This essay draws insight from George Caleb Bingham's painting The Verdict of the People (1854-55) to examine the gendered connections between virtue and politics in the decade before the Civil War, when woman's rights activists challenged the boundary that separated masculine politics from feminine virtue. The painting shows a chaotic masculine street scene just as election results are read. In the margin of the painting, high above the street, women appear to participate in the political event from the safety of a balcony. While art history accounts portray the women as traditional moral reformers who eschew politics, I integrate these accounts with more recent women's history accounts and nineteenth-century visual culture to show that Bingham and his audiences would have perceived the women as political activists. From this perspective, I argue, the contrast between the balcony and the street in Verdict provides a visual map of pervasive tensions between politics and virtue that still trouble American political culture today.


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pp. 343-370
Launched on MUSE
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