Fall 2020, Vol. 40.3
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Denouncing Secrecy and Defining Democracy in the Early American Republic
Katlyn Marie Carter
Exploring the intense and common critique of secrecy articulated by the Federalists' opponents both before and after ratification, this article sheds new light on the way in which the Constitution left open the question of what it meant to represent the people in government. The article traces how concerns about secrecy were amplified in the early republic, becoming a primary discourse in which Federalist policies were contested and serving as glue that bound former Antifederalists with Democratic-Republicans who had championed ratification, most notably James Madison. The article also examines debates about secrecy to underscore their centrality to the conception and construction of representative democracy. Attitudes about secrecy reflected underlying beliefs about the role of a representative and what made him legitimate as such. By asking why critics identified secrecy as threatening, the article uncovers the way in which political procedures were both reflective and constitutive of ideas about representative government, how it should work, and what made it legitimate.
When in 1852 Frederick Douglass hailed whaling in the Pacific Ocean as labor that black and white men did together, and in 1851 when Herman Melville cited Thomas Jefferson's "Observations on the Whale Fishery" in the opening extracts of Moby-Dick, both Douglass and Melville alluded to a history of the entanglements of whaling, national identity, and slavery that had been a long time in the making. When Jefferson wrote his "Observations" in 1788, he was putting his thinking about a warming climate, the rivers and coasts that connected the American interior to the Atlantic Ocean, and the political transformations of a revolutionary Atlantic world to work in the service of a very particular vision of the future. He was certainly doing much more than representing the interests of Nantucket whalers, the purported goal of the report. Indeed, he was attempting to graft his vision of republicanism onto an oceanic world of contested geopolitics and natural history. The issue of whaling implicated Jefferson's entire body of thought and with it the Jeffersonian project of continental expansion and agrarian political economy, the viability of American empire, and the legal and environmental security of white supremacy and planter enlightenment.
On November 20, 1841, John Quincy Adams delivered an address that shocked the nation. The former President, Congressman, and advocate of the Amistad slaves, urged his fellow citizens to support Britain's cause in the Opium War, which, as he put it, was a war for "human freedom." Why would so zealous a champion against slavery endorse a war to sell an addictive substance? This article offers a critical reinterpretation of Adams's lecture on China. By focusing on an excised portion of his original manuscript, it argues that Adams's remarks can only be understood because of—and not in spite of—his antislavery convictions. At a time when Britain was curtailing the interests of Southern slaveholders through meddling in the coastwise slave trade, Adams attempted to shield Britain's moral capital through an ambitious, if problematic, exposition of political theory. This article therefore makes the case that Adams's remarks on China deserve a more prominent place in his oeuvre. By recasting the Opium War as a landmark in the age of emancipation, Adams calls attention to a factor that many scholars of slavery and abolition may have missed: how the problem of racial slavery in the nineteenth century became inseparable from the problem of opium addiction.
This study demonstrates that the mediation of the word manufacturer by Americans at the turn of the nineteenth century produced at least two semantic representations of manufacturers. One representation was aspirational, and was based on what manufacturing boosters and supporters of large-scale manufacturing enterprises hoped that manufacturers would one day become. The other mediation of the word defined it through negation, or by what manufacturers lacked, were perceived to lack, or were in the act of losing when contrasted to other handicraft producers. Understanding these representations of a manufacturer at the turn of the nineteenth century, using Baltimore as the case study, is a vital step in understanding the cultural economy of the early republic and why there was so much agitation over the new nation's economic transformation, often referred to as the "market revolution." It also provides a promising way to sift through the various layers of interpretation on the early republic's economy and create a better sense of the relative influence manufacturers had on finance, commerce, technology, and labor relations at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Revolution against Empire: Taxes, Politics, and the Origins of American Independence by Justin du Rivage (review)
Frank W. Garmon Jr.
Phillis Wheatley Chooses Freedom: History, Poetry, and the Ideals of the American Revolution by G. J. Barker-Benfield (review)
Tara A. Bynum
Women in the American Revolution: Gender, Politics, and the Domestic World ed. by Barbara B. Oberg (review)
William Livingston's American Revolution by James J. Gigantino II (review)
Jonathan D. Sassi
The Consequences of Loyalism: Essays in Honor of Robert M. Calhoon ed. by Rebecca Brannon and Joseph S. Moore (review)
Donald F. Johnson
A Crisis of Peace: George Washington, the Newburgh Conspiracy, and the Fate of the American Revolution by David Head (review)
T. Cole Jones
Smugglers, Pirates, and Patriots: Free Trade in the Age of Revolution by Tyson Reeder (review)
Edward P. Pompeian
Jefferson, Madison, and the Making of the Constitution by Jeff Broadwater, and: The Framers' Intentions: The Myth of the Nonpartisan Constitution by Robert E. Ross (review)
The Second Creation: Fixing the American Constitution in the Founding Era by Jonathan Gienapp (review)
Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family by Sara Georgini (review)
Daniel Walker Howe
Elizabeth Seton: American Saint by Catherine O'Donnell (review)
Monica L. Mercado
Bible Culture & Authority in the Early United States by Seth Perry (review)
Ungentle Goodnights: Life in a Home for Elderly and Disabled Naval Sailors and Marines and the Perilous Seafaring Careers That Brought Them There by Christopher McKee (review)
Vagrants and Vagabonds: Poverty and Mobility in the Early American Republic by Kristin O'Brassill-Kulfan (review)
Selling the Sights: The Invention of the Tourist in American Culture by Will B. Mackintosh (review)
Native American Log Cabins in the Southeast ed. by Gregory A. Waselkov (review)
Of One Mind and Of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republic by Kevin Kokomoor (review)
Unsettling the West: Violence and State Building in the Ohio Valley by Rob Harper (review)
The Rise of Andrew Jackson: Myth, Manipulation, and the Making of Modern Politics by David S. Heidler and Jeanne T. Heidler, and: Preserving the White Man's Republic: Jacksonian Democracy, Race, and the Transformation of American Conservatism. by Joshua A. Lynn (review)
Unrequited Toil: A History of United States Slavery by Calvin Schermerhorn (review)
Kelly Houston Jones
Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation's Highest Court by Paul Finkelman (review)
Christopher M. Florio
American Abolitionism: Its Direct Political Impact from Colonial Times into Reconstruction by Stanley Harrold (review)
Slave No More: Self-Liberation before Abolitionism in the Americas by Aline Helg (review)
M. Scott Heerman
The Webster-Hayne Debate: Defining Nationhood in the Early American Republic by Christopher Childers, and: A Strife of Tongues: The Compromise of 1850 and the Ideological Foundations of the American Civil War by Stephen E. Maizlish (review)
Erik B. Alexander
Summer 2020, Vol. 40.2
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Africa in the Early Republic and the Early Republic in Africa
This essay considers the possibilities and limitations of using the slavevoyages.org database to research the histories of enslaved people who came to the Americas through the transatlantic slave trade. It argues that there are limits to what can be known about individuals based solely on the region from which they departed Africa aboard a slave ship.
This article considers the crucial role that ideas about race and slavery played in the formation of the Early Republic. Instead of highlighting, as have others, the paradoxical emergence of race-based slavery in a society devoted to freedom and liberty, Jason Young instead envisions this conflict as merely a more recent iteration of a much larger trans-Atlantic concern. The central conflicts of citizenship and alienation that were at the heart of key Constitutional debates in the Early Republic were also playing out in West Africa and Western Europe. Instead of reflecting novel problems of state, these debates animated political formations and conceptions long before they arrived on American shores. In this way, viewing the Early Republic through an African Diasporic lens promises new ways of thinking not only about slavery and abolition but also about the processes of nation-building around the Atlantic rim at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Africa and the Early American Republic: Comments
Historians of Africa and the Early Republic have overlapping interests both temporally and thematically. To date, this has largely been dominated by the role of the slave trade in both histories. Drawing on some existing examples of the historiography that makes use of comparison and shared methodology, the essay proposes that the two fields can learn from each other in ways that extend beyond their connections to the slave trade and enslaved labor. This essay suggests three ways that the two fields could be further enriched by sharing methodologies, by being imaginative about comparisons across time, and by thinking about the shared trends that developed in their overlapping Atlantic spaces.
"Brothers Gonna Work It Out": Imagining a Black Planet
James H. Sweet
This essay considers the political implications of African exclusion from full participation in the American Early Republic. Rather than thinking of Africans as incipient "Americans," I examine points of social and political connection that tied African-descended peoples of North America to those in Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Africa and Africans have been a constant but changing presence first in colonial Anglo-America and then in the United States since 1619. Thinking clearly about their presence in the Early Republic requires making a distinction between the long-term and the immediate. Africans and their descendants loom large in the histories of the peopling of North America, of the emergence of American cultures, of the nature of American religions, and of the development of American economies before, during and after the Early Republic. As such, they must inevitably play important roles in efforts to understand the era in ways that cut through a nation-based periodization. Africans and people of African descent also played important roles in ways that are more specific to the Early Republic. This essay discusses both long-term and immediate presences to shed light on the reality and limits of the new republic's influence on African Americans and the ways African Americans influenced the new republic.
Mapping Distress: Taxation and Insolvency in Virginia, 1782–1790
Frank W. Garmon Jr.
This article employs previously underutilized tax records to quantify the level of economic distress in Virginia in the 1780s. Historians have offered sharply contrasting interpretations. While some scholars emphasize postwar prosperity, others suggest an economic crisis that may have rivaled the Great Depression. Tax records offer an opportunity to evaluate and reconcile these conflicting narratives. By counting the number of individuals who could not pay their taxes and dividing by the taxable population found in the assessment lists, the insolvency rate produces an indicator comparable to a modern bankruptcy rate. Regional insolvency patterns reveal that historians have tended to generalize from localized phenomena that are unrepresentative of the larger economy. Tax records demonstrate that the critical period was not imagined. Local commodity prices were most important in shaping economic outcomes. Insolvency trends support and contextualize existing interpretations of tax resistance and voting patterns during the ratification debates.
The Dutch crisis of 1787 was a brief event that had a significant impact on the American debate over the ratification of the Constitution. First, the threat of a European war led Americans to consider the response of the United States as a neutral power. Second, the collapse of the Dutch republic led Americans to seek lessons for their own republic. The Federalists saw the Dutch crisis as further evidence of the inadequacy of confederations, and thus a reason to approve a stronger central government, as provided by the Constitution. The Antifederalists believed the Dutch crisis demonstrated the danger of a strong executive, and was an argument against the Constitution.
This essay traces Cherokee diplomacy in the Arkansas River Valley in the decades before Removal as a window into how Native Americans in the American South shaped the contours of multi-cultural settlement. The Arkansas Cherokees fled social upheaval and diminishing game in their homeland to establish their new settlements. Cherokee leaders solidified their new territory via treaties with the United States by initially depicting themselves as immigrant hunters and, in later negotiations, as farmers. When white settlers challenged the Cherokees' worthiness to agricultural land, Cherokee leaders appropriated American scientific systems to block white settlers from Cherokee-claimed territory. The Cherokees' ability to enforce their geographical claims demonstrates how southeastern Indian nations influenced geopolitical power in the southern borderlands through controlling ecological language and scientific knowledge.
