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Taming Passion for the Public Good

Policing Sex in the Early Republic

Mark E. Kann

Publication Year: 2013

“Kann's latest tour de force explores the ambivalence, during the founding of our nation, about whether political freedom should augur sexual freedom. Tracing the roots of patriarchal sexual repression back to revolutionary America, Kann asks highly contemporary questions about the boundaries between public and private life, suggesting, provocatively, that political and sexual freedom should go hand in hand.”
—Ben Agger, University of Texas at Arlington
The American Revolution was fought in the name of liberty. In popular imagination, the Revolution stands for the triumph of populism and the death of patriarchal elites. But this is not the case, argues Mark E. Kann. Rather, in the aftermath of the Revolution, America developed a society and system of laws that kept patriarchal authority alive and well—especially when it came to the sex lives of citizens.
In Taming Passion for the Public Good, Kann contends that that despite the rhetoric of classical liberalism, the founding generation did not trust ordinary citizens with extensive liberty. Under the guise of paternalism, they were able simultaneously to retain social control while espousing liberal principles, with the goal of ultimately molding the country into the new American ideal: a moral and orderly citizenry that voluntarily did what was best for the public good.
Mark E. Kann, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and History, held the USC Associates Chair in Social Science at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Republic of Men (NYU Press, 1998) and Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy (NYU Press, 2005). 

Published by: NYU Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-7


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pp. vii-9

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pp. ix-11

Let me begin by acknowledging my gratitude to Jessica Whittemore, who was my research assistant and intellectual guide through the nineteenth-century world of American prostitution, brothels, and courts. I also want to thank Nick Buccola for a key conversation that forced me to clarify major issues in the manuscript. Finally, I would...

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1. In the Shadow of Patriarchal Authority

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pp. 1-22

This book tells the story of how American leaders were able to conserve, legitimize, and perpetuate patriarchal authority over the sex lives of the first few generations of Americans to reside in a newly emergent liberal society. America’s early elites rejected the rule of English kings and transformed the nation into a liberal society of rights-bearing citizens who consented to limited...

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2. Resilient Patriarchal Authority

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pp. 23-48

By what authority did civic leaders and public officials police sex in the early Republic? They believed their historical and intellectual forbears bequeathed to them patriarchal authority under God. Sir Robert Filmer claimed that God delegated authority to the first father, Adam, as well as to “succeeding patriarchs [who] had, by right of fatherhood, royal authority...

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3. The Need to Police Sex

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pp. 49-75

On the eve of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin published a satire that instructed the British on how to humble their American vassals. The British had to reduce the growth of the American population, which could be accomplished by castrating all American males. He outlined the logistics: “Let a company of sow-gelders, consisting...

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4. Policing Impassioned Men

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pp. 77-101

How did the nation’s early leaders go about policing sex? Their strategies were gender based. They perceived the American male primarily as a creature of passion who, under some circumstances, would do nearly anything to satisfy sexual desire. The American male would not and did not naturally fit into the newly emerging middle class and its clean sex...

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5. Policing Women’s Sex Lives

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pp. 103-127

Thomas Jefferson proposed different approaches for policing men’s and women’s passion and sexual behavior. He assigned to both high-status males and the state ultimate responsibility for governing males, preventing their misconduct, and punishing manifestations of it. Men wielded patriarchal authority over other men. By contrast, he relied primarily on heads...

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6. Policing Prostitution

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pp. 129-159

Public officials in the early Republic had the unquestionable authority to police prostitution. Generally, they could count on parental, political, and judicial support for their efforts to arrest prostitutes and to shutdown brothels, and they expected the concurrence of neighbors, ministers, and reformers for crusades against public licentiousness and...

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7. The Patriarchal Core of Liberalism

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pp. 161-182

Patriarchal authority is the core of liberalism. Governing elites lay claim to broad discretionary powers to do whatever they think necessary to contribute to public welfare, regardless of supportive or adverse public opinion. Their discretionary decision-making enables them to limit people’s liberty, to restrain public passion, and to ensure social...


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pp. 183-211


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pp. 213-228


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pp. 229-236

About the Author

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pp. 237-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759462
E-ISBN-10: 0814770193
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814770191
Print-ISBN-10: 0814770193

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013