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Radical History and the Early Republic
A new perspective on the cultural politics of Charles Brockden Brown
The novels of Charles Brockden Brown, the most accomplished literary figure in early America, redefined the gothic genre and helped shape some of America’s greatest writers, including Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, little has been said about the latter years of Brown’s career. While his early novels are celebrated for their innovative and experimental style, Brown’s later historical narratives are often dismissed as uninteresting, and Brown himself has been accused of having become “a stodgy conservative.”
Through a re-examination of these neglected historical writings, Mark L. Kamrath takes a fresh look at Brown’s later career and his role in the cultural politics of the early national period. This interdisciplinary study uses transatlantic historical contexts and recent narrative discourse to unveil Brown’s philosophic inquires into the filiopietistic tradition of historiography and increasingly imperialistic notion of American exceptionalism. It recovers a forgotten debate—and radical position—about the nature of historical truth and representation and opens up for contemporary discussion what it means to write about the past.
A Social History of Prairie du Rocher, Illinois
“History as They Lived It deserves to be placed within the rich context of Illinois Country historiography going back more than a century. . . . It brings together the fully ripened thoughts of a mature scholar at the very moment that students of the Illinois Country need such a book.”—from the foreword by Carl J. Ekberg
Settled in 1722, Prairie du Rocher was at the geographic center of a French colony in the Mississippi Valley, which also included other villages in what is now Illinois and Missouri: Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Fort de Chartres, St. Philippe, Ste. Genevieve, and St. Louis. Located in an alluvial valley near towering limestone bluffs, which inspired the village’s name—French for “prairie of the rock”— Prairie du Rocher is the only one of the seven French colonial villages that still exists today as a small compact community.
The village of Prairie du Rocher endured governance by France, Great Britain, Virginia, and the Illinois territory before Illinois became a state in 1818. Despite these changes, the villagers persisted in maintaining the community and its values. Margaret Kimball Brown looks at one of the oldest towns in the region through the lenses of history and anthropology, utilizing extensive research in archives and public records to give historians, anthropologists, and general readers a lively depiction of this small community and its people.
A Transatlantic Friendship of the Enlightenment
Humboldt and Jefferson explores the relationship between two fascinating personalities: the Prussian explorer, scientist, and geographer Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) and the American statesman, architect, and naturalist Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). In the wake of his famous expedition through the Spanish colonies in the spring of 1804, Humboldt visited the United States, where he met several times with then-president Jefferson. A warm and fruitful friendship resulted, and the two men corresponded a good deal over the years, speculating together on topics of mutual interest, including natural history, geography, and the formation of an international scientific network. Living in revolutionary societies, both were deeply concerned with the human condition, and each vested hope in the new American nation as a possible answer to many of the deficiencies characterizing European societies at the time.
The intellectual exchange between the two over the next twenty-one years touched on the pivotal events of those times, such as the independence movement in Latin America and the applicability of the democratic model to that region, the relationship between America and Europe, and the latest developments in scientific research and various technological projects. Humboldt and Jefferson explores the world in which these two Enlightenment figures lived and the ways their lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic defined their respective convictions.
In Defense of the Constitution refutes modern critics of the Constitution who assail it as "reactionary" or "undemocratic." The author argues that modern disciples of Progressivism are determined to centralize political control in Washington, D.C., to achieve their goal of an egalitarian national society. Furthermore, he contends, Progressive interpreters of the Constitution subtly distort fundamental principles of the Constitution for the precise purpose of achieving their egalitarian goals. It is in their distrust of self-government and representative institutions that Progressivists advocate, albeit indirectly, an elitist regime based on the power of the Supreme Court—or judicial supremacy.
Key elements and issues in this transformation of the original republic into an egalitarian mass society are thoroughly examined.
George W. Carey is Professor of Government at Georgetown University and editor of The Political Science Reviewer.
Letter Writing and Communications in Early America
In My Power tells the story of letter writing and communications in the creation of the British Empire and the formation of the United States. In an era of bewildering geographical mobility, economic metamorphosis, and political upheaval, the proliferation of letter writing and the development of a communications infrastructure enabled middle-class Britons and Americans to rise to advantage in the British Atlantic world.
Everyday letter writing demonstrated that the blessings of success in the early modern world could come less from the control of overt political power than from the cultivation of social skills that assured the middle class of their technical credentials, moral deserving, and social innocence. In writing letters, the middle class not only took effective action in a turbulent world but also defined what they believed themselves to be able to do in that world. Because this ideology of agency was extended to women and the youngest of children in the eighteenth century, it could be presented as universalized even as it was withheld from Native Americans and enslaved blacks.
