- Citizens More Than Soldiers: The Kentucky Militia and Society in the Early Republic, and: Middle Tennessee, 1775–1825: Progress and Popular Democracy on the Southwestern Frontier, and: The Ramseys at Swan Pond: The Archaeology and History of an East Tennessee Farm
When touring the United States in the 1830s, French historian and philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville witnessed a society in flux. Since the end of the American Revolution in 1783, the country had confronted several [End Page 533] changes and challenges, many of which remained unresolved. Population growth, advancements in transportation, and the expansion of the market economy had, among other phenomena, transformed traditional notions of masculinity, deepened class tensions, and given rise to the creation of a national two-party system. As de Tocqueville discovered, however, even as the country was becoming more divided along political, class, racial, and gender lines, many Americans (especially white males) believed that democracy had expanded over the past half century. The three books under review broaden historical understandings of this turbulent period. Harry S. Laver's Citizens More Than Soldiers and Kristofer Ray's Middle Tennessee, 1775–1825 explain the reasons for class conflict and the rise of democracy on the American frontier, while Charles H. Faulkner's The Ramseys at Swan Pond examines the daily life and social history of settlers living in Appalachian Tennessee during the early nineteenth century.
In Citizens More Than Soldiers, Laver sheds new light on the important role that the militia played in shaping American society during the early nineteenth century. Focusing on Kentucky, Laver argues that the militia there was not a "peripheral and fleeting" organization composed of "drunken buffoons who stumbled into a crooked line, poked each other with cornstalk weapons, and inevitably shot their commander in the backside with a rusty, antiquated musket" (1). Instead, he insists that the militia helped Kentuckians (especially white males) adapt to changing socioeconomic conditions and aided in the democratization of the electorate. "More than a dysfunctional military reserve," Laver writes, "the militia established community identities and social structure, participated in politics, kept the public peace, encouraged economic activity, and defined what it meant to be a man" (8).
Laver first chronicles the impact that the militia had on the community. Using mostly newspapers, he posits that militia musters were popular events that allowed Kentucky denizens the opportunity to strengthen communal bonds. Perhaps more importantly, these militia rallies, especially those held on the Fourth of July and commemorations of George Washington's Birthday, helped to cultivate a national identity among participants and onlookers. These militia celebrations, however, also reinforced class, racial, and gender hierarchies. White men, for instance, were the only members of the community who could directly participate in them, thereby pushing women and African Americans further away [End Page 534] from the public sphere. Meanwhile, militia officers, most of whom came from prominent families, often led the processions and reminded lower class militiamen of their place in the social hierarchy. The rank and file, Col. William Russell explained to his men in 1808, were to be "orderly and obedient" (40).
Laver then delves into the militia's role in the creation of a two-party system in Kentucky politics during the 1830s. He ultimately posits that the militia served as a "proto-political organization." Militia officers, many of whom would parlay their militia record into a political career, often used their position to promote partisan activities. Nor were rankand file militiamen averse to embracing party politics during public celebrations. "The spectacular show of parading militiamen in elaborate uniforms, thundering artillery fire, and plentiful food and drink attracted unsuspecting political agnostics to hear Whig and Democratic...