National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men [NOOK Book]


National Manhood explores the relationship between gender, race, and nation by tracing developing ideals of citizenship in the United States from the Revolutionary War through the 1850s. Through an extensive reading of literary and historical documents, Dana D. Nelson analyzes the social and political articulation of a civic identity centered around the white male and points to a cultural moment in which the theoretical consolidation of white manhood worked to ground, and ...
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National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men

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National Manhood explores the relationship between gender, race, and nation by tracing developing ideals of citizenship in the United States from the Revolutionary War through the 1850s. Through an extensive reading of literary and historical documents, Dana D. Nelson analyzes the social and political articulation of a civic identity centered around the white male and points to a cultural moment in which the theoretical consolidation of white manhood worked to ground, and perhaps even found, the nation.
Using political, scientific, medical, personal, and literary texts ranging from the Federalist papers to the ethnographic work associated with the Lewis and Clark expedition to the medical lectures of early gynecologists, Nelson explores the referential power of white manhood, how and under what conditions it came to stand for the nation, and how it came to be a fraternal articulation of a representative and civic identity in the United States. In examining early exemplary models of national manhood and by tracing its cultural generalization, National Manhood reveals not only how an impossible ideal has helped to form racist and sexist practices, but also how this ideal has simultaneously privileged and oppressed white men, who, in measuring themselves against it, are able to disavow their part in those oppressions.
Historically broad and theoretically informed, National Manhood reaches across disciplines to engage those studying early national culture, race and gender issues, and American history, literature, and culture.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“(Most) White men can’t see. They can’t see how racism reduces their own opportunities; how notions of national manhood constricts their access to power or limits their participation in democracy; how their nationalism and embrace of rugged individualism undermines real social justice for themselves and for the rest of us. National Manhood could open their eyes, if they have the courage to read it. It certainly opened mine.”—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Yo’ Mama’s DisFunktional!: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America

“A remarkably adventuresome and illuminating study.”—T. Walter Herbert, Southwestern University

“Few studies combine the historical breadth and theoretical sophistication of National Manhood, and none puts together the topics of gender and nation, whiteness and masculinity with the efficacy of this work.”—Priscilla Wald, University of Washington, Seattle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822382140
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 9/23/1998
  • Series: New Americanists
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 670 KB

Meet the Author

Dana D. Nelson is Professor of English and Social Theory at the University of Kentucky.

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National Manhood

Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men

By Dana D. Nelson

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8214-0


Purity Control: Consolidating National Manhood in the Early Republic

I: Constitutional Crisis, or, (Dis)United States

When Jefferson formally asserted that "all men are created equal," he raised for the thirteen confederated states a question about political order and practice that could not sustain immediate attention in the exigencies of the Revolutionary War effort–more pressing then was determining the difference between Loyalist and Patriot. Jefferson's construction, endorsed by the Continental Congress, advanced a liberalizing reconceptualization of political entitlement. That loosely specified formulation arguably helped to produce a great deal of energy and dissent in the post-Revolutionary period. John Adams's response to Abigail Adams's 1776 request that in forming the new government he "remember the ladies"–his banteringly dismissive "I cannot but laugh"–is in itself hardly a clue to the disorderly potential that the Declaration's gesture toward universal political entitlement evoked for those accustomed to political leadership. Rather, those concerns surface in a letter to James Sullivan, which Adams would write a few weeks later. There, he evokes a specter of suffrage gone wild: "Depend on it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualification of voters; there will be no end of it. New claims will arise; women will demand a vote; lads from twelve to twenty-one will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state" (Works 9:378). Adams seems precocious in these worries during the early years of revolution. But after the war, people began to have manifestly different and patently disruptive ideas about what Gordon Wood has characterized as the "unintended" promises of the new nation (Creation 395).

