Jeffrey L. Pasley, Andrew W. Robertson, David Waldstreicher, eds. Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. 435 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8078-2889-2; $27.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8078-5558-4.
Reviewed by Jan Lewis (Department of History, Rutgers University)
Published on H-SHEAR (July, 2005)
Is There a New Political History?
This fine collection of essays presents itself as a new kind of political history of the early republic, variously called the "new new political history," the "newest political history," or simply the "new political history." The impetus for the collection came from a query posted to the H-SHEAR discussion list in January 1997 by Marion Nelson Winship. She asked a series of questions: "What is the 'new political history' of the early republic?" "Does such a thing exist?" "In what directions is it developing or how should it develop?" "Can it knit SHEAR together and revitalize the job market in the early republic?" She answered her own questions in a tentative way, suggesting that a new political history would use race, gender, ethnicity, regionalism, and so on as lenses through which the more traditional history of elections could be examined. Her comment about revitalizing the job market and an observation about the gender segregation of many panels at SHEAR suggested that she was concerned not only about the methods but also the social and professional practices of early national history.
Three weeks went by without anyone taking up Winship's challenge, so she posted again, this time under the more provocative heading of "'Reconsidering Elite Dead White Males' and SHEAR." Once again she asked for more integration of traditional and newer methodologies (if not social and professional practices), and she named the names of some young historians who were using the traditional subject matter of political history--"dead white males"--to illuminate the histories of race, class, gender, identity, etc. But she still did not "see any signs that this new political history communicate[d] back to the older political history, either in the sense of illuminating or revising it in any specific or substantive way, or in the sense of actual communication with the current practitioners of that more traditional history."
Perhaps because this time she had named actual names--David Waldstreicher, Simon Newman, Scott Casper, Jeff Pasley, and Joanne Freeman--a number of young historians and even a few more senior ones joined the discussion. Most of this discussion was not, to my mind, terribly illuminating. Each historian made a plea for his or her particular methodological approach, and there was a certain amount of talking past one another. Still, Winship's questions led to several conference sessions and discussions among the self-styled practitioners of a new political history of the early republic. The publication of this volume seven and a half years after Winship's original post affords an opportunity to assess the state of the field; to ask, as Winship did, whether there is indeed a new kind of political history; and to inquire whether it has been able to achieve what she set out as the measure of success--a capacity to break down the barriers between kinds of history and kinds of historians, as well. The answers, I believe, are mixed. But perhaps it does not matter: there are many fine essays in this volume, and they merit consideration in their own right, even if they do not quite come together into a coherent approach to early national history or an integrated substantive interpretation of the period.
Let me say something about each of the essays individually. Then, in good deconstructionist fashion, I will make note of the absences, because they, too, can tell us something about the state of the new political history.
The introduction to the volume, written by editors Jeffrey L. Pasley, Andrew W. Robertson, and David Waldstreicher, reveals, no doubt inadvertently, the slipperiness of the concept of a new political history. This field, whatever it actually may be, is sometimes called the "new new political history" or the "newest political history" in order to distinguish it from "the new political history," the appellation used by and for the quantitative political historians such as Lee Benson and Allan Bogue who challenged an older kind of political history-writing in the 1960s and 1970s. Such terms make it appear that the latest generation of political historians is challenging "the new political history" in a similar way. But, in fact, as William G. Shade discovers in a slightly clueless afterward to this volume, most of the contributors to this volume pay the original "new political history" almost no mind. It simply did not register on their consciousness, let alone loom as the kind of Oedipal father figure that young historians often feel a need to kill off. Indeed, the editors position themselves not against quantitative political history but against a "founders chic" that dismisses social and cultural history in the way that Joseph J. Ellis did when he accused it of elevating "marginal or peripheral figures whose lives are more typical" over "the political leaders at the center of the national story" (p. 1). So, rather than defining the new political history positively, the editors of the volume define it doubly negatively, as not a political history that rejects social and cultural history. When phrased more positively, the new political history is still sort of slippery--a political history that is informed by recent social and cultural history and is not written from the top down. It reveals "uneven and contradictory" developments and it "takes multiple shapes" at different levels of society and government (p. 3). Because this definition is both fluid and capacious, it includes a wide variety of approaches to early national political history.