The Disaffected: Britain's Occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution by Aaron Sullivan (review)
Literature, American Style: The Originality of Imitation in the Early Republic by Ezra Tawil (review)
Facing Empire: Indigenous Experiences in a Revolutionary Age ed. by Kate Fullagar and Michael A. McDonnell (review)
Coast-To-Coast Empire: Manifest Destiny and the New Mexico Borderlands by William S. Kiser (review)
Sarah Gray Cary from Boston to Grenada: Shifting Fortunes of an American Family, 1764–1826 by Susan Clair Imbarrato (review)
Rachel Tamar Van
Escaped Nuns: True Womanhood and the Campaign against Convents in Antebellum America by Cassandra L. Yacovazzi (review)
The City–State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630–1865 by Mark Peterson (review)
John L. Brooke
Building a Revolutionary State: The Legal Transformation of New York, 1776–1783 by Howard Pashman (review)
Jefferson's Daughters: Three Sisters, White and Black, in a Young America by Catherine Kerrison (review)
Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South by Loren Schweninger (review)
Henry Clay: The Man Who Would Be President by James C. Klotter (review)
Michael E. Woods
The Panic of 1819: The First Great Depression by Andrew H. Browning (review)
Figures of Speech: Six Histories of Language and Identity in the Age of Revolutions by Tim Cassedy (review)
Sean P. Harvey
The Genesis of America: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Formation of National Identity, 1793–1815 by Jasper M. Trautsch (review)
Lawrence B. A. Hatter
The Pursuit of Happiness in the Founding Era: An Intellectual History by Carli N. Conklin (review)
Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500–1850 by Cameron B. Strang (review)
Church in the Wild: Evangelicals in Antebellum America by Brett Malcolm Grainger (review)
The Practice of Citizenship: Black Politics and Print Culture in the Early United States by Derrick R. Spires (review)
Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management by Caitlin Rosenthal (review)
Ann Marsh Daly
A Literate South: Reading before Emancipation by Beth Barton Schweiger (review)
No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation's Founding by Sean Wilentz (review)
Aaron R. Hall
American Honor: The Creation of the Nation's Ideals during the Revolutionary Era by Craig Bruce Smith (review)
Political Community in Revolutionary Pennsylvania by Kenneth Owen, and: Irish Presbyterians and the Shaping of Western Pennsylvania, 1770–1830 by Peter E. Gilmore (review)
Creole Drama: Theatre and Society in Antebellum New Orleans by Juliane Braun (review)
Sara E. Lampert
Thomas Jefferson: A Modern Prometheus by Wilson Jeremiah Moses (review)
Fall 2019, Vol. 39.3
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After enduring three days of crowded steamboats, segregated cars, and rutted roads, three hundred travel-weary abolitionists filed slowly toward their appointed meeting place in May of 1840 only to meet a menacing crowd. Residents of New York City's fourth ward lined Franklin Street to jeer the unwelcome arrivals. Familiar with such episodes, the antislavery delegation from New England moved with practiced calm toward St. John's Hotel. Urban boardinghouses overflowed with reformers during each anniversary week in the 1830s and 1840s, inundating the scarce lodging spaces otherwise accessible to abolitionists. Added to these usual pressures, the Garrisonian contingent also anticipated an exceptionally ugly battle among fellow abolitionists at the annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The cresting debate over women's full membership in antislavery organizations had attracted, according to one observer, "far greater numbers" of activists than had attended prior conventions.
"It was as if the French Revolution took place in Canada," remembered the Canadian radical Henri-Antoine Mézière. After the eruption of what would become the French Revolution in 1789, Mézière described how Canadians would assemble "in the towns in small groups, tell each other about the latest news received, rejoice with each other when the news is favorable to the French and grieve (but not desperately) when it is unfavorable." Most Canadians held deep ties to France, and their participation in the French empire remained in living memory. Likewise, the inhabitants of the United States felt a kinship for their recent allies in the American war for independence and enthusiastically celebrated the early French Revolution. One U.S. commentator remarked on the "eagerness with which the information [about France] is sought for, and the joy expressed" by the "very considerable majority" of Americans at the revolution's developments. In these early years, almost all North Americans shared a hope that the French people would remake their nation, and perhaps the world, in the image of liberty.
Reclaiming a Revolutionary Past: War Veterans, Pensions, and the Struggle for Recognition
Michael A. McDonnell, Briony Neilson
In March 1818, Congress passed into law a bill that seemed to mark a watershed moment in the contest over public memory of the Revolutionary War. The Pension Act finally recognized and rewarded the services of rank-and-file war veterans from the conflict that gave birth to the new nation. Introduced by President James Monroe—a former Continental Army officer himself—the Pension Act was hailed as "an auspicious circumstance," by one Congressional Representative. It was "gratifying evidence of the re-connexion of public feeling with the principles of the Revolution."
Kara M. French
During the sweltering summer of 1834, a gang of working-class men—brickmakers, sailors, apprentices, and firemen—surrounded the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The crowd, acting on rumor that Sister Mary St. John Harrison "has been secreted or abducted" to Canada against her will, threatened to burn the convent to the ground unless she was released. When Harrison did not come forward, they set fire to the convent and school with "twelve nuns, and fifty-seven female scholars" inside. Newspapers from Maine to Maryland reported how the rioters stole the Mount Benedict ciborium, smashed the sisters' expensive musical instruments, and converted the personal library of Boston's Bishop Fenwick into fuel for a bonfire. As a final act of desecration, the mob "burst open the tomb, and ransacked the coffins" of dead nuns, searching for the bodies of Sister Harrison and the Ursulines' young Protestant pupils, rumored to have been murdered behind the convent walls.
A Politician Thinking: The Creative Mind of James Madison by Jack N. Rakove (review)
Jessica Choppin Roney, Whitney Martinko, Katlyn Marie Carter
Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding by Andrew Shankman (review)
Peter S. Onuf
Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the British Challenge to Republican America, 1783–1795 by Michael Schwarz (review)
Paul A. Gilje
First Ladies of the Republic: Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Dolley Madison, and the Creation of an Iconic American Roleby Jeanne E. Abrams (review)
Surviving Slavery in the British Caribbean by Randy M. Browne (review)
Warner Mifflin: Unflinching Quaker Abolitionist by Gary B. Nash (review)
David N. Gellman
The Burr Conspiracy: Uncovering the Story of an Early American Crisis by James E. Lewis (review)
Michael D. Hattem
Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America by Martha S. Jones (review)
Richard D. Brown
Democracy's Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America by Johann N. Neem (review)
Perishing Heathens: Stories of Protestant Missionaries and Christian Indians in Antebellum America by Julius H. Rubin (review)
Mary Kupiec Cayton
The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States by Sari Altschuler (review)
Kelly L. Bezio
Poetry Wars: Verse and Politics in the American Revolution and Early Republic by Colin Wells (review)
Michael C. Cohen
Brooklyn's Renaissance: Commerce, Culture, and Community in the Nineteenth-Century Atlantic World by Melissa Meriam Bullard (review)
Bending Their Way Onward: Creek Indian Removal in Documents ed. by Christopher D. Haveman (review)
The Second Seminole War and the Limits of American Aggression by C. S. Monaco (review)
Deborah A. Rosen
Embracing Dissent: Political Violence and Party Development in the United States by Jeffrey S. Selinger (review)
Barry Alan Shain
A Kingdom Divided: Evangelicals, Loyalty, and Sectionalism in the Civil War Era by April E. Holm (review)
Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom by Graham A. Peck (review)
Evan C. Rothera
The F Street Mess: How Southern Senators Rewrote the Kansas–Nebraska Act by Alice Elizabeth Malavasic (review)
Andrew F. Hammann
Abraham Lincoln and Karl Marx in Dialogue by Allan Kulikoff (review)
Matthew C. White
A Bloodless Victory: The Battle of New Orleans in History and Memory by Joseph F. Stoltz (review)
Summer 2019, Vol. 39.2
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Amidst a revolution and civil war, New York’s patriot leaders faced difficult challenges including British occupation and divided loyalties. In response, they created various committees for public safety to address threats. However, those residents who actively supported the British were not the only targets. Rather than merely focus on loyalists, the committees for public safety sought to eliminate disaffection. The charge of disaffection also included those inhabitants who threatened the cause by refusing patriot authority, professing neutrality, or were deemed of “equivocal character.”
Rather than rehabilitate alleged enemies, these institutions punished and intimidated in an effort to create order and unity. To preserve a fragile independence movement, these institutions employed controversial methods including, but not limited to: summoning the accused, detaining those deemed suspicious, monitoring inhabitants’ movement, extending oaths of allegiance, and curbing liberties. New York’s patriot leaders considered such efforts as necessary to establish security. Studying the role committees for public safety performed illuminates the divisive nature of the American Revolution and the lengths to which New York’s leaders went to establish unity. Beginning with the creation of the Committee of Safety, this article then explores the various incarnations of the Committee for Detecting and Defeating Conspiracies. Charged with policing disaffection, these institutions performed an invaluable task. Aside from examining the creation and activities of these institutions, this article also uncovers the harsh realities of those inhabitants targeted by the committees. Finally, the article concludes with the institutions’ demise.
John Frederick Bell
Abolitionists founded interracial schools and colleges with the aim of undoing popular associations of dark skin with deficiency. School leaders at integrated institutions like Oberlin College or New York Central College invoked the spectrum of complexions on campus to demonstrate the extent of their commitment to racial justice. The side effect of this strategy was the singling out of students with especially dark skin, who could fall special victim to the patronizing of faculty and/or the ridicule of peers. This article analyzes two black students’ confrontations with colorism at abolitionist colleges to reveal the ways complexion shaped the lives of people of color in the mid-nineteenth century. It shows how skin tone affected Sabram Cox and Mahommah Baquaqua's school careers and how they responded to color prejudice.
Lawrence A. Peskin
While scholars have expended much effort recently on discerning American representations of Islam from the literature on the United States' contact with the so-called Barbary nations, there has been no systematic effort to examine representation of Jews in the same literature. Examining literature produced by captives, diplomats, missionaries, and others, the author argues that representations of Jews initially (1785-1815) were produced primarily by diplomats and sailors who made much use of the Shylock stereotype, but later (1815-1830) were produced by missionaries who focused more on what they viewed as Jewish stubbornness and intolerance. The final portion of the article discusses the relevance of these representations to the expanding domestic Jewish population.
The year 1944 saw the publication of Capitalism and Slavery in the United States. Authored by Eric Williams, a young colonial West Indian Negro and professor at Howard University, the book shattered conventional wisdom by intertwining and recasting the histories of European industrialization, African enslavement, and abolitionism. Though Williams’s three-quarter century old work has been often reprinted and remains revered as something of a bible among postcolonial radicals, it has suffered a form of blasphemy in recent years. An influential and growing body of US-based historical studies invested in “rethinking capitalism and slavery” has cited the old study in ways that misrepresents its contentions. Capitalism and Slavery has been miscomprehended in books like Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014) by Sven Beckert, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014) by Edward E. Baptist, Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World (2016) by Greg Grandin, and River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (2015) by Walter Johnson. This scholarship, though impressive in many regards, twists out of Williams’ text a thesis that he never proposed. Extending a North Atlantic tradition that dates to the 1960s’, the authors have tied Williams to a claim about the “incompatibility” between capitalism and slavery that is entirely at odds with his argument. Ultimately the new Americanist efforts to rethink the relationship between capitalism and slavery have wound up “throwing shade” on Williams’ writing rather than illuminating it.