There were multiple events and ideological developments during the 1780s that fed widespread fears about social, economic, or political fragmentation. During the years preceding the Constitutional debates, residents of the United States found themselves facing a variety of social, political, and economic changes and upheavals. States debated furiously and split along sectional lines over Jay's negotiated treaty with Spain in 1786 surrendering U.S. claims to free navigation of the Mississippi in exchange for commerce privileges. The developing popularity of liberal abolitionist sentiment and its seizing on Revolutionary rhetoric and ideals had already begun exciting sectionalism. Western land speculation became rampant while postwar depression and inflation temporarily retracted wartime economic gains and undermined political idealism and interstate good will. The need for higher tariffs to recuperate loans made during the Revolution excited group, class, and regional antagonisms. Dependence on foreign loans provided a source of symbolic anxiety, seemingly contradicting the Confederation's claim to "independence."

This ideal of independence began to motor disruptive socioeconomic claims. Indenture came increasingly under challenge, and the numbers of white indentured servants began a drastic decline, with former "servants" refusing their former "masters" and "mistresses" traditional forms of address. Ideological shifts interacted symbiotically with economic ones in the dramatic and rapid post-Revolutionary transition into a market economy. The prewar colonies had already been experiencing, as Paul Gilje emphasizes, the highest rate of economic growth in the eighteenth century; their break with England allowed them "to move in new directions that encouraged the development of capitalism even more" ("Rise" 10). This "development" was situated immediately in post-Revolutionary hyperinflation, and entailed for many a brutally rapid socioeconomic shift toward increased market dependence, nonlocal exchange, and profit "ethic." Class rivalry became threatening in interstate currency battles and violent in Shays's Rebellion (1786–87), as Massachusetts officials imprisoned many, tried over thirty, and condemned to death six of the Revolutionary veteran-farmers who blocked tax collection in an at tempt to salvage their holds on property. Class revolt grew in more and less organized ways: the incidence of property crimes increased rapidly after the Revolution; robbers were subject to capital punishment, and were frequently portrayed as victims of state injustice in the proliferation of printed criminal narratives (see Cohen, 117–63 passim). People began considering the necessity of equal distribution of property for the practice of democracy.

Political leaders of the era and historians have offered such accounts to define the 1780s as a crisis zone that necessitated the formulation of a strong national government in the Constitution. They draw widely on the jeremiads of contemporaries, who warned against factionalism, complained against internal enemies, and worried about the collapse of the Revolutionary project. However widespread the register of "crisis" among Americans in the 1780s may have been, it is an assessment that historian Gordon Wood has described as "incongruous": "On the surface at least the American states appeared remarkably stable and prosperous. The political leaders at the uppermost levels remained essentially unchanged throughout the period. Both the Confederation government and the governments of the separate states had done much to stabilize the finances and the economy of the country. The states had already moved to assume payment of the public debt, and the Confederation deficit could not be considered serious. Despite a temporary depression in the middle eighties, the commercial outlook was not bleak. As historians have emphasized, the period was marked by extraordinary economic growth. In fact ... it was a period of high expectations, clearly reflected in the rapid rate of population growth" (Creation 394–95). Wood argues that it was exactly the prosperity of the Revolutionary and postwar era that excited impossible expectations and exaggerated the sensation of crisis. Some Anti-Federalists made very similar claims in answering Federalist arguments for ratification. For instance, the "Federal Farmer" (probably New Yorker Melancton Smith) points to the way wartime "confusion and the introduction of paper money, infused in the minds of people vague ideas respecting government and credit. We expected too much from the return of peace, and of course we have been disappointed" (qtd. in Ketcham 260). Pennsylvania's "Centinal" (Samuel Bryan) is even more scornful and direct: "our situation is represented to be so critically dreadful, that, however reprehensible and exceptionable the proposed plan of government may be, there is no alternative, between the adoption of it and absolute ruin.–My fel low citizens, things are not at that crisis, it is the argument of tyrants" (qtd. in Ketcham 236; original emphasis).