The first two essays in the book, by Pasley and Robertson, respectively, take as their subject the topic of voter mobilization, an orthodox topic for the original new political historians, and their methods are, for the most part, orthodox. Together they suggest that the original new-political historians were wrong in dating voter mobilization to the Jacksonian era, and, in fact, significant numbers of voters were drawn into the process as early as the first decade of the nineteenth century. Pasley and Robertson both make good use of the voting data compiled by the First Democracy Project at the American Antiquarian Society (of which Robertson is the principal investigator). Pasley discusses the famous (or infamous) Mammoth Cheese as both a symbol and an organizing device for Jeffersonian democrats. He ties together cultural and conventional political history by arguing that the famous parades, barbecues, and rallies of the Jacksonian era were "merely holdovers from earlier decades that had been routinized and bloated from too many injections of money" (p. 49). In other words, the Jeffersonian era was the true age of democracy. Very much to Pasley's credit, he recognizes the way that women's work was critical to this particular political episode: women literally made the giant cheese that their male relatives offered as a gift to President Jefferson. And although subsequent generations have erased the cheese-making women from the historical record, the Democrats' Federalist opponents were quick to dismiss the cheese as the effort of "'some silly dairy-women, in one of the nooks of our countryside' to 'amuse themselves'" (p. 48). It is hard to imagine an earlier generation of political historians being this attentive to gender.
Like Pasley, Robertson is interested in political ritual, one of the subjects of particular interest to the current new-political historians. He traces the shift from a politics of deference in the Revolutionary era to one of mass (white male) participation a few decades later, and he argues that the rituals of the one paved the way for the rituals of the other. Deferential politics required the elite to court the voters, using the same exaggerated courtesy and professed sincerity of a suitor entreating his beloved. Both were rituals of inversion in which the powerful momentarily prostrated themselves at the feet of the powerless. Yet in a politics that was structurally democratic, or reasonably so, these moments of inversion prepared less exalted men to participate in politics, and the fierce political competition of the post-Revolutionary decades drew them into a more fully participatory politics (although one that formally excluded both women and the vast majority of blacks). While Robertson's methods are similar to Pasley's, he flips the interpretation: if Pasley sees an authentic popular politics mutating into one that retained only the form but not the substance, Robertson sees a deferential politics mutating into one that was more genuinely popular. that formally excluded both women and the vast majority of blacks).
David Waldstreicher, too, is interested in mobilization, but in one of the volume's most stimulating essays, he traces a process that is somewhat more complex. Waldstreicher assesses both the cultural politics and political economy of clothing during the Jeffersonian era, demonstrating that Jefferson's shabby personal appearance, slaves' self-fashioning, the expansion of the cotton South, and Jefferson's paeans to female virtue were all of a piece. At the same time that Jefferson dressed down and praised elite women for clothing their families in homespun, during the War of 1812, he presided over the expansion of the cotton South: the real growth in "home" production of cloth came from slaves, not housewives, but Jefferson's ideological sleight-of-hand turned the politics of clothing into a cultural issue--virtuous female makers of homespun, vicious African-Americans who dared to dress up--instead of an economic or obviously political one. Waldstreicher brilliantly demonstrates what political history has to gain from an intelligent use of cultural, gender, and race studies. He also raises one of the fundamental issues that confronts students of politics: the way that ideology works.
In a famous passage in The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787, Gordon S. Wood suggested that "by using the most popular and democratic rhetoric available to explain their aristocratic system [in the Constitution], the Federalists helped to foreclose the development of an American intellectual tradition in which differing ideas of politics would be intimately and genuinely related to differing social interests. In other words, the Federalists in 1787 hastened the destruction of whatever chance there was in America for the growth of an avowedly aristocratic conception of politics and thereby contributed to the creation of that encompassing liberal tradition which has mitigated and often obscured the real social antagonisms of American politics." The Federalists' appropriation of their opponents' language ushered in "a hiatus in American politics between ideology and motives that was never again closed." Wood described the historical process by which American political communication became, to use Jurgen Habermas's term, systematically distorted. Waldstreicher does not use a similar terminology, nor does he set out his understanding of ideology, yet it seems clear that his Jefferson uses a gendered language of republican simplicity and self-sufficiency to advance the spread of slavery. Pasley, however, does not look for ideology in Jefferson's thanks to the Massachusetts cheese makers for the "mark of esteem from freeborn farmers, employed personally in the useful labors of life" (p. 35). Whatever the new political history may be, it does not seem to have achieved a consensus on how ideology functions in politics.
