The American Liberty Pole: Popular Politics and the Struggle for Democracy in the Early Republic
Published by: University of Virginia Press
Imprint: University of Virginia Press
Sales Date: 2023-09-26
Published: September 2023
240 Pages, 152.00 x 228.00 x 31.70 mm, 4 b&w illus., 1 map
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During the American Revolution and into the early republic, Americans fought with one another over the kinds of political expression and activity that independence legitimized. Liberty poles?tall wooden poles bearing political flags and signs?were a central fixture of the popular debates of the late eighteenth century. Revolutionary patriots had raised liberty poles to symbolize their resistance to British rule. In response, redcoats often tore them down, sparking conflicts with patriot pole-raisers.
In the 1790s, grassroots Republicans revived the practice of raising liberty poles, casting the Washington and Adams administrations as monarchists and tyrants. Echoing the British response, Federalist supporters of the government destroyed the poles, leading to vicious confrontations between the two sides in person, in print, and at the ballot box. This elegantly written book is the first comprehensive study of this revealing phenomenon, highlighting the influence of ordinary citizens on the development of American political culture. Shira Lurie demonstrates how, in raising and destroying liberty poles, Americans put into practice the types of popular participation they envisioned in the new republic.
1. The New York City Liberty Poles
2. Regulation, Ratification, and the Right to Resist
3. Debating Dissent in the Whiskey Rebellion
4. The Federalist Popular Politics of Assent
5. "Wandering Apostles of Sedition": Itinerant Republican Activists
6. From Poles to Polls: The Elections of 1799 and 1800
7. Partisan Politics and Poles in the Nineteenth Century
Epilogue: "Forgetting While Remembering"
In The American Liberty Pole, Shira Lurie vividly depicts the combative ceremonies of the liberty pole, as both a lived experience and an arena to contest the meaning of liberty and who counts as an American citizen. This book contributes to our understanding of early America, but more importantly, it demonstrates that protest has played a critical role in the American story from the beginning.Lindsay M. Chervinsky, author of The Cabinet: George Washington and the Creation of an American Institution
Lurie effectively situates liberty poles at the heart of the debate over the nature of republican government, whether politics out-of-doors ? so important to British and Anglo-American political culture under a monarch ? remained acceptable once the government was in the hands of representatives of the people. She highlights their centrality in a period of political transition and cultural formation and traces their striking evolution across a long period of time. The book is an admirable treatment.Eric A. Hinderaker, University of Utah, author of Boston's Massacre
The liberty pole is one of those features of early American political culture that every historian knows about, but until now no one has offered a compelling interpretation of what they meant to those who erected them, and what they can tell us about the broader politics of the founding era. Lurie?s book enables us to see these liberty poles as far more than quaint relics from an era gone by, but rather as a key site at which a wide range of Americans thought, fought, and put into practice what it might mean to live in an aspirationally democratic republic.Seth Cotlar, Willamette University, author of Tom Paine's America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic