1. American Sensations
City and Empire in the American 1848
Ned Buntline (E.Z.C. Judson), one of the most prolific and successful producers of popular sensational literature throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, is probably best known today for his role in creating the legend of Buffalo Bill. In 1869, Buntline took a train from California, where he had been lecturing on the virtues of temperance, to Nebraska, where he fell in with a group of men who had recently participated in a battle against Sioux and Cheyenne Indians. One of these men was William Cody, an army scout and hunter who had, among other things, made a living by supplying buffalo meat to railroad crews. Soon after Buntline returned East, he published a story for Street and Smith's New York Weekly that was nominally based on Cody's adventures, though it was in fact almost entirely invented by Buntline. This novel, Buffalo Bill, the King of Border Men, was hugely successful, so much so that it generated more than a hundred sequels by Buntline, Prentiss Ingraham, and many others from the 1870s through the early part of the twentieth century. Buntline's novel also helped to inspire the traveling Wild West show that Richard Slotkin has called “the most important commercial vehicle for the fabrication and transmission of the Myth of the Frontier” in the late nineteenth century. In 1899, Buffalo Bill's Wild West show replaced a performance of “Custer's Last Fight” with a recreation of the battle of San Juan Hill and thereby, according to Slotkin, marked “the Wild West's evolution from a memorialization of the past to a celebration of the imperial future.” The substitution, he
If this genealogy identifies Buntline with the trans-Mississippi West, the Western as a popular genre, and the imperial frontier of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, however, another influential narrative about Buntline and popular culture turns eastward, especially to New York City, focusing particularly on Buntline's participation in the Astor Place theater riot, his role in shaping white working-class culture through various forms of sensational literature such as journalism and the urban melodrama, and his significance in the story of the emerging split between high and low culture. In 1848, Buntline moved from Boston to New York, where he began to write massive, muckraking urban-gothic novels such as The Mysteries and Miseries of New York (1848), The B'hoys of New York (1850), Three Years After (1849), and The G'hals of New York (1850). In these novels, he helped to develop the white working-class characters of Mose and Lize, the Bowery B'hoy and G'hal who were also the stars of incredibly popular New York theatrical melodramas written by Benjamin Baker. During this time and intermittently for many years afterward, Buntline edited his own newspaper, Ned Buntline's Own, for which he claimed thirty thousand readers, who were drawn to his sensational stories as well as, presumably, the notices for meetings of nativist organizations such as the Order of United Americans and the Order of United American Mechanics that appeared in its columns.
Buntline was also jailed for inciting the Astor Place theater riot, the event that Lawrence Levine claims dramatically marked a “growing chasm between ‘serious’ and ‘popular’ culture” in the mid–nineteenth century. On May 10, 1849, U.S. militiamen killed at least 22 and wounded more than 150 people who were part of a rowdy crowd gathered outside the theater, where the British Shakespearean actor William Charles Macready was pelted by lemons and chairs hurled by Bowery B'hoys, among others. If, as Eric Lott argues, the Astor Place riot indicates a “class-defined, often class-conscious, cultural sphere,” Buntline was one of the most important figures and producers within that sphere; indeed, Lott calls him “a direct link between the new culture of amusements and growing social fissures.”
Although both of these accounts—one that focuses on public culture and class formations in Northeastern cities, the other on the West and the imperial frontier of the late nineteenth century—testify to Buntline's considerable significance in the production of nineteenth-century popular
The multiple connections between city and empire that can be traced in Buntline's life and literature are certainly not unique to his sensational body of work, for many mid-nineteenth-century producers of popular culture returned to this double axis of city and empire. In his groundbreaking study Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America (1987), Michael Denning suggests that an “emphasis on the early westerns, tales of the frontier and of Indian fighting, as the dominant, most characteristic, and most interesting genre” of popular sensational literature has made it difficult to comprehend the significance of other genres, such as the “mysteries of the city,” which he argues was the “first genre to achieve massive success and to dominate cheap fiction.” But many producers of cheap sensational literature worked with both of these genres—as well as others, such as the international romance and imperial adventure, which foregrounded issues of empire—to explore the mysteries of the capitalist city and to address issues of U.S. empire-building. The sensational literature of this period responds, in other words, to a double vision of Northeastern cities divided by battles over class, race, national origin, and religion, on the one hand, and on the other to scenes of U.S. nation- and empire-building in Mexico, Cuba, and throughout the Americas. To understand this important early form of popular culture, then, we need to attend to and
1848 AND EMPIRE
Although American Sensations addresses several different instances of U.S. empire-building, the U.S.-Mexican War is central to this study of popular and mass culture, class, and racial formations in the American 1848. Sometimes called a forgotten war, this conflict nonetheless had formative effects on constructions of race, class, and nation in the mid–nineteenth century and on the Civil War itself. Indeed, some of the most influential American Studies work on the significance of 1848 has focused on the U.S.-Mexican War as a cause of the Civil War. In The Impending Crisis: 1848–1861 (1976), historian David Potter argued for the importance of the events of 1848 by suggesting that the “victory over Mexico” had “sealed the triumph of national expansion, but it had also triggered the release of forces of sectional dissension” that culminated in the Civil War. Although a precarious “national harmony” had previously depended upon “the existence of a kind of balance between the northern and southern parts of the United States,” he suggested, the war “disturbed this balance, and the acquisition of a new empire which each section desired to dominate endangered the balance further.” In his 1983 study of Herman Melville, Michael Rogin drew on Potter's analysis when he coined the periodizing phrase “the American 1848” to explain how in “the wake of the Mexican War,” slavery “threatened to destroy the Union.” Comparing the events in the United States to the European revolutions of 1848, Rogin claimed that while “the Europe of 1848 disintegrated in class war” (102), in the United States the “internal stresses” that threatened the “external triumph” of nationalism “revolved around slavery” (103). Both Potter and Rogin thereby called attention to the connections between the U.S.-Mexican War and the Civil War, between foreign conflict and domestic discord, and between the acquisition of a new empire and the increasingly divisive debate over slavery.
Although these (re)periodizing narratives of the American 1848 had important implications for the fields of U.S. history and literature, where the antebellum period marker often effectively meant that the Civil War displaced other nineteenth-century conflicts, they still implicitly constructed the United States-as-America and stopped short of addressing the broader hemispheric significance of the year 1848. But for scholars working in the fields of Chicano and Latino Studies, 1848
To understand the hemispheric dimensions of U.S. imperial activity in the American 1848, it is important to place the U.S.-Mexican War in the context of other inter-American encounters and conflicts. While the end of the war in 1848 led to the remapping of U.S. national boundaries and the addition of vast new lands, the discovery of gold in California early that spring drew miners and other workers to the area from all over the world. After the war ended, many disbanded U.S. soldiers hurried to the gold fields, where some became nativists and sought to exclude so-called foreigners from the mines. Other war veterans signed up to fight in behalf of the “white” race against the Maya Indians in Yucatán, where a bloody and prolonged “Caste War” had broken out; or followed the filibuster William Walker to Sonora, Mexico, and Nicaragua; or joined filibustering expeditions to take over Cuba. Meanwhile, in 1848, Polk thought about annexing Yucatán before unsuccessfully trying to purchase Cuba from Spain, and U.S. designs on Cuba were made manifest again and again during the 1850s as several attempts were made to purchase the island. After 1848, the United States became more aggressive in the Caribbean, striving for commercial domination of the Dominican Republic as well as Cuba. Central and South America also became objects of imperial interest during the debates over the meaning of the Monroe Doctrine that took place between the United States and various European powers. All of this suggests that, far from being an isolated moment or an aberration, 1848 was a “watershed year” in the history of U.S. empire, a year when the boost to U.S. power in the world system provided by the U.S.-Mexican War, combined
The year 1848 must also be placed within a longer history of U.S. empire-building at the expense of North American Indians. During the congressional debates about whether the United States should intervene in the Caste War in Yucatán in 1848, which I address in chapter 6, politicians raised questions about the political relationship between Mexican Indians and creoles that also had important implications for the relationships between U.S. Indians and white U.S. Americans. Some criticized the creoles there for not getting rid of “their” Indians as effectively as the U.S. Americans had, while others suggested that Indians were citizens in Mexico and thus were a part of the “people.” For both sides, however, debates about imperial intervention abroad recalled the ongoing history of “Indian Wars” and the dispossession of indigenous peoples in North America. Notable recent moments in that nineteenth-century history include the removal of the Cherokees and other tribes to lands west of the Mississippi in the 1830s; the Black Hawk War of 1832, fought against the Sauk and Fox; the wars against the Seminole Indians in Florida in the 1830s and early 1840s; as well as genocidal attacks on California Indians. After the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, the increasing westward movement of white U.S. settlers provoked conflicts in the newly acquired lands of the Great Plains, the Southwest, and the Northwest, as well as in older possessions such as Minnesota; a war there erupted in 1862 between Dakota Indians and white settlers that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of settlers and Indians, the defeat of the Dakotas, and the hanging of thirty-eight Dakota men, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. The resistance of Indians to the encroachments of white settlers in lands acquired by the rapidly expanding United States during the long, imperial nineteenth century is another important part of the story of the American 1848.
It has become conventional to distinguish, as Slotkin does, between the continental expansionism of 1848 and the overseas empire-building, often identified with imperialism as such, of the 1890s. Along with William Appleman Williams, Walter LaFeber has been one of the most influential theorists of a late nineteenth-century New Empire that depended on the pursuit of the strategic control of widely dispersed foreign markets, military bases, and transportation routes rather than “continental” expansion, the acquisition of large amounts of land, and direct political control. Although LaFeber called this formation a New Empire, he also insisted that it represented a continuation rather than an
Building on the analysis of LaFeber and others, American Sensations draws upon this conception of a New Empire but also seeks to trouble the distinction between the “continental frontier” of 1848 and the “imperial frontier” of 1898 in a number of ways—first, by arguing for the importance in the earlier period of the idea of a commercial empire that would not involve the incorporation of vast territories or large populations, especially of nonwhite peoples. As chapter 4 suggests, this conception of empire was often endorsed by those who opposed the annexation of any densely inhabited parts, or all, of Mexico in 1848; it was also championed by those who did not favor the acquisition of Cuba but who hoped to profit from the neocolonial commercial domination of that Caribbean island. Second, especially in chapters 5 and 8, I complicate the identification of the post-1848 period with “continentalism” by recalling the strong interest in overseas or noncontiguous empire-building, especially in Cuba but also in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other sites even during these years. Finally, this study suggests that to describe the earlier moment of expansion as continental and the second as imperial is to risk naturalizing the post-1848 boundaries of the nation as well as the violent expansionism that made possible the reconstruction of
Although the western boundary of the “continent” was marked by the Pacific Ocean, its southern and northern boundaries were by no means self-evident to those with designs on Mexico and Canada; and to many Mexicans, for instance, U.S. expansionism southward certainly registered as “imperial.” While it is important to understand the specificities of the imperialisms of 1848 and 1898, to reserve the term “imperialism” for the 1890s is to reproduce that tenuous and certainly ideological distinction and to marginalize or even dismiss a much longer history of U.S. imperialism in the Americas. It contributes to that historical amnesia that subtends what Amy Kaplan has called “the simple chronology that plots the U.S. empire emerging full blown at various stages of the twentieth century to step into the shoes of dying European empires.” Marking the 1890s as the originary moment for periodizations of U.S. imperialism also makes it difficult to connect the anti-imperial struggles of the twentieth century with those that took place before that decade.
On the other hand, I do not mean to suggest that 1848 marked the “true” origin of U.S. imperialism. Such a claim would ignore the longer history of U.S. empire-building that antedated 1848. Furthermore, attention to 1848 as an important moment in the history of U.S. empire must not elide the Spanish and Mexican oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas or the struggles of indigenous peoples against U.S. empire-builders. Without taking 1848 as an origin point for U.S. imperialism, then, American Sensations insists not only on the differences but also on the many connections between 1848 and 1898, between “continental” imperialism and the New Empire, and between U.S. empire-building and class and racial formations in the metropolis.
1848 AND THE CITY
The American 1848 also marks a crucial period in the transformation of urban white working-class cultures. As Richard Stott suggests, massive
These dramatic changes in urban life were accompanied by many others. Innovations in print technology included the development of stereotyping and electrotyping; the invention of Napier's cylinder press and then, in 1846, Hoe's ten-cylinder press with revolving type, which produced up to twenty thousand sheets per hour; as well as Fourdrinier's paper-making machine, which was first introduced in the 1820s and which by 1860 had cut paper costs in half. These technological innovations supported the emergence in the mid-1830s of the first mass circulation daily newspapers such as Benjamin Day's New York Sun and James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald. By 1840, more newspapers were published in the United States than in any other nation; in 1850, there were 2,526 newspapers being published throughout the country. The 1840s also witnessed the proliferation of other kinds of periodicals, from elite journals such as the North American Review; to sentimental publications such as Godey's Lady's Book and Graham's Magazine; to cheap, sensational story papers such as the Flag of Our Union and the Star Spangled Banner; as well as a host of other, smaller publications. Improvements in transportation and communications facilitated the ever more rapid circulation of information and print. With the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which provided crucial linkages to Western markets,
These demographic patterns and technological and cultural innovations in the American 1848 both resulted from and contributed to larger urban economic shifts in this period. Manufacturing, spurred by the arrival of large numbers of new immigrants, became more and more important to the national economy from the 1840s through the 1860s. According to Sean Wilentz, at the end of the 1840s, the “manufacturing complex” that was organized around the “metropolitan center” of New York was “probably the fastest-growing large industrial area in the world.” Early industrialization did not mean, however, that most workers toiled in large, heavily capitalized factories; instead, industrialized labor took place in a variety of settings, including small mechanized workshops, machineless manufactories, where tasks were subdivided, and outwork manufactories, where skilled labor took place on site but unskilled work was “put out” to contractors or outworkers. Wilentz suggests that by the late 1840s, “New York's position as the nation's leading manufacturing site was secure and the split labor market and the fragmentation of the artisan system were complete.” During this period, Philadelphia, too, Laurie argues, was transformed “from a commercial port with a broad but shallow industrial base to a major center of commodity production, whose industrial output reached $140 million and was second only to [that of] New York on the eve of the Civil War.” Un even industrialization in Philadelphia slowly broke up the artisan system, with native-born whites holding on to most of the better jobs; two-thirds of the German immigrants took on skilled work; about 40 percent of Irish immigrants were employed as unskilled laborers; and another 40 percent toiled as hand loom weavers or worked in trades that were being transformed by industrialization. And the influx of new immigrants
The heterogeneous labor cultures that arose in Northeastern cities during this period have been documented by a number of historians. Some scholars have emphasized working-class political and economic institutions; others have focused on popular culture, examining cheap literature, blackface minstrelsy, the firemen's company, and the world of the Bowery B'hoy and G'hal as indices of the transformation of working-class cultures in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although that work has provided important insights into class formations during those years, much of it has marginalized issues of race. On the other hand, David Roediger, Eric Lott, and Noel Ignatiev, among others, have offered important revisions of these earlier models. In The Wages of Whiteness (1991), Roediger made a significant breakthrough in exploring the absence of a compelling analysis of race in many classical Marxist theories of class and in works of new labor history. Drawing on the work of W.E.B. Du Bois and others, Roediger examined how working-class whiteness and conceptions of free labor were constructed in the antebellum period in opposition to blackness and to slavery. In Love and Theft (1993), Eric Lott similarly argued for the centrality of race in working-class culture and insisted that working-class whiteness was defined in relation to blackness in the antebellum minstrel show, but he emphasized “how pre-cariously nineteenth-century white working people lived their whiteness” and suggested that blackface was a “peculiarly unstable form.” Finally, in How the Irish Became White (1995), Noel Ignatiev focused on antebellum Irish immigrants and investigated how “the Catholic Irish, an oppressed race in Ireland, became part of an oppressing race in America.” A key to this transformation, he concluded, was “a society polarized between white and black” that rewarded the Irish for seeking “refuge” in “whiteness” and for subordinating “county, religious, or national ani-mosities” to “a new solidarity based on color.” Each of these important studies relies primarily upon a binary, black/white model of race to understand the reformation of working-class whiteness in the decades before the Civil War, and all three for the most part marginalize issues of empire and inter-American conflict as they examine the centrality of race in reshaping Northeastern urban working-class communities.