The second section of the volume sets off--one might even say segregates--the articles that seem to be wholly about either gender or race (but not both). This seems an odd choice for a volume that was inspired by Marion Winship's call for better integration of gender analysis and better integration of historians. Indeed, Waldstreicher's essay would seem to demonstrate that gender analysis can be critical to our understanding of aspects of politics that do not seem manifestly to be about gender, and, in fact, almost all of the essayists in the volume recognize gender when it appears before them. If anything, this sensitivity to gender is one of the hallmarks of the volume, something that marks its approach to political history as genuinely new. Moreover, even though the four essays in this section are manifestly about women/gender or race, each of them actually has more in common, either methodologically or interpretatively, with other essays in the book.
Like Pasley and Robertson, Rosemarie Zagarri is interested in political mobilization. She argues that both the Federalists and the Democrats drew women into the political process in the 1790s and that, like men, women were engaged by the partisan conflict of the era. Eventually, however, men turned against women, deciding that removing women from politics might make it more civil. The turning point seems to have been the War of 1812. "Before women had been trump cards, proving the superiority of one side over the other. Now they were wild cards, laughing reminders that neither side could claim an absolute moral or political edge" (p. 118). The structure of this argument is similar to that of Linda K. Kerber in Women of the Republic, namely, democratic politics in America drew women into the process, but eventually men turned against them, uncomfortable with all the implications of equality. The major difference is the timing: were women driven out of politics in the 1790s, as Kerber suggested? Or, in 1807 in New Jersey, as Judith Apter Klinghoffer and Lois Elkis demonstrated? But if women were driven from politics in the 1790s, 1807, or 1812, then how can Elizabeth Varon find them among the Whigs in Virginia in the 1840s? I begin to wonder if, perhaps, it is in the nature of American democratic politics repeatedly to draw women in only to cast them out again, either actually or symbolically. (Hence, our most recent election has been interpreted as a triumph of the Republican "daddy party" and its NASCAR dads, and a repudiation of the Clinton-Gore-Kerry new-age soccer moms and metrosexuals.) Rather than single turning points, we might instead look for repeated patterns, for example, an (as yet) unresolvable tension between equality and difference. We might also augment women's history with gender history and a consideration of the way that gender structures and is integral to politics.
Nancy Isenberg shows how thoroughly discussions about Aaron Burr were suffused with references to his sexuality. Everyone seems to have found Burr seductive. His supporters thought his charisma made him the embodiment of manliness. His enemies, however, saw him as all libido, dangerous, and perverted. They insinuated that he seduced young men as well as women. Isenberg adeptly draws out the sexual subtext in the discourse about Burr, and she makes it clear that the culture of honor that Joanne Freeman has so expertly analyzed certainly included a sexual element. Still, I wish that Isenberg had gone even further in her analysis. What do we learn about the highly charged politics of this period once we understand that gender and sexuality were important parts of the culture of honor and political rhetoric? How does the discourse about sexuality intersect with the until-now more familiar one about liberty, virtue, and so on? These are by no means rhetorical questions. I also wish that Isenberg had drawn out the implications of her work for the history of sexuality and gender. In a fascinating article probably published too late for Isenberg to consider for her essay, Clare A. Lyons has noted that over the course of the eighteenth century, the English reconceptualized "homoeroticism as a distinct deviant sexual category, and develop[ed] an active and aggressive fear of the sodomite." The objective was to create political division among men. In Philadelphia, however, the "political imperatives of Revolution" and nation-building required unity among white men, and hence, hints and allegations of sodomy did not enter the political discourse. White manhood, Lyons argues, was constructed against women and black men, not the sodomite. Although Isenberg makes limited claims for her work on the seductive Burr, it would seem to challenge both Lyons's particular point (that the English literature on sodomy did not take root in America) and the general analysis (that early-national manhood was constructed against women and black men, not supposed sodomites).
In an essay that demonstrates him to be a savvy student of gender, Albrecht Koschnik argues that Federalist voluntary associations in Philadelphia were a key site for young men to define their masculinity. Here, Federalism is not so much about a particular set of issues or political beliefs as the opportunity to hang out with like-minded young men and be men. Like Isenberg, Koschnik recognizes that politics among other things is about the construction of gender identities. But, as with Isenberg, one wishes for more. Is Federalist-young-man a stage in life, a station on the way, for example, to marriage and family? (I am reminded of E. Anthony Rotundo's discussion of the extended period of youth for middle-class men of a slightly later period.) The young men whom Koschnik describes so well also must have spent a portion of their days and evenings performing their masculinity in front of women, as they courted their future wives or otherwise sought feminine approval and favors. How did the political/associational part of their lives fit into the other portions? One wishes as well that Koschnik would say more about what his work tells us about the politics of this period. Were all politics in this era about the performance of masculinity, or are we talking only about one segment of the population, at one point, and in one place?
