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Contested Democracy

Contested Democracy: Freedom, Race, and Power in American History

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 352
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    Contested Democracy
    Book Description:

    With essays on U.S. history ranging from the American Revolution to the dawn of the twenty-first century, Contested Democracy illuminates struggles waged over freedom and citizenship throughout the American past. Guided by a commitment to democratic citizenship and responsible scholarship, the contributors to this volume insist that rigorous engagement with history is essential to a vital democracy, particularly amid the current erosion of human rights and civil liberties within the United States and abroad. Emphasizing the contradictory ways in which freedom has developed within the United States and in the exercise of American power abroad, these essays probe challenges to American democracy through conflicts shaped by race, slavery, gender, citizenship, political economy, immigration, law, empire, and the idea of the nation state.

    In this volume, writers demonstrate how opposition to the expansion of democracy has shaped the American tradition as much as movements for social and political change. By foregrounding those who have been marginalized in U.S society as well as the powerful, these historians and scholars argue for an alternative vision of American freedom that confronts the limitations, failings, and contradictions of U.S. power. Their work provides crucial insight into the role of the United States in this latest age of American empire and the importance of different and oppositional visions of American democracy and freedom.

    At a time of intense disillusionment with U.S. politics and of increasing awareness of the costs of empire, these contributors argue that responsible historical scholarship can challenge the blatant manipulation of discourses on freedom. They call for careful and conscientious scholarship not only to illuminate contemporary problems but also to act as a bulwark against mythmaking in the service of cynical political ends.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51198-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Amid the unprecedented degree of cynical manipulation of U.S. history, the ideals of American democracy, and the tenets of freedom for self-serving political ends, this volume is written with the conviction that history matters. A rigorous engagement with history is essential to a vital democracy, especially as we witness a steady erosion of human rights and civil liberties within the United States and abroad. In the present age of empire, globalization, and the export of American democracy, it is particularly important to reexamine the historically contradictory and exclusionary development of democracy within the United States itself. Historians have always been...

  5. Chapter One An Alternative Tradition of Radicalism: African American Abolitionists and the Metaphor of Revolution
    (pp. 9-30)

    In recent years, the study of black abolitionism in the United States has come of age. Building on the foundational work of Benjamin Quarles and earlier black historians, scholars have drawn attention to the crucial role of African Americans in the rise of the antebellum abolition movement with its emphasis on immediatism and black rights.¹ We now know in detail the wide array of ideological weapons employed by African American abolitionists in their battle against slavery and racism: the ideas of racial uplift and moral reform, the languages of black nationalism and religious millennialism, the black response to the pseudoscience...

  6. Chapter Two Isaiah Rynders and the Ironies of Popular Democracy in Antebellum New York
    (pp. 31-53)

    The election day scene that brisk autumn day was typical of mid-nineteenth-century New York City. Hundreds of men, dressed in long, rough overcoats and tall stovepipe hats to ward off the cold, thronged the street outside a polling place in a working-class neighborhood. Many were in a boisterous mood, having fortified themselves at nearby saloons for the anticipated rushing and shoving and fighting and brawling—what were popularly referred to as “election sports.” At booths outside the polls, campaign workers handed out ballots and harangued the crowd with exhortations to vote for their candidates. Voters jostled their way into the...

  7. Chapter Three Leave of Court: African American Claims-Making in the Era of Dred Scott v. Sandford
    (pp. 54-74)

    The beginning of my graduate study of history also marked the end of my career as a public interest lawyer. I had represented, in New York courts high and low, many of the city’s most marginalized residents including those who were homeless, mentally ill, and living with HIV or AIDS. Eric Foner was among the first to encourage my career change, and in exchange for his support he extracted only one promise: I would never complain to him when I found myself miserable in my choice to leave law for history. It may please him to know that I have...

  8. Chapter Four City Women: Slavery and Resistance in Antebellum St. Louis
    (pp. 75-94)

    Slave women in pre–Civil War St. Louis were atypical in almost every respect. Before the Civil War, St. Louis was only one of three Southern cities with a population of one hundred thousand or more (the others being Baltimore and New Orleans). It was an anomaly in an overwhelmingly rural, agrarian South. Urban slavery moreover, accounted for only 10 percent of all slaves. Throughout all but the last decade of the antebellum period, St. Louis slaves, like those in most other Southern cities, although increasing in numbers, decreased in percentage of the population. After 1830, women slaves became a...

  9. Chapter Five Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Markets: Antebellum Merchant Clerks, Industrial Statistics, and the Tautologies of Profit
    (pp. 95-116)

    On March 30, 1848, nineteen-year-old William Hoffman decided to leave home. “As I had in an early hour dressed myself for the journey,” he wrote that evening in his diary, “I stood in the Threshold of the hall and with my eyes bent or turned to the east, looked now and then with steady fixed-ness for the stage to make its appearance.” William spent the next five days traversing the Hudson Valley, trying to “install myself in business.” The effort took him from the family farm in Columbia County to the river town of Poughkeepsie, to New York City, then...

  10. Chapter Six Make “Every Slave Free, and Every Freeman a Voter”: The African American Construction of Suffrage Discourse in the Age of Emancipation
    (pp. 117-140)

    The irony of the American Civil War, Eric Foner observed in 1980, was that “[e]ach side fought to defend a distinct vision of the good society, but each vision was destroyed by the very struggle to preserve it.” Abraham Lincoln would certainly appreciate this observation as it echoed his own reflections about the paradox of the war: “We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing.” Indeed, instead of preserving either antebellum version of American liberty, the bloodiest military conflict in American history produced “a new birth of freedom” that...