Because U.S. labor historians often separate their accounts of economic and social unrest from the story of U.S. empire, the linkages between mid-nineteenth-century class and racial formations, empire, and international conflict have rarely been examined.Alexander Saxton's The Rise and Fall of the White Republic (1990) is, however, an especially insightful effort to explore some of these linkages. In this dazzling study of nineteenth-century class politics and mass culture, Saxton reads story papers and dime novels, mass circulation newspapers and the labor press, blackface minstrelsy, and Westerns, as well as other cultural forms, against the broad canvas of the transformation of party politics and class and racial formations during the century. Saxton begins with the claim that in the nineteenth-century United States, “a theory of white racial superiority originated from rationalizations and justifications of the slave trade, slavery and expropriation of land from non-white populations.” These concerns require him to engage issues of national expansion and empire-building along with issues of slavery and black/white race relations. Two of Saxton's conclusions are particularly important for my analysis of class, race, empire, and mass culture in the American 1848. First, he demonstrates that in the wake of the emergence of mass culture and the extension of white male suffrage in the early nineteenth century, the Democrats, the Whigs, and later, the Republicans all had to engage mass cultural forms and develop distinct positions on empire-building and slavery as they struggled to construct cross-class coalitions of white male voters. Saxton's research thereby shows how early forms of mass culture were implicated in these attempts by the political parties to construct cross-class alliances among whites. Second, Saxton suggests that different varieties of white egalitarianism were the glue that held these coalitions together. White egalitarianism involves a leveling of distinctions among whites at the expense of nonwhites. The United States, Saxton argues, “sought to provide equal opportunities for the pursuit of happiness by its white citizens through the enslavement of African Americans, extermination of Indians, and territorial expansion at the expense of Indians and Mexicans.” Saxton associates white egalitarianism especially with the Democrats, but he shows how the Whigs had to develop their own version of this appeal to different classes of whites even though they struggled to reconcile egalitarianism with older hierarchies of class and status. The Whig version of racism was also “softer” than that of the Democrats, which meant that the Whigs still adhered to racial hierarchies but were more likely to favor the demise of slavery and to oppose expansion, although Saxton insists that they tended toward soft racial policies
In other studies as well, Saxton has been one of the most important contributors to the scholarly literature on class and race, particularly because of his ability to compare multiple racial formations. In an essay entitled “Race and the House of Labor” (1970), Saxton analyzed “white America's three great racial confrontations” with Indians, African slaves, and Asian contract laborers in order to explore the ways in which class consciousness “cut at right angles to racial identification,” leaving a legacy of racism that has haunted the house of labor. But although in this essay and in The Rise and Fall of the White Republic Saxton made an analysis of national expansion and the expropriation of Western lands central to his account, he had little to say about white U.S. America's racial confrontations with Latinos or cultural production that focuses on Mexico and the Americas. And although in the last three decades a significant body of work has emerged that extends Saxton's insights about the overlapping histories of class and racial formation, few have considered the significance for U.S. class formations and popular culture of inter-American imperial encounters in 1848 and beyond. One of the theses of American Sensations, however, is that class and racial formations and popular and mass culture in Northeastern U.S. cities are inextricable from scenes of empire-building in the U.S. West, Mexico, and the Americas. The present study builds on the framework developed by Saxton, drawing particularly on his accounts of white egalitarianism and the transformation of the political parties. But it also seeks to make the U.S.-Mexican War and the mid-nineteenth-century U.S. history of imperial encounters in the Americas central to an analysis of class, race, and popular and mass culture in the American 1848, for during this period, languages of labor and race were shaped in significant ways by inter-American contact and conflict.
Debates about the whiteness of working-class immigrants, for example, were importantly affected by the participation of immigrant soldiers in the U.S.-Mexican War. By 1847, the majority of soldiers in the U.S. Army were foreign-born, and about a quarter of them were Irish. During the late 1840s, as I argue in chapter 2 and throughout Part 2, representations of Irish soldiers, which recurred in much of the war literature, condensed an array of anxieties about the Irish as weak links in the
Nativism in general and white working-class nativism in particular are also illuminated by the history of mid-nineteenth-century imperial expansion. During the 1840s and 1850s, nativist political parties, secret societies, and other organizations flourished, and white workers, especially those involved in crafts that had not yet been transformed by industrialization, developed their own nativist institutions (such as the Order of United American Mechanics) that flourished in Philadelphia and New York City. Rather than erasing class, nativism often “conveyed a strong sense of class identity,” as Bruce Laurie argues, but it also registered the split between the old, largely native-born working class and the new immigrants. And if nativist anti-Catholic battles took place at the polls, in the work of public associations and secret societies, and on the streets of U.S. cities, they also erupted in Mexico during the war as churches were destroyed, sacked, or deliberately desecrated and as U.S. soldiers and journalists disparaged Mexican Catholics. What is more, as we shall see in the chapters that follow, debates about whether all or part of Mexico could or should be incorporated into the United States frequently turned on both questions of race and fears about what it would mean to add large numbers of Catholics to the union. Many
In Whiteness of a Different Color, Matthew Frye Jacobson suggests that U.S. expansion and conquest “pulled for a unified collectivity” of whites even as “nativism and the immigrant question fractured that whiteness into its component—‘superior’ and ‘inferior’—parts.” In the American 1848, imperial expansion both fortified and undermined working-class whiteness, for immigrant soldiers were incorporated into the white U.S. military forces to fight a Mexican army that was widely viewed as made up largely of nonwhites, even as nativist and anti-Catholic sentiments were reanimated during the war in ways that fractured whiteness along lines of religion and national origin. This complicated dynamic nonetheless reinforces Jacobson's claims about “the influence of empire in the racial formation of ‘white’ Europeans” in the United States.
If issues of empire-building influenced debates about nativism and immigrant whiteness, however, they also both shaped and were in turn affected by ideas about land reform promoted by many urban working-class advocates in the 1840s and 1850s. Thomas Hietala suggests that for the Democrats, expansionism became the “antidote to the toxins of modernization”; in other words, Democrats “hoped that new territory and additional markets” could ward off the evils of “industrialization and its inevitable concomitants such as urban congestion, uncertainty of employment, class stratification, labor agitation and domestic strife.” But this theory of new Western lands as a “safety valve” that might mitigate urban class tensions has been identified most closely with the National Reform Association, a popular mid-nineteenth-century land reform movement that was led by the radical George Henry Evans and that had significant ties to working-class organizations and the labor press. Saxton, for instance, contends that the National Reform position that “western land offered the solution for social and economic problems of eastern cities” underpinned the project of territorial expansion. In
While Roediger and others have discussed the role of race in the making of the U.S. working class by examining comparisons made by white workers between chattel slavery and the competing concepts of free labor and wage or white slavery, one of the premises of Part 3 of this study is that ideas about Mexican labor and land arrangements as well as the complex array of racializations that were identified with Mexico also played a significant part in such comparisons. In Racial Fault Lines, Tomás Almaguer suggests that mid-nineteenth-century proponents of free labor ideology “believed that social mobility and economic independence were only achievable in a capitalist society unthreatened by nonwhite populations and the degrading labor systems associated with them.” By citing other forms of “unfree labor” associated with non-white populations, such as Mexican peonage and Asian contract labor, Almaguer demonstrates that a nonbinary model of race is required in order to understand the emergent racialized ideal of free labor. Chapter 7 of American Sensations builds on Almaguer's insight by exploring comparisons of chattel slavery, free labor, and Mexican labor arrangements in the American 1848. One important key to these comparisons was the Wilmot Proviso, an amendment that was passed by the House but not by the Senate; it would have required that slavery and other forms of involuntary servitude be banned in any territory acquired from Mexico after the war. While scholarly discussions of the Wilmot Proviso rarely consider forms of unfree labor other than slavery, Part 3 suggests that debates about Mexican labor and land systems figured significantly in the construction of free labor ideology and in the intensifying division between North and South. Finally, Part 4 examines how inter-American conflict and imperial expansion affected the racialization of people of
THE “MECHANIC ACCENTS” OF EMPIRE
At the outset, I claimed that the career and literary corpus of the sensationalist Ned Buntline reveal many of the multiple connections between city and empire in the American 1848. Not only Buntline, however, but also George Lippard and A.J.H. Duganne—two of the other writers that Denning discusses in the part of Mechanic Accents that focuses on this period—wrote both the mysteries-of-the-city fiction that Denning calls “the genre of 1848” and sensational stories set in Mexico. Many mysteries-of-the-city novels, moreover, open up onto questions of empire. George Lippard's New York: Its Upper Ten and Lower Million (1853), for instance, begins by deploring the monstrous growth of capitalism and the inflation of property values in New York City, but this urban gothic plot is entwined with another that involves an international Catholic conspiracy to take over the West and a virtuous mechanic's dream of establishing a worker's utopia on the Pacific coast. And although Buntline's The B'hoys of New York opens with a typical scene of a miserable prostitute making her way down Broadway late at night, his story of urban crime crucially involves a Spanish pirate who simultaneously schemes to seduce the virtuous heroine and to foment a revolution in Cuba. Another of Buntline's urban gothic novels, The Mysteries and Miseries of New Orleans (1851), starts off as an urban cautionary tale of seduction and revenge, but about halfway through it turns into a story of imperial adventure in Cuba, when Buntline's protagonist joins a filibustering expedition. In all of these novels, the mysteries-of-the-city are entangled with questions of empire, and this entanglement suggests that “the paradoxical union of sensational fiction and radical politics” that Denning identifies with this moment in the history of cheap literature must be assessed in relation to a politics of empire-building as well as a politics of class.
But the politics of empire in early sensational fiction, like the politics of class, are far from uncomplicated, and the fears and contradictions that shadowed contemporaneous political and literary debates about the U.S.-Mexican War, as well as other imperial encounters, also haunt many of these sensational visions of imperial expansion. Despite the widespread support for the troops in Mexico and the appeal of exceptionalist ideas about the nation's future, the war was extremely controversial, even during the 1840s. In New England it was especially unpopular, because of pacifist and religious beliefs, as well as fears that it was being fought to extend slavery, that it would increase the power of Southern interests, and that it might mean incorporating large numbers of Catholics and nonwhites into the republic. Ironically, many South-easterners, notably John C. Calhoun, also opposed it, because they thought that slavery could not thrive in Mexico, where it had been abolished; that it might therefore increase the power of Northern antislavery interests; and that contact with, or incorporation of, foreigners and non-whites might threaten what Calhoun called the government “of the white race.” Support for the war and for expansion was strongest in the West, in the mid-Atlantic region, and in New York City. In general, many Democrats defended Polk's expansionist policies, though there were exceptions, such as Calhoun, and although fears of the extension of slavery provoked Pennsylvania Democrat David Wilmot's famously divisive proviso. Many Whigs, on the other hand, denounced Polk for invading Mexico and argued for a “No Territory” position, though some supported the acquisition of California and other more sparsely settled portions of northern Mexico and almost all of them continued to vote to send more supplies and troops to Mexico. But although most Democrats favored the acquisition of at least some territory, many who supported Polk and the war still argued, like the Whigs, against the annexation of densely populated Mexican areas. The New York–based Democratic Review, for instance, where John O'Sullivan famously coined the term “Manifest Destiny,” defended Polk and welcomed the acquisition of California and New Mexico, but it argued that the “annexation of the country to the United States would be a calamity. Five million ignorant and indolent half-civilized Indians, with 1,500,000 free negroes and mulattoes, the remnants of the British slave trade, would scarcely be a desirable incumbrance, even with the great natural wealth of Mexico.” The war and national expansion, in other words, brought to the fore contradictions in the concept of Manifest Destiny and disagreements about its meaning even among those who promoted it.
Although Buntline, Lippard, and other early sensationalists frequently criticized party politics and declared that their commitments were irreducible to the platforms of either the Whigs or the Democrats, these debates about the war, expansion, and Manifest Destiny resound throughout the pages of sensational war literature. And that literature is especially revelatory of the ways that debates about empire shaped and organized the working-class subcultures and social movements that Denning aligns with some of the authors of mysteries-of-the-city literature. Buntline's two U.S.–Mexican War novels, for instance, anticipate the Westerns that he produced late in his career as well as the nativist forms of white working-class protest that he elaborated in his urban reform literature. Both The Volunteer and Magdalena, like most of the other war novels published in story papers such as the Flag of Our Union and the Star Spangled Banner, are international romances. In these novels, relationships between U.S. soldiers and Mexican women, especially, are used to figure possible postwar relationships between nations. But although one might expect these novels to celebrate U.S. intervention and promote the annexation of all or part of Mexico, many raise questions about the justice of the war and express various fears about the incorporation of Mexico and Mexicans into the union. Even as Buntline celebrates the U.S. citizen-soldier in The Volunteer, for instance, his hero calls the conflict a “war of invasion,” and in Magdalena, the romance between a U.S. soldier and a Mexican woman ends tragically when the heroine discovers the hero's corpse on the battlefield at Buena Vista. Although Buntline supported the U.S. troops and glorified U.S. military leaders, his proslavery, nativist, and white egalitarian beliefs made him wary of unequivocally endorsing a policy of U.S. empire-building in Mexico, and those same beliefs would play a significant role in the working-class nativism that he later promoted in his newspapers, in his novels, and on the streets of New York City.
