Current Issue Article Abstracts
Wummer 2022, Vol. 42.2
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American Babel: History and Empire in the Early American Republic
The history of Babylon, fused from the Christian Bible and classical sources, occupied a critical, but hitherto unacknowledged, place in the conceptual life of Americans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By examining the uses of Babylon and Babel, which early Americans conceived of as the same historical place, this article works to expand historians' understanding of empire in the early modern Atlantic. From the American Revolution through a second "Great Awakening" and the demise of the Federalist party, many Americans turned to Babylon as a model to grapple with their country's growing imperial aspirations. Since the fall of the Tower of Babel the history of Babylon reflected and formed a larger ambivalence toward empire in ways that distinguished it from the familiar narrative of decline and fall. Those who wrestled with Babylon's story saw potential for a lasting empire in the world but were torn as to whether that empire aught to be one of liberty or uniformity. Ultimately, Babylon provided a conceptual space in which Americans wrestled with how best to be a Godly empire.
In July 1782, the American peace commissioner, John Jay, provoked controversy by refusing to negotiate with a British emissary empowered to treat with the American "Colonies or Plantations" rather than with "the United States of America." The article examines the law on which Jay based his decision and its implications for the ensuing peace negotiations and the process by which the United States secured its independence from Great Britain. In so doing, the article sheds light on the concept of a law of nations and its role in early modern diplomacy.
This article examines both the origins of the "free state" concept in U.S. history as well the little-known, brief period that Delaware was widely considered a "free state." Americans had long talked about "slaveholding" and "non-slaveholding" states—but it was not until the late 1810s and early 1820s that northerners began to use the words "free state." This change represented a rhetorical escalation from "non-slaveholding state" to a term with an even clearer moral valence. But it was not originally obvious to observers exactly which states should be included in the "free" cohort, and, for a time, white Delawareans were successful in convincing themselves and their fellow Americans that they should be counted amongst the northern free states. This article charts Delawareans' arguments in favor of their "free state" status, as well as, over time, their state's fall from grace into the "slave state" category. That it was only in the years after the Missouri Compromise that a nebulous group of non-slave states solidified into an identifiable core of "free" ones demonstrates that the development of the sectional divide in the pre-Civil War era was more gradual and more uncertain than previously thought. It reveals a process of negotiating a "free" identity on a state level that did not mirror reality on the ground. Finally, it uncovers the rhetorical process behind the large-scale erasure of enslaved African Americans' realities in the creation of the "Free North" myth along its borders, even when the evidence of their existence and their experiences would have been impossible for their white neighbors to ignore.
At the start of the criminal reform movement and during the moment of northern emancipation, a startling phenonenon emerged in which Black children were hypercriminalized. Their treatment within the emerging criminal justice system was unusually harsh, and exceedingly violent. Officials confined Black children and especially Black girls to adult prisons, where they served lifetime sentences or even were executed. This article examines the experiences of individual Black girls in the criminal courts and prisons of Early America and illustrates that their severe punishments were a reaction to the threat of their freedom, and that these practices were an integral part of the development of the racialized carceral state.
A World at Sea: Maritime Practices and Global History by Lauren A. Benton and Nathan Perl-Rosenthal (review)
Stephen P. Hay
The Idea of Europe & the Origins of the American Revolution by D. H. Robinson (review)
Michael D. Hattem
Congress's Own: A Canadian Regiment, the Continental Army, and American Union by Holly A. Mayer (review)
Resisting Independence: Popular Loyalism in the Revolutionary British Atlantic by Brad A. Jones (review)
Washington's Government: Charting the Origins of the Federal Administration ed. by Max M. Edling and Peter J. Kastor (review)
Remaking the Republic: Black Politics and the Creation of American Citizenship by Christopher James Bonner (review)
The Illimitable Freedom of the Human Mind: Thomas Jefferson's Idea of a University by Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy (review)
Lost Tribes Found: Israelite Indians and Religious Nationalism in Early America by Matthew W. Dougherty (review)
At the Threshold of Liberty: Women, Slavery, & Shifting Identities in Washington, D. C. by Tamika Y. Nunley (review)
Terri L. Snyder
Surviving Southampton: African American Women and Resistance in Nat Turner's Community by Vanessa M. Holden (review)
Marie Jenkins Schwartz
Rethinking Rufus: Sexual Violations of Enslaved Men by Thomas A. Foster (review)
Antwain K. Hunter
Bonds of Salvation: How Christianity Inspired and Limited American Abolitionism by Ben Wright (review)
Puritan Spirits in the Abolitionist Imagination by Kenyon Gradert (review)
Daniel Webster and the Unfinished Constitution by Peter Charles Hoffer (review)
Michael David Cohen
West of Slavery: The Southern Dream of a Transcontinental Empire by Kevin Waite (review)
The Apache Diaspora by Paul Conrad (review)
Maladies of Empire: How Colonialism, Slavery, and War Transformed Medicine by Jim Downs (review)