Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Beyond the Founders

Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic

  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Beyond the Founders
    Book Description:

    In pursuit of a more sophisticated and inclusive American history, the contributors toBeyond the Founderspropose new directions for the study of the political history of the republic before the Civil War. In ways formal and informal, symbolic and tactile, this political world encompassed blacks, women, entrepreneurs, and Native Americans, as well as the Adamses, Jeffersons, and Jacksons, all struggling in their own ways to shape the new nation and express their ideas of American democracy.Taking inspiration from the new cultural and social histories, these political historians show that the early history of the United States was not just the product of a few "founding fathers," but was also marked by widespread and passionate popular involvement; print media more politically potent than that of later eras; and political conflicts and influences that crossed lines of race, gender, and class.Contributors:John L. Brooke, The Ohio State UniversityAndrew R. L. Cayton, Miami University (Ohio)Saul Cornell, The Ohio State UniversitySeth Cotlar, Willamette UniversityReeve Huston, Duke UniversityNancy Isenberg, University of TulsaRichard R. John, University of Illinois at ChicagoAlbrecht Koschnik, Florida State UniversityRich Newman, Rochester Institute of TechnologyJeffrey L. Pasley, University of Missouri, ColumbiaAndrew W. Robertson, City University of New YorkWilliam G. Shade, Lehigh UniversityDavid Waldstreicher, Temple UniversityRosemarie Zagarri, George Mason University

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0524-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Beyond the Founders
    (pp. 1-28)

    The dawn of the twenty-first century has turned out to be a flush time for the founding fathers. Pundits celebrated their appearance on the best-seller lists, cited them as a tonic for contemporary disillusionment with politics, and got to work writing biographies themselves.

    The founders’ renewed popularity created opportunities for professional historians as well. Some dubbed “founders chic” a healthy antidote to academic attacks on the nation’s “greatest generation.” Joseph J. Ellis introduced his ensemble of paired founder studies with a “polite” but direct attack on social historians who vaulted “marginal or peripheral figures, whose lives are more typical” over...


    • 1 The Cheese and the Words: Popular Political Culture and Participatory Democracy in the Early American Republic
      (pp. 31-56)

      President Thomas Jefferson and his guests rang in the new year of 1802 as many later generations of Americans would celebrate New Years’ Day, by consuming some snacks and watching a spectacle. In this case, however, the snackwasthe spectacle: the long-awaited “Mammoth Cheese” from Cheshire, Massachusetts, four feet in diameter, eighteen inches tall, 1,200 pounds, and already an American icon.¹

      The cheese and its saga were several months old by the time they reached President Jefferson. The “Ladies of Cheshire” had made the cheese back in August as “a mark of the exalted esteem” in which Jefferson was...

    • 2 Voting Rites and Voting Acts: Electioneering Ritual, 1790–1820
      (pp. 57-78)

      One of the benefits of recent scholarship in the early republic has been a more profound understanding of political celebrations and festivals. With the exception of Alan Taylor and David Waldstreicher, and, in a later period, Mary Ryan and Jean Baker, historians have not paid explicit attention to electioneering rituals themselves.¹ In the 1950s and 1960s, historians described polling rituals metamorphosing from “deferential” politicking to a full-fledged “party system” by 1800.² In the late 1970s, Ronald Formisano coined the term “deferentialparticipant” political culture for this era.³ Since then, historians have not really considered the ways in which “deferential” political rituals...

    • 3 Why Thomas Jefferson and African Americans Wore Their Politics on Their Sleeves: Dress and Mobilization between American Revolutions
      (pp. 79-104)

      “As long as we are dependent upon Great Britain for our clothing and other necessities, we must be influenced by her baneful politics,” wrote George Logan to President-elect Thomas Jefferson on the eve of his inauguration.¹ Hamiltonian commerce versus Jeffersonian self-sufficiency, Old World corruption versus New World independence: these were familiar gestures by 1801. But what if we take notice of Logan’s example? Why did he mention clothing in particular, while summarizing everything else as “other necessities”?

      Logan seems to have taken for granted that clothes were the truest example of political economy in everyday practice. Clothing did its necessary...


    • 4 Women and Party Conflict in the Early Republic
      (pp. 107-128)

      The political history of the early republic has traditionally been written as the story of great white males. It is, of course, a tale well worth telling. Commanding figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams seized the moment of the nation’s founding and forged the institutions and ideas that continue to shape our government even today. As majestic as it is, however, the traditional narrative seems to have no place for women. The American Revolution did not produce a collective movement for women’s rights. Women could neither vote (except for a brief time...

    • 5 The “Little Emperor”: Aaron Burr, Dandyism, and the Sexual Politics of Treason
      (pp. 129-158)

      Lord Byron, as the story goes, identified three nineteenth-century men as truly great. Showing supreme humility, the poet placed himself third on the list, Napoleon Bonaparte second, and he humorously selected “Beau” Brummell, the cultural progenitor of the dandy, for the honored title of greatest man.¹ Whether he actually made this remark cannot be proven, but the statement is revealing for what it does say about masculine ideals. If Byron had added one American to his list, he might have chosen Aaron Burr. Nicknamed the “little emperor,” and known for his unquenchable ambition, sexual exploits, small stature, elegant personal style,...

