after he picked up the pace, withdrawing forty-two in 1783″1 He rushed to become a well-educated gentleman. While Cooper had been reading these books, he had become a prominent member of the library and even earned nicknames that the librarian entered on circulation records. He also meets some friends through the library and is even elected one of the library’s ten directors in 1786 and made the treasurer a year later. William neglects his duty of being a director and a treasurer “missing four of the five library company meetings held in 1788. 1
Alan Taylor ties William’s library membership to the theme by showing how it helps him become an elite. The library membership that Cooper got helped him get closer to his goal of becoming an elite. The books he read made him more alike to elites because he could now read well as an educated elite should. In Cooper’s time in Burlington, he also received a political education and became a leader of a Quaker community. The education he got contributed greatly to him becoming an elite, but, equally important was becoming a leader in the Quaker community.
Becoming a leading citizen in the Quaker community made William Cooper popular amongst the Quaker community. When the amount of land required to vote was taken off the population, being popular amongst the regular people is more beneficial for Cooper because if he is liked by them then he will gain more votes. William Cooper makes elite friends at the library that work with him to achieve a common goal, such as the men who helped him by investing money in land with him. But William Cooper also makes enemies who compete for the same positions that he is running for such as Jedidiah Palc, a republican.
These republican foes that he makes create complications and competition for William because he is running for offices as a federalist. Overall, Alan Taylor takes every detail in William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early Republic and ties it back to the thesis in some way. The author uses William Cooper’s life to show the important shifts in American society, such as the emergence of a more dynamic and competitive social order and the fight and struggle over political offices in the 1780’s and the 1790’s.