Journal of American History


Thomas Jefferson’s Gender Frontier

Thomas Jefferson has long been characterized as a Francophile. But, as Brian Steele shows, Jefferson’s experience in France led him to articulate a full-blown American exceptionalism that was rooted in a domestic order unencumbered by the multiple artificialities that kept European men and women from practicing what Jefferson viewed as their natural gender roles. Jefferson’s liberal critique of foreign cultures and political systems that oppressed women and effeminized men translated into an affirmation of America’s natural gender practices. His embrace of republican womanhood is unsurprising. What is notable, though, is the centrality of gender and domesticity to Jefferson’s conception of America’s uniqueness and superiority. (pp. 17–42) Read online >

Deist Monster On Religious Common Sense in the Wake of the American Revolution

The cover of Stephen Mix Mitchell’s A Narrative of the Life of William Beadle, published in 1783 in Hartford, Connecticut, bore this woodcut of coffins marked with hearts, which represented Lydia Beadle and her children; below, William Beadle lay beside the knife, hatchet, and pistols he had used to slay his family and himself. Mitchell, who served as a judge, a representative to the Connecticut General Assembly, and a delegate to the Continental Congress, penned the fullest account of William Beadle’s life and death, in which he emphasized Beadle’s business troubles.
Courtesy American Antiquarian Society.

Christopher Grasso examines the broad cultural context of the tragedy of William Beadle, a Connecticut merchant who, in the early 1780s, murdered his wife and four young children and then killed himself—a crime newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides attributed to his deistic beliefs. Deism has usually been considered important in American history only to a few Founding Fathers who kept their beliefs to themselves. But the encounters with deism Grasso discusses uncover contests over the place of religion in the emerging conceptions of American citizenship. These encounters reveal a people struggling to understand their religious and political lives in the new and unsettled society created by revolution and war and sketch an episode in the formation of American religious common sense. (pp. 43–68) Read online >

Warming the Poor and Growing Consumers: Fuel Philanthropy in the Early Republic’s Urban North

In David Claypoole Johnston’s satiric 1832 depiction of the challenges of burning coal, servants struggle to ignite the anthracite filling a fireplace grate as observers express skepticism. Affluent households could afford to experiment with switching from wood to coal, but scarce funds and the technical problems shown here made the transition difficult for poorer families. The cartoon’s title, “Anti Phlogistic,” referred to “phlogiston,” early chemists’ name for a mysterious substance they believed to be the source of heat.
Courtesy Library Company of Philadelphia.

How did urban Americans deal with the nation’s first major energy crisis? Replacing dwindling stocks of firewood with coal seemed to be an easy solution, but endemic poverty and popular perceptions about coal made the transition difficult for most residents of northern cities in antebellum America. Sean Patrick Adams demonstrates that the campaign to promote coal during that crisis targeted both affluent and poor consumers. Adams finds that exploring the transition between firewood and coal raises some thorny questions about our own energy concerns. If we are to experience a “green” revolution in energy use in our world, we would do well to understand how both the early nineteenth-century poor and their wealthy contemporaries came to enlist in coal’s “black” revolution. (pp. 69–94) Read online >

Reconfiguring the Old South: ‘Solving’ the Problem of Slavery, 1787–1838

This engraving of a slave auction in Charleston, South Carolina, shows a scene familiar to Charlestonians throughout the antebellum era. Such sights may have reminded them—both during the 1804–1807 era, when the state reopened the international slave trade, and in later years, when a domestic, interregional trade flourished—of the links between southern prosperity and the threat of slave uprisings. Illustrated London News, Nov. 29, 1856.
Courtesy Library of Congress.