Nativism and white egalitarianism also shaped representations of Mexico and the war by poet, novelist, and reformer A.J.H. Duganne. Duganne was born in Boston, and the combination of nativism, anti-slavery beliefs, and anti-imperialism that characterizes much of his work was not uncommon in New England during the period. In the 1840s, when he lived in Philadelphia, Duganne produced mysteries-of-the-city novels such as The Knights of the Seal; or, The Mysteries of the Three Cities (1845) and The Daguerreotype Miniature; or, Life in the Empire City (1846). He also became involved in George Henry Evans's land reform movement, so much so that historian Jamie Bronstein has called
In the early 1860s, Duganne also contributed several stories to the first series of Beadle's famous dime novels, including The Peon Prince; or, The Yankee Knight-Errant. A Tale of Modern Mexico (1861) and its se-quel, Putnam Pomfret's Ward; or, A Vermonter's Adventures in Mexico (1861). These novels, which take place in the 1840s, register the contradictions of anti-imperialism, white egalitarianism, and the emerging ideal of free labor during the antebellum period. Duganne's dime novels neither rehearse nor champion U.S. military victories in Mexico; he is much more interested in imagining how a coalition composed of creoles and Indians might remake Mexico in the image of the United States by ending the system of debt peonage and enacting other liberal reforms. But Duganne's representation of Mexico as a space of anarchy, lawlessness, and racemixing; his emphasis on peonage as a system of degradation that destroys republican independence; and his Yankee's racist invective against “greasers” and “ingens” all suggest some of the limits of his anti-imperialist position. Duganne's stories are but two of the scores of dime novels that were written about Mexico and the Mexico-U.S. borderlands, and they should remind us that the West in the dime novel Western is a hemispheric and global, and not only a national, space. And Duganne's poetry and fiction as well as his involvement in the cultures of labor and land reform also suggest how intimately questions of land, labor, and nativism in Northeastern cities were connected to issues of empire.
George Lippard's sensational literature and advocacy of the working class also revolved around this double axis of city and empire. The work of David Reynolds, Denning, and others has put Lippard back on the literary map as one of the most popular writers of his age and as the author of sensational, quasi-pornographic mysteries-of-the-city literature such as The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1845), The Empire City (1850), The Killers (1850), and New York. But Lippard's urban novels often include scenes of empire; he wrote two novels about Mexico, and his involvement with the labor and land movements also made questions of U.S. empire-building both relevant and pressing for him. Like Duganne, Lippard promoted the cause of land reform and even founded a secret society as a way to popularize National Reform principles. Whereas Duganne, Evans, and other land reformers opposed the war, Lippard enthusiastically supported it, despite later misgivings. In a speech before the Industrial Congress in Philadelphia in 1848, Lippard based his urbanoid, utopian hopes for the future on the existence of “free land” in the West: “I know that the day comes when the interests of the Rich and Poor will be recognized in their true light,—when there shall be left on the surface of this Union no capitalist to grind dollars from the sweat and blood of workers, no Speculator to juggle free land from the grasp of unborn generations. When every man who toils shall dwell on his own ground, and when Factories, Almshouses, Jails, and the pestilential nooks of great cities, shall be displaced by the Homesteads of a Free People.” In contrast to Buntline and Duganne, whose nativist beliefs made them fearful of adding large numbers of Catholics and “foreigners” to the nation, Lippard often denounced organized nativism (his work, however, is not devoid of anticlerical and anti-Catholic sentiments); as a result, Lippard was less worried about the incorporation of all or part of Catholic Mexico and more supportive of the war and annexation. Lippard's views were shaped by his family's German immigrant background and his engagement with the fiercely divided artisan republican labor culture of Philadelphia. Although his version of labor radicalism was a specifically Protestant one, he was less hostile to immigrants and Catholics than Buntline and Duganne were, and that paradoxically made him more approving of the project of U.S. expansion.
Denning suggests that Lippard was one of the “auteurs” in this new culture industry, “the D.W. Griffith of cheap stories: the studio system will follow.” That is, while in the 1840s and 1850s authors such as Lippard were able to retain some creative control of their cultural production, in the field of cheap, sensational literature there were also increasing pressures
In chapter 2, “George Lippard's 1848: Empire, Amnesia, and the U.S.-Mexican War,” I read several sensational novels by Lippard in relation to his journalism for the Quaker City, the labor story paper that he edited from late 1848 through early 1850, as well as to The White Banner, a collection of some of the writing and speeches he produced for the Brotherhood of the Union, a secret society that he organized to promote land reform and other working-class causes. I examine three different sensational genres of 1848: mysteries-of-the-city literature (The Empire City and New York); apocalyptic historical and religious fantasy (The Entranced and Adonai); and U.S.–Mexican War literature (Legends of Mexico, 'Bel of Prairie Eden). Although critics often isolate Lippard's mysteries-of-the-city literature from these other types of writing, particularly the war novels, all of these genres come together in the Quaker
Part 2 focuses on story papers such as the Flag of Our Union, the Star Spangled Banner, and the Flag of the Free, which were widely disseminated in the late 1840s in the wake of the print and transportation revolutions. In chapter 3, “The Story-Paper Empire,” I suggest that these mass-produced story papers were very different from Lippard's labor story paper: the publishers cut back on news coverage, tried to please an audience composed of multiple classes, and sometimes claimed to exclude offensive subjects. Nonetheless, these papers still included various sorts of political commentary, and the stories that they serialized during the years of the U.S.-Mexican War were often about the war itself, as well as imperial adventure in other foreign lands. In chapter 4, “Foreign Bodies and International Race Romance,” I compare these story-paper novels about the U.S.-Mexican War with congressional debates about the annexation of all or part of Mexico and the amalgamation of “foreign” peoples. I argue that boundaries of gender, sexuality, and class were crucial to reconceptualizations of the boundaries of race and nation, because the “international romance”—a subgenre of imperial adventure fiction—positioned women as symbols of the Mexican nation and tried to construct cross-class coalitions between native-born U.S. white men at the expense of immigrants and nonwhites. Chapter 5, “From Imperial Adventure to Bowery B'hoys and Buffalo Bill: Ned Buntline, Nativism, and Class,” builds on this discussion by foregrounding Buntline's story-paper novelettes as well as some of his other novels of imperial adventure, particularly those that involve Cuban filibustering. I conclude that the white Protestant constructions of manhood and fra-ternity that Buntline champions in his imperial adventure fiction also shape the working-class nativism that he advocated in his story paper Ned Buntline's Own.
The final chapter, “Joaquín Murrieta and Popular Culture,” which comprises Part 4, “Beyond 1848,” is about inter-American sensational crime literature, including outlaw novels, police gazettes, and corridos that focus on the California social bandit. I also draw on various discourses about racial categories and citizenship rights in order to explore the complicated relationship between popular cultural forms and the state's attempts to impose and stabilize a racial order. John Rollin Ridge's 1854 novel influenced many retellings of the Murrieta story, including the corridos; several dime novel versions; the 1936 movie The Robin Hood of El Dorado; plays in both English and Spanish; and revisions published in Mexico, Spain, France, and Chile. Paying special attention to the Murrieta corridos produced by diasporic working-class communities, as well as the California Police Gazette (1859) version, I argue that as this sensational crime story migrates across national boundary
THE CULTURE OF SENSATION
As my title indicates, sensation is a key word in this study. When I refer to the culture of sensation, I mean to indicate two related and often overlapping spheres of popular culture. First is a specifically literary sphere: the sensational literature that began to proliferate in the 1840s and that was roughly classified as a “low” kind of literature in relation to a more middlebrow popular sentimentalism as well as to the largely nonpopular writing that would subsequently be enshrined as the classic literature of the American Renaissance. Second, the culture of sensation references a wider spectrum of popular arts and practices that includes journalism, music, blackface minstrelsy, and other forms of popular theater such as Yankee, Bowery B'hoy, and frontier humor as well as sensational melodrama and, in the broadest terms, the political cultures that were aligned with these popular forms. Although in this book I give a good deal of attention to sensational literature, one of my premises is that literary sen-sationalism cannot be understood in isolation from the larger culture of sensation that surrounded it. For this reason, I explore the formats (newspaper, story paper, crime gazette, dime novel series) that provided reading contexts for sensational literature as well as the connections between these publications and the wider arenas of political life and social movements, especially the labor, abolitionist, nativist, and land reform movements of the era. Throughout, I investigate the diverse “body politics” of this culture of sensation, and I assume that, although sensationalism is the idiom of many mid-nineteenth-century working-class cultures, it is also a racializing, gendering, and sexualizing discourse on the body.
It is important to remember, of course, that the popular is, as Néstor García Canclini suggests, “something constructed” rather than “pre-existent,” and that the culture of sensation, like other forms of popular culture, offers what Canclini calls “stagings of the popular” rather than access to a fictive, unified body of the nation-people. In addition, I agree with Canclini and others that popular cultures exist in tension with capitalist modernity rather than outside it, and so I would also question judgments that define “authentic” popular culture as that which escapes “industrialization, massification, and foreign influences.” Although
Toward that end, I need to say more about how sensational literature became widely popular in the 1840s and after, largely as a result of changes in print technology and transportation. In Cultures of Letters, Richard Brodhead suggests that in the mid–nineteenth century the literary field began, slowly and unevenly, to be stratified into three different modes of literary production: a nonpopular “high” culture, a domestic or middlebrow world of letters, and a “low” culture comprising story-paper fiction and dime novels. In Beneath the American Renaissance, David Reynolds similarly distinguishes between the “classic” literature of the American Renaissance writers, a “genteel sentimental-domestic genre,” and the sensational literature that proliferated in the wake of the penny press: “seamy social texts such as penny papers, trial reports, and crime pamphlets; Romantic Adventure fiction (much of it quite dark) and the more politically radical genre of Subversive fiction; and erotic and pornographic writings.” Reynolds claims that between 1831 and 1860, improvements in print technology spurred the publication of cheap sensational literature, so much so that the proportion of sensational novels increased to almost 60 percent of the total number of novels published,
Finally, Denning also argues for a “three-tier” public in his account of this period. He emphasizes that the relatively low price of this literature—story papers usually cost five or six cents, although pamphlet novels were sold for twelve to twenty-five cents, and books in Beadle's famous series could be purchased for a dime—made it much more affordable for a wide audience, including many working-class readers, than other forms of literature. According to Ronald Zboray, even paperbound books were a luxury in these years; cheap literature was much more accessible to urban dwellers than to those in rural areas, but the low price of penny papers and story papers “put reading material in reach of even poorer farmers and the working class.” These “three tiers” were not entirely separate worlds, for especially in the 1840s and 1850s audiences overlapped, writers might contribute to different types of publications or issue their work in different formats, and various literary modes, conventions, genres, and devices crossed over or were mixed together within the different tiers. Still, within emerging literary hierarchies these types of literature occupied different positions, even though the differences were not absolute and even though such distinctions were still in the process of being elaborated and institutionalized.
It may be helpful to compare the popularization of sensational literature in the United States during the nineteenth century with its popularization in Europe. In Mixed Feelings, her study of British Victorian sensationalism, Ann Cvetkovich suggests that the late-nineteenth-century middle-class sensation fiction that she analyzes was “the target of attack” by critics “because it represented the entry into middle-class publishing institutions of the sensationalism that characterized the working-class literature of the preceding decades, such as G.M.W. Reynolds's Mysteries of London, and the stage melodrama.” In the United States, cheap sensational literature, theatrical melodramas, and other low, sensationalized body genres of the 1840s and 1850s were the equivalents of this early sensational British cultural production. In his work on what he calls “the cinema of attraction,” which focuses especially on early silent films that seek to deliver a series of visual and sensory shocks, Tom Gunning has emphasized its roots in sensational European theatrical melodrama. Around 1860, he suggests, “the term ‘sensation’ migrated from its primary meaning of the evidence of the senses to describe the centre-piece of a new form of theatrical melodrama,” which soon became known as the “sensation drama”: “The new theatrical use
In his essay “An Aesthetic of Astonishment,” Gunning links this sen-sational popular culture of modernity to “urbanisation with its kaleidoscopic succession of city sights, the growth of consumer society with its new emphasis on stimulating spending through visual display, and the escalating horizons of colonial exploration with new peoples and new territories to be categorised and exploited.” He suggests that as a distinct aesthetic mode it emphasized a mixture of fear and thrills; presented a series of visual or sensory attractions, moments of revelation, and non-narrative spectacle rather than offering a psychological narrative of development; reached “outward” to “confront” the spectator through a “marked encounter, a direct stimulus, a series of shocks” instead of encouraging detached contemplation; and frequently showcased the un-beautiful, the grotesque, and the freakish. It is not difficult to see the continuities between Gunning's sensational theater and cinema of attractions, on the one hand, and the sensational popular culture of the mid–nineteenth century, on the other, which similarly combined thrills and terror; frequently showcased visual tableaux and action scenes rather than emphasizing domestic scenes and the interior, psychological development of rounded characters; aimed to provoke extreme embodied responses in readers; and often lingered on the grotesque and the horrible. Gunning's observation that “city street scenes” and “foreign views” were two of the most important genres of an early cinema of attractions should also recall the sensational literature of the previous century, which, as I have argued, focused especially on the mysteries of the city and imperial adventure in Mexico, Cuba, and the U.S. West. That is, city and empire have long been a double feature of sorts in the sensational popular cultures of U.S. modernity.