Before the Pioneers: Indians, Settlers, Slaves, and the Founding of Miami. By Andrew K. Frank.
Reviewed by Jessica Chopin Roney, Whitney Martinko, and Samantha Seeley
Liquid Landscape: Geography and Settlement at the Edge of Early America by Michele Currie Navakas
Reviewed by Andrew Lipman
The Social Life of Maps in America, 1750–1860 by Martin Brückner
Reviewed by Nora Slonimsky
In the Looking Glass: Mirrors and Identity in Early America by Rebecca K. Shrum Reviewed by Jeremy Zallen
Experiencing Empire: Power, People and Revolution in Early America ed. by Patrick Griffin
Reviewed by Susan Gaunt Stearns
First Martyr of Liberty: Crispus Attucks in American Memory by Mitch Kachun
Reviewed by Joanne Pope Melish
The Revolutionary War Lives and Letters of Lucy and Henry Knox by Phillip Hamilton
Reviewed by Lauren Duval
Jefferson’s Body: A Corporeal Biography by Maurizio Valsania
Reviewed by Cara J. Rogers
Reluctant Reformer: Nathan Sanford in the Era of the Early Republic by Ann Sandford (review)
“We Have Not a Government”: The Articles of Confederation and the Road to the Constitution by George William Van Cleve (review)
Diminishing the Bill of Rights: Barron v. Baltimore and the Foundations of American Liberty by William Davenport Mercer (review)
American Sanctuary: Mutiny, Martyrdom, and National Identity in the Age of Revolution by A. Roger Ekirch (review)
Terri Diane Halperin
Blood from the Sky: Miracles and Politics in the Early American Republic by Adam Jortner (review)
Max Perry Mueller
An Empire of Print: The New York Publishing Trade in the Early American Republic by Steven Carl Smith (review)
Joseph M. Adelman
American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in the Age of Revolutions, 1783–1833 by Benjamin E. Park (review)
James E. Lewis Jr.
Slavery and Silence: Latin America and the U.S. Slave Debate by Paul D. Naish (review)
John Craig Hammond
Spanish Dollars and Sister Republics: The Money That Made Mexico and the United States by Tatiana Seijas and Jake Frederick (review)
Sharon Ann Murphy
The New Middle Kingdom: China and the Early American Romance of Free Trade by Kendall A. Johnson (review)
Rainy Lake House: Twilight of Empire on the Northern Frontier by Theodore Catton (review)
Bryan C. Rindfleisch
Jews on the Frontier: Religion and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century America by Shari Rabin (review)
Joseph P. Slaughter
Charleston and the Emergence of Middle-Class Culture in the Revolutionary Era by Jennifer L. Goloboy (review)
Elizabeth White Nelson
The Denmark Vesey Affair: A Documentary History ed. by Douglas R. Egerton and Robert L. Paquette (review)
John Garrison Marks
Blackface Nation: Race, Reform, and Identity in American Popular Music, 1812–1925 by Brian Roberts (review)
Jim Crow North: The Struggle for Equal Rights in Antebellum New England by Richard Archer (review)
Larry E. Tise
The Slaveholding Crisis: Fear of Insurrection and the Coming of the Civil War by Carl Lawrence Paulus (review)
Ryan J. Butler
Borderland of Slavery: The Struggle over Captivity and Peonage in the American Southwest by William S. Kiser (review)
Spring 2019, Vol. 39.1
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SHEAR Presidential Address
Lunsford Lane and Me: Life-Writings and Public Histories of an Enslaved Other
Craig Thompson Friend
This essay, originally presented as the Presidential Address at the July 2018 annual meeting of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic, explores ways in which Lunsford Lane has been interpreted and employed as a biographical subject and within public narratives. Academic and public historians alike have not accepted Lane for who he was, forming him into a model of racialized virtue, industriousness, and entrepreneurialism that would satisfy white audiences while minimizing and masking his otherness defined by his enslavement and his blackness. The address asks scholars and public historians to be more reflexive and empathetic in their use of biography.
Modern Gratitude: Patriarchy, Romance, and Recrimination in the Early Republic
Charlene Boyer Lewis
In early 1802, an enraged Luther Martin put pen to paper in order to expose the true character of a new enemy, Richard Raynal Keene. He intended to publish for all to read—at least all in his hometown of Baltimore and its environs—the story of how a trusted fellow gentleman had turned against Martin and revealed himself to be a "monster." He entitled the eventually five-part work Modern Gratitude. Martin, the attorney general of Maryland, and many other politically minded men had regularly turned to newspapers and pamphlets to wage paper duels in the court of public opinion over who had acted honorably or not in political matters. But this occasion was different and highly unusual. The paper duel that Martin started with Keene emerged not out of a political quarrel that had turned personal, but out of a private, family event: the elopement of Martin's young daughter Eleonora with the older Keene, a young lawyer who had studied under Martin. Of course, daughters had long married against fathers' wishes, but, over this romance, the men in this family chose to fight it out through public declarations. Martin and Keene made the exceptional decision of choosing print and public opinion to lay open and battle over this intimate and private problem in order to regain their masculine honor. They made the personal political at a time of growing tensions over and fears about the nature and extent of cultural change in the new nation. The distinct context of the post-Revolutionary elite shaped how this particular romantic debacle unfolded.
Historians of borderlands have long recognized the importance of intermarriage and the construction of intercultural kinship ties. By forging connections with Native American and Hispanic women, Anglo-American and French-Canadian traders in Mexico's northern territories acquired access to economic, social, and political influence. Studies of these borderlands unions often emphasize themes of stability and mutual accommodation. Charles Bent's story complicates this narrative. A trader from Missouri who became the first governor of New Mexico after the United States conquered the territory in 1846, Bent turned familial networks to dangerous, disruptive ends. The bonds his family forged in Santa Fe, Taos, and at their trading post along the Arkansas River allowed the merchant and his allies to accumulate power and influence at the expense of Mexican political and economic stability. To oppose these influences, other family networks arose. Charles Bent's tenure as governor was brief, and his death during the Taos Revolt of 1847 is a graphic reminder that family formation in the borderlands sometimes led to conflict and violence rather than cooperation and accommodation.
Race, Politics, and Culture in the Age of Jacksonian “Democracy”
Introduction: Race, Politics, and Culture in the Age of Jacksonian "Democracy"
Joshua A. Lynn, Harry L. Watson
The essays in this forum mark the 250th anniversary of Andrew Jackson's birth by reassessing the meaning and legacy of "Jacksonian Democracy." Some scholars have challenged this once-popular concept, while these contributors find that "Jacksonian Democracy" often combined the celebration of majority rule with racial supremacy for white men. Most Jacksonians sought power for white men while denying it to people of color, yet some promoted the interests of all laborers, including the enslaved, and granted citizenship and political rights to Native Americans. Racial democracy did not always function in straightforward ways. Jacksonian political culture also included distinct gender relations and household patriarchy, with mastery at home empowering white men in public. Jacksonian Democracy shaped more than politics, as Jacksonian notions of egalitarianism and democracy influenced religious, economic, and legal thought. This forum underscores the complexity of Jacksonian Democracy, a political ideology and a cultural worldview with a lasting legacy.
The historical articulation of whiteness as a narrative of white victimhood was neither inevitable nor articulated primarily by working-class actors. That ideology emerged as an expression not of the intrinsic racism of working-class men and women, but as a discourse about them engineered by slaveholders and their political allies on both sides of the Atlantic during the 1850s. White victimhood emerged in response to the radicalism of labor abolition, the effort to eradicate both chattel slavery and the injustices of factory work and political disfranchisement simultaneously. At their most radical, labor abolitionists demanded voting rights for all citizens and an end to the trafficking of both people and the commons.
Under Minnesota territorial law starting in 1849, and later under the state constitution, Indians of mixed Native American and European ancestry held American citizenship, voted in elections, and served in the political office. This racial and political situation in the Upper Midwest was unexpected in Jacksonian America and was the result of the conflation of notions of whiteness, citizenship, and being "civilized." Despite Jackson's removal policy, mixed-ancestry Indians in the region overwhelmingly supported the Democratic party and white Democratic officials considered mixed-ancestry Indians to be "white" because of their adaption to Western culture, or what white Americans considered "civilized." In the aftermath of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, locals no longer honored the citizenship rights of mixed-ancestry Indians, signaling the death of an unusual political coalition between Indians and Democrats in Jacksonian America.
Sentimental Racism and Sympathetic Paternalism: Feeling Like a Jacksonian
Laurel Clark Shire
Recent biographies of Pres. Andrew Jackson frequently cite his kindness to the "Indian orphans" he adopted as evidence that his personal feelings about Native Americans were more sympathetic than his public policies would suggest. Rather than framing his actions as paradoxical, or explaining them within a public/private cultural divide, Shire argues that the white paternalism that characterized Jackson's world easily accommodated virulent anti-Indian racism simultaneously with sympathy for orphaned Indigenous boys. While biographies of Jackson from the 1970s tended to be more critical of his paternalistic sympathies, recent studies assess these feelings as "sincere" and fail to treat feelings as entities with historical context and contingencies. Many white Americans in the early republic regularly justified apparent contradictions like this one using racist paternalism, since liberty and equality for their families rested on the enslavement and dispossession of African and Native American families.
Jacksonian Democrats played a key role in popularizing free market ideas in America. Many Democrats in the 1830s and 1840s celebrated the market as part of an optimistic populist mythology. The market, they argued, was not only an embodiment of personal freedom, but also a fair and egalitarian device that promised to tear down the privileges of the emerging financial and industrial elite. This essay explores the ways in which Democrats positioned the market as a "natural" institution and contrasted it to the "artificial" inequalities sustained by government regulation. It shows, furthermore, that the Jacksonian idea of nature was heavily inflected with religious significance: natural law embodied God's benevolent intentions for American society.
Tocqueville and the Legal Culture of Jacksonian America
This article reconstructs the influence of American lawyers on Tocqueville's thought. By placing Tocqueville's well-known reflections on the role of lawyers in American democracy in the context of the 1820s-30s debates about the trial by jury and the issue of codification, and shedding light over the underexplored thought of one of Tocqueville's mains sources, Edward Livingston of Louisiana, the article advances a new interpretation of Democracy in America's considerations about the legal spirit and the dialectics between judicial institutions and democratic society.
The history of Jacksonian Democracy reveals no simple tales of white liberty and black slavery, American citizenship and Indian dispossession, or mob rule versus the rule of law. It is a complex story about white male independence dependent on relationships of racial paternalism and the gendered hierarchy of the household, the age of the common man that could anticipate both the political economy of robber barons and the modern regulatory state, and a political worldview that would spawn anti-abolitionist riots as well as overlapping critiques of black and wage slavery. Its legacy for our times is similarly complicated.