Examining the choices that confronted the American South in the era of the cotton revolution, Lacy Ford outlines the tensions that appeared as both the upper and the lower South attempted reconfigurations of slavery after the foreign slave trade ended in 1808. Upper South politicians sought a demographic reconfiguration, or a “whitening” of the region, to reduce the number of slaves living there through both colonization and the sale of slaves to the lower South. Lower South leaders, meanwhile, sought an ideological reconfiguration to make slaveholding consistent with existing republican and emerging humanitarian ideals by transforming slavery into a “domestic” institution legitimated by paternalism. As Ford shows, the divergent efforts at reconfiguration pitted spokesmen of the upper and lower South against each other even as the antagonists displayed a shared and fundamental unwillingness to undermine slaveholding and slaveholders. (pp. 95–122) Read online >

For suggestions on how to use this article in the U.S. history classroom, see our Teaching the JAH Web project at

“A Wagner Act for Public Employees”: Labor’s Deferred Dream and the Rise of Conservatism, 1970–1976

Jerry Wurf, the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees from 1964 to 1981, speaks with characteristic passion at a 1972 union conference. In the early 1970s, Wurf spearheaded the drive for federal legislation to guarantee government workers a minimum wage, overtime pay, and collective bargaining rights.
Courtesy Walter Reuther Library, Wayne State University.

As the 1970s began, public workers in the United States were participating in the most profound union upsurge since the 1930s. Sanitation workers, teachers, fire fighters, and others were flocking into unions, creating the promise of a liberal political resurgence during the presidency of Richard M. Nixon. Halting the growth of public sector unions became a crucial task for the emerging conservative movement of the mid-1970s, argues Joseph A. McCartin. Labor’s unsuccessful effort to pass a national collective bargaining law for state and local employees illustrated both the growing divisions within the Democratic coalition and the growing strength of the conservative activism that later helped usher in the era of Ronald Reagan. (pp. 123–148) Read online >

Exhibition Reviews

Like many of the plastic-inseminated bodies displayed in the “Body Worlds 3” exhibition at the St. Louis Science Center, The Hurdler (2005) represents the body in functional action. This sculpture and others create compelling—and sometimes unsettling—juxtapositions of internal anatomical features, such as the muscles and the sagittal sections of the brain shown here, and external features, including eyes, eyebrows, and lips.
Courtesy St. Louis Science Center.
  • Museo Alameda, by Kathleen Franz (pp. 149–54) Read online >
  • “The Art of the American Shapshot, 1888–1978,” by Shirley Teresa Wajda (pp. 155–57) Read online >
  • “Diba Jimooyung: Telling Our Story,” by Amy Lonetree (pp. 158–62) Read online >
  • “RACE: Are We So Different?,” by Jay Price (pp. 163–64) Read online >
  • “BodyWorlds3,” by Walton O. Schalick III (pp. 165–70) Read online >
  • “David Macaulay: The Art of Drawing Architecture,” by Sarah Seidman (pp. 171–74) Read online >

Book Reviews

June 2008, Vol. 95 No. 1

Alphabetical by the last name of the book's first author or editor.


Movie Reviews

Thirty-year-old Marine Corps S.Sgt. John Jones, of San Antonio, Texas, lost both legs below the knee and suffered other injuries in Al Qaim, Iraq, on January 3, 2005. Jones is one of ten Iraq War veterans who recalls his “alive day” (the day he was wounded) in Alive Day Memories.
Courtesy hbo

Web site Reviews

Web site Reviews are available without a subscription.

  • Papers of George Washington Digital Edition, and George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741–1799, by Susan Holbrook Perdue (p. 296) Read online >
  • American Broadsides and Ephemera, Series I: 1760–1900, by Ellen Pearson (p. 297) Read online >
  • U.S. Historical Census Browser, by Clara Rodriguez (p. 298) Read online >
  • Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904, by Julie Kimmel (p. 299) Read online >
  • Perlinger Archives, by Ilana Nash (p. 300) Read online >


Recent Scholarship

View “Recent Scholarship” listing online >

Recent Scholarship is available as a searchable database, Recent Scholarship Online >

cover image

On the cover:

This cartoon by Jerry L. Barnett lampooned agency shop agreements made between public sector unions and the government. Such agreements required workers covered by union contracts to pay for the costs of union representation, whether they were union members or not. The cartoon showed the agency shop prospering at the expense of public sector employees and taxpayers. A 1974 issue of the National Right to Work Newsletter reprinted the cartoon as part of its campaign against public employee unions’ growing power. National Right to Work Newsletter, March 26, 1974, p. 7. Courtesy Jerry L. Barnett. See Joseph A. McCartin, “‘A Wagner Act for Public Employees’: Labor’s Deferred Dream and the Rise of Conservatism, 1970–1976,” 123–48.

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