Although U.S. sentimental-domestic literature often includes glimpses at least of urban scenes and foreign views and although the urban and
Blackface minstrelsy is probably the most widely discussed sensational body genre of the mid–nineteenth century. Recent debates among Saxton, Lott, Roediger, Rogin, and others have helped us to understand how nineteenth-century working-class men, many of whom were Irish immigrants, constructed white identities by staging blackness. As Rogin puts it, blackface “made new identities for white men by fixing the identities of women and African Americans.” This form of sensational popular culture was generally aligned with a post-Jacksonian Democratic coalition that incorporated many working-class European immigrants by promoting a more expansive whiteness defined in opposition to blacks and other nonwhites. But the sensational body genres of empire were also significant racializing discourses, and, as in the case of blackface, race, gender, and sexuality were often complexly entangled. In Part 2, I show
As my examples imply, a good deal of sensational literature was written by men, and much of it promotes competing ideologies of heroic masculinity and mobilizes representations of women's bodies as symbols of race and nation. That is true of both pro- and anti-imperial literature, including the sensational corridos about Joaquín Murrieta that I discuss in my conclusion. This raises the question: is sensationalism basically a male discourse? That is, could we characterize sensationalism as a set of genres written exclusively by, for, and about men? In Parts 2 and 3, especially, I show how publishers of sensational story-paper literature and early dime novels appealed to a female as well as a male audience. And throughout the book, I insist that sensationalism is not just about men, for constructions of womanhood and sexuality are also central to this literature. Nonetheless, tropes of masculine violence certainly recur in many sensational texts. Part of this has to do with the ways in which sentimentality was increasingly being identified with middle-class women and with feminization in the mid–nineteenth century, even as sensationalism was more often associated with a masculine, working-class resistance to sentimentality. Although it is certainly true that many men deployed the discourse of sentimentality, ideologies of separate, gendered spheres and of essential gender differences, which intensified in the mid–nineteenth century, still exerted pressures on definitions of popular body genres in this period. It is also the case that working-class
This emerging opposition between a “feminized” sentimentality and a “masculinized” sensationalism can be observed as early as 1845 in George Lippard's novel The Quaker City. As Lippard describes a horrible pit beneath Monk Hall where his character Devil-Bug keeps the loathsome corpses of his victims, he suddenly interrupts the action to denounce male sentimentalists:
Shallow pated critic with your smooth face whose syllabub insipidity is well-relieved by wiry curls of flaxen hair, soft maker of verses so utterly blank, that a single original idea never mars their consistent nothingness, penner of paragraphs so daintily perfumed with quaint phrases and stilted nonsense, we do not want you here; Pass on sweet maiden-man! Your perfumes agree but sorrily with the thick atmosphere of this darkening vault, your white kid-gloves would be soiled by a contact with the rough hands of Devil-Bug, your innocent and girlish soul would be shocked by the very idea of such a hideous cavern, hidden far below the red brick surface of broad-brimmed Quaker-town. Pass by delightful trifler, with your civetbag and your curling tongs, write syllabub forever, and pen blank verse until dotage shall make you more garrulous than now, but for the sake of Heaven, do not criticise this chapter! Our taste is different from yours. We like to look at nature and at the world, not only as they appear, but as they are! To us the study of a character like Devil-Bug's is full of interest, replete with the grotesque-sublime.
As David Reynolds notes, Lippard often combines sentimental and sensational modes in order to attack the former: he not only undercuts an idealizing discourse of domesticity by emphasizing “the shattering of homes as the result of obsession, betrayal, lust, and greed” but also identifies middle-class sentimental literature with “the bourgeois world of trite morality.” In this passage, we can see how Lippard depicts this world of sentimentality as feminized, emasculating, and bourgeois, while he describes his own sensational style, “replete with the grotesque-sublime,” as a more masculine and realistic form of representation. This passage is suggestive of the ways that sensational literary modes were often identified with men and with a “masculine” resistance to feminization, middle-class pieties, and a genteel sphere of sentimental literary production.
Nonetheless, just as men participated in the culture of sentiment, so too did women contribute to the culture of sensation. During the 1850s and 1860s, in the years following the U.S.-Mexican War, female writers such as E.D.E.N. Southworth, Louisa May Alcott, Mary Denison, and
Racial hierarchies that are inseparable from empire-building are on full display, for example, in the pages of Frank Leslie's Illustrated newspaper, in which Alcott's prize-winning story “Pauline's Passion and Punishment” was first published in January of 1863. During the late 1850s and the 1860s, the paper included editorials on the Monroe Doctrine and on the U.S. rivalry with Spain and Britain over Central America and the Caribbean, as well as many articles supporting William Walker, the notorious filibuster; sketches of exotic, desirable lands in places such as Nicaragua, Guatemala, and San Antonio, Texas; and articles on Haiti and Mexico. Although the paper claimed during the Civil War years that all attempts “at aggression on Spanish rights … originated and [were] supported from the South alone” (28 September 1861), in fact throughout the 1850s the paper repeatedly advocated the takeover of various sites throughout the Americas controlled by Britain as well as Spain. For example, an editorial of 6 November 1858 suggested that but for a “foreign element in our midst, we should have had Cuba and Central America long ago.” Advocating the cause of Walker in Nicaragua, one writer concluded that “the fairest portion of the world, the transit between two great oceans, the highway connecting our Atlantic and Pacific ports,
“Pauline's Passion and Punishment” begins on a Cuban coffee plantation and involves an ill-fated marriage between a Cuban man, Manuel, and Pauline, a companion to the daughter of Manuel's guardian. In many ways Alcott undermines the racial hierarchies that the story paper promotes, but she still identifies “southern” races with the passions. At the outset, Pauline burns with passion and plots revenge because she has been betrayed by her lover, who has married another woman for her money. Initially, she is described as a distinctively northern-European type—the “carriage of [her] head,” for instance, reveals “the freedom of an intellect ripened under colder skies”—which is defined in opposition to the “southern”: “[T]here was no southern languor in the figure, stately and erect; no southern swarthiness on fairest cheek and arm; no southern darkness in the shadowy gold of the neglected hair.” But as she indulges her passions and carries out her revenge, which involves marrying the handsome, wealthy Manuel and making her former lover mad with jealousy and ill-founded hopes, she changes dramatically. Not only do her eyes and face become dark or black when she gives way to passion, but she is also explicitly compared to an “Indian on a war trail” (6) and “an Indian on the watch” (22). What is more, Manuel himself is defined by his “southern temperament” (5), which makes him more sensitive, expressive, emotional, and graceful, but which is also said to include a “savage element that lurks in southern blood” (6). Although she initially married Manuel because of the money and social position he
Alcott makes Manuel into an ideal masculine type, despite or perhaps because of his “southern blood.” This ideal masculinity, however, paradoxically involves a certain feminization. In other words, Manuel is a superior man precisely because his southern “blood” brings with it many traits that were conventionally coded as womanly. In this way, Alcott reverses the judgment of the international romances of 1848, which as we shall see in Part 2, often implied that the feminization of the man of Spanish or Mexican origin made him an undesirable mate. She also complicates the racial orthodoxy of Leslie's writers that identified Spanish “blood” with degradation and pollution. But she continues to identify “southern” races with savagery and the passions, even as she at times countervalues those traits. And despite the quite idealized representation of Manuel, he remains subordinate to the imperious Pauline, obeying her every command. So although Alcott revises gender orthodoxies, that revision depends upon ideas about race and “blood” that are inseparable from imperial and inter-American rivalries.
Brodhead has shown how later Alcott repudiated her earlier sensation fiction in order to focus on producing sentimental-domestic literature because sensationalism was viewed as “the literary emanation of lower class culture.” Brodhead suggests that a woman could “cross over into this genre and social culture, but not without violating the shieldedness from indecent knowledge that establishes the proper ‘women’ of middle-class society.” Certainly there were more risks for women in writing this kind of sensational literature, since it could be viewed as both unwomanly and declassing, and so it is not surprising that there are far fewer female-authored than male-authored sensational texts in the mid–nineteenth century. As a result, when women publish sensational forms of literature, such as the many dime novels that I examine in chapter 8, they often combine sentimental and sensational modes to quite different ends than those of George Lippard: sensational aspects of the text, which focus on violence, shocking scenes, bodies, and the grotesque are often framed by sentimental devices that reassert genteel values and middle-class respectability. As we shall see, sensational women's writing also qualifies the white egalitarianism promoted by male sensationalists. Female authors of dime novels often refuse to dismantle class hierarchies completely, instead valorizing a middle position opposed to the perceived excesses of both the upper and lower classes.
Throughout American Sensations, I focus on a host of neglected and out-of-print sensational texts, such as the substantial body of early dime novels written by women, in an effort to revise both literary history and historical paradigms. Although important work on sensational popular cultures has been published in the last two decades, the relative critical neglect of sensational literature, along with the isolation of sensational urban genres from imperial genres, has contributed to an amnesia about the connections among working-class culture, popular culture, and imperialism in nineteenth-century U.S. history. As we move away from narratives that posit the working class as the privileged actor in a universal history, it is important to revise our models of class so that we can better understand the historically contingent relationships among class, gender, race, sexuality, and empire. I hope that this book as a whole will contribute to a reconsideration of the centrality of entanglements of class, race, gender, sexuality, and empire in nineteenth-century U.S. culture.
2. George Lippard's 1848
Empire, Amnesia, and the U.S.-Mexican War
[T]he dead men, piled in heaps, their broken limbs, and cold faces, distinctly seen by the light of the morning sun, still remained, amid the grass and flowers, silent memorials of yesterday's Harvest of Death.
—George Lippard, Legends of Mexico
They are strangely superstitious, these wild men of the prairie, who, with rifle in hand, and the deep starlight of the illimitable heavens above, wander in silence over the trackless yet blooming wilderness. Left to their own thoughts, they seem to see spectral forms, rising from the shadows, and hear voices from the other world, in every unusual sound.
—Lippard, 'Bel of Prairie Eden: A Romance of Mexico
In one of several scenes pictured in the complicated conclusion to New York: Its Upper Ten and Lower Million (1853), George Lippard focuses on a band of “emigrants, mechanics, their wives and little ones, who have left the savage civilization of the Atlantic cities, for a free home beyond the Rocky Mountains.” As their leader, the socialist mechanic-hero Arthur Dermoyne, gazes upon the moving caravan, he sees his followers as “three hundred serfs of the Atlantic cities, rescued from poverty, from wages-slavery, from the war of competition, from the grip of the land-lord!” For just a moment, the eastern U.S. class divisions that Lippard foregrounds in his mysteries-of-the-city novels promise to recede as his sensational story moves westward. That is to say, when in the early 1850s
Lippard's two war novels are only part of a huge body of printed texts and visual images that circulated widely during the years of the U.S.-Mexican War, for the print revolution of the late 1830s and 1840s directly preceded the war. During the war, formulations of a fictive, unifying, “Anglo-Saxon” national identity were disseminated in sensational newspapers, songbooks, novelettes, story papers, and other cheap reading material. Through this popular literature, a heterogeneous assortment of people imagined themselves a nation, staging their unity against the imagined disunity of Mexico, which was repeatedly called a “false nation” in the penny press. But the existence of such a unified U.S. national identity was anything but self-evident during this period, for the 1840s were also marked by increasing sectionalism, struggles over slavery, the formation of an urban industrial working class, and nativist hatred directed at the new, mostly German and Irish immigrants whose numbers increased rapidly after 1845. If the war sometimes concealed these divisions by intensifying a rhetoric of national unity, it could also make differences of class, religion, race, and national origin more strikingly apparent. For although sensational war literature such as Lippard's may have promoted a unifying nationalism as well as the paradoxical idea of a nonimperial U.S. empire, it also often unleashed uncanny, spectral forms that troubled exceptionalist fantasies of free soil, a vacant Western landscape, and a united American people.
Because this fiction was produced so quickly and because it is both highly formulaic and highly dependent on newspaper accounts, it has been largely dismissed by scholars. Even Richard Slotkin, who examined some of this literature in an excellent chapter of The Fatal Environment: The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800–1890 (1985), calls it “The Myth That Wasn't.” According to Slotkin, some
Lippard's sensational U.S.–Mexican War novels are also particularly interesting because they are a part of his body of work that is rarely emphasized, although there are many connections between this fiction and the other literature he produced. As I suggested in the introduction, critics such as Michael Denning and David Reynolds have focused on Lippard as an advocate of the working classes and as the author of sensational mysteries-of-the-city novels. But if Lippard is, as Denning suggests, “the most overtly political dime novelist of his or subsequent generations,” then it is important to address the significance of empire in his politics, especially since such questions have remained largely unasked because Lippard has most often been classified as a writer of urban literature. In what follows, I attend to the double significance of 1848 in Lippard's journalism and fiction: the year 1848 marks the short-lived hope for a fundamental transformation of both European and U.S. society that was inspired by the European uprisings of that year, as well as by belief in “America's” imperial mission. Those hopes were both revivified and threatened by the U.S.-Mexican War and the incorporation of northern Mexico into the United States.
During the early 1840s, Lippard was a member of what Pierre Bourdieu, following Max Weber, calls the “proletaroid intelligentsia”—those who “make a living, however precarious, from all the minor jobs tied to ‘industrial literature’ and journalism”: he started out as a writer of news stories, political essays, literary criticism, and gothic narratives for local papers such as the Philadelphia Spirit of the Times and the Citizen Soldier. In 1843 and 1844, however, Lippard's sensational novel The Quaker City was published as a series of pamphlets and quickly became one of the most popular and controversial novels of the age. Lippard was subsequently able to earn three thousand to four thousand dollars a year as a writer—a fantastic amount for an author in the 1840s. As Denning
The Quaker City weekly was a five-cent paper with oversized pages, advertised as “A Popular Journal, devoted to such matters of Literature and news as will interest the great mass of readers.” Although during the 1840s and 1850s most story-paper publishers, such as those that I will discuss in Part 2, tried to reach a mass audience comprised of multiple classes by focusing on stories and minimizing controversial political commentary, in Lippard's hands the story paper was a popular form with close ties to active communities such as the antebellum labor and land reform movements: Lippard addresses a diverse and internally divided print community as he “hails” male and female workers, promotes new working-class institutions, and comments on local and national politics. He decided to edit his own paper because he wanted to communicate more directly with his audience, to bypass “Model Editors, or Moral Editors, or Huckstering Publishers” and “to write no more for these mere Agents between the author and the Reader.” He claimed that his work for the Quaker City weekly was especially gratifying because it was “widely circulated and eagerly read in the Homes of the Poor, not only in New York, but in the city which is more directly the scene of our labors” (29 January 1849). Although he printed the work of a few other columnists and writers (especially in the 1850 issues), Lippard did almost all of the writing himself. The purpose of the paper, he said, was to promote the “development of certain views of social reform,” especially “the defence of the Laborer against the exactions of the Capitalist,” through “the medium of popular literature” (30 June 1849). “What is literature good for,” he reflected in another issue, “if it is not to be
Lippard's commitment to the dissemination of land reform principles was certainly one of the factors that encouraged him to see the U.S.-Mexican War in exceptionalist terms, as an opportunity to secure more lands for the landless and to bring freedom and democracy to other parts of the New World. But Lippard's anticlericalism and fears of Catholic conspiracies, both of which were conjoined to a radical Protestant republicanism influenced by French utopian socialists and German immigrants, also reinforced his willingness to find an imperial solution to the problem of industrial capitalism in Northeastern cities. In the next section, I explore some of the ways that sensationalism, Protestantism, and republicanism are reconfigured and recombined in Lippard's writing, especially in his short novel The Entranced; or, The Wanderer of Eighteen Centuries, which was serialized in the Quaker City weekly in 1849 and then published later in a slightly revised form under the title Adonai: The Pilgrim of Eternity in The White Banner, a collection of some of his more militant pieces that he circulated among the membership of the Brotherhood. Edited and published by Lippard himself in 1851, The White Banner contained “Legends of Everyday Life” (brief stories about corrupt rich men, the suffering poor, the demonization of socialism in the press, and other topics); a lecture on the history of Protestantism; various materials relating to the Brotherhood; and the text of Adonai, a wild and bloody historical and religious fantasy that moves from the time of Nero and the Roman Empire to the nineteenth-century United States by following the intermittent “awakenings” of Lucius, or Adonai, a Christian martyr who falls into a magnetic trance that lasts for centuries. Grafting a fictionalized history of Protestantism onto a dystopian, apocalyptic narrative that surveys key New World sites such as a prison, a
But Lippard's “sensational” focus on embodiment also has its costs. Although his emphasis on bodies and sensations responds to contemporaneous formulations of a disembodied soul and an abstract citizen, it also risks obscuring the constructedness of bodies and reifying “differences” of race, gender, and sexuality. Dana D. Nelson has argued, for instance, that in the seduction and raperevenge narratives that pervade his fiction, “Lippard locates questions of civic order in women's mysterious interiors” and maps male dramas “across female bodies.” And as we shall see, antebellum ideologies of race drawn from a variety of sources, from nineteenth-century race science to the histories of William Hickling Prescott, also shaped his representations of racialized bodies. So Lippard's “body politics” are complicated and contradictory; they make the body, in Bruce Burgett's words, “both a ground and a site of political debate.” Although on the one hand his emphasis on bodies may threaten to naturalize some forms of inequality insofar as he suggests that differences of gender and race are fixed and objective, his “sensational” focus on working-class and poor people's embodied relationship to power is on the other hand a meaningful response to the rise of body-transforming institutions such as the prison and the factory and disciplinary practices aimed at the body in the nineteenth century. In what follows, I examine Lippard's Entranced and Adonai in relation to the emergence of such institutions and practices, as well as to the European revolutions of 1848. Then, in the concluding sections, I place Lippard's sensationalism and the events of 1848 in an inter-American frame as I focus on Lippard's two U.S.–Mexican War novels. In Legends of Mexico, Lippard makes manifest a sensational, racialized definition of the nation-people and labors to justify exceptionalist theories of U.S. empire as uniquely progressive and beneficent. The history of class conflict and aggressive empire-building that Lippard tries to disavow by projecting it onto Spain and Mexico erupts forcefully, however, in 'Bel of Prairie Eden, a romance that moves from the colonization of Texas in the 1830s to the invasion of Vera Cruz during the War and then to postwar Philadelphia, which is the focus of the final section of this chapter. I conclude that Lippard's war literature makes especially evident the limits of his sensationalism—particularly as it racializes and genders individual and collective bodies—even as it foregrounds a history of U.S. empire
In an editorial in the first issue of the Quaker City weekly, which was published on 30 December 1848, Lippard rejoiced that Louis Philippe had been “tumbled from his Kingdom and his wealth” in France, that other nations had caught “the electric thrill of Regeneration in their dead bosoms,” and that “the People of the world” were “in arms for their rights.” “Will 1849 tell a more sublime story than has been told by 1848?” he wondered. “Will the Kings be able to manacle the People, and tread them into slavery once more?” Then, turning his focus from Europe to the United States, he asked his readers: “And our land—is there no cloud upon its horizon? Does not Black Slavery sit brooding in our very Capitol—are not our Great Cities thronged with Armies of white slaves? Who shall tell the deeds which are to come—who shall read the mysterious scroll of 1849?” In the same issue, he began to serialize a sensational story, The Entranced, that addressed those very questions. Over the course of the next few years, the sections of the narrative that he continued to publish in his paper, and especially the revised version that he reprinted in The White Banner under the title Adonai, reflected both his disappointment at the containment of the European revolutions and his sense that the United States was far from free of the forms of inequality that had provoked the uprisings in Europe.
