The essay analyzes antebellum American accounts of drawing straws in the context of American democracy’s rhetorical claims. The game of drawing straws links bodies in perverse formulas of inter-dependence; black and white, cabin boy and captain, man and woman. However macabre the outcome of the game may be, the formulas themselves contain modes of relational thinking that both expose the limits of democracy and express its possibilities. Reading across a varied archive of Anglophone sea narratives, shipwreck accounts, and first hand relations of ritual straw drawing, I theorize the way in which these texts conceptualize democracy within a complex racial and compromised juridical environment. I focus on sea lotteries where “one must die for the preservation of the rest.” Though that formula of survival reads as a kind of devil’s bargain of democracy, it also rhetorically buries the voice of the eaten and incorporated on top of whose bones democracy is built. It is the perspective from the bottom of the food chain that I aim to resurrect. The eaten and incorporated are best positioned, I argue, to express how sea lotteries become vehicles for articulating antebellum anxieties about democracy and the expanding American body politic.


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pp. 277-303
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