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Reviewed by:
  • Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London
  • Kyle G. Volk (bio)
Triumph of Order: Democracy and Public Space in New York and London. By Lisa Keller. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. Pp. 338. Cloth, $50; paper, $24.50.)

Why do London and New York City stand as leading centers of global capitalism in the early twenty-first century? In Triumph of Order, historian Lisa Keller maintains that one key, underappreciated reason is each city's modern commitment to public order. During the turbulent second half of the nineteenth century, a legal and political regime developed in each city that privileged order over liberty and established conditions that promoted the stability required for economic growth. According to Keller, this regime came at the great cost of circumscribing the public culture of democracy, not least through restricting access to the parks, squares, and other public spaces where citizens might assemble to collectively express dissent. Her timely contention is sure to interest scholars of civil liberties and public space as well as urban and political historians.

Following the preface and introduction, Keller provides two foundational chapters that identify the main contexts of her complementary studies of late nineteenth-century London and New York: the expansion of voting rights; urban growth and industrialization; the extent of public space in each city; the emergence of modern policing; and legal heritage. In five chapters, the book's second section tackles London. Keller moves chronologically and details events from the Chartist uprisings of the 1830s to the Black Monday and Bloody Sunday riots of 1886-87 in which mostly working-class Londoners struggled to occupy public spaces and register their discontent over public policies and socioeconomic conditions. Violence and disorder stemming from these assemblies brought law-and-order backlashes, which often resulted in restrictions on public assembly. By the end of the century, new organizations dedicated to preserving liberty in combination with bottom-up agitation countered restrictionists, leaving London with a culture in which the right to assemble existed, albeit with substantial regulation.

Keller's third section, which focuses on New York, tells a fairly similar story, taking readers from the rioting of the Jacksonian era through labor unrest at the end of the nineteenth century and showing the process by which authorities worked to subdue disorder. Of particular importance [End Page 260] here are the Civil War draft riots, which Keller views as a turning point for Gotham. Formerly, the city had tolerated periodic mob activity. The brutality of 1863, however, gave rise to new public expectations for municipal officers to maintain order and to "the development of extensive regulations for daily life" (164). The 1871 Orange riots expedited this process, prompting restrictions on speech and assembly, including permit requirements and other constraints on parades and meetings in the city's few public spaces. As she often does with London, Keller sees debates arising from such events as dividing the working classes, who favored a more open public sphere, from "the authorities and propertied classes," who sided with law and order (180). One wonders whether the divisions were that neat, and more evidence revealing the social composition of involved parties might have substantiated this claim even further.

Keller's book is more comparative than transnational, and the overwhelming bulk of the comparative work is done in the bookends. Keller might have explored connections between events that happened contemporaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. The London Sunday Trading Bill riots of 1855 which Keller discusses, for example, had their American counterparts in the Chicago Lager Beer Riot and Portland, Maine prohibition riot of the same year. For these types of events and others, Keller leaves us wondering to what extent any trans-Atlantic conversation about the problems of urban order developed. An investigation of how events were covered in the press on the other side of the Atlantic might have been fruitful. Furthermore, though Keller exposes important differences between New York and London, examining a city less successful in establishing a regime of order might have allowed for sharper contrasts and alternative conclusions.

Keller's important contribution to urban and civil liberties histories might have been broadened by...


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pp. 260-262
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