Although, as we shall see, in his U.S.–Mexican War fiction Lippard tried to justify the war by promoting an exceptionalist interpretation of “America's” mission, in Adonai he suggests that the U.S. “Empire” uncannily resembles the Roman Empire; the “Senate of a free people,” for instance, has become “the Senate of a land of tyrants and slaves, governed by the Sceptre of some new Nero, who is counselled by Senators fond of human blood.” Lippard's weird bloody allegory comes to an apocalyptic close on the Day of Judgment, which takes place in the wake of the failed European revolutions of 1848, when the poor of the world rise up against the priests, kings, and rich men of all nations. Although Lippard concludes by affirming that society is capable of social reorganization, this violent climax underlines a prophecy made earlier in the novel that “[w]hen the robbers of the Poor are not moved to mercy by the Book of God, or the Declaration of our fathers, then must the Poor teach unto these Robbers the Gospel of the Rifle” (79).
In Lippard's account, the “Book of God” and the “Declaration of our fathers” fail to protect poor and laboring people because the “robbers of the Poor” exploit, crush, and cannibalize their bodies and then interpret those two documents in self-serving ways by emphasizing a disembodied soul and an abstract citizen, the rewards of the afterlife and the sanctity of “Commerce and Manufactures.” Although elsewhere Lippard is more optimistic about the possibility of reinterpreting and reclaiming republicanism, in Adonai the disembodied abstractions of republican reformism are rejected decisively by Lippard's “Arisen People.”
In this narrative, the Christian convert Adonai falls into a magnetic trance after predicting that in sixteen hundred years Christianity will have transformed all men into brothers; that there will “not be a Priest or a King or a Rich Man left upon the face of the globe”; and that land will no longer “be held by the FEW, for the MANY to make fertile with their sweat and blood” (6 January 1849). When he awakens in 1525, however, he sees a world in which “Popes, Priests, and Kings” are “elevated into a horrible Godhead, while the great mass of mankind [are] brutalized into Devils.” When Adonai wanders on to Germany, he hears a crowd of people asking the reformer Martin Luther to preach “the freedom of the body” as well as “the freedom of the soul,” but Luther angrily responds that the “body is born to suffer and die” (13 January 1849) and that they must place their hopes in the next world. Exasperated, Adonai calls Luther's reform a Half-Way Gospel, predicts that it will strangle Luther's Reformation, and then returns to his cell in the catacombs to sleep again.
When Adonai awakens in 1848, he is pleasantly surprised to witness the uprising of the “People” in Rome. So he dons the Tunic of Labor and wanders around Italy, Germany, and France. Eventually he arrives in Paris, where he listens to the “Prophets of the Poor”—Georges Sand, the socialist Louis Blanc, radical democrat Ledru-Rollin, and others—argue with the “Men of Money” (20 January 1849) over the new form of government. Ultimately the latter take control and try to give new life to a dead social system, represented here by a corpse that the Men of Money try to rejuvenate by applying shocks from a galvanic battery. The lesson in all of this, Lippard suggests toward the end of The White Banner, is that “Europe cannot pass to Liberty but through the Red Sea” of revolution. “When her people rise again they must strike and spare not,” Lippard warned. “Mercy to the tyrants is death to the People. You were merciful in 1848, were you not brave People? How have you been rewarded? Europe dead in the night of despotism gives the answer” (146).
In case any of his readers might imagine that the horrors he is describing are confined to Europe or that they are the relics of a superseded past, Lippard reanimates them in mid-nineteenth-century America as Adonai visits the New World. By comparing sites of struggle in the Europe of 1848 with similar sites in the United States, Lippard countered theories of American exceptionalism that posited the United States as a fluid society free of the inequalities that had plagued the Old World. Adonai expects America to be the land of a “free people, dwelling in Brotherhood, without a single slave to mar their peace, or call down upon their heads the vengeance of God” (42), but the first sight he sees in Washington, D.C., is a slavemart run by a man who proudly claims that his grandfather fought for liberty under Washington. Reeling from “a horror, too deep for words” (47), Adonai goes on to visit several different body-transforming republican institutions, including a prison—“embodiment” of “the Law of the New World” (65)—and a factory, a temple devoted to CAPITAL, “the God of the Nineteenth Century” (59), “whose worship is celebrated upon the very corses of murdered Labor” (61). While visiting the factory, Adonai recognizes the Executioner, a malign figure who has shadowed him through his various awakenings, performing a new role as the overseer of the factory. Reversing contemporaneous narratives that represented “America” as the culmination of a westward-moving history of perpetual progress, Lippard's strategic positioning of the Executioner within a U.S. factory suggests that the exploitation engendered by nineteenth-century U.S. liberal capitalism gives new life to old forms of oppression. As the Executioner puts it, “I am better off, as the Overseer of a Factory, dedicated to Capital, and kept in motion by the murder of Labor, than I have ever been, during the course of eighteen hundred years!” (60).
When Adonai moves on to the U.S. Senate, other republican institutions come under fire as Lippard suggests that capitalism, the state, and the men who foster the symbiotic relationship between the two effectively control the meaning of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, so that democratic-republican promises of equality and freedom become empty words masking the return of supposedly superseded forms of inequality. Again, Adonai discovers that the old has returned in the guise of the new. If the Constitution establishes “a thousand and ten thousand petty tyrants, Lords of the Mart and Lords of the Loom” (53) in place of the king, the president is himself a force more powerful than a king, holding “a power such as no Monarch of the Old World ever grasped” (55). If Liberty is simply the
The solution as Lippard imagines it here is an apocalyptic world revolution. Near the end of the narrative, Adonai encounters “a multitude of people, gathered from all the nations and tribes of the earth” (84) on a plain in the desert. These people, “all the Poor of the world,” are gathered around a sepulchre containing Christ's body that is guarded by a circle of priests, kings, and “Rich Men of all Nations” (85). While the poor crave Christ's body and the healing rays of light that emanate from it, they are told that only the rich have the right to the body of the Lord. Even as Adonai wonders why the multitude don't thrust the kings, the rich, and the priests aside, one poor man runs up and hurls his body against the wall of men. Instantly, however, a priest zaps him with a cross and kills him, and in a satanic inversion of the Last Supper, the kings and rich men divide his body among themselves and feed upon the flesh. As others try to break down the human wall, they are “rent to pieces and devoured” (87). Finally, a man “clad in rags,” with limbs “distorted by labor,” knotted hands, and a face “covered with scars” exhorts the poor of the world to revolt against their masters: “You have prayed to these priests—they have answered you with death. You have shed your tears at the feet of these kings—they have fed upon your flesh. You have clutched the garments of these rich men—they have quenched their thirst with your blood. … NOW THE DAY OF PRAYERS AND TEARS HAS PASSED. THE DAY OF JUDGMENT HAS COME” (86). As the chapter ends, the Arisen People, inspired by a glimpse of the blood of Holy Revolution, advance upon the trembling rich men, priests, and kings. Although elsewhere Lippard focuses more narrowly on poor and working people in Northeastern cities, here his vision of the Arisen People includes “Negroes, Caffirs, Hindoos, Indians” as well as people from China, Japan, the “islands of the sea,” Europe, and the New World (84).
Although the contradictions and limits of this vision of world revolution must be emphasized, it is important to understand that the body
Lippard's sensational emphasis on the body and on a revolutionary interpretation of the New Testament was in part a response to the rigidly Calvinist doctrines of conservative, orthodox Philadelphia Presbyterians who, according to Bruce Laurie, championed “hierarchical social arrangements in which each man knew his place.” In The White Banner, Lippard chose “John Calvin, with his hollow eyes, his granite heart, and hands dripping with the blood of souls” (135) as the exemplar of a “coldly intellectual form of Protestantism” (133). “If he presented an
At the same time, however, in Adonai Lippard's dark allusions to the pope as well as Henry VIII and Calvin, along with his references to the Priests who keep the People from Christ's body, should make it clear that this version of radical Protestantism brings with it a complex of anti-clerical and anti-Catholic beliefs. Even though he uses the word “priest” here to refer not only to Catholics but also to other religious leaders who use “iron books” or “crosses” or “images” to separate Christ from the People, these representations still align Catholicism with religious tyranny and the oppression of the poor. In part, this was a response to the intensified post-1848 conservatism of the Catholic Church in Philadelphia. According to Laurie, the European uprisings “ripened” the “inchoate political conservatism” of U.S. prelates: “They tarred radical republicanism with the brush of ‘red revolution’ and extrapolated the lessons of 1848 in Europe to the politics of their adopted city. They took a dim view of any tinkering with the established order or any form of collective action in redress of social injustice. Clerics insisted that the aggrieved resolve class conflict through ‘moral suasion.’” Even if Lippard was trying to counter this political conservatism, however, such anticlericalism also had the power to divide working-class people, inasmuch as Philadelphia had repeatedly witnessed violent confrontations between working-class Protestants and immigrant Catholics during the 1840s.
In the Quaker City weekly, Lippard claimed to have “always opposed political and sectarian Nativeism” (11 August 1849). In response to a letter from a reader who sent him an article “abusing our citizens of foreign birth,” he replied that the “true American (whether native or adopted,) can never build up himself, by raising a prejudice, against a particular race” (28 April 1849). The Quaker City; or, The Monks of
In New York, the revised and expanded version of The Empire City that Lippard published shortly before his early death, he represents the Catholic Church as a rival empire that initially threatens to take over the Western lands that are settled by the socialist-mechanic Arthur Dermoyne and his white working-class followers at the end of the novel. One Catholic conspirator, a Prelate, argues that since the United States is certain to “finally absorb and rule over all the nations of the Continent,” the policy of the Church must be to “absorb and rule over the Republic of the North” (68), for “ours is not so much a church as an EMPIRE … which, using all means and holding all means alike lawful, for the spread of its dominion, has chosen the American Continent as the scene of its loftiest triumph, the theater of its final and most glorious victories” (69). When it is revealed that gold has been discovered in California, the struggle for the Western lands takes on even more significance. Although the Prelate hopes that the gold will fortify the earthly power of the Catholic Church, the pope's legate—who is really one of Lippard's heroes in disguise—vows that within this corrupt church “there is another Church of Rome, composed of men, who, when the hour strikes, will sacrifice everything to the cause of humanity and God” (73). Meanwhile Dermoyne, one of several possible heirs to these Western lands, dreams of taking a party of workmen to a spot in the West “unpolluted by white or black slavery,” where they can build a utopian community devoted to “the worship of that Christ who was himself a workman, even as he is now, the work-man's God” (108).