Tea Sets and Tyranny: The Politics of Politeness in Early America by Steven C. Bullock, and: The Trouble with Tea: The Politics of Consumption in the Eighteenth-Century Global Economy by Jane T. Merritt (review)
pp. 163 - 167
The American School of Empire by Edward Larkin (review)
pp. 167 - 169
Summer 2018, Vol. 38.3
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Introduction:Knowledge and Its Uses
Perpetual War and Natural Knowledge in the United States, 1775–1860
Cameron B. Strang
Intellectual historians and historians of science have typically portrayed the pursuit of natural knowledge between the Revolution and the Civil War as something that took place in an essentially peaceful context. But warfare was constant in the early United States, and it was neither tangential to, nor even clearly divisible from, how any group produced and circulated knowledge about the natural world. This essay argues that warfare enabled, circumscribed, and conditioned the pursuit of natural knowledge among the diverse peoples who populated the United States. More importantly, warfare provides a lens for reframing the history of natural knowledge in America in a way that is both more comprehensive and less skewed by the legacy of American exceptionalism. This history spans the colonial and national eras, encompasses diverse individuals in diverse places, decenters the eastern Anglos who have too often characterized natural knowledge in the United States on the whole, and situates natural knowledge in the United States as part of a global story. In short, focusing on warfare helps make Anglo-Americans part of a shared intellectual history, not its exclusive protagonists.
'Mo'olelo and ManaThe Transmission of Hawaiian History from Hawai'i to the United States, 1836–1843
In addition to Christianizing the Hawaiian people, another signifcant project of the ABCFmʻs Sandwich Islands Mission was to teach the palapala, reading and writing. This essay examines the production of the first two histories of Hawaiʻi, Ka Mooolelo Hawaiʻi (1838) composed by Hawaiians in the Hawaiian langauge, and The History of the Sandwich Islands 91843) published by their missionary teacher the Rev. Sheldon Dibble, in order to locate the introduction of the idea in Hawaiʻi of the superiority of writing and printing over an aural / oral practice of maintaining history. Dibble also held the culturally charged conviction that written history is the only kind of legitimate and authentic kind of history that could be produced. Highlighting this moment in Hawaiian print culture also illuminates the branching off of two distinct scholarly trajectories: one that continues to rely strictly on an English language only textual source base from which to work out its findings, and another which draws upon the largest indigenous language textual source base in Native North America and the Polynesian Pacific in the Hawaiian language and English language sources in order to understand the past. The essay suggests an ethical imperative that scholars should consider, namely decolonizing our intellectual practice with respect to the writing of native and indigenous histories intertwined with American colonialism and empire.
The Political Geometry of Statistical Tables
Democracy was a dangerously disordered form of politics, coming to power by overturning the organic foundations of America's traditional agrarian order. New sources of authority were consequently required for stabilizing this new style of self-government. Statistics were one such source, serving as a post-absolutist method for establishing objective truth, if not certainty. The fluid relations fixed by the statistics were displayed in the rows and columns of the "cross-table," whose strict geometries seemed to be anchored in self-organizing scientific laws independent of our making. In fact, the statistical table was a highly engineered event. Moving such immense quantities of information, and the enormous administrative effort required to generate that information, onto the printed page was an unequivocal sign of its man-made character, mobilizing a vast bureaucracy, taxonomic schemes, and a rich repertoire of visual effects. This artificial provenance of the table underscores the discursive character of modern objective truth while constituting a critical chapter in the production of modern liberalism.
On the Uselessness of Knowledge:William F. Lynch's "Interesting" Expedition to the Dead Sea
In 1848, U.S. Navy Lieutenant William F. Lynch traveled to Ottoman Palestine to lead a bold expedition down the Jordan River and around the Dead Sea. This expedition's stated objectives were to demonstrate American one-upmanship, solve some scientific questions regarding the region's geographical anomalies, and find the remains of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah. None of these objectives were more than partially met. The present essay looks for this episode's meaning and value within a different realm: that of the rapidly-expanding print marketplace. Beyond fulfilling particular national, religious, or scientific interests, it argues, Lynch's expedition was promoted by reporters, editors, and authors as interesting. The essay thus proposes a different view of the role of knowledge in nineteenth-century culture, not in terms of its usefulness, but in its appealing uselessness. Paradoxically, it shows, Lynch's expedition was most useful precisely where it failed to obtain the knowledge it promoted as its goal, a failure that insured continued public curiosity about the Dead Sea and its religious significance.
Hoaxes, Humbugs, and FraudsDistinguishing Truth from Untruth in Early America
This essay examines two cases of deception and fraud in Early America to explore the way knowledge was socially constituted in the first half of the nineteenth century. The first concerns a heated debate over the authenticity of a fossil sea serpent that was exhibited and then offered for sale by a specimen dealer and dime-museum operator from St. Louis named Albert Koch. The second revolves around Samuel Thomson, a better-known figure from the history of "quack" or "alternative" medicine. These cases furnish an intriguing and symmetrically inverse relationship: In the case of Koch's fossil sea serpent, the community of learned naturalists deliberately and consistently desisted from making an accusation of fraud. But in the case of Thomsonian medicine, established and university-trained physicians made every effort to characterize their rivals as dangerous charlatans who were more likely to injure a patient than cure their disease. Taken together, both cases reveal that to accuse someone of fraud was to seek their expulsion from the community of knowing subjects, whereas to defend someone against such an accusation was to vouchsafe and uphold the value of their contributions to that community. Hence, one of the uses to which knowledge was put was to serve as a powerful sorting mechanism for delimiting membership in what might best be described as a knowledge community.
A Variety of Vivifying Experiences
Robert G. Parkinson
The American Revolution Reborn. Edited by Patrick Spero and Michael Zuckerman. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. 411. Cloth, $55.00.)
Volume 38, Issue 2, Summer 2018
This article examines the roles of black and mixed-race operatives in the criminal human trafficking networks that kidnapped and consigned to slavery thousands of free people of color in the early nineteenth century. The first section explores the distinctive abilities, modus operandi, and motivations of these unexpected and largely overlooked conductors on this Reverse Underground Railroad. The second section triangulates their behavior not only against that of confidence men and counterfeiters working in the shadows of the emerging capitalist economy in the early republic, but also in relationship to that of the many African-descended men and women in the long history of American slavery whose actions thwarted other black people's dreams of liberty. The final section interrogates the distinctive ways in which free black families, neighborhoods, and communities responded to the threat posed by kidnappers of color. It argues that the efforts of black urban dwellers to publicly denounce, promptly apprehend, and violently punish by extralegal means these pernicious predators served to elaborate a new form of direct antislavery action, an early and formative species of the sort of 'practical abolition' activities more typically associated with the aftermath of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.
Andrew Jackson's 1845 bequest of a gold box to the New Yorker "most valiant in defense of his country ad our country's rights excited and troubled New Yorkers and indeed many other Americans. Who was the bravest New Yorker? That question proved difficult, if not impossible, to answer, and neither New York City nor the eventual recipient escaped with reputations intact. Indeed, the 1857 campaign to award the box roiled editors, politicos, soldiers, and civilians, underscoring valor's multi-faceted character. Politics ultimately trumped character to highlight the contested (and elusive) definition of what precisely constituted valor.
M. Scott Heerman
This article looks at the history of kidnapping in Illinois to trace the development of an antislavery politics in the state and to complicate conventional histories about the rise of the Republican Party. Kidnapping cases brought out tepid allies for African Americans in unexpected places: the local press in southern Illinois publicized kidnapping cases, local groups acted as search and rescue parties, and politicians in minor posts, and occasionally in high elected office, acted to protect African Americans in the state. Many of these people never espoused an antislavery politics or embraced abolitionism. However, they worked to protect free men and women from captivity and enslavement. By joining the struggle against slaveholders' power, even tangentially, Illinois residents took part in a larger politics of slavery and antislavery between the 1830s and the U.S. Civil War. Contesting kidnappings contributed to a political awakening in the state, which helped to advance a wider politics of antislavery in Illinois. By examining the history of kidnapping largely before the 1850s, when the foundations of the Republican party had yet to take shape, but abolitionists and antislavery activists were organizing with increasing power, it is possible to identify a longer and more diverse origin to rise of antislavery politics in the state.
Joy M. Giguere
When the Rural Cemetery Movement began with the establishment of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1831, the new institutions served the needs of the living as much as for the dead. While providing ample space for burials, the beautifully landscaped environments offered to visitors the opportunity to enjoy "nature" in a park-like setting. Established in the years prior to the development of large public parks, rural cemeteries were experimental public spaces in which people had to navigate what might be considered proper versus improper behaviors. Newspapers and journals would prove instrumental in exposing visitors' disregard for propriety and the efforts by cemetery proprietors to curb misbehavior would lay the groundwork for the establishment of rigidly enforced regulations during the public parks movement in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Philip Pendleton Barbour in Jacksonian America: An Old Republican in King Andrew's Court by William S. Belko, and: John Pendleton Kennedy: Early American Novelist, Whig Statesman, and Ardent Nationalist by Andrew R. Black (review)
Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 2018
A successful commission merchant whose trade in textiles included cotton, Marcus Spring (1810-1874) and his wife Rebecca Buffum Spring (1811-1911), the daughter of Quaker antislavery activist Arnold Buffum, used his fortune to further many antebellum causes, among them women's rights, public bath houses, utopian communities, literary and visual culture, and most especially abolition. Not until Rebecca Buffum Spring aided John Brown after his Harpers Ferry raid did critics and supporters note the potential conflict between the source of the Springs' wealth and their antislavery commitments. This essay offers a joint biography of a fascinating yet perplexing couple as they navigated the landscape of antebellum reform and capitalist development.
"Beyond All Ambitious Motives": Missionary Memoirs and the Cultivation of Early American Evangelical Heroines
pp. 37 - 60
Ashley E. Moreshead
Promoters of foreign missions in the early republic produced memoirs of missionary wives to capitalize on the potent combination of education, revivalism, and limited career opportunities available to young white women in the Northeast as well as the growing print culture that incorporated female readers and writers. These posthumously edited memoirs reflected real patterns that had emerged in the lives of many women, and they prescribed ways for women to respond to their circumstances that were not too threatening to mainstream evangelicals, thus addressing concerns that many Americans shared about the potential for empowerment that new educational opportunities and evangelical reform movements opened up. The subjects of missionary memoirs did not challenge male authority in the public sphere, but they autonomously chose marriage to a missionary as a way to achieve significance, rendering them appealing as role models to pious and ambitious young women. The resultant popularity of missionary memoirs then could be used by missions promoters as evidence for the importance of women's involvement in foreign missions, even above women's other roles in American society.
Introduction: Taking Stock of the State in Nineteenth-Century America
pp. 61 - 66
The authors discuss the state of the field of the nineteenth-century American state, with a particular focus on recent problems of conceptual frameworks. They then introduce the contributions to a forum on this topic.
State-Building After War's End: A Government Financier Adjusts His Portfolio for Peace
pp. 67 - 76
The end of the War of 1812 transformed American political economy. Merchant-financier Jacob Barker participated enthusiastically in this transformation: divesting from war debt after 1814, Barker poured his capital and political experience into banking, insurance, lobbying, and lawmaking. This article makes the case that Barker himself was one of the period's more enduring institutions: though he spent many years in disrepute, his experience and financial logic structured the American state in ways that would endure long into the nineteenth century.
Slavery and the Conceptual History of the Early U.S. State
pp. 77 - 86
Ryan A. Quintana
This essay asks the question: in what way did the enslaved create the modern state? To answer this question, the author examines the production of state space in late colonial and early national South Carolina, arguing that slaves produced the state not only by laboring for South Carolina's government, but also through their daily movement, their role as the object of governing practices, and as a consequence of their everyday challenges to the institution of slavery. Such analysis, the essay argues, not only reveals the important role that unfree labor played in the creation of the modern state, but also permits us to re-imagine how we conceive of and examine early national political development.
