The Newberry Seminar in Early American History presents:
“The Democratization of Heroism: Veterans, National Identity, and the Memory of the Revolutionary War”
Sarah J. Purcell, Grinnell College, November 30, 2000, 3:30-5:30pm
This paper examines the democratization of heroism, especially as it related to veterans, during the first fifty years after the Revolutionary War. At the end of the eighteenth century, veterans were considered to have proven their devotion to the republic by sacrificing their safety and comfort to fight in the revolution, but the fact that many revolutionary veterans were poor men made their actual social status tenuous at best. Immediately following the Revolutionary War, only officers and a few high-born martyrs stood out as full-fledged American heroes. This paper examines how average veterans began to claim some measure of cultural power and recognition for themselves, as the definition of heroism opened up during and after the 1790s. The democratization of heroism culminated during the 1824-25 triumphal tour of the Marquis de Lafayette.
The definition of heroism begs attention because the status of veterans, and the public gratitude expressed for their sacrifices, was seen as a measure of the civic identity of the new nation. The transition from a consensual and elite to a more grass-roots vision of American heroism reveals a shift in American political culture.
The seminar format assumes all participants will have read the paper. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend. Papers are precirculated electronically whenever possible. To request a paper, please contact Catherine Clement by e-mail or phone.
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