All of this helps to explain how the sensational, radical Protestant vision of world revolution that Lippard offers in Adonai could also be used
As I suggested above, Lippard's utopian investment in the project of land reform also predisposed him to favor the annexation of new lands as a way to provide more territory for landless workers. Although he frequently expressed his contempt for party politics, he was closer to the Democrats than the Whigs: he generally endorsed the Democratic policies of welcoming new immigrants and promoting imperial expansion as a way to reduce crowding and competition for jobs and other resources in the East. And even as he broke with Democratic orthodoxy by repeatedly denouncing chattel slavery, he also deployed the problematic metaphor of “white slavery,” which, as David Roediger argues, often led to an insidious “prioritizing of struggles by whites.” Although both the fugitive slave Randolph Royalton and the socialist mechanic Arthur Dermoyne are portrayed sympathetically in New York, at the end of the novel Randolph and his sister go “abroad” (279) while the story of the white workingman moves to the foreground as Dermoyne and his followers find a “free home” in the West. In other words, Lippard concludes with a scenario (former slaves leave the country, white working families go West) that recalls the white egalitarianism of the Wilmot Proviso, the measure that would have banned slavery in newly acquired lands so as to preserve a “home” for free white laborers. Thus although in Adonai and in his other writings Lippard countered one version of American ex-ceptionalism—what could be called a Hartzian theory that the United States is a fluid society free from the forms of institutionalized inequality that plagued Europe—he placed his hopes in another version of (Turnerian) exceptionalism based on the premises that “free” Western lands might serve as a safety valve for such domestic social and economic
In Legends of Mexico, Lippard celebrated the bloody events that “aroused a People into arms,” “spoke to the hearts of fifteen millions people,” “startled a People into action, and sent the battle-throbs palpitating through fifteen millions hearts.” In the first chapter, Lippard envisions the nation-people as a single human body that comes to life when it hears a “Cry, a Groan, a Rumor” “thundering” (11) from the shores of the Rio Grande. Lippard makes a sensational appeal to his readers, an appeal that records a visceral, mass response to war to which his Legends of Mexico also aims to contribute. This sensational appeal is meant to arouse and startle, to provoke a collective bodily response to the battles being waged over national borders. As Lippard mobilizes sensationalism in the service of U.S. empire, differences of class and status (the “hardy Mechanic” , the “working people” ) appear only to disappear within the collective body of the “free People of the American Union” (16), which is united precisely in opposition to the mixed-race peoples of Mexico. Here, Lippard's war sensationalism emphasizes intensely nationalist affects and feelings at the expense of class: he tries to subsume class within race and nation by urging his readers to identify with a fictive, white U.S. national body.
The mass response, the “wild excitement” (12) that Lippard both recorded and tried to reproduce, was a relatively novel sensation, made possible by the print revolution. As Robert Johannsen suggests, because of these changes in print culture, the U.S.-Mexican War would be “experienced more intimately, with greater immediacy and closer involvement than any major event in the nation's history. It was the first American war to rest on a truly popular base, the first that grasped the interest of the population, and the first people were exposed to on an almost daily basis. The essential link between the war and the people was provided by the nation's press, for it was through the ubiquitous American newspaper that the war achieved its vitality in the popular mind.” In other words, the penny press and other forms of popular culture helped to produce feelings of intimacy, immediacy, and involvement in the war
The opening of Lippard's Legends of Mexico focuses on this very process whereby news of events in Mexico serves as the catalyst for a sensational, intensely nationalist response to the war. U.S. newspapers speculated about the possibility of war for months after Polk sent an Army of Observation in February 1846 to the Rio Grande, which the United States claimed on specious grounds as its new southern border after it annexed Texas in 1845. Then in May 1846, when Polk declared war, prowar demonstrations were staged in every major U.S. city, including a rally attended by twenty thousand people in Philadelphia, Lippard's Quaker City. But war supporters waited nervously for nearly two weeks for news about Zachary Taylor's forces. Lippard describes this situation in the beginning of Legends of Mexico: “In the spring of 1846, from the distant south, there came echoing in terrible chorus, a Cry, a Groan, a Rumor! That cry, the earnest voice of two thousand men, gathered beneath the Banner of the stars of a far land, encompassed by their foes, with nothing but a bloody vision of Massacre before their eyes” (11). Popular representations of embattled U.S. troops must have excited feelings of fear, anxiety, and identification in many readers. Thus when news of victories at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma finally reached the United States, nationalist celebrations erupted throughout the country. According to Lippard, as “thunder at once, convulses and purifies the air, so that Rumor [of U.S. victories in battle] did its sudden and tempestuous work, in every American heart. At once, from the People of twenty-nine states, quivered the Cry—‘To Arms! Ho! for the new crusade!’” (12). As Lippard represents it, war reports convulse and purify “American” hearts, engendering a unified national body.
Benedict Anderson suggests that representations of national simultaneity indicate a radically changed form of consciousness decisively linked to the spread of print capitalism. Newspapers in particular, he argues, encouraged readers to imagine themselves part of a national community reconstituted by the “extraordinary mass ceremony” of “almost precisely simultaneous consumption.” During the 1840s, the invention of the telegraph facilitated the rapid transmission of news, supporting collective nationalist responses to the war on an unprecedented mass scale. In Legends of Mexico, Lippard represents such a scene of national fantasy as he imagines the nation-people simultaneously responding, in different places, to news of battles in Mexico:
From the mountain gorges of the north, hardy birds of freemen took their way turning their faces to the south, and shouting—Mexico! In the great cities, immense crowds assembled, listening in stern silence, to the stories of that far-off land, with its luxuriant fruits, its plains of flowers, its magnificent mountains overshadowing calm lakes and golden cities, and then the cry rung from ten thousand throats—Mexico! The farmhouses of the land, thrilled with the word. Yes, the children of Revolutionary veterans, took the rifle of '76 from its resting place, over the hearth, and examined its lock, by the light of the setting sun, and ere another dawn, were on their way to the south, shouting as they extend their hands toward the unseen land—Mexico! (12)
Here, the “word” reaches the “mountain gorges of the north,” the “great cities,” the “farmhouses of the land,” and “the children of Revolutionary veterans” everywhere, linking together these diverse sites on the basis of their common response to the news of war. This vision of bodies in different locations simultaneously turning “south” and shouting “Mexico” seeks to reconcile differences of region and occupation within a larger national unity. Although Anderson understands this process of imagining the nation through the medium of print in relatively abstract terms, Lippard represents the national community as a collective body that convulses, quivers, and thrills to the news of the U.S.-Mexican War. That is to say, if for Anderson the nationalist “meanwhile” (25) produces a sense of “community in anonymity” (36) as it connects different parts of the nation, Lippard's war literature shows how nationalism works by also particularizing and foregrounding bodies rather than simply abstracting from and decorporealizing them. If the “skeleton” of national history must be clothed “with flesh and blood” (26) in order for people to respond to it, then nationalism as mediated by print capitalism also depends upon thrilling sensations of embodiment.
In the opening chapter of Legends of Mexico, these sensations of embodiment are distinctly racialized. Reginald Horsman argues that during the U.S.-Mexican War “the Americans clearly formulated the idea of themselves as an Anglo-Saxon race.” He adds that although many U.S. commentators thought of this “race” as primarily English and distinguished it from an inferior Celtic race, for example, others viewed the “American” as “a unique blend of all that was best in the white European races.” In Legends of Mexico, Lippard rejects the identification of whiteness with Englishness as he defines the American people as fundamentally Northern European: “We are no Anglo-Saxon people. No!” Lippard asserts. “All Europe sent its exiles to our shore. From all the nations of Northern Europe, we were formed. Germany and Sweden and
As this passage suggests, Lippard attempts to identify “America” with a particular racially defined community in order to justify U.S. empire-building. That is to say, in Legends of Mexico the body of the nation-people is placed within both a sacred and a European lineage as Lippard appeals to a white democratic utopianism that he opposes to European monarchy. Unlike other past empires that have been subject to the vicissitudes of history, Lippard contends that U.S. empire will be unique, a holy, antimonarchical community dedicated to the brotherhood of man. But this conception of America as immanent utopia is fundamentally grounded on racial hierarchies and the dynamics of violent expansion: Lippard's radical Protestant millennialism sanctions U.S. imperialism as he imagines history culminating in a U.S. empire that he describes elsewhere as a Palestine for redeemed labor. In this utopian fantasy, the contradictions of history, class conflict, and violent conquest are displaced by a vision of the American “race” as a chosen people and the U.S. empire as a sacred community.
Such a reading of U.S. empire as uniquely beneficent and egalitarian is foregrounded on the cover of the 1847 T.B. Peterson edition of Legends of Mexico, where a citation from Thomas Paine's The Crisis (1777) appears: “We fight not to enslave, nor for conquest; But to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.” In 1847, in the middle of the U.S.-Mexican War, this reference to Paine's Revolutionary War writings suggested multiple meanings. First, it set up the U.S.-Mexican War as a repeat performance of the Revolutionary War (recall the “children of Revolutionary veterans” picking up the “rifle of '76” and setting out for Mexico). Although many opponents of the U.S.-Mexican War argued that it invited the extension of slavery and was an unjustified war of invasion, this citation implicitly appealed to the republican ideals of freedom and independence and explained the conflict with Mexico as another battle against tyranny. Second, the use of this quotation supported the exceptionalist premise that U.S. empire was fundamentally different from the “shattered” New World empires of Britain, Spain, and Portugal. More specifically, it implied that the U.S.-Mexican War was a different sort of project than the Spanish conquest of Mexico, which had enthralled U.S. readers for years, most notably in the form of William H. Prescott's massive and massively popular History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843). The passage from The Crisis, however, is actually misquoted; the original reads: “We fight not to enslave, but to set a country free, and to make room upon the earth for honest men to live in.” The substitution of the phrase “nor for conquest” for “to set a country free” shows how important it was to U.S. imperialists to establish distinctions between the U.S.-Mexican War and the Spanish conquest of Mexico, even as the parallels between the two remained a source of endless, if uneasy, fascination.
During the 1840s in the United States, the Spanish conquest of Mexico was generally interpreted as necessary, since it brought Christianity to the so-called New World. But it was also viewed as ultimately flawed because the Spanish were not Protestants but Catholics; because Spaniards as a people were said to be characterized by superstition, avarice, cruelty, and tyranny; because they were not considered racially pure, but rather were disposed to mix with conquered peoples; and because they were not the chosen people who, according to millennialists, were destined to lead the world to the utopia at the end of history. Prescott was him-self deeply ambivalent about Spain: he opposed the annexation of Texas and the U.S.-Mexican War and seems to have worried that the United States was not exempt from history, that it too might be subject to the
And yet, this belief in the exceptional status of U.S. empire was by no means untroubled by doubts and contradictions. The ideological legacy of eighteenth-century republicanism, for instance, continued to power-fully shape ideas about empire in the 1840s. According to republican beliefs, the pursuit of empire always threatened a republic with corruption and decline through overextension and by engendering luxury, bringing in foreign populations, and encouraging the establishment of professional armies. This republican “drama of imperial decline,” as Angela Miller calls it, is staged in Thomas Cole's famous series of paintings entitled The Course of Empire (1833–1836). Cole depicts what he and many of his contemporaries understood to be the five stages of empire: the Savage State, the Arcadian or Pastoral State, Consummation, Destruction, and finally Desolation. As one contemporary writer put it, Cole's paintings represented “the march of empire, or the rise, decadence, and final extinction of a nation, from the first state of savage rudeness through all the stages of civilization to the very summit of human polish and human greatness, to its ultimate downfall.” Miller suggests that many of Cole's contemporaries responded enthusiastically to the paintings, even as they struggled to deny the relevance of this narrative for U.S. empire; they maintained that the “exceptional conditions of its expansion—peaceful, nonaggressive, republican, and blessed with an inexhaustible wilderness—guaranteed that the nation would avoid the fate drawn by Cole.” But during the war years, the fiction of peaceful and nonaggressive U.S. expansion became much more difficult to maintain, and the rhetoric of republicanism often contributed to contemporary languages of anti-imperialism.
All of this suggests that assertions of American exceptionalism cannot always be taken at face value, but rather should often be seen as nervous at-tempts to manage the contradictions of ideologies of U.S. empire-building, contradictions that pervade war literature such as Lippard's. In other
First, he invokes the Black Legend. This system of beliefs was supported by anti-Catholic sentiments, accounts of the Spanish Inquisition, reports of Spanish atrocities in the New World, and ideas about the horrors of racial mixing. After the Black Legend traveled across the Atlantic with the early colonists, it was reinforced by the anti-Catholic nativism of the 1840s as well as the war with Mexico. Lippard draws on the Black Legend when he identifies tyranny, luxury, and avarice with Spain, introduces rapacious Spanish villains, and contrasts an evil Spanish conquest with a liberating U.S.-American presence in Mexico. In the opening chapter, for instance, Lippard implicitly distinguishes northern European colonists of the Americas from the Spanish when he insists that the northern Europeans crossed the Atlantic “not for the lust of gold or power, but for the sake of a Religion, a Home” (15). By identifying Spanish conquerors with the lust for gold and power that he deplored in both journalism and urban gothic literature, Lippard struggles to distance him-self from the very analogy between Spain and the United States that his words repeatedly suggest. Even though he tries to distinguish the two, however, U.S. empire becomes, as we shall see, an uncanny double of the Spanish empire in this text. For if the United States displaces and replaces the remnants of the Spanish empire in Mexico, it also inherits the curses heaped on Spain: as the violence depicted in this novel escalates, it becomes difficult to separate Spanish tyranny from U.S.-American freedom.
Lippard's second major strategy is to unify the U.S. nation-people by repeatedly sketching pictures of endangered, mutilated, or destroyed U.S. bodies. He often uses bloody, gothic language and imagery to illustrate the horrors of war. Lippard zooms in on gory scenes in which a Mexican cannonball is unroofing the skull of a U.S. soldier (55); or in which U.S. troops advance through a battlefield strewn with their comrades “in mangled masses” (82); or in which a soldier's lower jaw is torn away “by the blow of a murderous lance” (128). Like other prowar writers, he represents evil Mexican soldiers mangling and robbing the U.S. dead and wounded as they lie helpless after the fight. By representing Mexicans as a threat to the bodies of the nation-people, Lippard urges readers to unite despite their differences.
In one especially telling instance, he focuses on an Irish immigrant, a common soldier, who came “from the desolated fields of Ireland, across the ocean, then into the army” (55). As he often does in his war fiction, Lippard lingers on the manly body of the soldier, “attired in a blue round jacket, his broad chest, laid open to the light.” As he listens to the words of his commander, his “swarthy face is all attention, his honest brow, covered with sweat, assumes an appearance of thought.” Then suddenly, as one example among many of “the infernal revelry of war,” Lippard depicts a grotesque battle scene in which “the soldier is torn in two, by a combination of horrible missiles, which bear his mangled flesh away, whirling a bloody shower through the air. That thing beneath the horse's feet, with the head bent back, until it touches the heels, that mass of bloody flesh, in which face, feet, and brains, alone are distinguishable, was only a moment past, a living man” (54). The intentness with which Lippard focuses on the mangled body of the Irish soldier suggests a number of possible readings. The sensational excessiveness of this account may appeal, for instance, to a ghoulish voyeurism that takes pleasure in scenes of bodily destruction. Indeed, the scene might attract a reader who particularly enjoys reading about the destruction of the Irish immigrant body, a liminal figure serving as a scapegoat through which the fantasy of bodily destruction can be more easily staged. But Lippard frames the incident with a sentimental narrative about the soldier's wife, who followed him with baby in arms from Ireland to the battlefield and who holds onto his festering body all night until the army gravediggers bury it. Lurid as even this detail is, the inclusion of it along with the initial description of the soldier suggests that Lippard is also trying to provoke sympathy in his readers by focusing on the bereaved family as well as the destruction of the “good” soldier's body.
