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The Culture of Appearance in Early America
In this path-breaking study of the intersections between visual and literary culture, Christopher J. Lukasik explores how early Americans grappled with the relationship between appearance and social distinction in the decades between the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Through a wide range of evidence, including canonical and obscure novels, newspapers, periodicals, scientific and medical treatises, and plays as well as conduct manuals, portraits, silhouettes, and engravings, Discerning Characters charts the transition from the eighteenth century's emphasis on performance and manners to the search for a more reliable form of corporeal legibility in the wake of the Revolution. The emergence of physiognomy, which sought to understand a person's character based on apparently unchanging facial features, facilitated a larger shift in perception about the meanings of physical appearance and its relationship to social distinction.
The ensuing struggle between the face as a pliable medium of cultural performance and as rigid evidence of social standing, Lukasik argues, was at the center of the post-Revolutionary novel, which imagined physiognomic distinction as providing stability during a time of cultural division and political turmoil. As Lukasik shows, this tension between a model of character grounded in the fluid performances of the self and one grounded in the permanent features of the face would continue to shape not only the representation of social distinction within the novel but, more broadly, the practices of literary production and reception in nineteenth-century America across a wide range of media.
The result is a new interdisciplinary interpretation of the rise of the novel in America that reconsiders the political and social aims of the genre during the fifty years following the Revolution. In so doing, Discerning Characters powerfully rethinks how we have read—and continue to read—both novels and each other.
The Coming of the American Civil War, 1789-1859
In the decades before the Civil War, Americans debating the fate of slavery often invoked the specter of disunion to frighten or discredit their opponents. According to Elizabeth Varon, disunion was a startling and provocative keyword in Americans' political vocabulary: it connoted the failure of the founders' singular effort to establish a lasting representative government. For many Americans in both the North and the South, disunion was a nightmare, the image of a cataclysm that would reduce them to misery and fratricidal war. For many others, however, threats, accusations, and intimations of disunion were instruments they could wield to achieve their partisan and sectional goals.
Anglo-American Prophecy in the Age of Revolution
The age of revolution, in which kings were dethroned, radical ideals of human equality embraced, and new constitutions written, was also the age of prophecy. Neither an archaic remnant nor a novel practice, prophecy in the eighteenth century was rooted both in the primitive worldview of the Old Testament and in the vibrant intellectual environment of the philosophers and their political allies, the republicans. In Doomsayers: Anglo-American Prophecy in the Age of Revolution, Susan Juster examines the culture of prophecy in Great Britain and the United States from 1765 to 1815 side by side with the intellectual and political transformations that gave the period its historical distinction as the era of enlightened rationalism and democratic revolution.
Although sometimes viewed as madmen or fools, prophets of the 1790s and early 1800s were very much products of a liberal commercial society, even while they registered their disapproval of the values and practices of that society and fought a determined campaign to return Protestant Anglo-America to its biblical moorings. They enjoyed greater visibility than their counterparts of earlier eras, thanks to the creation of a vigorous new public sphere of coffeehouses, newspapers, corresponding societies, voluntary associations, and penny pamphlets. Prophecy was no longer just the art of applying biblical passages to contemporary events; it was now the business of selling both terror and reassurance to eager buyers. Tracking the careers of several hundred men and women in Britain and North America, most of ordinary background, who preached a message of primitive justice that jarred against the cosmopolitan sensibilities of their audiences, Doomsayers explores how prophetic claims were formulated, challenged, tested, advanced, and abandoned. The stories of these doomsayers, whose colorful careers entertained and annoyed readers across the political spectrum, challenge the notion that religious faith and the Enlightenment represented fundamentally alien ways of living in and with the world.
From the debates over religious enthusiasm staged by churchmen and the literati to the earnest offerings of ordinary men and women to speak to and for God, Doomsayers shows that the contest between prophets and their critics for the allegiance of the Anglo-American reading public was part of a broader recalibration of the norms and values of civic discourse in the age of revolution.
The Extraordinary Life of a Royal Governor in Revolutionary America--with Jacobites, Counterfeiters, Land Schemes, Shipwrecks, Scalping, Indian Politics, Runaway Slaves, and Two Illegal Royal Weddings
Dunmore's New World tells the stranger-than-fiction story of Lord Dunmore, the last royal governor of Virginia, whose long-neglected life boasts a measure of scandal and intrigue rare in the annals of the colonial world. Dunmore not only issued the first formal proclamation of emancipation in American history; he also undertook an unauthorized Indian war in the Ohio Valley, now known as Dunmore’s War, that was instrumental in opening the Kentucky country to white settlement. In this entertaining biography, James Corbett David brings together a rich cast of characters as he follows Dunmore on his perilous path through the Atlantic world from 1745 to 1809.
Dunmore was a Scots aristocrat who, even with a family history of treason, managed to obtain a commission in the British army, a seat in the House of Lords, and three executive appointments in the American colonies. He was an unusual figure, deeply invested in the imperial system but quick to break with convention. Despite his 1775 proclamation promising freedom to slaves of Virginia rebels, Dunmore was himself a slaveholder at a time when the African slave trade was facing tremendous popular opposition in Great Britain. He also supported his daughter throughout the scandal that followed her secret, illegal marriage to the youngest son of George III—a relationship that produced two illegitimate children, both first cousins of Queen Victoria.
