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Distant Revolutions

1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism

Timothy Roberts

Publication Year: 2009

Distant Revolutions: 1848 and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism is a study of American politics, culture, and foreign relations in the mid-nineteenth century, illuminated through the reactions of Americans to the European revolutions of 1848. Flush from the recent American military victory over Mexico, many Americans celebrated news of democratic revolutions breaking out across Europe as a further sign of divine providence. Others thought that the 1848 revolutions served only to highlight how America’s own revolution had not done enough in the way of reform. Still other Americans renounced the 1848 revolutions and the thought of trans-atlantic unity because they interpreted European revolutionary radicalism and its portents of violence, socialism, and atheism as dangerous to the unique virtues of the United States.

Published by: University of Virginia Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. vii


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-20

In 1990 the U.S. Congress paid tribute to the recent fall of communism in eastern Europe by dedicating the bronze bust of a man who died some ninety years before the Berlin Wall was knocked down—indeed, decades before the wall was built. Elected officials, foreign dignitaries, and even church ministers gathered to witness the unveiling of the bust...

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Chapter 1: The Ambivalence of Americans Abroad

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pp. 21-41

Philip Claiborne Gooch, in Paris in 1848, and Elizabeth Stiles, in Vienna that year, wrote accounts of their experiences that capture the idealism and anxiety of Americans witnessing revolution and counterrevolution firsthand. Gooch, a medical student, joined a mob that invaded the Tuileries Palace, taking a seat himself upon the throne of the deposed King Louis Philippe...

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Chapter 2: The Rise and Fall of the 1848 Revolutions in American Public Culture

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pp. 42-62

When Philip Claiborne Gooch, the American medical student, returned to the United States from Europe in 1849, he commenced his practice in Virginia but kept up his interest in public affairs, which his experiences in revolutionary Paris had piqued. He became an organizer for a Democratic Party committed to extending American influence abroad...

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Chapter 3: The Presidential Campaign of 1848: Competing Rhetorics of Revolution

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pp. 63-80

Soon after the upheaval of Paris in February 1848, a coterie of American journalists gathered in Old Fellows’ Hall in the national capital. The Washington press wished to issue an “appropriate” statement, to be transmitted to the new French government. Attending the meeting were William Seaton, the publisher...

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Chapter 4: American Reform: Transatlantic Inspiration

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pp. 81-104

In April 1848 the popular Massachusetts poet and essayist James Russell Lowell composed an antislavery essay entitled “Shall We Ever be Republican?” Lowell answered the question himself, declaring America would never be republican because tolerance of slavery violated moral norms established...

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Chapter 5: The Conservative Christian Alliance

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pp. 105-124

In 1850 John Hughes, the archbishop of New York City, wrote about an exchange with “an esteemed Protestant Friend.” “We Protestants,” declared Hughes’s counterpart, “are going to take Pius IX from you, and then what will your Church do without a Pope?” Hughes replied, “If you take the Pope from us, what will your Church do without an Antichrist?”...

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Chapter 6: Secession or Revolution? The South and the Crisis of 1850

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pp. 125-145

In 1850, perhaps gazing at Europe, William Henry Trescot, a South Carolina lawyer and future U.S. diplomat, asked, “What is the position of the South . . . as a slaveholding people?” At the time some promoters of slavery in America were considering separation from a country increasingly resistant to the institution’s aggrandizement...

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Chapter 7: Louis Kossuth and the Campaign of 1852

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pp. 146-167

Americans erupted in a final frenzy over revolutionary Europe in early 1852, despite, or because of, the recent setback experienced by Louis Kossuth, the dashing Hungarian revolutionary. Kossuth had come to the United States late in 1851 to raise support for renewing the Hungarian independence struggle against Austria...

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Chapter 8: The Antislavery Movement as a Crisis of American Exceptionalism

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pp. 168-186

Many Americans at the outset of the 1848 revolutions considered the prospect that, at least politically, the United States and Europe were growing closer together. But Americans viewed the revolutions’ lack of success as a debacle, and many inferred that the ingredients necessary for revolutionary success resided only on the western side of the Atlantic...

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Epilogue: From 1848 to 1863

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pp. 187-192

The relationship between the European upheavals of 1848 and the American reaction beginning in 1849, the disruption of the American political system in the 1850s, and the North’s prosecution of the Civil War may be recapitulated by a focus on two Northern antislavery men, John Brown and Abraham Lincoln...

Chronology of Events, 1848–1854

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pp. 193-196


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pp. 197-218


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pp. 219-248


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pp. 249-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780813928180
E-ISBN-10: 0813928184
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813927992
Print-ISBN-10: 0813927994

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 6 b&w photos, 1 map
Publication Year: 2009

OCLC Number: 753976368
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Distant Revolutions

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Revolutions -- Europe -- History -- 19th century.
  • National characteristics, American.
  • United States -- Intellectual life -- 1783-1865.
  • Europe -- History -- 1848-1849.
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