We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Imaginary Citizens

Child Readers and the Limits of American Independence, 1640–1868

Courtney Weikle-Mills

Publication Year: 2012

From the colonial period to the end of the Civil War, children’s books taught young Americans how to be good citizens and gave them the freedom, autonomy, and possibility to imagine themselves as such, despite the actual limitations of the law concerning child citizenship. Imaginary Citizens argues that the origin and evolution of the concept of citizenship in the United States centrally involved struggles over the meaning and boundaries of childhood. Children were thought of as more than witnesses to American history and governance—they were representatives of “the people” in general. Early on, the parent-child relationship was used as an analogy for the relationship between England and America, and later, the president was equated to a father and the people to his children. There was a backlash, however. In order to contest the patriarchal idea that all individuals owed childlike submission to their rulers, Americans looked to new theories of human development that limited political responsibility to those with a mature ability to reason. Yet Americans also based their concept of citizenship on the idea that all people are free and accountable at every age. Courtney Weikle-Mills discusses such characters as Goody Two-Shoes, Ichabod Crane, and Tom Sawyer in terms of how they reflect these conflicting ideals.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. ix-x

In writing about the limits of independence, I have been constantly reminded of my dependence on others. The intellectual contributions of this book would not have been possible without a trip to the American Antiquarian Society, where I held a short-term Reese fellowship on the History of the Book. I met many wonderful...

read more

Introduction. From Subjects to Citizens: The Politics of Childhood and Children’s Literature

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-31

In 1845, the prolific author and publisher Samuel Goodrich presented his readers with a new edition of the first children’s book that he had published, The Tales of Peter Parley about America. In his preface to this final revision, Goodrich looks back on the work’s reception and makes a compelling statement about children’s position...

read more

1. Youth as a Time of Choice: Children’s Reading in Colonial New England

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 32-62

Thoughts about children’s political identity in England and colonial America, especially in New England, were closely tied to changing notions of when religious belonging and church membership were thought to begin, since these were considered prerequisites to political participation. As patriarchal metaphors of subjects as children...

read more

2. Affectionate Citizenship: Educating Child Readers for a New Nation

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 63-94

In one of the first children’s storybooks to be published in the colonies, The Child’s New Play-Thing (1750), a child asks how he is to become a good man. The answer: he must learn to “love his book.” This lesson signaled a relatively new posture that child readers were asked to take, but by the end of the eighteenth century, “loving...

read more

3. Child Readers of the Novel: The Problem of Childish Citizenship

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 95-130

Because the affectionate citizenship of children was important in creating an entire population of citizens who understood the law as representative of their power, the child came to symbolize the (limited) liberty of citizens. Yet in Locke’s Two Treatises the child was also the foil to the citizen, necessary to mark his emancipation from...

read more

4. Reading for Social Profit: Economic Citizenship as Children’s Citizenship

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 131-167

In The Exhibition of Tom Thumb (1775, first American edition 1787), the proprietor of an imaginary collection of curiosities describes a “conjuring box” that transforms any object into “the very thing that it ought to have been.” The first object put into the box is a children’s book, probably The Exhibition itself, as the American...

read more

5. Natural Citizenship: Children, Slaves, and the Book of Nature

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 168-205

The debates about citizenship following the Civil War demonstrate the extent to which children’s citizenship—and citizenship in general—was still an unsettled issue in mid-nineteenth-century America. When the Fourteenth Amendment was being drafted, the committee argued that the first section of the amendment, the...

read more

Conclusion. The Legacy of the Fourteenth Amendment: Limited Thinking on Children’s Citizenship

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 206-217

A recent political cartoon by Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Nick Anderson brings the historical periods that begin and end this book into the present day. The cartoon depicts a pilgrim family carrying an infant, and hiding in the bushes are two Native Americans in stereotypical dress, commenting “[expletive] Anchor...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 219-256


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 257-265

E-ISBN-13: 9781421408071
E-ISBN-10: 1421408074
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421407210
Print-ISBN-10: 1421407213

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 9 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 821216783
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Imaginary Citizens

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Children -- Books and reading -- United States -- History.
  • Johnson, Crockett, -- 1906-1975.
  • Citizenship -- United States -- History.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access