    • 6 Young Federalists, Masculinity, and Partisanship during the War of 1812
      (pp. 159-179)

      Until recently political historians of the early republic have paid little attention to the deeply gendered nature of male political socialization and the crucial role of gender in shaping the development of partisan politics. In this they have followed the biases of their sources, most of which were generated by male public figures who presented their identities as political actors and citizens as fully formed, self-contained, and unrelated to marriage and family life. Consequently, by concentrating on men’s public representation of themselves as their object of study, historians have neglected the lives of husbands and fathers, of sons and suitors,...

    • 7 Protest in Black and White: The Formation and Transformation of an African American Political Community during the Early Republic
      (pp. 180-204)

      Politics has been defined as the art of the possible. For early black activists, politics had the nearly opposite meaning—the art of the impossible. While free blacks certainly voted in northern elections during the early national period, and while many early state constitutions (New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania) did not initially differentiate between black and white rights, most African Americans were completely excluded from the political process. Well over 90 percent of American blacks resided in the slave South though the 1860s. And in the North and Midwest between the 1820s and 1860s, many states disfranchised black voters, with...


    • 8 Consent, Civil Society, and the Public Sphere in the Age of Revolution and the Early American Republic
      (pp. 207-250)

      While historians instinctively avoid theory, we necessarily attempt an exploration where imagination, fact, and theory all come to bear, as we attempt to visualize the spaces in which our historical subjects engaged with one another. Over the past decade, a new understanding of public space has begun to provide a more precise structure and coherence to that difficult visualization. First proposed in 1962 by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, in a book published in English in 1989 asThe Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, the concept of “public sphere” has emerged as a formal, even technical, term for historians...

    • 9 Beyond the Myth of Consensus: The Struggle to Define the Right to Bear Arms in the Early Republic
      (pp. 251-273)

      The political history of the early republic has undergone an impressive renaissance in recent years. One of the distinguishing features of this newest version of a “new political history” has been the way it has self-consciously shifted its focus away from the elite world of the founders. The impact of the new scholarship has profoundly altered the intellectual landscape of early American history. Americans from all walks of life have been restored to their proper place as actors in the dramatic political life of the new nation. It would be unfortunate, however, if the move beyond the founders led historians...

    • 10 The Federalists’ Transatlantic Cultural Offensive of 1798 and the Moderation of American Democratic Discourse
      (pp. 274-300)

      In late 1798 two radically different publications—Britain’s arch-conservativeAnti-Jacobin Reviewand Boston’s staunchly democratic and pro-FrenchIndependent Chronicle—found some rare interpretive common ground. In the opening article of its first edition, theAnti-Jacobin Reviewcommented favorably on the American activities of Federalist printer and writer William Cobbett, remarking that the pieces he had written during the diplomatic crisis with France had given “a proper tone to the public spirit in America.”¹ While theAnti-Jacobin Reviewcelebrated the rise of anti-Jacobin conservatism in the United States, a writer in theIndependent Chronicledecried the spirit of 1798. From his...


    • 11 Continental Politics: Liberalism, Nationalism, and the Appeal of Texas in the 1820s
      (pp. 303-327)

      In the 1820s, Texas attracted the attention of citizens of the United States, Mexico, and the Cherokee Nation interested in improving the quality of their lives. We tend to think of these people as settlers rather than émigrés and to assume that they went to Texas to replicate rather than revise familiar worlds. Yet more than a few Americans considered migration because they felt constrained, in part by personal economic diff¡culties and in part by related fears, real or imagined, of powerful national governments. Uncomfortable with the correspondence between politics and society they saw emerging in the new republics of...

    • 12 Private Enterprise, Public Good?: Communications Deregulation as a National Political Issue, 1839–1851
      (pp. 328-354)

      In June 1847, Supreme Court Justice Levi Woodbury delivered a remarkable paean to the regulatory powers of the federal government. “To dream,” Woodbury declared, that the Post Off¡ce Department might be supplanted by “individual enterprise” was to “dream as wildly as in the tales of the Arabian Nights.” Private enterprise might conceivably meet the needs of a compact territory that was densely settled and bustling with commercial activity: “But what could it do for the county of Coos, or Tioga, or for Iowa, and Florida, and Oregon?”¹

      Woodbury’s remarks had been occasioned by one of the many lawsuits in the...

    • 13 Popular Movements and Party Rule: The New York Anti-Rent Wars and the Jacksonian Political Order
      (pp. 355-386)

      When he arrived in Sand Lake, a village in the foothills of the Tagkhanic mountains just east of Albany, Governor William Bouck felt a shock of dismay and anger. A crowd was waiting for him. Brightly colored banners and transparencies filled the village square with strange icons, pictures of Indians, and mottoes like “Down with the Rent” and “The Land is Mine, Sayeth the Lord.” As the governor arrived, the celebrants began firing a six-pound cannon; between one and two thousand people crowded around his carriage, “in various ways demonstrat[ing] their high respect for their chief magistrate.” At the edge...

    • 14 Commentary: Déjà Vu All Over Again: Is There a New New Political History?
      (pp. 387-412)

      Since the 1980s, American political historians have been bemoaning their fall from grace.¹ Can the soul of American political history be saved? Is it possible to reconcile the tendencies within a profession that seems to focus entirely on race, class, and gender with the formerly important study of ordinary politics associated with the formal political system of elections, legislation, and administration? Is there a New New Political History rooted in cultural studies and postmodernism that will chart a new road to salvation? In line with the intent of this volume, I will limit my response to a discussion of some...

  9. Contributors
    (pp. 413-416)
  10. Index
    (pp. 417-435)