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Crown of Thorns

Crown of Thorns: Political Martyrdom in America From Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Eyal J. Naveh
Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Crown of Thorns
    Book Description:

    "A provocative treatment of political martyrdom in the United States . . . . a well-crafted, thought-provoking book." - The Lincoln Herald "In the U.S., dead politicians and controversial reformers have frequently been called martyrs to a cause. But achieving martyrdom is more elusive than simply being jailed, murdered, or rejected in fighting for what one believes. This is the thrust of Naveh's argument, which traces the martyr motif in American political culture since the 1830s." - Choice "Drawing upon eulogies and obituaries, sermons and biographies, poems and public memorials, Crown of Thorns is most valuable in providing a taxonomy that helps suggest why some public figures sink into oblivion while a very few others belong to the ages." - The Journal of American History "Naveh makes admirable use of a wide range of primary sources, particularly those drawn from popular rather than elite culture . . . . well written . . . Crown of Thorns should be of some interest to all who are interested in the dynamics of cultural inertia and social change in the United States." - History

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5925-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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

    The martyr as hero appeared in Western culture centuries before the discovery of the New World. Socrates, Leonidas, Judah the Maccabee, Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Galileo, Jordano Bruno, William of Orange, and many others suffered and, in most cases, sacrificed their lives, for a sublime purpose. Later generations glorified these individuals and perceived them as martyrs. Obviously, martyrdom took many forms in different civilizations and sacrifice had disparate meanings in various societies. Yet, while sacrifice dominated many pagan rituals, the martyred figure became a wellknown symbolic archetype only under the monotheistic tradition and particularly in Christianity. With the triumph...

  5. 1 Suffering for the Sin of Slavery
    (pp. 9-21)

    Although the symbolic figure of the martyr in its religious setting was familiar to most Americans, the concept of sacrifice, suffering, and martyrdom, became an important ideological component of American political discourse only in the midnineteenth century. The first group to use these concepts politically were the radical members of the anti-slavery reform movement, known as the abolitionists. A famous English author, Harriet Martineau, who visited America in the 1830s, wrote about the abolitionists in her bookThe Martyr Age of the United States. She urged her English readers to view the abolitionists as

    the true republicans … the sufferers,...

  6. 2 John Brown’s Body—And Spirit
    (pp. 22-49)

    John Brown was born on May 9, 1800, in Torrington, Connecticut, one of the sixteen children of Owen Brown, whose father had served as a captain in the Revolutionary War. John grew up in the Western Reserve frontier of Ohio and at the age of eighteen intended to become a Congregational minister, yet he did not finish the religious schools in Massachusetts and Connecticut he attended. He married Dianthe Lusk who bore him seven children, and after her death Mary Anne Day who born him thirteen more. He never had a permanent profession and was engaged in many enterprises without...

  7. 3 Abraham Lincoln—The National Martyr
    (pp. 50-82)

    On Good Friday 1865 Abraham Lincoln, the sixteenth president of the United States, was shot by an assassin. He died hours later. This event profoundly shocked the country, sealing the tragic period of the Civil War with both a catastrophic and sublime climax. Americans had never experienced an assassination of their chief magistrate before, and the event immediately led to unprecedented public mourning and grief. The context of the Civil War provided a unique and heroic dimension to this national bereavement. Yet the tragic event reached far beyond the ceremonies of sorrow and rites of national affliction in that it...

  8. 4 Sacrifice for Law and Order
    (pp. 83-102)

    Two American presidents besides Lincoln fell victim to an assassin’s bullet within less than forty years. On July 2, 1881, James Abraham Garfield, the twentieth president of the United States, was shot by a disappointed office seeker in Washington, D.C., and died eighty days later on September 19, 1881. Twenty years later, on September 8, 1901, William McKinley was shot by a self-proclaimed anarchist in Buffalo, New York, and died on September 14, 1901. These two presidents belonged to the dominant Republican party, which represented the legitimate and conservative political establishment of the Gilded Age. As political leaders killed while...

  9. 5 Progressive Reformers and Martyrdom: Mixed Attitudes
    (pp. 103-139)

    Wendell Phillips was a renowned reformer who participated in both the early and later reform movements of the nineteenth century and was therefore defined by certain spokesmen as the last abolitionist and the first Progressive.¹ He vigorously affirmed martyrdom for the cause throughout his career, never abandoned the rhetoric of sin, sacrifice, suffering, and redemption, and used religious concepts and images when interpreting and justifying his various reform activities. In his many orations he emphasized the value of sacrifice for reform whenever he had an opportunity to do so. As a former abolitionist, Wendell Phillips celebrated the abolitionists’ legacy and...

  10. 6 On Revolution’s Altar
    (pp. 140-166)

    InJane Addams and the Liberal Tradition, Daniel Levine defined radicalism in relative terms: “People who want to change a lot of important things rapidly are more radical than people who want to change less important things, or fewer of them, less rapidly.”¹ He rejected the identification of radical tradition with revolutionary Marxism and asserted that if historians would cease defining radicalism as a total opposition to the capitalistic system, they would find a vigorous and living radical tradition in America. But such a definition makes it difficult to differentiate between reformers and radicals. Both shared a sense of discontent...

  11. 7 Contemporary America: Decline and Resurrection of the Martyr
    (pp. 167-192)

    The martyr embodies symbolically a rich biblical tradition of sin, fall, suffering, sacrifice, and redemption. This tradition, which has given meaning to the American experience, is not only a religious manifestation but also a cultural phenomenon, an essential part of what can be called the American civil religion. Yet, like all cultural phenomena, this tradition is dynamic, contextual, and variable. Many factors determine the degree of its significance in any given period and among specific groups in society. As we have seen in previous chapters, in the context of American history at least three general factors are crucial for developing...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-228)
  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 229-242)
  14. Index
    (pp. 243-248)