With Richard Newman's essay, we move to race or, to be more precise, African Americans. Like a number of the other essays in the volume, this one is about mobilization, how a particular group, in this case northern free blacks, was brought into the political process. Newman argues that free blacks used print culture to constitute themselves as a community. In the early decades of the new republic, African Americans situated themselves as clients to their Federalist patrons. The increasing racism of the Jacksonian era (not to mention the demise of the Federalists) rendered obsolete this politics of deference. African-American writers adjusted to the new environment by adopting an increasingly militant tone and an overtly abolitionist message. Newman's point is that even without the vote, let alone office-holding, blacks thought of themselves and were recognized by whites as a political community. He says that in addition to the "'hidden transcript' of protest ... that channeled subordinates' anger into an indirect challenge of masters' power.... black northerners also created a formal public transcript of their struggle via print and other forms of direct protest" (p. 188), but I am not sure what his theoretical or substantive point is. It has something to do with publicity--that the African-American writers are speaking to a large audience of men and women, blacks and whites--and that the very publicity of their, well, publications alters the nature of their political action. But how so? Once again, one wants more.
The third section of Beyond the Founders is a sort of grab-bag of essays that even the editors cannot clearly characterize. They say it "builds on the achievements of intellectual historians, political theorists, and constitutional scholars," which really does not say much at all (p. 15). The first essay, by John L. Brooke, is a combination of theory and historiography. He reworks Jurgen Habermas as a way of sorting through some of the recent scholarship on the early republic. Brooke's essay is wide-ranging and ambitious, but I think he may bite off more than can be chewed in a thirty-page essay. His point of departure is Habermas's relatively recent Between Facts and Norms: Contributions to a Discourse Theory of Law and Democracy (1996), which Brooke has written about at some length in an article in the Journal of Interdisciplinary History (1998). The two essays should be read together. In both essays, Brooke attempts to make Habermas's concept of the bourgeois public sphere usable for historians of the early American republic. He does this by redefining it more simply as the public and, in the essay in this volume, suggesting that the public--as distinct from government, the realm of deliberation--is the realm of persuasion and informal politics where legitimacy is crafted and norms are made. This space is also the realm of culture. (For Brooke, it is literally a space; he provides two diagrams with enough circles and arrows to bring to mind the line about the 8x10" glossies in "Alice's Restaurant.") In his earlier essay, Brooke suggested that "cultural history ... has established itself as a vital mediator between the political and the social," a point he elaborates in this essay when he says that "the explication of this entire realm of the persuasive comprises the agenda of cultural history as practiced today" (p. 209). This understanding of culture and cultural history strikes me as arguable, however. It treats culture the way that social historians who write of "slave culture" or a "women's culture" do, as the expression of the values of a particular subset of society and a way of attempting to exercise power. (By the same token, in Brooke's formulation, it appears that those in power cannot have culture, or at least that the deliberative realm of government is a culture-free zone.) A more supple notion of culture, however, would consider it as a way of making meaning and would understand that people make meaning in society and in politics, not just in the space between the two; indeed, we cannot help making meaning everywhere we happen to be.
Brooke's essay suffers, too, from a tendency to elide the distinction between facts (of history) and norms (in this case, the kind of government and society we want). To question Habermas's history is not necessarily to challenge his theory of how democracy should or perhaps could work. And does it make Jack P. Greene a Burkean if he approvingly cited Burke's description of the growth of the colonies? Does it make Gordon S. Wood a Rousseauian to have written about the "radicalism of the American Revolution?" (And is it not a bit melodramatic to refer to Wood as Greene's "nemesis," p. 222? Does that make Greene Superman to Wood's Lex Luthor?)
