No colonial figures so completely anticipated the shape of American culture - at once material and spiritual, piously secular and pragmatically sacred - as did Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin.
Commonly labeled "Puritan" and "Yankee" respectively, Edwards and Franklin evoke seemingly opposite ideals. Puritan values, embraced by Edwards and sustained in American "evangelicalism," focus on God, communal faith, and self-denial. Yankee attributes, espoused by Franklin and sustained in American liberal republicanism, coalesce around the trinity of hard work, independent virtue, and utilitarian self-happiness. For two and a half centuries these alternative emphases and orientations have coexisted in uneasy tension both individually and in American society at large.
In contrast to traditional comparative studies, which portray Edwards and Franklin as mutually exclusive ideal types, this interdisciplinary collection of essays allows polemical contrasts to disappear and Edwards and Franklin emerge as contrapuntal themes in a larger unity. From these essays, written by distinguished historians and literary critics such as Ruth Bloch, Edwin S. Gaustad, Daniel Walker Howe, J. A. Leo Lemay, and David Levin, emerges a portrait of two men who shared a common concern with mind, character, and virtue that shaped a legacy that would define much of American character for generations to come.