Inasmuch as Lippard urges readers to feel for this Irish immigrant soldier, he implicitly responds to nativist prejudices against the Irish. That is, such a representation of the immigrant body could be said to symbolically incorporate marginal whites such as the Irish into the American “race,” since Lippard makes the soldier into a martyr for the white nationalist cause. Once again, however, this incorporation of marginal whites takes place at the expense of Mexicans positioned as a threat to the white family and the bodily integrity of the Irish soldier. And if Lippard's repressentations of bodies endangered or shattered by Mexican forces extend Americanness to the Irish immigrant, they are also meant to unite readers at home. Lippard even pictures for his audience the sensations of nationalist unanimity that he wants them to feel in response to these war scenes: “At this very hour, in the American Union at least one hundred thousand hearts, are palpitating in fearful anxiety for us, afraid that every moment may bring the news of the utter slaughter of Taylor and his men” (77).
But as Lippard seeks to mobilize gothic sensationalism in behalf of U.S. nation and empire-building, the goriness of his battle scenes trans-gresses the very racial and national boundaries that he in other ways tries to establish. As the scene shifts from the first battles of the war at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma to the fighting in the city of Monterrey and then to the war's bloodiest battle, Buena Vista, Lippard represents more and more scenes in which Mexican homes are invaded, Mexican families are destroyed, and Mexican bodies are “splintered into fragments” (96) and mowed “into heaps of mangled flesh” (101). Instead of converting conquest into liberation, this focus on Mexican losses registers the spectacular acts of violent displacement that supported the nationalist dream of white freedom.
As Lippard labors to distinguish U.S. empire from Spanish empire, he often adapts rhetorical strategies from mysteries-of-the-city novels. In novels such as New York and The Quaker City, Lippard frequently contrasts the high life of the rich and powerful with the lowly life of the poor and oppressed. This strategy is so common in mysteries-of-the-city literature that it is one of its defining features. Mysteries-of-the-city novels also often attack wealthy nonproducers by misrecognizing capitalism as the intrusion of a feudal/aristocratic mode of production into liberal democratic America. Here, however, Lippard uses contrasts and the language of feudalism to cast Mexicans in the role of wealthy oppressor. When Lippard first introduces General Arista before the battle of Palo Alto, for instance, he uses the same kind of language, along with the supplement of a racialist orientalism, that he deploys to characterize evil rich seducers
Figure 1. Detail, “The Death of Ringgold,” from the Quaker City, 13 January 1849. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
Lippard also maps a language of class onto nation when he moves from descriptions of battle scenes to the legends of “passion, of poetry, of home” (27) that “clothe the skeleton” of history “with flesh and blood” (26). In one of these legends, Lippard tells the story of a beautiful mestiza named Inez who has secretly married a U.S. soldier only to be separated from him by her tyrannical Castilian father. The extravagant luxury of the settings that Inez inhabits suggests parallels between the elite Mexicans and the mansion-dwelling capitalist aristocracy of Lippard's mysteries-of-the-city fiction. Inez's bedroom is paved with mosaic slabs of marble and includes a “fountain, bubbling from a bath, sunken in the centre of the place, while four slender pillars supported the ceiling” (28). And when she dreams of her marriage to the U.S. soldier in the Cathedral of Matamoras, we learn that the altar is made of solid silver, with a candelabra of gold above it and a balustrade of precious metals extending on either side. “Count the wealth of a fairy legend; and you have it here, in this solemn cathedral,” Lippard advises us. “And yonder—smiling sadly over all the display of wealth—stands the Golden Image of the Carpenter's Son of Nazareth, and by his side, beams the silver face of his Divine Mother” (29). Here Lippard's Protestant iconoclasm combines with a radical republican fear of luxury to position these Mexican Catholics, with their fashionable churches and excessive displays of wealth, as the counterparts of the “upper ten” that he attacks in his mysteries-of-the-city novels.
Despite the many parallels between the Mexican ruling class and the “upper ten” that Lippard demonizes in his mysteries-of-the-city fiction, his desire to unite the U.S. nation-people along racial lines prevents him from explicitly comparing the privileged classes of Mexico and the United States in Legends of Mexico. Instead, elite Mexicans take on the role almost exclusively of the evil rich, while elite U.S. officers, many of whom are the sons of wealthy and influential men such as Henry Clay, become heroes. For the most part, then, Lippard's critique of U.S. class relations is rerouted as he foregrounds heroic regional, national, and racial types. For instance, the U.S. soldier that Lippard calls the Virginian, who is presented as a point of readerly identification and as the appropriate partner for Inez, is characterized only by his region, his race,
Although Lippard avoids making explicit comparisons between wealthy U.S. and Spanish oppressors in Legends of Mexico, his animus against the Spanish and his use of the mestiza Inez as a symbol of the Mexican nation might suggest parallels between the oppressed Indians, who are victimized by the Spanish dream of gold, and the exploited lower million in the United States. That is, even though Lippard struggles to redirect class identifications in Legends of Mexico, he evokes a certain amount of sympathy for Mexican Indians by placing them in a position that is symbolically similar to that of aggrieved groups within the U.S. These kinds of parallels are frequently explored, however tentatively, in the popular literature of the period. In many of the accounts of the conquest that circulated during these years, Mexican Indians were represented much more sympathetically than were the Spanish conquerors, even though many of these representations also included racist allusions to human sacrifice and other exotic rituals. These more sympathetic representations of Mexican Indians often, however, supported hispanophobic responses that justified U.S. intervention in Mexico. In Legends of Mexico, for instance, Lippard includes a romanticized representation of an Indian tribe that has fled to the mountains bearing torches that were lighted at the eternal flame of Montezuma: “When the Hero-Priest Hidalgo,—descended from the Aztec race—raised the standard of revolt, and declared the soil of Anahuac, free from European despotism,” Lippard writes, “that torch blazed in the faces of the Spaniards and lit them to their bloody graves” (34). In this passage, Lippard identifies the Mexican War of Independence with Indian struggles against Spanish despotism and thereby seems to endorse Indian resistance, though he quickly moves on and focuses once again on white North Americans as the agents of change in Mexico.
Even though Lippard extends some sympathy to Mexican Indians, he never represents them as equals. Instead, he tends to identify them with the dead past, so that his largely Prescott-derived pictures of Indian enclaves have a “land-that-time-forgot” feel to them; they also recall James Fenimore Cooper's “vanishing Americans” in novels such as The Last of the Mohicans. The Indian tribe that he focuses on in Legends of Mexico is completely cut off from modern Mexico, “fenced in from civilization by impenetrable thickets swarming with wild beasts” (34); he describes them as “one of those remnants of the Aztec people, which have been hidden in the desert, from the eye of the white man, for three hundred years” (35). Even though Lippard is implicitly critical of “civilized” values here, his representation of Indians as relics of the past suggests that they will not play a significant role in Mexico's future. What is more, with the exception of Inez, Lippard usually represents the racial heterogeneity of Mexico negatively. For example, like most other writers for the penny press, Lippard describes “the Ranchero” as “that combination of the worst vices of civilization and barbarism” (25). Drawing on the dominant strain of the race science of the time, Lippard suggests in this passage that racial mixtures, particularly the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood, result in offspring combining the worst of both races. Once again, Lippard appeals to racial distinctions to override the parallels between internal hierarchies in the United States and Mexico that his words might otherwise suggest.
Although Lippard generally condemns racial mixtures and tries to distinguish between the United States and Mexico on grounds of racial purity, however, his fantasy solution to the conflict between the two nations is a marriage between a U.S. soldier and the mestiza Inez. This plot device recurs in much of the war literature, although most of the heroines are creoles. International romances between U.S. soldiers and elite Mexican women were often represented in the popular literature as a benign form of imperial conquest or as an alternative to it: the romance plots of a good deal of cheap war fiction were echoed by contemporary calls to conquer Mexico by “whitening” it through transnational heterosexual unions. In November of 1847, a writer for the Democratic Review even suggested that a postwar U.S. army of occupation in Mexico could result in the “strong infusion of the American race,” which “would impart energy and industry gradually to the indolent Mexicans, and give them such a consistency as a people, as would enable them to hold and occupy their territories in perfect independence. … The soldiers succeeding each other for short terms would most of them, as they were
As popular writers fantasized about heterosexual union between a feminized Mexico and a masculinized United States, they appealed to narratives of gender and sexuality to turn force into consent and conquest into international romance. In this way, they tried to establish distinctions between a rapacious Spanish conquest and an idealized, peaceful, and nonaggressive U.S. relationship to Mexico. But as we shall see in Part 2, these romances rarely conceal the coercive power relations that lie at their heart, and they also raise issues about racial mixture that undermine the precarious distinction between a united white American race and a racially heterogeneous Mexico. For if the mixture of Spanish and Indian blood is said to result in offspring that combine the worst of both races in the case of the demonized ranchero, then the marriage between the mestiza Inez and the Virginian, for instance, might well threaten to corrupt the fictive purity of white America, despite the optimism in some of the literature about the possibility of “improving” the Mexican “race” through pairings between U.S. men and Mexican women. Although Lippard never addresses this inconsistency, these kinds of contradictions plague his efforts to distinguish clearly the U.S. and the Spanish empires and therefore threaten to undermine his exceptionalist vision of “America.”
One of the most complicated convolutions of this distinction-forging logic occurs when Lippard tries to represent the U.S.-Mexican War as a just retribution for the atrocities committed during the Spanish conquest of Mexico. On the eve of the battle of Palo Alto, for example, an old Aztec priest in a remote Indian community lights a torch at the flame of Montezuma and proclaims the doom of the Spaniards. Just as the Spaniards conquered the Aztecs, the priest declares, so will “a new race from the north” defeat the Spaniards in battle. “That Murder done by the Spaniard, returns to him again; and the blood that he once shed, rises from the ground, which will not hide it, and becomes a torrent to overflow his rule, his people, and his altars!” (47). The gothic language of uncanny, bloody revenge heightens as the chant continues:
Montezuma, from the shadows of ages, hear the cry of thy children! Arise! Gaze from the unclosed Halls of Death, upon the Spaniard's ruin, and tell the ghosts to shout, as he dashes to darkness in a whirlpool of blood:― 66 ―
Montezuma, and all ye ghosts, sing your song of gladness now, and let the days of your sorrow be past! Even, above the ocean of blood, which flows from thy mouth, over the land of Anahuac, behold the Dove of Peace, bearing her green leaves and white blossoms to the children of the soil! (47)
In this passage, the ghosts of Indians who died during the Spanish conquest lurk in the shadows of the unclosed Halls of Death, mutely witnessing the preparations for the battle between Mexico and the United States. Lippard suggests that the victory of the U.S. forces will exorcise these ghosts by bringing about the Spaniard's ruin. He figures the United States as the savior of Montezuma's children; paradoxically, the ocean of blood that is spilled as the United States fights Mexico impels the Dove of Peace to greet the long-oppressed “children of the soil” with green leaves and white blossoms.
The irony of this passage is that the United States must imitate the Spanish conquerors in order to replace them and put the ghosts of the earlier conquest to rest. For if U.S. forces dash the Mexicans to darkness in a whirlpool of blood, what ghosts will this second bloody conquest engender? By raising the ghosts of conquests past, Lippard invokes specters that trouble the exceptionalist premise that the U.S.-initiated war was not an act of aggressive expansionism but rather the extension of freedom to oppressed peoples. For even as he tries to represent the United States as the redeemer of Mexico, bringing peace to the indigenous “children of the soil,” the paradoxes that he encounters and the bloody battle scenes that directly follow threaten the distinction he is trying to make between the Spanish and U.S. empires: Lippard's war pictures foreground the instability of empire, the contradictions of history, and the violence of U.S. conquest despite his desire for us to remember things differently.
The going forth is beautiful. To see those flags flutter so bravely from the lances, like the foliage of those trees of death, to hear the bugles speak out,—but the morrow? The coming back? Hark! through the darkened air, did you not hear a sound, like the closing of a thousand coffin lids?
—George Lippard, Legends of Mexico George Lippard's 1848 67
Most of Legends of Mexico is devoted to the display of sensational pictures of battle scenes—it was even advertised in the pages of the Quaker City as “the most graphic and readable book ever written on the war with Mexico” (30 December 1848). The narrative moves from the opening border skirmishes in May 1846 to the first battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma and the attack on Monterrey in September 1846, before concluding at Buena Vista on 22 and 23 February 1847. Notably, Lippard leaves out other battles fought during this period, battles that were more difficult to glorify, including the “confused and costly” encounters at Contreras and Churubusco and the “ill-advised” battle of Molino del Rey. Despite such telling omissions, however, his Legends of Mexico reveals much about popular responses to the war as it took place, for Lippard incorporates the language of contemporaneous newspaper accounts and frequently references war pictures that were staged as panoramas in theaters, reprinted as illustrations in papers, and sold on the street as popular prints.
Bill Brown proposes that Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895) “registers a shift in the mass mediation of war,” reinterprets the Civil War “through the cultural lens of the [camera] lens itself,” and thereby illuminates “a particular history of American seeing.” It could be argued that Lippard's war literature also registers such a shift but at an earlier moment, a moment when improvements in communications and print technology made it possible for pictures, news, books, and other printed, warrelated material to circulate throughout the nation shortly after the important battles of the U.S.-Mexican War took place. We can glimpse the effects of these new technologies in Lippard's writing as they structure the framing of the visible in Legends of Mexico. He begins his long account of the battle of Palo Alto by painting a panoramic picture that resembles, in its representational strategies, the bird'seye views of battlefields and military lines that were also on display in popular lithographs and in moving panoramas, a new form of popular theatrical entertainment that featured scenes painted on giant canvases that were unwound on rollers. As he leads the gaze of the reader from point to point through interjected instructions—“look yonder,” here “you see,” “there, you behold”—he describes the battlefield in terms of its vision-accommodating possibilities: “No hillocks to obstruct the view, no ravines for ambuscade, no massive trees, to conceal the tube of the deadly rifles… it seemed the very place for a battle, the convenient and appropriate theatre for a scene of wholesale murder” (49). And viewed from a distance, before the action has begun, he sees the “imposing array” of the armies as “very beautiful” (50).
This panorama of war clearly depends upon a proprietary aesthetic—a vision of the Mexican landscape as open and available to the reader's controlling, colonizing gaze. But Legends of Mexico also contains many scenes that focus on Mexican injuries and war losses, and often those passages lead in unexpected directions. For instance, as the battle of Resaca de la Palma nears its close, Lippard focuses on the road to Fort Brown, “paved with corses, roaring with thunder, blazing with the lightning of cannon.” Although earlier he invited the reader to gaze at the “beautiful” array of troops preparing for battle, here he directs us to “[g]aze there, and see the Mexicans go down at every shot, by ranks, by platoons, by columns. It is no battle, but a hunt, a Massacre!” As the U.S. troops set fire to the prairie, the movement of the flames “crushes and hurls and burns the Mexicans toward the center of death, the Rio Grande.” And yet, instead of describing this as a glorious sight, the narrator seems to shrink from it: “The heart grows sick of the blood. The chaparral seems a great heart of carnage, palpitating a death at every throb. Volumes would not tell the horrors of that flight!” (99). And then, when Mexican soldiers try to crowd onto a raft and escape down the river, the boat capsizes, “and where a moment ago was a mass of human faces, lancers' flags and war-horse forms, now is only the boiling river, heaving with the dying and the dead” (100). For days afterward, “those bodies, festering in corruption, floated blackened and hideous, upon the waters of the Rio Grande” (100). At this point, as the battle turns into a massacre, it becomes difficult to distinguish scenes of U.S. empire-building from the “blackest” legends of the Spanish conquest.