The other two essays in this section are less ambitious but also more satisfying. Saul Cornell does a terrific job of teasing out the various strands of Constitutional thinking about the right to bear arms. He begins with a plea for Constitutional history, and his essay is rather traditional in its methods, a combination of intellectual and Constitutional history that places the emphasis on contestation rather than consensus. Rather than a new or a new-new political historian, Cornell calls himself a "new constitutional historicist," a member of a school that believes the search for a single, original meaning of the Constitution or one of its amendments is a fool's errand. Focusing on the debates in Pennsylvania, Cornell identifies three groups with distinctive views on the right to bear arms. Pennsylvania Federalists considered bearing arms an obligation of citizenship, much like taxation, something a man had to do "in exchange for protection provided by the rule of law" (p. 255). Hence, in form, the right to bear arms was unlike "genuinely individual rights" such as freedom of speech (p. 256). First, the government could not compel a man to speak, but it could compel him to take up arms or serve on a jury. Second, government could not impose prior restraint on the right to publish, but it certainly could regulate how arms could be borne, for example by regulating the storage of gunpowder and, of course, regulating the militia itself. Federalists, however, were not the only participants in the debate. Most, Cornell notes, agreed that the states should have some control of the militia, but Anti-Federalists feared that the federal government would drain away too much of that control. This was the crux of the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalist Dissent of the Pennsylvania Minority, not a question about whether individuals could keep guns for hunting and self-defense. More radical Anti-Federalists (whom Cornell describes as "plebeian populists" in contrast to the "middling democrats" of the Dissent), thought of the militia not as "an agent of the states, but as an expression of the voice of local communities" that retained the right to revolution (pp. 262-263). Of all the participants in the discussion, they seem to have been the most fearful of having their guns taken from them, but as localists and communitarians, they thought of this right very much in collective, rather than individual terms. State constitutions written between 1776 and 1820 also addressed the right to bear arms, but once again, there is no consensus or clear line of development; Mississippi "adopted more liberal, individualistic language" (p. 266), but Maine and Missouri stuck with the republican formulation. Cornell concludes with a warning about the "dangers of ceding the study of the constitution to lawyers and activists" (p. 267). This is the kind of essay that makes you feel good to be a historian.
So, in a different way, does Seth Cotlar's essay. The conventional wisdom on the Alien and Sedition Acts is that in passing and implementing them, the Federalists may have won the battle but lost the war. Joanne B. Freeman has recently summarized this literature: "The well-deserved outcry against this despotic measure damned the Federalists in the public eye, ultimately destroying the cause of Federalism and helping to raise Thomas Jefferson to the presidency in 1801 in a 'revolution' of public sentiment." Instead, Cotlar argues, in 1798 Federalists demonized their radical opponents "in a fairly successful effort to undermine the utopian, democratic discourse that had recently flourished in the midst of the excitement over the radical transformation promised by the French Revolution" (p. 275). Radicals were marginalized, and the center of political opinion moved to the right. "The Alien and Sedition Acts were thus a crucial moment in American political (and nationalist) discourse in that they sped the growth of a new self-congratulatory narrative of national identity that framed America not as part of a radical European tradition, but as luckily isolated from it" (p. 277). We have always known that something strange happened in the 1790s, that there was some sort of backlash, whether against the excesses of the French Revolution or the promise of the American one, but the tendency has been to suggest that this change was a sort of mood swing, as the entire culture shifted. Cotlar's signal contribution is to show us actual people, Federalist politicians and writers, agitating for this change "in a concerted effort to shape the way ordinary Americans discussed political matters" (p. 278). At the same time that they excoriated American "Jacobins" in general and certain editors in particular, Federalists held up for emulation a model of Christian domesticity. As Noah Webster put it, "We have an excellent system of religion and government--we have wives and children to defend; and God forbid that the soil of America should sustain the wretch, who wants the will or the spirit to defend them" (p. 281). In other words, the Federalists crafted an ideology, one that wrapped the family, religion, and foreign policy in the American flag. Cotlar does not have to mention that this ideology, and the techniques that promoted it, have proved quite durable.
It is interesting to compare Cotlar's article to Joanne Freeman's recent cultural reading of the Sedition Acts. While taking pains not to endorse the Federalists, Freeman attempts to understand the underlying cultural logic of the Acts. She believes, and this is not unreasonable, that the Federalists genuinely believed their nation to be in crisis. They also believed that if the American people did not respect their leaders, the nation would fall. I suppose it is possible that both Cotlar and Freeman are right, although Cotlar's Federalists seem more calculating and Freeman's seem imprisoned in their worldview. I am going to see what my students think next year when I assign them both essays.
