Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century

Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century

by Mary P. Ryan




Mary P. Ryan traces the fate of public life and the emergence of ethnic, class, and gender conflict in the nineteenth-century city in this ambitious retelling of a key period of American political and social history. Basing her analysis on three quite different cities—New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco—Ryan illustrates how city spaces were used, understood, and fought over by a dazzling variety of social groups and political forces. She finds that the democratic exuberance America enjoyed in the 1820s and 1840s was irrevocably damaged by the Civil War. Civic life rebounded after the War but was, in Ryan's words, "less public, less democratic, and more visibly scarred by racial bigotry."

Ryan's analysis is played out on three different levels—the spatial, the ceremonial, and the political. As she follows the decline of informal democracy from the age of Jackson to the heyday of industrial capitalism, she finds the roots of America's resilient democratic culture in the vigorous, often belligerent urban conflicts that found expression in the social movements, riots, celebrations, and other events that punctuated daily life in these urban centers. With its insightful comparisons, meticulous research, and graceful narrative, this study illustrates the ways in which American cities of the nineteenth century were as full of cultural differences and as fractured by social and economic changes as any metropolis today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520204416
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 06/16/1997
Pages: 394
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Mary P. Ryan is Professor of History and Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (1981; winner of the Bancroft Prize) and Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825-1880 (1990).

Read an Excerpt

Civic Wars

Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century
By Mary P. Ryan

The University of California Press

ISBN: 0-520-21660-1

Chapter One

Civic Wars looks back at the configurations of public space, ceremony, and politics in three cities (New York, New Orleans and San Francisco) and locates the roots of America's resilient democratic culture in the vigorous, often belligerent conflicts of the last century. What began as an investigation of how a vibrant public culture was maintained by the heterogeneous population of nineteenth-century cities became, quite unexpectedly, a chronicle of incessant civic conflict that erupted into full-scale municipal warfare even before the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter. The story begins in 1825 with an account of how the residents of these three cities created a democratic political culture out of their multifarious differences. The chief venues of this vibrant ante-bellum culture were the central squares, the annual parades, and countless public meetings, all of which accommodated associations based on a bevy of social differences-occupational, ethnic, religious, partisan and particular. Throughout the Jacksonian period, the jostling of differences in urban public space was a civil but hardly decorous affair. After 1850, however, public peace and the democratic experiment were jeopardized in each city by a sequence of uncivil wars-by armed encampments ofvigilantes in both San Francisco and New Orleans, and a battle between rival police forces in New York. These municipal clashes presaged the national conflict that culminated in the Civil War-which, when it subsided, left a new political culture in its wake. After 1865 the differences between the people of these cities were recast their differences as bold divisions of race, gender, and sometimes class. The post-war political process became less dependent on open public meetings and more reliant upon modern public relations. But even in this more constrained political climate, people continued to seek out places where they could express their differences and challenge inequities. In the end, Civic Wars reclaims this tumultuous history as the durable crucible of democracy; moreover, it enjoins us to calibrate our public consciousness so that it can tolerate a full spectrum of difference and a sometimes unseemly quotient of civil conflict.


Excerpted from Civic Wars by Mary P. Ryan Excerpted by permission.
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.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews