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Schweitzer explains that the contemporary notion of friendship as a private, feminized relationship of sympathy and affection leads to a misunderstanding of American history. In an exploration of early American literature and culture, she uncovers friendships built on a classical model that is both public and political in nature. Schweitzer begins with Aristotle's ideal of "perfect" friendship that positions freely chosen relationships among equals as the highest realization of ethical, social, and political bonds. Evidence in works by John Winthrop, Hannah Foster, James Fenimore Cooper, and Catharine Sedgwick confirms that this classical model shaped early American concepts of friendship and, thus, democracy.