According to the volume's editors, the final section of the book shifts the Approach from culture to "policy outcomes, events, and institutions" (p. 16), although I would note also that the essays take the volume out of the Jeffersonian and into the Jacksonian era. The first essay in the section, by Andrew R. L. Cayton, suggests that the American settlers of Texas, represented by Stephen Austin, left because they feared the centralizing tendencies of the U.S. government, but once the government was in Democratic hands, Austin was ready to rejoin the United States. Unfortunately for Cayton, his analysis has been superseded by Andres Resendez's Changing National Identities at the Frontier: Texas and New Mexico, 1800-1850 (2005). Both Cayton and Resendez make the point that there was nothing inevitable about Texas becoming part of the United States. But Resendez, writing borderlands history from the perspective of a Mexican historian, shows just how far Texas was from either Washington, D.C. or Mexico City, the capitals of two relatively weak states. Consequently, national identities in Texas and New Mexico were remarkably fluid, as Hispanic peoples, Indians, and Anglo-American emigres shifted their loyalties back and forth opportunistically. In the end, the pull from the United States proved stronger. Still, there is much of interest in Cayton's essay, particularly when it is read alongside Alan Taylor's recent article about some Anglo-Americans who moved to Canada in the early 1790s, thinking, like Austin and his emigres, that the grass would be greener across the border. Like the Texans, these men were "land speculators looking for a bargain." (Cayton suggests that the Texans sought "patriarchal households and local autonomy" [p. 305], but the appeal of cheap land should not be discounted.) Long story short, as Jon Stewart would say, the Americans-in-Canada decided to foment a revolution and ask Thomas Jefferson to annex Upper Canada to the United States. Jefferson, however, would have none of the scheme; it went nowhere--no revolt, no annexation. Yet, several decades later, Austin's Texans made their revolution and in due course were successful in getting a chunk of Mexico annexed to the United States. Why? Of course there were many differences between the two cases, but it bears noting that expansion to the southwest opened new slave territory while expansion north did not. As Taylor notes, in 1802 Jefferson was too worried about Louisiana to risk antagonizing the British by moving into Canada.
Those who are familiar with Richard R. John's work will not be surprised to find him writing once again about the post office, here augmented by a history of the telegraph, or that he is working assiduously to bring the state back in. Nor will they be surprised that his essay is substantive and intelligent. Here the subject is the development of the idea of private enterprise. Who would have guessed that the term did not really enter the lexicon until the 1830s? John argues that "private enterprise was an invented tradition, a late-Jacksonian era response to prior developments in American public life" (p. 331). The post office, which functioned, obviously, as a government monopoly, gained wide acceptance by the public, Congress, and the courts. Challenges to the monopoly by private carriers, who charged much less for carrying the mail over well-traveled routes, were rebuffed. When the telegraph appeared, even Samuel F. B. Morse assumed that the federal government would retain "exclusive right to the new technology" by purchasing his patent (p. 340). The federal government under the Democrats declined to take this step, and telegraph lines remained in private hands. This innovation in the relationship between business and the state was supported by a new doctrine of private enterprise. This is an article with broad implications for American political and economic history, and I only wish that John had drawn them out more fully. An essay of his, in another volume, on "new directions in political history," shows that he is clearly up to something. He appears to be mounting a strong case against Jacksonian "democracy," which, in limiting the power of the federal government, denied it the capacity among other things to achieve the peaceful emancipation of the slaves. It is in this connection that the significance of Pasley's and Robertson's essays about party mobilization becomes clear: if, as John notes in his new directions essay, which relies upon earlier work by Robertson, "white male suffrage antedated the Jacksonian ascendancy, as did the advent of an avowedly egalitarian and often populistic style of electioneering," then what exactly are we giving the Jacksonians credit for?
Like John, Reeve Huston treats party politics in the Jacksonian era. Other than that loose connection, their essays are quite different. Huston traces the history of New York state's anti-renters, upstate radicals who challenged not only their landlords' economic privileges but even their right to own the land that their tenants inhabited. They dressed up like Indians, killed a couple of men, and got themselves absorbed into or possibly co-opted by the Whig Party, but not before they had helped readjust party alignments in New York and formulate what would, in due course, become the free labor ideology of the Republican party. Huston's main point is that this popular insurgency was a constitutive element in party politics, not simply some plebeian sideshow. His point is well-taken. But once again I find myself wishing an author had pushed his conclusions further. If we read Huston's essay alongside Alan Taylor's Liberty Men and Great Proprietors (1990), we can begin to see a pattern in which American politics tolerate a fair amount of popular insurgency and, instead of punishing it, co-opt it. The party system moderates the movement's radicalism and, at the same time, its democratic ideas are reworked into an emergent political ideology. Look at this process through the lens of David Waldstreicher's essay in this volume, as well as possibly Seth Cotlar's (not to mention Eric Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War ) and we may wonder whether the preservation of an element of democratic thought in the dominant political ideology is in fact part of the process of co-optation, or maybe not. In Taylor's Maine, the Liberty Men eventually got their claims validated, at least partly. Maybe they now had better reason to buy into the system.
These are some of the questions that political history, no matter how old or how new, always raises: the relationship between interest and ideology, how insurgency affects (and effects) party politics, how policy gets made and in whose interest. Given that the essays in this volume address such issues and contribute to our ongoing discussion of them, William G. Shade's "Commentary," which serves as an afterward to the volume, comes as a disappointment. His account of the emergence of the original "new political history" is genuinely useful, although it does raise the interesting question of why that school has had so little influence. Shade suggests that social historians attacked the "new political history" (unfairly) for being reactionary, while traditional historians criticized it (presumably fairly) for being dry. According to Shade's account, social history displaced (the new) political history in the 1970s, while the "New New Political History," which comes out of "the linguistic turn," is not really much of a political history at all. Shade is decidedly cranky. "Most" of the newest political historians "write as though they skipped a generation of scholarship, almost totally unaware of the New Political History, certainly not interested in it, and directing their revisionism at quite traditional histories" (pp. 393-394). If a tree falls in a forest, and no one hears it, maybe it was not such a large tree. Published only three years after Allen Bogue coined the term "new political history," Eric Foner's Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men has proved enormously influential, as have other works that have focused on political ideology, such as Bernard Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967) and Wood's Creation of the American Republic (1969). Do they not count as political history?
Shade's grudge against cultural history in general and postmodernism in particular distorts his evaluation of the essays in this volume. He sets up postmodernism as a bete noire only to conclude that the essays in this volume do not practice it. "Pure and simple, the people today writing revisionist political history of the early republic are not postmodernists and reflect relatively little 'French' influence in their language and perspectives" (p. 395). Well, maybe not David Waldstreicher, but at least "his book is surprisingly comprehensible in traditional terms" (p. 396). But having praised the newest political historians for not being postmodernists, Shade turns around and drubs their methods--or to be precise, he contends that unnamed "New Political Historians" will drub them--for being "fatally undertheorized" (p. 403). I am not sure that is precisely what Shade means. One could hardly say that Isenberg's essay, which invokes both Bourdieu and Foucault, is "undertheorized," nor would anyone complain that Brooke's essay has too little theory in it. Shade seems to mean that the current new political historians do not apply social science models as the original new political historians did, but that is to define social science models as "theory" and everything else as "French." Or perhaps the issue is that Shade does not pay enough attention to the essays in this book. Readers may find it odd that he devotes more space--a paragraph--to Waldstreicher's first book than to his essay in this volume--one sentence that treats his essay, along with those of Isenberg and Koschnik, together. Readers may find it odder still that rather than analyzing the essays in this volume, Shade focuses instead on five books that he thinks represent the field. That one shared sentence is all the consideration that Isenberg and Koschnik get, and the other essayists fare little better. But Shade spends almost two pages--or more than 10 percent of his essay--railing against Joanne Freeman's Affairs of Honor. Then there are two paragraphs on William Dowling's Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson, which "introduce[s] the concept of the public sphere"--but not a word about the infinitely more influential work of Dowling's colleague, in the English Department at Rutgers, Michael Warner. Although Shade concludes with some nice words about the volume and does not have anything critical to say about any of the essays in it, they deserve more serious consideration than he has given them.
So what can we say about the self-styled newest political history? Deconstructionists tell us to look for what is not there as well as what we can see. Marion Winship thought that the newest political history would use race, class, gender, and identity to illuminate the terrain of a more traditional political history. Judging from these essays, gender has permeated the political history of the early republic. Almost all of the essays in the volume either consider gender or notice the presence of women in ways that most practitioners of older political histories did not. Race is another matter. Only Waldstreicher and Newman consider race at any length, although Brooke fits slavery into his model, and Cayton discusses Cherokee emigres to Texas and the different racial regimes of the United States and Mexico. Yet considering the quality and quantity of recent work on race, slavery, and Native Americans in the early republic, and particularly in comparison to the authors' facility in discussing gender, the very limited consideration of race is surprising. It is not as if slavery and the exploration, acquisition, and disposition of land inhabited by Indians were not central to the politics of this period, or as if a great deal of cultural labor did not go into justifying the displacement of Indians to make way for white settlers, speculators, and their slaves.