State Power in the West in the Early American Republic
pp. 87 - 94
Rachel St. John
Although state and local governments only gradually assumed many of the functions we associate with a modern state, in the early U.S. West federal officials and troops worked to conquer territory; negotiate treaties; map, survey, and distribute land; establish and enforce laws; and administer Indian agencies and territorial governments. However, an active federal government was not necessarily a powerful one. Even as the federal government claimed dominion over great expanses and diverse and dispersed populations in western North America, it faced fundamental challenges to sovereignty, including the inability to fulfill treaty obligations; the failure to enforce laws or to maintain a monopoly on violence; and the lack of territorial control over large parts of the country. These problems were compounded by corrupt and incompetent officials and by the government's dependence on local agents who had questionable loyalties. These struggles remind us that the antebellum West was both the region where the federal government was most active and where the limitations of federal power were most evident. Thinking about state power in the West changes the calculus by which we discuss the relative strength or weakness of the state in the early republic. It forces us to consider not just the form and extent of state authority but also whether federal agents achieved the goals and responsibilities they set out for themselves.
Present at the Creation: The State in Early American Political History
pp. 95 - 103
Recent historical literature on the early American state shows that collective energy, programmatic action, and instrumental approaches to public authority were all present at the creation. By implication, the strong state in America is neither a twentieth century departure nor a cultural aberration. But a history of political creativity and pragmatic adaptation elides basic problems of state development and conveys a false sense of continuity. Closer attention relations of authority and institutional forms puts more distance between past and present and offers a better guide to the current political impasse.
The State Is Back In: What Now?
pp. 105 - 118
Richard R. John
This essay challenges the theory-driven approach to early American statecraft that was popularized by political scientist Stephen Skowronek by surveying recent historical writing on the early American state. Much of this writing falls into one of three overlapping genres that sets out to answer a different question. Was the early republic a prelude to things to come; a project with a distinctive character; or a promise that a later generation might wish to redeem? The first genre analyzes the early American state as a prelude to later events such as the New Deal and the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The second genre treats governmental institutions in the early republic as a project that had a coherence and integrity that has been overlooked, disparaged, or forgotten. The third genre follows the lead of colonist John Murrin and tries to recover the promise of the early American state by emphasizing the founders' ideals, the magnitude of the challenge they confronted, and the distinctiveness of the governmental institutions that they built. While this historical writing is diverse, it shares three premises that Murrin rejected. First, that the Jeffersonians were not the only or even necessarily the primary actors even on the national stage; second, that governmental institutions, as distinct from the interests of specific social groups, can be agents of change; and, third, that the state in the early republic diverged in substantive ways from the state in the colonial past.
Surveying the Fields
pp. 119 - 119
Sarah Allingham's Sheet and Other Lessons from Legal History
pp. 121 - 147
Laura F. Edwards
A Time to Reap: Environmental History in the Early Republic
pp. 149 - 155
The Public Universal Friend: Jemima Wilkinson and Religious Enthusiasm in Revolutionary America by Paul B. Moyer (review)
pp. 157 - 160
Shelby M. Balik
Patient Expectations: How Economics, Religion, and Malpractice Shaped Therapeutics in Early America by Catherine L. Thompson (review)
pp. 160 - 163
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life by Tamara Plakins Thornton (review)
pp. 163 - 166
National Duties: Custom Houses and the Making of the American State by Gautham Rao (review)
pp. 166 - 169
Robin L. Einhorn
Press and Speech under Assault: The Early Supreme Court Justices, the Sedition Act of 1798, and the Campaign against Dissent by Wendell Bird (review)
pp. 169 - 171
Invisible Sovereign: Imagining Public Opinion from the Revolution to Reconstruction by Mark G. Schmeller (review)
pp. 172 - 174
The Making of Tocqueville's America: Law and Association in the Early United States by Kevin Butterfield (review)
pp. 175 - 177
Williamjames Hull Hoffer
The One-Party Presidential Contest: Adams, Jackson, and 1824's Five-Horse Race by Donald Ratcliffe (review)
pp. 177 - 180
Liberty Power: Antislavery Third Parties and the Transformation of American Politics by Corey M. Brooks (review)
pp. 181 - 183
Nicholas P. Wood
The Lives of Frederick Douglass by Robert S. Levine (review)
pp. 184 - 186
The Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street's First Black Millionaire by Shane White (review)
pp. 187 - 189
Bonds of Union: Religion, Race, and Politics in a Civil War Borderland by Bridget Ford (review)
pp. 189 - 192
Jeffrey Thomas Perry
New Directions in Slavery Studies: Commodification, Community and Comparison ed. by Jeff Forret and Christine E. Sears (review)
pp. 192 - 95
An American Genocide: The United States and the California Indian Catastrophe, 1846–1873 by Benjamin Madley (review)
pp. 195 - 198
Winter 2017, Vol. 37.4
Catherine E. Kelly, Joshua Piker
Toward a Social History of Federalism: The State and Capitalism To and From the American Revolution
1776, Viewed from the West
Jessica Choppin Roney
Ancients, Moderns, and Africans: Phillis Wheatley and the Politics of Empire and Slavery in the American Revolution
Phillis Wheatley exacerbated and made manifest the double meaning, and risks, of the classical and republican revival in the context of slavery. She did this, in part, by re-creating herself through the Greek and Roman classics—as a neoclassical poet—and by making the relationship of the patriots’ dilemma to the ancient and modern politics of slavery a key theme of her very public project. Wheatley’s own realization that she could address her African and enslaved experience as well as her captors’ prejudices and practices through an engagement with the Mediterranean heritage—a heritage seen by her captors as at once distant (ancient) and universal—was pivotal. Her profundity and political effectiveness derived not just from her classicism but from its studied inflection of her Africanism—and her womanhood. Ultimately Wheatley followed through on an increasingly complex set of analogies regarding time, space, empires, barbarisms, and liberties that proved useful in confronting the American Revolution as well as slaveryCommerce and Conquest in Early American Foreign Relations, 1750–1850
Paul A. Gilje
ReviewsThe Washingtons: George and Martha, “Join’d by Friendship, Crown’d by Love by Flora Fraser (review)
Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution by Caroline Cox (review)
John A. Ruddiman
From Loyalists to Loyal Citizens: The DePeyster Family of New York by Valerie H. McKito (review)
Citizen Sailors: Becoming American in the Age of Revolution by Nathan Perl-Rosenthal (review)
Christine E. Sears
The American Revolution, State Sovereignty, and the American Constitutional Settlement 1765–1800 by Aaron N. Coleman (review)
William K. Bolt
Index — Volume 37, 2017
Journal of the Early Republic: Volume 37, 2017
Introduction: Expand or Die: The Revolution’s New Empire
The Papers of George Washington: The Revolutionary War Series, Volume 23: 22 October–December 1779 ed. by William M. Ferraro (review)
In 1826, the Department of War published a set of instructions for collecting Native American languages. These instructions exemplified how the practices, goals, and organization of science in the United States developed amidst tensions between ideals of equality and realities of imperialism. Scientific experts in Europe had long circulated instructions meant to ensure that informants collected specific kinds of information and circulated it in specific ways. The authors of the 1826 instructions, however, encouraged informants to collect and package information in whatever way was best suited to their local situation and personal talents. At one level, the philologists behind these instructions, particularly Peter Stephen Du Ponceau and Albert Gallatin, were seeking a practical solution to a problem that had vexed metropolitan experts for centuries: the impossibility of actually regulating the work of distant field collectors. Yet these philologists also had broader goals. They wanted the 1826 vocabulary to demonstrate that long-distance networks embodying Enlightenment beliefs—particularly the idea that granting individuals more independence would enable their talents to flourish—would generate knowledge more effectively than networks micromanaged by elite savants. They also hoped that the linguistic information field collectors gathered would bolster a federal Indian policy oriented toward uplifting and incorporating Indians and, therefore, challenge visions of U.S. imperialism that emphasized strict racial hierarchies. Although the 1826 vocabulary failed to further these goals, it revealed some of the many contexts in which imperialism was debated and enacted in the early nineteenth century and how these contexts affected intellectual life.
This article examines the public controversy over the Jay Treaty as a pivotal moment in the creation of the "people's presidency." Focusing on the published statements of the Treaty's Republican opponents, it argues that critics of the Treaty marshaled a powerful and cohesive vision of what the presidential office should be—a vision that would forever alter the political culture of the Early Republic. Imagining the presidential office to be the embodiment of the dynamic back-and-forth between elected leaders and everyday citizens they claimed should define a healthy republican society, these dissenters attacked not only the Treaty but George Washington's aloof and (to their mind) dismissive reaction to the Treaty's detractors. Though these opponents lost the battle over the Jay Treaty, the vision they advanced would place the presidency at the center of the young country's contentious, popular, and partisan political landscape, and the competing visions of citizenship and governance that fueled it.
American maritime prisoners during the War of 1812 took seriously their government's assertion of "free trade and sailors' rights," but when the United States government failed to make this rhetoric a reality, imprisoned sailors clashed with both British and American officials. The U.S. government lacked effective mechanisms to challenge impressment, influence prisoner exchange, or meet the daily needs of its imprisoned citizens, who often interpreted this inefficacy as indifference to their situation. However, the relative absence of government support gave American prisoners space to create a form of nationalism that stressed self-reliance, cooperative action, aggressive masculinity, and occasional violence and deceit. This nationalism was performative, situational, and conditional, used to extract concessions from their captors and representatives of their government. Prisoners based their expectations of support on their understanding of republican government, their seafaring experiences, their perceptions of their own characters in comparison to foreigners, and their observations on foreign prisoners' interactions with their own national governments. American prisoners employed a wide-ranging language of "rights," but conceptualized their obligations to the United States government in much more modest terms.
Before there could be political secession, there first had to be cultural disunion. Algernon Sidney Johnston's quixotic and overlooked novel, Memoirs of a Nullifier, offers a glimpse into the project of imagining American sectionalism in the midst of the Nullification crisis. Through a narrative that includes a love story, demonic pacts, and intergalactic travel, Johnson expressed southern concern over political economy, federal overreach, and divergent national interests. This article places Memoirs within its cultural and political context and explains how its entertaining tale reveals much about America's first crisis over southern discontent. Imagining fellow citizens as culturally distinct and politically dangerous was a crucial step to eventually conceiving national dissolution. While abstract at the time, these intellectual debates would later serve as the foundation for a bloody civil war.
Summer 2017, Vol. 37.2
• • • • • • • •
Using the 1835 Baltimore Bank Riot as a case study, this article asserts that white workingmen deployed legitimate power as property holders. It shows that the Bank Riot, which erupted over frauds related to the closing of the Bank of Maryland, actually had two legacies: an Indemnity law that promised remuneration to future victims of mob violence, and the legal exoneration of almost everyone who participated in its violence. These two legacies, it argues, both derived from the same belief in property rights – for property in the early republic had two meanings. First and most obviously, it referred to a physical asset, like a building; this is what that the Indemnity Act was designed to protect. Less obviously, property also connoted wages and households, and these were what the pardons honored. The riot’s dual legacy ultimately demonstrated that a municipality built to protect property rights allowed more than the affluent to make claims upon it. True, the bank rioters were not as wealthy as the men whose homes they destroyed, but as wage earners and patriarchs they were rich in other ways.
Almost no one associated with the Bank Riot ever received a meaningful punishment, and that, this article concludes, foretold a future in which certain forms of popular violence would be tolerated so long as they were justified in the name of property. In a city where many of the residents did not own wages and dependents, the possession of both was a privilege fraught with real power.