However we measure and assess the actuality of "crisis," it is worth considering how Constitutional proponents rhetorically harnessed widespread concerns over emerging diversity, dissent, and evidences of disunity for a political counteroffensive against what John Adams had early labeled (again, precociously) "democratic despotism"–local and radical reconceptualizations of democratic practice increasingly present throughout the United States. Contesting the British principle of virtual representation, citizens of the states began more and more to insist on actual representation. This movement was expressed in a range of practices, including new, strict residency requirements for representatives, expanded suffrage definitions framed to ensure structures for electoral consent, and a model of equal electoral districts that echoed the one-state, one-vote rule under the Articles of Confederation. Even more pointedly, citizens began showing up at legislative sessions to deliver instructions to their delegates. Certainly the laws enacted by these legislatures may have violated some peoples' sense of right order, but these lawmaking bodies were, as Wood summarizes, "probably as equally and fairly representative of the people as any legislatures in history" (Creation 404). Intensifying emphasis was placed on the local as the best and most proper venue for democratic practice. New Englanders began insisting that the town was the real center for good government and fair representation, locus for the most meaningfully immediate social contract, and it wasn't long before Virginia counties began acting on similar claims.

This growing insistence on local democratic practice, on face-to-face democracy, was amplified in the increasing phenomenon of the extra-governmental organization of people, in county assemblies, watchdog committees, radical associations, and out-of-door actions. A clear spillover from Revolutionary practice, these groups, commonly remembered in the dystopic rhetoric of vigilantism, riot, and mob, were present in every major city and across the countryside. Commenting on Jefferson's own late-life advocacy of local, ward governance, Hannah Arendt observes that he "anticipated with almost weird precision those councils, Soviets and Räte, which were to make their appearance in every genuine revolution.... Each time they appeared, they sprang up as the spontaneous organs of the people, not only outside all revolutionary parties but entirely unexpected by them and their leaders" (252). Political theorists and historians alike have failed to recognize, Arendt insists, the extent to which such councils represented a "new form of government, with a new public space for freedom which was constituted and organized during the course of revolution itself" (253). Though Arendt immediately moves to qualify her argument, C. Douglas Lummis grasps it as fundamental evidence for radical democracy's gravitation toward the local: "Again and again, in the phase where revolution was still revolutionary, the polity has broken down naturally into units small enough that the people can confront one another in genuine communities, talk to one another, and choose and act collectively" (113). Such radical practices threatened to make not only national governmental structures, but even state legislatures irrelevant to what Lummis calls the "state of democracy" in the early United States.

Given the widespread outcroppings of emergently radical democratic practices, my study of the 1780s always returns me to this question: why didn't the proposed structures of the Constitution–centralizing, abstracting, potentially monarchical–incur more organized opposition? Why didn't the revolutionary democratic spirit widely expressed in local, face-to-face practices lead people loudly to reject the virtualization of their democracy under the Constitution, given the way it rerouted energy for and relevance of local and direct self-governance? History of Ideas offers no real help at this level for explaining not only cross-sectional support but also local acquiescence to ratification, only because it is more concerned with the organized thinking of men at the center of state and national legislatures than it is with the more far-flung, disorganized, uneven practices of less socially and politically advantaged actors. And though arguments about the strategic fiat of the Constitutional framers and supporters offers somewhat more explanatory power on this point, arguments about rushed state conventions and bad roads don't explain broad cross-sectional popular support after the Constitution's passage.

I'm going to propose that we look in a different direction from political philosophy's debates over liberalism and republicanism, or the Federalists' economic advantages and political machinations, and turn our attention instead to the way that proponents of Constitution, most famously "Publius," hold out a reformulated ideal of "manhood"–purified, vigorous, unified–as a counterphobic ideal for the kinds of social diversity and disruption foregrounded in emergently radical democratic practices. In other words, the conditional disunities and frictions of democratic negotiation entailed both by the more explicitly confraternal model of the Articles and by emergent local political practices is soothingly covered over by national selfsameness and unity, and embodied in the national executive. This is a virtual (abstracted, imagined) fraternity, where the discomfiting actuality of fraternal disagreement disappears in the singular body of the President, who stands as a guarantee of manly constitution qua national accord. Importantly, his unifying energy is representatively routed through/supplied by male citizens in a way that can reassure individual men not only about political discord, but about other kinds of cultural and economic dislocations. In the end, what might have most effectively garnered support for–or at least blunted resistance to–the Constitution was the way it convincingly and insistently circuited the ideal of political consensus through the similarly common ideal of a vigorous, strong, undivided manhood. The bribe of national manhood, a manhood that could be claimed through patriotic incorporation (or subordination, as I'll be arguing), effectively undercut the radicalizing energy of local democratic practices and rerouted the conceptualization of democracy in the new nation, atomizing the idea of participation and fitting citizens out for market competition. To position my argument for considering a reformulated manhood as a key component in Constitutional ratification and postratification support, I want to back up and briefly consider another important dislocation affecting the confederated citizens of the early states.