What else is missing? There is very little political economy. Waldstreicher's and John's very different essays show us that the new political history, whatever it might be, can illuminate political economy when it sets its mind to it. Class is assumed--Huston, most obviously--but generally not analyzed as such.
And finally, as I have already suggested, the practitioners of the new political history do not yet seem prepared to make very big claims. This hesitancy may come in part from the volume's emphasis on method more than interpretation. Cultural history, which prizes nuance and loves to complicate too-simplistic narratives, may make historians who use its methods reluctant to generalize about much more than the particular piece of history they have worked on. But not all the essayists represented here are cultural historians, and the essays in this volume are not even held together by a common approach to the study of politics, let alone a common interpretation or set of interpretations. There are many fine essays in this book, and I have already recommended a number of them to my students and colleagues, but I would not necessarily recommend the whole book as a primer in the newest kind of political history of the early republic. Although the essays in the volume are not united by method or interpretation, it is still possible to see certain themes emerging that may, in due course, cohere into either an approach or a particular interpretation. Mobilization is one. Ideology is another. A number of the essayists treat ideology without even calling it that, let alone forcing it into rigid categories such as "republicanism" and "liberalism." (And now that I mention it, that is something else that is not present: I can happily report that we seem finally to have moved beyond the liberalism/republicanism debate, which gave shape to the political history of the era for several decades.) Gender crops up everywhere, doing ideological work. I hope it is just an accident of who contributed essays and what they happened to be working on at the moment that race, slavery and Indians, are not more central.
(John's essay in the new directions essay, for example, treats slavery, but not his essay in this volume.) One gets a sense of where the new political history is headed, but it is not there yet.
. Gordon S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), p. 562.
. Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1980); Judith Apter Klinghoffer and Lois Elkis, "'The Petticoat Electors': Women's Suffrage in New Jersey," Journal of the Early Republic, 12 (1992): pp. 159-193; and Elizabeth R. Varon, We Mean to Be Counted: White Women and Politics in Antebellum Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
. The first use of this terminology that I can find is in Jay Nordlinger, "Political Virility: Real Men Vote Republican," Opinion Journal--Wall Street Journal Online, September 17, 2003, http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110003887. Nordlinger says that the television commentator Chris Matthews came up with the terms "many years ago."
. For an example of the latter, see Norma Basch, "Marriage, Morals, and Politics in the Election of 1828," The Journal of American History, 80 (1993): pp. 890-918. For the classic formulation of the equality/difference conundrum, see Joan W. Scott, "Deconstructing Equality vs. Difference," Feminist Studies 14 (1988): pp. 33-50.
. Joanne B. Freeman, Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001).
. Clare A. Lyons, "Mapping an Atlantic Sexual Culture: Homoeroticism in Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3d Ser., 60 (2003): pp. 119-154.
. E. Anthony Rotundo, American Manhood: Transformations in Masculinity from the Revolution to the Modern Era (New York: Basic Books, 1993).
. John L. Brooke, "Reason and Passion in the Public Sphere: Habermas and the Cultural Historians," Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 39 (1998): pp. 43-67.
. Ibid., p. 44.
. See Ruth H. Bloch, "A Culturalist Critique of Feminist Theory," in Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650-1800 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), pp. 21-41.
. See also, of course, Jack N. Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996).
. Joanne B. Freeman, "Explaining the Unexplainable: The Cultural Context of the Sedition Act," in The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History, ed. Meg Jacobs, William J. Novak and Julian E. Zelizer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), p. 24.
. Alan Taylor, "A Northern Revolution of 1800? Upper Canada and Thomas Jefferson," in The Revolution of 1800: Democracy, Race, and the New Republic, ed. James P. Horn, Jan Lewis and Peter S. Onuf (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2002), p. 385.
. Richard R. John, "Affairs of Office: The Executive Departments, the Election of 1828, and the Making of the Democratic Party," in Democratic Experiment, p. 73.
. William C. Dowling, Literary Federalism in the Age of Jefferson: Joseph Dennie and the Port Folio, 1801-1811 (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999); and Michael Warner, The Letters of the Republic: Publication and the Public Sphere in Eighteenth-Century America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990).
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Jan Lewis. Review of Pasley, Jeffrey L.; Robertson, Andrew W.; Waldstreicher, David, eds., Beyond the Founders: New Approaches to the Political History of the Early American Republic.
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