Review: Kyle T. Bulthuis, Four Steeples over the City Streets

foursteeplesREVIEW: Four Steeples over the City Streets: Religion and Society in New York’s Early Republic Congregations. By Kyle T. Bulthuis. New York: NYU Press, 2014.

In many respects, Four Steeples over the City Streets is a story about different ways of being Anglican in New York City. It’s also a story about how external social changes influenced and threatened a vision of social order without destroying it. And it’s a story about how different kinds of New Yorkers in the early republic–black and white and male and female–experienced their community in religious terms. Continue reading

Socializing, Speculating, and Speaking French in François Furstenberg’s Philadelphia

Furstenberg CoverREVIEW: When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees Who Shaped a Nation. By François Furstenberg. New York: Penguin, 2014.

On the Fourth of July, 1794, two former members of France’s Constituent Assembly gazed from a window across New York’s Bowling Green. Both had arrived in the United States just that year. Back in 1789, they had helped to launch a revolutionary movement for liberal and constitutional reforms. But as the Revolution grew ever more violent and threatened to destroy them, they fled France. The United States, they thought, would be a suitable refuge: the republican spawn of the British government whose constitution they so admired, the new nation whose Enlightenment principles would guard them from the threats of the Parisian mob. They must have been unnerved to see “a host of pro-French radicals” marching towards them that day, the rabble-rousing Girondin ambassador Edmond-Charles Genet at the fore, “singing the Marseillaise and other republican songs,” and hurling insults up to the windows where the émigrés stood watching (80). Continue reading

Guest Post: Diplomacy, Slavery, Quids, and Much More in the Latest Volume of the Papers of James Monroe

Cassandra Good is the Associate Editor of The Papers of James Monroe. She received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and her first book Founding Friendships: Friendships between Men and Women in the Early American Republic is forthcoming from Oxford University Press in January 2015. 

frontcoverFrom the Louisiana Purchase to reflections on travels in Spain to debates on slavery, the latest volume of The Papers of James Monroe will be a great resource for scholars of the early republic. Whether or not you have ever read anything by or about Monroe, it’s likely that there will be documents of interest in this volume. It spans from 1803, when Monroe was sent to France to help negotiate for Louisiana, to April 1811, just before he became secretary of state.  Continue reading

Another Kind of Blood: Edward Baptist on America’s Slaver Capitalism

edwardbaptist-thehalfREVIEW: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. By Edward E. Baptist. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

The Half Has Never Been Told attempts a difficult feat: to analyze slavery’s place in the history of American capitalism, but also describe it as a lived experience. This is a story about commodities, bonds, and blood.

To join the abstract and the concrete, Edward Baptist relies on extended metaphors. His narrative traces the form of a human body: the ten chapters move from “Feet, 1783-1810” through “Tongues, 1819-1824” to “Arms, 1850-1861.” Overall, the narrative book follows an image, adapted from a Ralph Ellison essay, of “slavery’s giant body,” stretched across the territory of the United States, serving as the stage on which the drama of American history is acted.[1]

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Book Review: Maura D’Amore, Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture

Suburban Plots CoverREVIEW: Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture. By Maura D’Amore. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.

The world was a strange and startling place for Rip Van Winkle when he awoke from a twenty-year nap in New York’s Catskill Mountains. He had ventured to the woods to find a moment’s peace from “the labour of the farm and the clamour of his wife.”[1] Now well rested, bountifully bearded, and slightly disoriented, Van Winkle returned to his village anxious to understand the changes that left him “alone in the world,” but pleased that he was now part of a “more fraternal, organic domestic order.”[2] In the time since his fateful game of ninepins mixed with moonshine, Van Winkle, along with his male village compatriots, was now free to exercise his own masculine alternatives to traditionally female forms of domesticity. Maura D’Amore opens her book Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture with this unconventional reading of Washington Irving’s well-known tale. Seeking to understand the emergence of what she terms “male domesticity” in the nineteenth century—defined (somewhat inconsistently) as an ideology of “self-nurture in suburban environments [that provided] an antidote to the malaise of urban life and the strictures of feminine self-sacrifice”—D’Amore presents Rip Van Winkle as a prototype of various middle- and upper-class men who attempted to implement domesticity “on [their] own terms” in the midst of a quickly industrializing and alien world.[3] Continue reading

Stonecutting and Religion in America

stonecuttersI’ll just admit it: Freemasonry is one of those things in American history that I have trouble getting my head around. I suppose I understand the importance of guy-time, but many of my closest friends are women. The very idea of secret societies, with initiations and special rings, just seems boyish to me. I would suppose that the boyishness is the point–a search for wonder and enchantment and all of that–except that early in the nineteenth century the Masons banned alcohol at meetings: no stein hoists here. The largest group at midcentury actually required its members to be teetotalers, making enchantment a much harder sell, for my money. More to the point, in the same period enchantment without booze could be had at a Methodist camp meeting, which seems like it would have been quite a lot more interesting, what with women there. Continue reading

Just How Free Was Religious Life in the Early American Republic?

Religious liberty, perhaps, is the key legacy of the Revolutionary generation. The new United States was a society where slavery was a growing economic force, gender inequality was becoming entrenched, and the new nation’s expansion relied on the exploitation and expropriation of Native Americans. If there was one freedom, however, on the march in the early republic it was religious freedom. The progress of religious freedom in the United States was also the progress of religion itself. “[T]he number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the state” noted James Madison, that famous advocate of religious liberty, in an 1819 letter.[1] Religious freedom, then, is the American freedom. This has been the animating assumption behind most scholarship on the religious development of late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Continue reading