Confraternity vs. National Manhood

In one of the most influential recent analyses of Revolutionary-era culture, Prodigals and Pilgrims, Jay Fliegelman has detailed how the Revolution was symbolically built, in large part, on the political energy generated by changing familial ideology: angry colonial children excoriated the bad parenting of Britain and declared their right to divorce those parents. What sometimes becomes obfuscated in Fliegelman's analysis, though, is the highly ordered binary pattern of gender "logic" governing Revolutionary rhetoric. In an earlier study, Edwin Burrows and Michael Wallace also examine Revolutionary-era contractualist ideology in England and America/the United States with regard to familial analogies. As they observe, the familial analogy to natural law was structured by appeals to the person of the King as "father," and the nation of Britain as "mother." Both "parents" were depicted generally in relation to "children," but specifically always in relation to sons. From the vantage of those American sons, both King/Father and Britain/Mother were corrupt. Significantly, however, the form expressing that corruption was governed by highly loaded gender paradigms. The King/Father's corruption manifested itself as power ("tyranny"), whereas Britain/Mother's corruption was sexual ("prostitution").

In the newly United States, the analogical corollary for Mother (and therefore U.S. women) was Liberty, or Columbia, embodying prostitution's opposite, political and moral purity, though symbolically still expressed through the terms of sexuality. The U.S. corollary for Father was the Fraternity of Sons, given institutional structure in the Articles of Confederation. But this replacement of Father with Brothers seemed symbolically to evoke anxiety and weakness, not confidence and strength. Carroll Smith-Rosenberg observes in her analysis of early Republican depictions of America, that iconography for conceptualizing "sons" was awkward at best. Men tend in these portrayals to be visually diminutive, backgrounded to the looming female figure of Columbia–and even feminized. As she summarizes, "what ambivalence surrounds the feminine iconographic representation of the virile and virtuous American Republic!" ("Dis-Covering" 870–71). If the analogical rhetoric of the Revolution made it possible to conceptualize and accomplish the overthrow of tyrannical patriarchy, it certainly did not resolve immediate questions about redistributions and coordination of male power and identity in U.S. culture. Breaking with the King/Father necessitated a reconfiguration not only of political power, but also–analogically and practically–of the ideals of manhood.

As Fliegelman stresses, the ideological and political modifications of manhood took practical expression within family structures. Within this (post)Revolutionary family, there were economic and affective redistributions of power. Hierarchically ordered patriarchal models gave way to an affectionate model. Deference to biological fathers was no longer axiomatic but conditional: as Fliegelman puts it, "sentimental theory elevated the moral obligation to repay kindness above the natural obligation owed one's parent" (Prodigals 215). The new romantic pairing of husband and wife emphasized a nuclear, rather than extended, family organization and a more egalitarian sharing of emotional jurisdiction.


Excerpted from National Manhood by Dana D. Nelson. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents Preface Introduction: Naked Nature 1 Purity Control: Consolidating National Manhood in the Early Republic 2 “That's Not My Wife, That's an Indian Squaw”: Inindianation and National Manhood 3 “Our Castle Still Remains Unshaken”: Professional Manhood, Science, Whiteness 4 Gynecological Manhood: The Worries of Whiteness and the Disorders of Women 5 The Melancholy of White Manhood, or, Democracy's Privileged Spot Afterword: The President in 2045, or, Managed Democracy Notes Bibliography Index
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