Martha Ann Honeywell (1786-1856) was a visual artist and performer who traveled across North America and Europe to exhibit her embroidery, waxwork, miniature writing, and paper cutting as well as her atypically-figured body, which lacked arms and hands and had just one foot with three toes. Drawing on over two hundred newspaper advertisements that she published, over one hundred samples of her visual artwork, nearly thirty visitor responses, and one surviving letter, this essay examines Honeywell’s story and the strategies that she used to appeal to consumers and cultivate her business. It argues that she capitalized on new cultural and commercial opportunities in the early republic as well as long-held conceptions of disability in productive ways. Honeywell was a relentless traveler, seeking new markets internationally and in the American West. She also catered to her patrons’ desires for miniatures and silhouettes, which held popular appeal, and utilized advancements in print culture to generate publicity. At the same time, Honeywell’s techniques for attracting clientele were informed by ideas about disability, and congenital physical anomalies in particular, with deep roots in western culture. To accommodate her spectators’ curiosities about her body, she juxtaposed her artistic capacities and physical incapacities in ways that elicited shock and amazement. In addition, to ease visitors’ fears about disability and anxieties about viewing her impairments, she presented familiar and socially acceptable traits that aligned with their expectations of the body, gender, and class. In the end, Honeywell’s mastery of these dual strategies of the spectacular and the conventional—along with the possibilities that the early national marketplace presented—produced what may seem like an unexpected outcome. Rather than condemning, fearing, or deriding her uniqueness, customers proclaimed her to be uniquely American, an exemplary woman and citizen.
Symposium on Hamilton, An American Musical
Catherine E. Kelly
Since his death in 1804, Alexander Hamilton has appeared in American culture in many forms. Post-Civil War nationalist, Progressive-era pro-active statesman, Cold War capitalist hero: Hamilton has been all of these things and more. But he has never been what Broadway's Hamilton has made him: an American folk hero. Given Hamilton's active distrust of democracy, it's a surprising and unlikely role, but in the troublous times of twenty-first century America it has real power, presenting Americans with a glory-filled Founding myth and a heroic advocate of the American Way. This Great Man view of the Founding is problematic in many ways. But as historically inaccurate as it is, Broadway's Hamilton has much to offer, restoring a sense of contingency to what is all too often seen as an inevitable success story, humanizing historical figures in a way that brings the past to life, and inviting people to analyze the nation's Founding myths anew.
Andrew M. Schocket
Hamilton: An American Musical, while distinctive, is fairly representative of recent cultural productions representing the American founding era, fitting the three main characteristics of what this article labels "American Revolution rebooted." First, patriotism is assumed of the protagonists, usually heterosexual white men; second, patriotism consists of supporting a personal, libertarian version of "freedom"; and third, consensus is achieved by the violent expulsion of others.
Recovering a mostly forgotten collection of plays dating back to the turn of the nineteenth century, this article demonstrates how artists used Hamilton to consider critical moments in the nation’s passionate and often painful debates about race, citizenship, and belonging.
This essay examines the ambitious representational mission, color-conscious casting, and hip hop/musical theater fusion of the ground-breaking musical Hamilton. In particular, the piece highlights the unqualified successes of the production team, as they used performed whiteness and race-bending to reinvent casting, marketing, and story-telling on Broadway. However, the essay also acknowledges the historical and political shortcomings of this commercially unrivaled musical and suggests dramaturgical improvements for future professional and amateur productions.
Hamilton: An American Musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and director Thomas Kail is both an intriguing and imperfect vehicle for understanding the history of the American Revolutionary Era. Although the show simplified the image of Alexander Hamilton and focused on an elite narrative of the American Revolution, the show is not meant to be strict history. Instead the show benefits historians with an imaginative retelling for a contemporary audience, invites multiple interpretations of history, and encourages further conversation.
Historians have a stake in the Hamilton: An American Musical's multiple inaccuracies and in the larger picture Lin-Manuel Miranda paints of the founding. The Hamilton franchise, which stretches from the stage to the best-selling book and album and which is supported by commercial media, operates at a remove from academic historians’ expertise. Professional historians are therefore obliged to hold cultural producers of popular history more accountable and defend the profession and practice of history.
Surveying the Fields
This article examines religion, violence, and westward migration in early national and antebellum America. In treating the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, the authors demonstrate how recognition of religion enriches understanding of the event and its roots in culture and geography. Close attention to and careful interpretation of the lives of the leaders of Methodist migrants (who were killed at Mountain Meadows) and the local Mormon militia (who did the killing) yield vitally connected strands of personal and spiritual history. Placing both men in their religious communities and probing their family strategies reveals how much they had in common. These shared beliefs and practices affected Mormons’and Methodists’ understanding of the meaning of migration, as well as the role and nature of the Kingdom of God in American expansion. The approach taken here takes a panoramic view of the fatal convergence in southern Utah, and integrates religious history with scholarship on empire, slavery, patriarchy, Native dispossession, westward migration, and their reverberations in history. In light of these overlapping beliefs and histories, the massacre is revealed as more intimate, a fratricide among white men who imagined that their religious identities were locked in fatal conflict, but many of whose basic assumptions were shared. This article also engages with the challenges presented by an incomplete archive (all records of the train were lost – likely destroyed by the perpetrators), and the rewards as well as perils of using family histories and survivors’ accounts, as well as more traditional archival materials.
The Mountain Meadows Massacre is not only a part of Mormon or Methodist history but of American history. Empire building, patriarchy, gender, and genocide all play a role. This comment on Gordon and Shipps' article asks whether it is a non-traditional narrative intended to challenge readers’ conceptions of historical writing.
This comment on Gordon and Shipps' article maintains that converging strands of religious zeal for building an earthly kingdom of God and expanding the American empire. The authors' use of vernacular history adds to the richness of competing narratives.
Privateers of the Americas: Spanish American Privateering from the United States in the Early Republic by David Head, and: Privateering: Patriots and Profits in the War of 1812 by Faye M. Kert (review) by Brian Rouleau
American Antiquities: Revisiting the Origins of American Archaeology by Terry A. Barnhart (review) by Charles Allen Wallace
Spring 2017, Vol. 37.1
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SHEAR Presidential Address
Jan Ellen Lewis
Any discussion of the Three-Fifths Clause sooner or later leads to a discussion of women, but never in or of themselves, always in relationship to slaves, or, rather, the institution of slavery. Women’s assumed political incapacity was used to anchor a system of representation that rested on enslavement.
Economic history has never suffered from having a narrow definition of its topics or methodologies, and as the articles in this special issue of JER so ably demonstrate, economic historians have become ever more adventurous in incorporating new research questions, reading sources imaginatively, defining how people of past generations thought and acted in economic ways, and generally expanding the parameters of where the economy can be perceived and analyzed. The articles in this special issue, representing only a portion of the outpouring of new scholarship in economic history, assess aspects of what the field has achieved and point us toward unfinished business.
This essay proceeds from an examination of two spectacular expressions of nationalist identity in the early republic. First, the Declaration of Independence and subsequent articulations of the exclusionary, white supremacist, character of its rights claims prompted by Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia and congressional debate over the admission of Missouri. Second, David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World 1829-30 and the emergence of an African-American nationalism shaped by opposition to colonization and a determination to confront racism and slavery. That these nationalisms existed in a dialectic relationship is an established feature of the literature. This essay breaks new ground by suggesting a similarity of intellectual provenance, specifically the application within both nationalist discourses of precepts derived from an ostensibly international law of law of nations to domestic relations between states and peoples within the United States of America. Departing from a previous emphasis on expression and outcome within the literature on both African-American and white supremacist nationalisms – or on themes of resistance, assimilation, separation or oppression – the essay seeks to place its examination of the provenance of American “nation making” in dialogue with an emerging scholarly literature on multiple national identities in regions of nineteenth century Europe.
Examining dialogue about the Jamaican maroon treaties of 1739, this article locates the Haitian Revolution within a wider constellation of events that contributed to a reconceptualization of slave resistance in the United States. During the early republic, Americans drew on combined images of the Haitian Revolution, the Second Maroon War, and the Second Seminole War as they reconceived of the Jamaican maroons and their association with the violent assertion of liberty. Between 1739 and the 1780s, Anglo-Atlantic whites viewed the maroons as having rightfully won their liberty through violent resistance and as helpful allies of the Jamaican slave society. During the 1790s, confronted with the violence in Saint-Domingue and the Second Maroon War in Jamaica, some white observers began to question the mid-eighteenth-century wisdom of compromising with rebellious blacks. Others referenced the maroon treaties in recommending pragmatic negotiations with Saint-Domingue to reestablish stability in the Caribbean. Such references signified the surprising persistence of the notion that legitimizing slave resistance by treaty could diffuse an otherwise disastrous race war. Finally, between the 1810s and the Civil War, Americans dichotomized discourse about the maroons into pro- and antislavery narratives, both of which strayed from predominant eighteenth-century descriptions of the maroons. Advocates of slavery challenged the perception of the maroons as a legitimately free body of people contributing to the stability of society. In contrast, slavery’s detractors cast them as racial warriors fighting against bondage rather than as a community of free blacks allied with the slavocracy.
This essay traces the origins of the Ohio Ladies’ Education Society, an organization committed to the cause of both radical abolition and African American education in antebellum Ohio. From 1838 to 1848, this organization filed petitions for common school reform, raised funds to support black independent schools, and recruited and compensated teachers who taught in Ohio’s black settlements. This essay argues that the white female leadership of the Ohio Ladies’ Education Society was drawn to the cause of African American education because they envisioned schooling as a route for African Americans to gain citizenship and to experience civic inclusion. These white women abolitionists sought to advance a rival racial ideology whereby schools could fit African Americans for freedom and civic membership. Through their activism, these abolitionists actually redefined the meaning and practice of civic inclusion, specifically, and American citizenship, broadly. The best citizens were learned, moral, and benevolent Christians who participated fully in the civic affairs of a community. This essay reveals how the fight for abolition, African American education, and the civic ideal of building peaceful, egalitarian communities converged in the battleground of the West.
Steadily the study of visual culture has moved into the mainstream of U. S. historiography. More and more scholars have realized that the pictures they long used to illustrate their books and lectures possess a history of their own, as material objects and as ways of seeing. Decades ago Michel Foucault and an assortment of linguistic “turners” alerted historians to textuality—the constant play of language-forms within structures of power and consciousness—and now we see that cultural discourses comprise the visual as much as the verbal. Images and words intertwine as people refashion their rituals and conventions. Two recent studies of celebrated ex-slaves and abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass--Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby's Enduring Truths and John Stauffer, Zoe Trodd, and Celeste-Marie Bernier's Picturing Frederick Douglass--show how far we have come in granting the pictorial its proper place alongside the spoken, the written, and the read. Among the most charismatic wordsmiths of their day, Truth and Douglass excelled as orators and authors (the illiterate Truth dictated her published Narrative of 1850 to reformer Olive Gilbert). They knew that distributing their likenesses would promote the cause of liberty. And they learned that politicizing their appearance did more than contribute to the battle for freedom. It gave them experience in living as free people in a modern commercial world. While some militant abolitionists followed Thoreau in affirming the old republican dichotomy between commerce and virtue, Douglass and Truth in effect celebrated the virtue of commerce.
Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth by Terry Alford (review) by Scott C. Martin
Winter 2016 Vol. 36.4
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Economic history has never suffered from having a narrow definition of its topics or methodologies, and as the articles in this special issue of JER so ably demonstrate, economic historians have become ever more adventurous in incorporating new research questions, reading sources imaginatively, defining how people of past generations thought and acted in economic ways, and generally expanding the parameters of where the economy can be perceived and analyzed. The articles in this special issue, representing only a portion of the outpouring of new scholarship in economic history, assess aspects of what the field has achieved and point us toward unfinished business.
The History of Capitalism, with its focus on ocean-spanning networks, commodity flows, and the financialization of exchange, largely takes for granted a male/female gender binary. As a result, women play little part in its core narratives and gender appears as a cultural gloss on economic transformations. But, as the institution of the auction demonstrates, women and gender were essential to capitalism’s emergence. Understanding how households, gendered divisions of labor, and female bodies acquired and incubated value opens up a far more dynamic picture of economic change. Households varied dramatically in size and stability in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which supported different distributions of power between the men and women within them. What constituted “men’s work” and “women’s work” was always in flux and not necessarily linked to particular bodies, although capitalist institutions used laws governing inheritance and slavery to link monetary value to specific ideas about gender. Simultaneously, cultural stereotypes such as the frivolous female consumer, the poor widow, or the fecund slave woman spread through popular culture. As a result, nineteenth-century capitalism and the ideas about masculinity and femininity familiar to us today created one another.The Mission Complex: Economic Development, “Civilization,” and Empire in the Early Republic.
Brian P. Luskey
This essay examines late-antebellum portrayals of Irish servant women in popular culture and the Pennsylvania Abolition Society’s (PAS) wartime correspondence with northern employers eager to obtain access to southern freedpeople. In these sources, white northerners filtered their characterizations of women’s bodies and behaviors through ideologies of gender and race to create submissive and transgressive social types representing ideal and less-than-ideal workers. These declarations about workers, yoked to the northern argument that emancipation was both an act of benevolence and a period of necessary instruction for black southerners in the habits and practices of wage labor, propelled northern benevolent associations, armies, and the state to forge a transportation network that they hoped would ensure the flow of workers northward. This network proved short-lived, ultimately foundering on a lack of funding and employers’ and employees’ mutual disappointment with each other. And yet, because of their wartime cultural work, employers could pivot to a position of even greater strength over white and black workers in the political economy of wage labor.
Historical research into economic topics is booming: The history of capitalism is on the march, Atlantic and Pacific histories have invigorated research on trade and merchants, and environmental history is increasingly economic. But this new popularity has generally not been accompanied by increased collaboration or even interaction with colleagues working in departments. The sources of this standoff are many, but prominent among them is the role of numbers. What should we count? And what should we do with the multitude of numbers and tables that punctuate early American documents? We have much to gain from more extensive use of quantitative sources. However, historians should return to quantification with caution: Not as novice cliometricians, but as the beneficiaries of cultural and social history. New research has already begun to stake out a kind of quantitative middle ground, combining close and distant reading and approaching numerical sources both as sources of data and as narrative structures with politics.
Reading eighteenth-century Atlantic media with an eye to the material conditions of production, circulation, and consumption provides new ways of understanding how the circulation of goods—in this case, texts and textiles—fosters new forms of expression as well as new kinds of subjects. Textiles were central to the rise of eighteenth-century print culture and public prints have more to tell us than the words inked on the page: printed on rag paper and stitched together with a variety of different threads, texts bear the mark of men and women laboring in flax fields and as spinners, weavers, seamstresses, and laundresses and as rag pickers and papermakers. In this sense, literature and commerce—discourse and economy—collide to produce new forms of expression that, in turn, foster consuming publics of both words and goods. By approaching the texts and objects that facilitate commercial exchange with an eye to their poetic or formalistic qualities, we can see how the formal elements of the writing reflect and comment on manufacturing processes and commercial exchanges. That is, we can see how words might have a material presence, as well as how goods might participate in the discursive production of culture.
Michelle Craig McDonald
Scholarship connecting the Americas to each other, as well as to Africa and Europe on the Atlantic’s eastern shores, has appeared in print since the early twentieth century, but the codification of “Atlantic history” as a discrete academic endeavor gained momentum in the late 1980s. This article traces the development of Atlantic history in the last three decades, with a special emphasis on the last ten years, or since the supposed “decline” in scholarly support for the field. Atlantic scholars have justifiably been criticized, even from some of its foremost former practitioners, for too narrowly defining the scope of their research—chronologically and geographically, and as well as racially and ethnically. Far from declining, however, a survey of work published in three journals indicates that the subfield continues to offer a useful scholarly framework, one that has been reinvigorated by new inter-disciplinary and poly-linguistic approaches that seek to mediate earlier lacuna while still emphasizing the vibrant synergies that connected the countries and colonies that ring the Atlantic Ocean.
Edward P. Pompeian
This article evaluates the global approach to the early United States and reconsiders the significance of Atlantic history for historians of the Early American Republic. It focuses on the multivalent way that commerce forged cross-cultural relations between the United States and other world regions through commodity chains and trade network, many of which originated long before the independence of the United States. This survey suggests that those who seek to understand the Early Republic in a global context would be best served by a long-nineteenth-century-perspective that looks backward to the eighteenth century rather than forward to the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It calls for historians of the Early American Republic to apply trans-local analysis to reorient the field in new directions and to realize the promise of the global approach. To properly understand the country’s early economy, society, and culture in a global or transnational context, historians of the early United States must adopt multi-lingual and multi-archival research methodologies that account for all sides of cross-cultural exchange. By resisting circular analytical and methodological pathways that start the global approach with the nation-state and end with the nation-state, they might better understand the significance and effects of global entanglements for the Early Republic and other peoples and places outside the United States too. Thereby, they might avoid the global U-turn.
Dael A. Norwood
The field of early American political economy has quietly grown in the last decade, as historians have used a flexible framework to analyze how a wide variety of economic practices and ideas related to formal and informal political formations. Using capacious definitions of “political economy,” historians have followed in the footsteps of their sources, early American political economists, who, unsure of the range of the mechanisms and forces they were trying to describe, were wary of too narrowly delimiting their field of investigation. In contrast to other methodological approaches to early American economic practice, historians investigating political economy have largely been keen to “keep early America weird,” recognizing the unfamiliar and the dissonant in the past while generating important new perspectives on topics of perennial interest, such as the links between slavery and economic growth, and opening new inquiries into state-formation, market-creation, and the import of the early republic’s global connections. This essay highlights some of the common themes and questions driving recent work, delineates how histories of political economy both fit within and diverge from new histories of capitalism, and offers suggestions for further study.
The recent resurgence of interest in economic and business history -- popularly known as the new “history of capitalism” -- has prompted many American historians to revisit subjects long neglected in their particular subfields. Much of this new work has focused on a particular dimension of capitalism: finance. For historians of the early American republic, the history of finance has been especially neglected. This article examines why these subjects have generally escaped attention, and offers a theoretical framework for understanding finance during this period. Finally, it offers a detailed roadmap to new avenues for research into a range of promising, if little-studied, topics.
Madison’s Hand: Revising the Constitutional Convention. By Mary Sarah Bilder. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. 358. Cloth, $35.00.)
Summer 2016 Vol. 36.2
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Recent scholarship presumes that the word “nigger” has always been a racist epithet thrust upon African Americans to demean Black social identity in the United States. But how is it, then, that the word “nigger” emerge as a slur more virulent than other racially coded language from the post-revolutionary period such as “African,” “Black,” and “darky?” This article demonstrates that before 21st century hip hop made popular the word “nigga” with a soft “a,” “nigger” had long been two words with multiple meanings: one for Black speakers and another for white. Using evidence drawn from blackface literary and cultural productions from the 1770s to the 1840s and from the writings, speeches and memoirs of Black activists and authors from the 1820s to the 1860s, this article shows that the violence and power behind the word was based precisely on the fact that African American laborers used the word themselves. “Nigger” had once described an actual labor category. Black laborers thus adopted it into their own vocabulary as a social identity to claim a sense of national belonging, akin to a proto-pan-Africanism. Once blackface theatrical productions gained popularity in the early 1830s, in a trick of ventriloquy, white performers and later their audiences put the word “nigger” into the mouths of Black caricatures to authenticate these anti-Black portrayals. In doing so, whites blamed Black people for using language meant to subjugate them and thus accused African Americans for being self-acknowledged “niggers,” a discursive weapon in the fight for white supremacy that, in turn, buttressed white notions of national belonging. In response, Black transatlantic abolitionists denounced white usage as a great verbal symbol of American hypocrisy.
Taking a series of popular jokes about fictitious “anti-societies” as its point of departure, this article explores the responses to the transformation of reform in the decade between 1825 and 1835 and places them in the context of social and political change brought about by Evangelicalism and Jacksonian democracy. Rooted in the tradition of the moral reform society, through specialization of its aims, the anti-society seemed to become a democratic pendant of older reform societies and was thought to play a divisive role in local communities. Critics denounced the new societies for their prescriptive character, the prominent role women played, and the “spirit of opposition” they triggered.
Contemporaries increasingly understood the evolution of reform culture from the relatively harmonious religious and moral reform societies of the Benevolent Empire of the first quarter of the 19th century to the oppositional and highly contested organizations of radical antislavery and temperance of the 1830s as a serious threat to the social order and the future of the United States. Using the Benign Violation Theory of Humor, this article argues that the American reaction to anti-societies suggests that while they were broadly perceived as a threat to the social order from the late 1820s on, this threat was at first understood to be benign, and thus could be laughed off, while from 1833 on, anti-societies were increasingly regarded as a destructive force, and provoked substantial fears that could justify violent responses as an alternative way to reinforce the “normal” order of things.
Scholars of the early republic have tended to overlook the extent to which elite U.S. officials feared that enslaved and free people of color might collude with local Spanish officials in the Louisiana borderlands, and in so doing threaten plans for westward expansion. By exposing these fears and explaining the reasons for them, this article attempts to show how enslaved and free people of color, combined with local Spanish officials, posed a serious challenge to the United States’ attempt to gain control over the trans-Appalachian west. Several factors explain why U.S. officials feared Spanish and black collusion: First, U.S. officials worried that Louisiana’s black population might rebel at the loss of the rights granted to them during period of Spanish colonial rule. Second, after the U.S. took control of Louisiana, slaves continually escaped to Spanish Texas with the explicit encouragement of local Spanish officials, who tried to weaken U.S. authority over Louisiana. Last, enslaved and free people of color exploited the tumult unleashed by the Spanish Atlantic empire’s rapid collapse. By the end of the territorial period, U.S. officials’ fears of a slave revolt, I argue, had less to do with the Haitian Revolution than with the Latin American Wars of Independence, which began in 1810. Ultimately, this paper suggests the need to take seriously the joint role played by local Spanish and black actors in the broader imperial struggle for the trans-Appalachian west.
Politics in and of Women's History in the Early Republic
This introduction to a forum interrogates whether the vast explosion of scholarship about women in the early American republic has changed the way in which the history of that period is now written. It locates the work of forum contributors Lori Ginzberg, Patricia Cline Cohen, Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor, Amy Dru Stanley and Jennifer L. Morgan in relation to each other, and to relevant historiography.