Whatever the explicit purposes behind letter writing may have been—educational improvement, family connection, business enterprise—the effect was to render the full terms of social division invisible both to those who accumulated power and to those who did not. The uncontested power that came from letter writing was, Konstantin Dierks provocatively argues, as important as racist violence to the rise of the white middle class in the British Atlantic world.
Since 1969, Ethan Allen has been the subject of three biographical studies, all of which indulge in sustaining and revitalizing the image of Allen as a physically imposing Vermont yeoman, a defender of the rights of Americans, an eloquent military hero, and a master of many guises, from rough frontiersman to gentleman philosopher.
Seeking the authentic Ethan Allen, the authors of this volume ask: How did that Ethan Allen secure his place in popular culture? As they observe, this spectacular persona leaves little room for a more accurate assessment of Allen as a self-interested land speculator, rebellious mob leader, inexperienced militia officer, and truth-challenged man who would steer Vermont into the British Empire.
Drawing extensively from the correspondence in Ethan Allen and his Kin and a wide range of historical, political, and cultural sources, Duffy and Muller analyze the factors that led to Ethan Allen’s two-hundred-year-old status as the most famous figure in Vermont’s past. Placing facts against myths, the authors reveal how Allen acquired and retained his iconic image, how the much-repeated legends composed after his death coincide with his life, why recollections of him are synonymous with the story of Vermont, and why some Vermonters still assign to Allen their own cherished and idealized values.
A Son of Virginia and a Founder of the Nation
James Madison is remembered primarily as a systematic political theorist, but this bookish and unassuming man was also a practical politician who strove for balance in an age of revolution. In this biography, Jeff Broadwater focuses on Madison's role in the battle for religious freedom in Virginia, his contributions to the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, his place in the evolution of the party system, his relationship with Dolley Madison, his performance as a wartime commander in chief, and his views on slavery. From Broadwater's perspective, no single figure can tell us more about the origins of the American republic than our fourth president.
During the mid-1790s, citizens of the newly formed United States became embroiled in a divisive debate over a proposed commercial treaty with Great Britain. Long regarded as a pivotal event in the history of the early republic, the controversy pitted pro-treaty Federalists against anti-treaty Jeffersonian Republicans. Yet as Todd Estes argues in this perceptive study, the year-long debate over the ratification of the Jay Treaty represented more than a clash over foreign policy between two nascent political parties. It also marked a significant milestone in the role played by public opinion in the young nation’s political culture. Drawing evidence from a broad range of sources—petitions and newspaper polemics, crowd gatherings, as well as rhetorical exchanges on the floor of Congress—Estes shows how both sides in the Jay Treaty debate mounted extensive and unprecedented campaigns to marshal popular support for their positions. Although many Americans initially opposed the treaty, the Federalists proved particularly skillful at courting the public and eventually prevailed over their opponents, just as they had won earlier battles over neutrality, democratic societies, and the Whiskey Rebellion. But the Republicans, Estes points out, learned from the experience, and in the long run they would become even more adept than the Federalists at shaping public opinion. Even at the time, amid the fierce political rhetoric and colorful street demonstrations that characterized the Jay Treaty debate, participants recognized that important changes were taking place. Not only did the dispute solidify party allegiances, it also legitimized and advanced popular involvement in the political process. While some welcomed the emergence of this new, more democratic political culture, Estes concludes, others were much more ambivalent.
American Citizen in a Revolutionary World
Poet, republican, diplomat, and entrepreneur, Joel Barlow filled many roles and registered impressive accomplishments. In the first biography of this fascinating figure in decades, Richard Buel Jr. recounts the life of a man more intimately connected to the Age of Revolution than perhaps any other American. Barlow was a citizen of the revolutionary world, and his adventures throughout the United States and Europe during both the American and French Revolutions are numerous and notorious. From writing his epic poem, The Vision of Columbus, to plotting a republican revolution in Britain to negotiating the release of American sailors taken captive by Barbary pirates, Joel Barlow personified the true spirit of the tumultuous times in which he lived. No one witnessed more climactic events or interacted with more significant people than Joel Barlow. It was his unique vision, his unfailing belief in republicanism, and his entrepreneurial spirit that drove Barlow to pursue the revolutionary ideal in a way more emblematic of the age than the lives of many of its prominent heroes. Buel is a knowledgeable guide, and in telling Barlow’s story he explores the cultural landscape of the early American republic and engages the broader themes of the Age of Revolution. Few books explore in such a comprehensive fashion the political, economic, ideological, diplomatic, and technological dimensions of this defining moment in world history.