Although Lippard quickly moves to place this battle scene within the context of Zachary Taylor's march to “redeem” the continent, his panoramas of death undermine the already difficult to sustain distinction between an evil Spanish and a benign U.S. conquest. Indeed, the carnage suggests parallels between U.S.–Mexican War battles and infamous episodes of the Spanish Conquest such as the massacre at Cholula, where more than three thousand Indians were slaughtered. This is especially true when battles are fought in densely populated areas, such as the city of Monterrey, where almost ten thousand people lived. According to Prescott and other historians, the massacre at Cholula had been particularly horrible—an encounter that “left a dark stain on the memory of the Conquerors”—because it involved noncombatants, “townsmen” who “made scarcely any resistance” to the Spaniards who sacked and burned the city, leaving corpses “festering in heaps in the streets and the great square.” During the four-day battle at Monterrey in late
September 1846, U.S. soldiers advanced through the city by invading the homes of townspeople, knocking down walls between connected dwellings, and then moving on through to the next house. This battle plan inevitably involved noncombatants and caused massive destruction. According to the fifteen Mexican writers of the war history that was translated into English in 1850 as The Other Side; or, Notes for the History of the War Between Mexico and the United States, after the battle “Monterey was converted into a vast cemetery. The unburied bodies, the dead and putrid mules, the silence of the streets, all gave a fearful aspect to this city.”
Although most of the visual artists chose to ignore this aspect of the battle and to focus instead on remote views of the city or panoramas featuring the dramatic landscape, a few did try to picture the devastation that took place. In a lithograph entitled “Third Day of the Siege of Monterey” (1846) and in Nathaniel Currier's “Battle of Monterey” (1846), U.S. soldiers are depicted fighting in the streets and breaking through stone fortifications, with homes and the cathedral in the background. But in Legends of Mexico, U.S. soldiers invade Mexican homes, and as Lippard pictures the fighting, images of rape, death, and violence directed at noncombatants dominate the narrative. For from his perspective, war on the battlefield “where the yell of the dying, rings its defiance to the charging legions, wears on its bloodiest plume, some gleam of chivalry, but War in the Home, scattering its corses, besides the holiest altars of life, and mingling the household gods, with bleeding hearts and shattered skulls—this, indeed, is a fearful thing” (116).
In the beginning of this chapter, as Lippard describes Monterrey and its environs, he adopts the representational strategies of the popular prints that offered panoramic views of the city's spectacular setting: “They tell me that Monterey is beautiful; that it lies among the snow-white mountains, whose summits reach the clouds.” As he focuses on the lands surrounding the city, he emphasizes images of material abundance—tropical fruit and foliage, the green cornfields, and “the rich garniture of the soil”—that would appeal to prospective U.S. colonists. Lippard imagines the city as a woman, an “Amazon Queen,” with orange groves that “girdle her dark stone walls, with their white blossoms, and hang their golden fruit above her battlemented roofs.” “From this elevated grove, towards the south, around the sleeping city,” he writes, “winds the beautiful river of San Juan, now hidden among the pomegranate trees, now sending a silvery branch into the town, again flashing on, besides its castled walls” (107). As he speculates on the difficulties of conquering the city (it seems “impregnable,” “No arms can take it; no cannon blast its impenetrable
Figure 2. “Battle of Monterey” lithograph by Nathaniel Currier. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
Lippard further emphasizes a gendered reading of conquest by pairing this picture of the transformation of the landscape with a story that takes the reader into a Mexican home where two young women, virgins of course, wait for their father and brother to return from the fighting. Lippard places the reader inside the house with the women, instead of with the U.S. soldiers, as the battle intensifies: “And the storm grew nearer their house; it seemed to rage all around them, for those terrible sounds never for one moment ceased, and the red flash poured through the narrow window, in one incessant sheet of battle lightning” (111). Finally, the door to their chamber gives way, “the red battle light rush[es] into the place” (113), and their dying father falls backward into their home, with blood pouring from a wound in his chest. Once again, Lippard figures the invasion of the homes of Monterrey as a symbolic rape. The U.S. volunteer who “fired for the first time, with the lust of carnage” (113), and who killed the father and receives the latter's dying curse, is thus figured as invader, rapist, and murderer all at once. For as the soldier “saw the unspeakable agony, written on each face,” he “knew him-self, a guilty and blood-stained man” (113).
While it might be possible for the U.S. reader to distance himself/her-self from the scene by reflecting that these horrors are happening to Mexicans, the volunteer does not make such a distinction. In fact, he compares this Mexican home to the home he left behind in Pennsylvania: “I have a father, too, away in Pennsylvania, and sisters, too, that resemble these girls” (114). As the Mexican home that he has invaded becomes an uncanny double of his home in Pennsylvania, the entire battle scene takes on a ghastly hue. Unable to bear the horror of the murder scene, “only wishing to turn his eyes away from that sight,” he escapes to the roof and witnesses the end of the battle of Monterrey. But even the panoramic view of the city that meets his gaze provides no real distance from the scene he has left, for, “sick of the battle,” he sees only “one great lake of carnage” as “three days battle rolls by every street and avenue, along these roofs, and through yonder smoking ruin” (114). Everywhere he looks, “the dead looked so ghastly up in his face!” (115). The violence extends to noncombatants, too, for the soldier also sees a dead woman, “clotted with blood, while her frozen features, knit so darkly in the brow, and distorted along the lips, told how fierce the struggle in which she died” (115). And when he returns to the room where he left the sisters and their dying father, it seems “like a death vault.” As he feels his way through the pitch-black chamber, his hands touch the cold faces of the dead, which leave his fingers wet with clotted blood. When finally the glare
Figure 3. “The Sisters of Monterey” detail in the Quaker City, 27 January 1849. (Courtesy American Antiquarian Society)
Lippard ends by trying to give the chapter a redemptive conclusion, one that rings resoundingly hollow after the pages of horror that preceded it. First, he pulls back from the battle scene, takes a remote perspective, and pictures the landscape restored and transfigured, the river no longer blushing with blood, the homes of the town framed in gardens of flowers. “Over the Bishop's palace waves the Banner of the Stars,” Lippard writes, “symbol of that Democratic truth, which never for a moment ceases to speak, ‘This continent is the Homestead of free and honest men. Kings have no business here. Hasten to possess it, Children of Washington!’” (119). Second, he marries the bereaved Mexican woman
But if Lippard repeatedly tries to turn force into consent, most of Legends of Mexico reveals that, as the Mexican writers of The Other Side argued, the age of U.S. empire-building, which was called “one of light,” was “notwithstanding, the same as the former—one of force and violence.” And in Lippard's second novel set in Mexico, 'Bel of Prairie Eden, which was published the next year, representations of international romance are displaced by dramas of seduction, rape, and revenge as his utopia for redeemed labor becomes a haunted homestead in the Texas borderlands.
WHITE UTOPIA IS A HAUNTED HOMESTEAD
In the first chapter of 'Bel of Prairie Eden, Lippard initially represents the Texas prairies in idealized terms, as a boundless, utopian space where emigrants can escape the past and realize their dreams of freedom by settling on virgin, vacant land. In the opening chapter, two brothers, the sons of wealthy Texas colonist Jacob Grywin, gaze at a beautiful view: “the prairie, bathed in the light of the setting sun” (7). By calling their home Prairie Eden and by describing the Texas landscape in literally glowing terms, Lippard echoes the extensive literature written during the 1830s and 1840s to encourage prospective settlers from Europe and the United States to relocate in Texas. During the 1820s, Mexico passed colonization laws allowing foreigners to buy land in Texas more cheaply than it could be purchased in the United States. For the next two decades, beginning in the Mexican period and continuing after the United States annexed Texas in 1845, emigrants from the southern United States, especially, but also from eastern U.S. cities, Ireland, Germany, and other parts of Europe flocked to the area, often settling in small colonies founded by land agents called empresarios. In order to sell their vision of a colonized Texas to emigrants, land companies and speculators
From the beginning, many ominous signs indicate that all is not well in Prairie Eden. Grywin, the founder of the colony, is a “broken bank director of Philadelphia, who turned traitor to the trust of some thousand widows, and then fled the city, seeking refuge for his guilty wealth in the prairie of Texas.” Instead of providing utopian spaces that allow immigrants to escape the capitalist relations of the city, Texas here serves as a refuge for the corrupt capitalist who wants to leave his crimes, but not the profits they yielded, behind him in the East. Although he is a Northerner, Grywin also brings slaves with him to Texas, and Lippard thereby references widespread fears that the incorporation of new territory into the Union would mean the extension of slavery. An empresario-like figure, Grywin arrives in Texas in 1840, accompanied by fifty “retainers,” including “forty white laborers—some civilized people from the States, others German emigrants—and ten black slaves” (8) who build a mansion for him on the prairie and surround it with their own “small huts” (16). The luxurious mansion resembles those described in urban gothic literature, especially when it is contrasted with the lowly huts on its borders; it could have been lifted from New York or The Quaker City and dropped on the Texas prairie. Lippard repeatedly uncovers uncanny resemblances and traces connections between the capitalist U.S. city and scenes of empire-building in Texas and Mexico in a novel which, as the book's cover tells us, “begins on the wild prairie—goes on in the city of Vera Cruz—winds up in Philadelphia.” But moss hangs like a silvery shroud around Grywin's mansion; the prairie is inhabited by spectral forms that prophesy “evil, nothing but evil” (13); eerie buzzards silently circle over the rooftops of Vera Cruz on the night that U.S. troops land in the city; and remorse for acts of seduction and revenge committed in Mexico pervades the gloomy conclusion that takes place in Philadelphia.
Even at the outset, this novel implies that this colony, and also perhaps the colonization of Texas, are based on shaky foundations. This premise haunts the narrative, suggesting that everything that subsequently happens to Grywin's house might result from his original guilty acts as well as from his attempts to escape their consequences. For Grywin's
Even though Lippard initially stigmatizes the Texas colonizer, he soon turns the tables by demonizing the Mexican Marin. We discover that Marin knew 'Bel and her family before, in Philadelphia, when he was the attaché of the Mexican legation. At that time, he had asked to marry 'Bel and was refused; to that refusal her father “added some words, at once needless and bitter” (22). But if this contemptuous refusal seems at first to partially justify Marin's vengeful feelings, attempts to represent him as anything other than monstrous disappear after he threatens 'Bel's virginity. Soon thereafter, he drugs her with opium, gets her to consent to have sex with him in order to save her father's life, and then hangs Grywin anyway. Later, Marin also orders his soldiers to murder Grywin's younger son, Harry. At these moments, Lippard blames Mexico for the war and encourages readers to feel for white settlers on the Texas borderlands. By making Ewen and the Mexican soldiers a threat to the white family and the homestead in Texas, Lippard mobilizes sensations of fear and horror in behalf of the Texas colonizers that may override his representation of the colonization of Texas as a morally tainted enterprise.
But the vengefulness of Grywin's remaining son, John, is just as monstrous, and it leads to an ending that is anything but happy. After John learns what has happened to his family, he begins to plot his sadistic revenge. First, as Marin and his father walk together one evening, a bullet from an unknown source pierces his father's brain. John, of course, is responsible. Second, John seduces Marin's sister, Isora, and then arranges it so that Marin is forced to watch from a hidden aperture while John has sex with her. Finally, John tricks Ewen into murdering Marin by plunging a knife into his heart as part of an initiation rite. But this “Satanic revenge” (70) returns to haunt John after he falls in love with Isora, even though she never learns that John's enemy was her brother or that her brother is dead. John marries Isora and takes her back to Philadelphia, but she soon becomes unhappy and thinks only about seeing Marin
As I have suggested throughout Part 1, Lippard's invocation of a panoply of gothic effects—“haunted houses, evil villains, ghosts, gloomy landscapes, madness, terror, suspense, horror”—to narrate the U.S. presence in Texas and Mexico has contradictory effects. On the one hand, it contributes to the demonization of Mexicans and may thereby feed the war frenzy of readers. There is also plenty of lurid material here to stimulate a voyeuristic response at some distance from a well-defined, coherent position on the war. But the novel also suggests that romance cannot heal the wounds of war: the marriage plot that Lippard uses at the end of Legends of Mexico, and that so many writers employed to make the conquest of northern Mexico appear to be consensual, fails as a way of resolving international conflict. Force is never plausibly transformed into consent; the violence that structures most of the narrative does not disappear but instead fully implicates the Texas colonizer in the bleak conclusion. It is even possible to read this as an antiwar novel if one emphasizes the ending and interprets the escalating revenge plots as an allegory about the futility of the violence between the United States and Mexico.
Lippard apparently began to have second thoughts about his war fiction soon after the conflict ended. In the brief sketch “A Sequel to the Legends of Mexico” that appeared in The White Banner in 1851, Lippard worried about whether the “very pictures of war and its chivalry” that he had drawn a few years earlier “might not be misconceived and lead young hearts into an appetite for blood-shedding” (108). So a few years after the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, he imagined Taylor and his army of conquest transformed into an “Industrial Army,” with spades instead of muskets, and plows instead of cannons, transforming the Pennsylvania desert “into a very garden, adorned with the homes of one hundred thousand poor men, who before the campaign began, had been starving in the suburbs of the Great Cities” (109). In this sketch, Lippard tries to make two haunting visions of war disappear: the class warfare threatened by poor men accumulating in North-eastern cities, and the violent, bloody scenes of the U.S.-Mexican War that he and other writers had drawn for the sensational press during the 1840s. Although he hoped to banish these disturbing images of U.S. expansion and domestic unrest by sketching a Jeffersonian picture of an agrarian republic transforming poor men and artisan radicals into virtuous
For if, as Amy Kaplan argues, the role of empire has been largely ignored in the study of U.S. culture, then efforts to foreground the construction of “American nationality” through “political struggles for power with other cultures and nations” must also focus on the war with Mexico. Although scholars often locate the origins of U.S. imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century, the past that is reanimated in sensational war literature should provoke the re-examination of a longer history of empire in the Americas, because the events of 1848 make it clear that U.S. class and racial formations throughout the nineteenth century were decisively shaped by international conflict and both the internal and the global dynamics of empire-building.