Within this single narrative, Dunmore interacts with Jacobites, slaves, land speculators, frontiersmen, Scots merchants, poor white fishermen, the French, the Spanish, Shawnees, Creeks, patriots, loyalists, princes, kings, and a host of others. This history captures the vibrant diversity of the political universe that Dunmore inhabited alongside the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. A transgressive imperialist, Dunmore had an astounding career that charts the boundaries of what was possible in the Atlantic world in the Age of Revolution.
The Politics of Slavery and Freedom, 1777–1827
An innovative blend of cultural and political history, Emancipating New York is the most complete study to date of the abolition of slavery in New York state. Focusing on public opinion, David N. Gellman shows New Yorkers engaged in vigorous debates and determined activism during the final decades of the eighteenth century as they grappled with the possibility of freeing the state's black population. The gradual emancipation that began in New York in 1799 helped move an entire region of the country toward a historically rare slaveless democracy, creating a wedge in the United States that would ultimately lead to the Civil War. Gellman's comprehensive examination of the reasons for and timing of New York's dismantling of slavery provides a fascinating narrative of a citizenry addressing longstanding injustices central to some of the greatest traumas of American history.
Two series of letters that have been described as "the wellsprings of nearly all ensuing debate on the limits of governmental power in the United States" are collected in this volume. The writings include Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania—the "farmer" being the gifted and courageous statesman John Dickinson and Letters from the Federal Farmer—he being the redoubtable Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Together, Dickinson and Lee addressed the whole remarkable range of issues provoked by the crisis of British policies in North America, a crisis from which a new nation emerged from an overreaching empire. Dickinson wrote his Letters in opposition to the Townshend Acts by which the British Parliament in 1767 proposed to reorganize colonial customs. The publication of the Letters was, as Philip Davidson believes, "the most brilliant literary event of the entire Revolution." Forrest McDonald adds, "Their impact and their circulation were unapproached by any publication of the revolutionary period except Thomas Paine's Common Sense." Lee wrote in 1787 as an Anti-Federalist, and his Letters gained, as Charles Warren has noted, "much more widespread circulation and influence" than even the heralded Federalist Papers. Both sets of Letters deal, McDonald points out, "with the same question: the never-ending problem of the distribution of power in a broad and complex federal system." The Liberty Fund second edition includes a new preface by the editor in which he responds to research since the original edition of 1962.
Forrest McDonald is Professor of History at the University of Alabama and author also of E Pluribus Unum, among other works.
Transatlantic Histories of the Louisiana Purchase
Empires of the Imagination takes the Louisiana Purchase as a point of departure for a compelling new discussion of the interaction between France and the United States. In addition to offering the first substantive synthesis of this transatlantic relationship, the essays collected here offer new interpretations on themes vital to the subject, ranging from political culture to intercultural contact to ethnic identity. They capture the cultural breadth of the territories encompassed by the Louisiana Purchase, exploring not only French and Anglo-American experiences, but also those of Native Americans and African Americans.
Outsiders and Authorship in Early America
American Political Practices in the Early Republic
In Era of Experimentation, Daniel Peart challenges the pervasive assumption that the present-day political system, organized around two competing parties, represents the logical fulfillment of participatory democracy. Recent accounts of "the rise of American democracy" between the Revolution and the Civil War applaud political parties for opening up public life to mass participation and making government responsive to the people. Yet this celebratory narrative tells only half of the story.
By exploring American political practices during the early 1820s, a period of particular flux in the young republic, Peart argues that while parties could serve as vehicles for mass participation, they could also be employed to channel, control, and even curb it. Far from equating democracy with the party system, Americans freely experimented with alternative forms of political organization and resisted efforts to confine their public presence to the polling place.
Era of Experimentation demonstrates the sheer variety of political practices that made up what subsequent scholars have labeled "democracy" in the early United States. Peart also highlights some overlooked consequences of the nationalization of competitive two-party politics during the antebellum period, particularly with regard to the closing of alternative avenues for popular participation.
David Humphreys was aide-de-camp to Washington during the American Revolution. His Life of Israel Putnam, originally published in 1788, has rightly been described as “the first biography of an American written by an American.” It is, as William C. Dowling observes, “a classic of revolutionary writing, very readable and immensely interesting in what it says about the temper of the new republic in the period immediately after the American Revolution.” The subject—General Israel Putnam—is remembered to history and legend as exclaiming: “Don’t fire ’til you see the whites of their eyes!” to American soldiers at the Battle of Bunker Hill. As Professor Dowling notes, “All the episodes are retold—Bunker Hill, the Battle of White Plains, the crossing of the Delaware, the Battle of Princeton—but from the perspective of one who was there throughout, and who always permits us to see Putnam as the sort of character by whom history is, in the last analysis, made.” Humphreys wrote the biography when formation of the Society of the Cincinnati, composed of men who were officers in the Revolution, “focused debate in the new republic about the competing claims of individual liberty and the good of the community.”
William C. Dowling is a Professor of English at Rutgers University