  11. Chapter Seven Making It Fit: The Federal Government, Liberal Individualism, and the American West
    (pp. 141-163)

    In 1899, six years after the publication of Frederick Jackson Turner’s Significance of the Frontier in American History, Nebraska journalist William E.Smythe put his own ideas about the impact of the West on the American character in writing. Like Turner, Smythe argued that the western landscape had a transformative power. The challenges and adversities inherent in remaking vast regions of wilderness into an agrarian idyll had the capacity, Smythe wrote, to change men: the West would shape a new American identity.¹

    But there the similarities ended. For Turner, the settling of the West had transformed the civilized, urbane European into...

  12. Chapter Eight Reconstructing the Empire of Cotton: A Global Story
    (pp. 164-190)

    The worldwide decline of bonded labor was one of the key economic, social, and political changes of the nineteenth century. If in the early nineteenth century the vast majority of agricultural commodities imported into the industrializing economies of the North Atlantic were produced by slaves and serfs—ranging from Caribbean sugar to American cotton to Russian wheat—by the end of the century, slavery and serfdom had all but disappeared as labor systems for agricultural production. The tight and long-lived connection between slavery and capitalism had been severed. To be sure, indentured labor, repressive credit arrangements, and all kinds of...

  13. Chapter Nine Cuba Libre and American Imperial Nationalism: Conflicting Views of Racial Democracy in the Post-Reconstruction United States
    (pp. 191-214)

    On the night of July 3, 1876, the celebrations in New York for the centennial of the Declaration of Independence included a large march of foreign political refugees living in the city. Cubans marched as a subdivision of the Italian group.¹ This parade, which occurred in the eighth year of the Cuban “Ten Years’ War” (1868–78), revealed the social, political, racial, and national relations existing in cosmopolitan New York at that time.²

    The parade also demonstrated that the Cuba Libre movement had stirred a great deal of support among political refugees in the United States, and that the centennial...

  14. Chapter Ten Transnational Solidarities: The Sacco and Vanzetti Case in Global Perspective
    (pp. 215-236)

    In August 1927, high in the mountainous region of the Andes in Bolivia, more than sixty thousand peasants and mine workers paraded through small towns and villages to protest wage reductions and land seizures. Led by Tristan Maroff, a Marxist-inspired radical leader, these impoverished men and women denounced the power of the mine companies and large land owners while railing against the impending execution of two formerly obscure anarchists in the United States, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Speakers drew parallels between the plight of the two men with workers’ experiences in Bolivia: both were linked to a global web...

  15. Chapter Eleven “An Ironic Testimony to the Value of American Democracy”: Assimilationism and the World War II Internment of Japanese Americans
    (pp. 237-257)

    The internment of Japanese Americans during World War II stands as one of the most extreme cases of “alien citizenship” in American history. During the era of Asiatic exclusion (1882–1952), Chinese, Japanese, and other people of Asian descent were not only excluded from immigration but were denied the privilege of naturalized citizenship as well. The legal logic that declared Asians racially unassimilable and doomed them to permanent foreignness led to the widespread perception that even people of Asian descent who were born in the United States, and who were therefore birthright citizens, were aliens.¹

    During World War II the...

  16. Chapter Twelve Student Protest, “Law and Order,” and the Origins of African American Studies in California
    (pp. 258-278)

    Student participation in the civil rights movement is usually associated with the lunch counter sit-ins of 1960 and with the subsequent campaigns of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Mississippi and Alabama. But the student component of the black liberation movement actually grew much later in the decade. By the late 1960s, SNCC veterans, along with newly established black student unions, had built a student movement across the nation that was pushing open the doors of elite white universities, transforming black colleges, and insisting on the right of the urban working class to obtain a free or very low...

  17. Chapter Thirteen Duke Ellington Plays Baghdad: Rethinking Hard and Soft Power from the Outside In
    (pp. 279-300)

    On April 11, 2003, over the caption “Palace of Rubble: American Soldiers Yesterday Inside a Ruined Palace in Baghdad That Belongs to President Saddam Hussein’s Son Uday,” the front page of the New York Times displayed a picture of a grand piano, legs collapsed, top smashed, lying in the rubble of a bombed palace. Looking at the demolished piano, two American soldiers, surrounded by chunks of rock, wall, and marble, ascended the palace’s winding staircase.¹ The photograph appeared amid criticism of official indifference to Iraqi cultural treasures, as U.S. forces failed to protect museums and priceless archaeological artifacts from extensive...

  18. Chapter Fourteen The Story of American Freedom—Before and After 9/11
    (pp. 301-312)

    It is a great source of pride to be honored this weekend and to see again this brilliant group of students who came to Columbia fifteen to twenty years ago. It is a remarkably diverse group, hailing from six countries (China, Germany, India, Israel, and Italy, along with the United States) and writing on issues and time periods that range across the entire two centuries of American nationhood. Nothing gives a teacher greater pleasure than seeing his students fulfill their early promise and become prominent and widely admired scholars in their own right. This event has led me to reflect...

  19. Afterword: “From the Archives and from the Heart”
    (pp. 313-318)

    It was not the first time I had met Eric Foner, but it was the first time I had the pleasure of spending any time with him. We were gathered as part of the Milan Group, in June 1992. That group of historians and other scholars, a mixture of Americans, Europeans, Australians, Israelis, and others who tended to write from a left, social-political history perspective, had been formed back in the 1970s by Herbert Gutman and Loretta Mannucci. Eric was chair and commentator on a session where I gave my first-ever paper on the memory of the Civil War. He...

  20. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 319-322)
  21. Index
    (pp. 323-336)