How did Americans in the generations following the Declaration of Independence translate its lofty ideals into practice? In this broadly synthetic work, distinguished historian Richard Brown shows that despite its founding statement that “all men are created equal,” the early Republic struggled with every form of social inequality. While people paid homage to the ideal of equal rights, this ideal came up against entrenched social and political practices and beliefs.
Brown illustrates how the ideal was tested in struggles over race and ethnicity, religious freedom, gender and social class, voting rights, and citizenship. He shows how high principles fared in criminal trials and divorce cases when minorities, women, and people from different social classes faced judgment. This book offers a much-needed exploration of the ways revolutionary political ideas penetrated popular thinking and everyday practice.
Richard D. Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Connecticut. His previous books include Knowledge Is Power: The Diffusion of Information in Early America, 1700–1865; The Strength of a People: The Idea of an Informed Citizenry in Early America, 1650-1870; and the coauthored microhistory The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler: A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America. His most recent work is Self-Evident Truths: Contesting Equal Rights from the Revolution to the Civil War.