In this think piece, the author argues that the “grand American narrative” has remained surprisingly impervious to several decades of the feminist challenge. She muses about why this might be the case, notes some political implications of sustaining a traditional narrative, and offers several metaphors to help historians re-imagine a new history.
This essay assesses the degree to which the field of nineteenth-century U.S. Women’s History has had an impact on the basic narrative of U.S. History as presented in general survey courses and associated textbooks over the last four decades. What methods did scholars in the 1970s envision to mainstream this new body of specialized knowledge into the curriculum? How successful has that project been?
The study of the history of political economy seems indifferent to gender or the actions of women. Emphasis on financialization rather than industrialization de-emphasizes the role of paid and unpaid women’s labor. Highlighting gender makes for a truer, richer history.
This essay argues that the insights of a previous generation of feminist historians about the significance of sex and gender in the history of American political economy have been overlooked by scholars calling for the writing of a "new" history of capitalism.
In this article, Jennifer Morgan considers the scholarship on histories of gender and slavery with a particular focus on the conceptual framework of "Early Republic," and how periodizing frames both highlight and occlude the historiography of gender and slavery.
Surveying the Fields
Scholarship on religion in the early American republic is often shaped by two historical narratives. One is the story of the efflorescence of religion—its power, pervasiveness, and plurality. The second is the account of secularization. Once seen as the waning of religion’s power with the advent of modernity, secularization has recently been reimagined and recast by scholars in several disciplines. But to explore some themes at the intersection of recent religious histories of the early republic and neo-secularization theory is no easy task because of the instability and ambiguity of the very terms at the center of discussion: the religious and the secular. This essay reviews recent studies of the Enlightenment, the Revolution, and disestablishment and shows how they employ the categories of the religious and the secular in strikingly different ways. Seeing how these authors construct (or assume) these categories brings their works into a more productive conversation.
Emmanuelle Perez Tisserant
Spring 2016 Vol. 36.1
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Science in the Early Republic
William Blanding, physician and naturalist, was born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, in 1773. He graduated from Rhode Island College (Brown University), studied with a Massachusetts doctor and moved to Camden, South Carolina, where he spent the next several decades, treating patients and running an apothecary shop. In the 1830s, he retired to Philadelphia and then finally returned to Massachusetts to die in 1857 on the farm where he’d been born. This essay, based on the 2015 SHEAR presidential address, uses Blanding’s correspondence to explore connections between the everyday concerns of this man and his family and the larger economic, political, and cultural issues that shape the history of the Early American Republic. It explores Blanding’s place in a network of amateur American naturalists, looks at the importance of his wife’s benevolent networks, traces his ties to the slave-based economy of South Carolina and to former slaves settled in Liberia, and, using the Cistuda blandingii (“Blanding’s turtle”) that bears his name, teases out histories behind the specimens Blanding collected and donated to Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences.
Portraits of famous cattle, sheep and horses crowded the agricultural journals on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1830s, 40s, and 50s. More than simple representations, these images were intended to shape the animals they showed-establishing standards of taste that would allow breeders to create “thrifty” meat-producing bodies, while advertising the bloodlines of already thrifty animals. In doing so, they became central to the expansion of a new form of domestic animal: the “improved breed.” In the early eighteenth century, “breeds” had been understood to emerge from particular kinds of places. Emerging in the mid-eighteenth “improved breeds” came to be defined by rules of ‘blood’ and kinship. Improved cattle were novel bodies; they grew to enormous sizes, came in new shapes and colors, and dominated the new agricultural fairs. Their blood relationships, the source of their value, were recorded not only in internationally circulated record books, but also in a linked and elaborate tradition of portraiture. This article shows how the transatlantic circulation of cattle portraits shaped both the changing definition of breed and the bodies of the animals defined. As cattle were bred to match new forms of taste, made concrete by prices in the market, portraits and cattle became more uniform. At the same time, the paper argues, ideas about the meaning of these changes diverged and fragmented. Recorded over generations by portraits, changing cattle bodies lent themselves to radically different ideas about nature, and about human and divine capacity to shape living bodies.
Conevery Bolton Valencius, David I. Spanagel, Emily Pawley, Sara Stidstone Gronim, Paul Lucier
This collaboration promotes a broad reconsideration of science in the early American republic. We argue that scientific activity permeated early American society, but appeared in different forms and in different places than most historical literature has identified. Mathematical tables and astronomical charts in almanacs, snippets on chemistry and climate in agricultural journals, illustrations of mineral resources in geological maps, accessibly-written resource analysis in consulting reports, and articles in local newspapers arguing about causes of phenomena from the mundane to the surprising: all express a pervasive commitment to scientific ideas, questions, and investigation. These diverse genres of print, moreover, evidence a society that strongly valued studies of the natural world for their connections with important contemporary human endeavors. In the early republic scientific questions were deeply interwoven with commerce, with territorial claims, and with moral order: Early Americans mapped the world conceptually in order to claim it for some people and not for others. We identify a constellation of interests that we call the ‘‘sciences of territoriality’’ centered on the description and appropriation of natural resources. Our investigation of print culture both emphasizes an often-ignored facet of the early American republic-that scientific thinking was as ubiquitous and as taken for granted as religion or politics-and reveals particular, often unrecognized, characteristics of science in the early United States. The commercial and moral forces underlying the ‘‘sciences of territoriality,’’ combined with widespread literacy and an active broad-based print culture, deeply shaped early epistemological hierarchies in the United States.
Robert W. Smith
Between January and March of 1798 the House of Representatives debated the foreign intercourse bill, which would fund the diplomatic corps for the next two years. This was a generally a routine function, but it soon became a wide-ranging debate over the basis nature of American diplomacy, and of the American republic itself. The debate revealed something important about the politics of the 1790s. Given that republics were inherently fragile, even seemingly small matters might destroy the American republic. Both Republicans and Federalists proceeded from this assumption. The debate fell into three broad categories. First was the question of who should be appointed. The Republicans accused President Adams of using additional diplomatic appointments as a vehicle to create a patronage machine that would corrupt Congress. The Federalists that countered that amount of patronage available was insignificant, and that that the president was justified in excluding Republicans from office. Second was the question of who should control the appointments. This led back to the control of American foreign policy. The Republicans argued for congressional control through the appropriation and war powers. The Federalists contended for presidential control through the treaty and appointment powers. Third was the question of whether diplomats should be appointed at all. The Republicans believed that trade would allow the United States to secure its diplomatic goals without recourse to the normal institutions of diplomacy. The Republicans considered the United States as existing outside the European balance of power. The Federalists saw no choice but to play by the generally established rules, and thus must appoint diplomats.
Vivian Bruce Conger
William B. Warner
Lawrence B. A. Hatter
Brie Swenson Arnold
Michael D. Robinson
Erin Austin Dwyer
Winter 2015 Vol. 35.4
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The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798, which headed the Republican attack on the Alien and Sedition Acts, are almost always described as being “rebuffed by all the other states” so that “none of the other fourteen state legislatures followed” in “declaring the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional.” That is puzzling, since Madison’s and Jefferson’s resolutions are also generally regarded as the opening shots of the election of 1800, in which by contrast the Republicans were far from rebuffed or rejected.
That conventional description, besides being puzzling, is false. This article revisits the legislative journals, manuscript evidence, and period newspapers for each of the other states, and concludes that only half the sixteen states opposed the resolutions, while fully half of the sixteen states either supported or did not oppose the resolutions. It finds that Virginia and Kentucky received the support they requested through overlooked Tennessee and Georgia Resolutions (which called for repeal of the Alien and Sedition Acts), and that legislatures divided in two states, while legislatures chose not to oppose the resolutions in the remaining two states. These findings, based on original research, challenge the conventional view of the abject failure of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, and of their rejection by the other states.
There are many broader implications of an accurate view of the reception of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which challenge conventional views about constitutional theories of James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the Resolutions, about their expansive view of freedoms of press and speech being newly formulated, and about the Republican interest being undeveloped and far from a coordinated political party.
Anelise Hanson Shrout
In 1847, Cherokee and Choctaws in Indian Territory raised over $800 to help victims of famine in Ireland. Their donations were part of one of the earliest instances of transnational disaster philanthropy, and Cherokees and Choctaws were extremely unlikely donors. Just over a decade earlier they had forced off of their lands in the American southeast and marched west along the “Trail of Tears.” These events cost much in both property and lives. In the aftermath of this trauma, American Indians found the resources – both monetary and emotional – to give to a suffering population an ocean away. While many American commentators considered these contributions as evidence of the success of missions to “civilize the Indian,” this article argues that these philanthropic acts should be read neither as acts of acculturative generosity nor as unconnected and unique charitable outbursts. Rather, I see them as engagements with American political culture, as ways to comment on missionaries’ projects and to engage with American Indian policy. These donations were products of intersecting loyalties, sympathies and animosities that grew out of parallels between Indians’ experiences at the hands of the American government, and Irish experiences at the hands of the British government. The Cherokee and Choctaw donations exemplified a new set of meanings that came to be ascribed to philanthropy in the nineteenth century. This article positions Native philanthropy as part of a constellation of familiar, but nonetheless deeply political practices that those excluded from formal politics were able to deploy in nineteenth-century America.
Scholars have long recognized the Jay Treaty as a definitive, divisive moment in early American political culture. As the first treaty the U.S. negotiated with a European power under the Constitution, this moment also marked the first public debate over many of the Constitution’s foreign policy provisions. To a greater extent than has been traditionally acknowledged, the Jay Treaty debate was a controversy about which branch(es) of government would dominate American foreign policy.
This essay examines that debate, with a focus on Republican criticisms levied during the summer of 1795. While Republicans disapproved of the Jay Treaty for many reasons, they immediately and consistently charged the treaty was unconstitutional. The sum and spirit of their critique rested on the premise that the treaty violated the separation of powers. More specifically, Republicans maintained that President George Washington and the Senate had usurped their constitutional authority by exercising powers that were reserved to the legislature, or the Senate and House of Representatives in Article I Section 8 of the Constitution. The fight over the Jay Treaty quickly became about much more than the specific terms of the Jay Treaty or treaty-making in general; because the nation’s foreign and domestic affairs were intertwined, the Republican experiment itself seemed at risk. The debate over the Jay Treaty demonstrates the difficulty of putting abstract constitutional principles like the separation of powers into practice and reminds us that many precedents that would later be taken as givens remained undefined in the 1790s.
The Star Spangled Banner is typically considered in relation to the immediate story of its composition – that during the War of 1812, while in full view of battle, Francis Scott Key found the inspiration to write a truly and enduringly patriotic anthem. However, it’s less well understood that Key’s moment of patriotic inspiration occurred within a particular political context and that its composition built on a long legacy of Federalist musical thought and action. This article connects Key and The Star Spangled Banner to an older Federalist conception of music in politics and in so doing contributes to an ‘elite turn’ in our understanding of early American political culture. Through a distinctively historical approach to the examination of music and politics it is found that Federalism may bear more responsibility for the rise of popular American political culture than commonly thought. Influenced by contemporaneous English debates, Federalists justified their own top-down approach to popular patriotic music by appealing to music’s capacity to moderate the temperament, to instill support in the nation’s leaders, and to soothe rather than inflame factional differences. The composition of The Star Spangled Banner, in effect, represented a culmination of Federalist efforts to use music as part of a political strategy to ensure their elite values were reflected in national culture.
Mary Carroll Johansen
Beth A. Salerno