Cradle of Liberty

Race, the Child, and National Belonging from Thomas Jefferson to W. E. B. Du Bois

Cradle of Liberty

New Americanists

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Book Pages: 264 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: October 2006

American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Throughout American literature, the figure of the child is often represented in opposition to the adult. In Cradle of Liberty Caroline F. Levander proposes that this opposition is crucial to American political thought and the literary cultures that surround and help produce it. Levander argues that from the late eighteenth century through the early twentieth, American literary and political texts did more than include child subjects: they depended on them to represent, naturalize, and, at times, attempt to reconfigure the ground rules of U.S. national belonging. She demonstrates how, as the modern nation-state and the modern concept of the child (as someone fundamentally different from the adult) emerged in tandem from the late eighteenth century forward, the child and the nation-state became intertwined. The child came to represent nationalism, nation-building, and the intrinsic connection between nationalism and race that was instrumental in creating a culture of white supremacy in the United States.

Reading texts by John Adams, Thomas Paine, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Augusta J. Evans, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, William James, José Martí, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others, Levander traces the child as it figures in writing about several defining events for the United States. Among these are the Revolutionary War, the U.S.-Mexican War, the Civil War, and the U.S. expulsion of Spain from the Caribbean and Cuba. She charts how the child crystallized the concept of self—a self who could affiliate with the nation—in the early national period, and then follows the child through the rise of a school of American psychology and the period of imperialism. Demonstrating that textual representations of the child have been a potent force in shaping public opinion about race, slavery, exceptionalism, and imperialism, Cradle of Liberty shows how a powerful racial logic pervades structures of liberal democracy in the United States.


Cradle of Liberty presents an impressive archive of material, and its strong argument will certainly inspire others to rethink liberal accounts of the relationship between the concept of the child and racial, national, and individual identity.” — Arthur Riss, Journal of American History

Cradle of Liberty takes us on a breakneck journey through pivotal points in American history, arguing that the child does an exhausting amount of work. Levander makes strong and fascinating claims for the importance of the child as a figure. . .” — Maude Hines, American Quarterly

“[A]n intriguing array of unexpected, fresh cultural sources. . . .” — Michael A. Elliott, American Literature

“[Levander] makes a strong case that heeding childhood—as image and as ideology— helps us to understand how notions of racial hierarchy underlie conceptions of liberal democracy.” — Karen Sánchez-Eppler, Legacy

“This book is must reading for anyone interested in children’s and youth studies and/or 19th-and 20th-century literature.” — S.S. Inness, Choice

“This impressive work covers such diverse topics as the uses of the child metaphor in the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War and German-U. S. relations, and the development of late nineteenth century psychological models of the self.” — Steven Mintz, American Studies

“Throughout Cradle of Liberty, Caroline Levander resourcefully and deftly demonstrates the ways that the child has been used to focus debates about race and the function of a liberal democracy, from the early national period through the early twentieth century. . . . One is struck by the creativity of this study, which should be welcome to anyone interested in a sustained investigation of the child and the politically inflected uses with which this figure has been aligned.” — Melanie Dawson, Studies in American Fiction

“Imaginatively combining history, literature, politics, visual culture, and transnational American studies, Cradle of Liberty’s interdisciplinary exploration of the role of the child in the American imaginary offers some intriguing insights into the intersections of race, nation, and ideas of ‘belonging.’” — Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Stanford University

“In this rich combination of cultural history, literary criticism, and social critique, Caroline F. Levander argues that the idea of childhood has figured centrally in American liberalism’s entanglement with racial inequality. Levander reveals that from the late eighteenth century to the present, the belief in a natural path of human development from childish dependency to adult autonomy has both derived from and contributed to racial and gender hierarchies that have been constitutive of U. S. national identity. Cradle of Liberty takes on an impressive array of writers, including novelists, social theorists, and philosophers, in telling the story not only of those whose engagement with the concept of the child contributed to the nation’s limited conception of liberalism, but also of those whose critiques of prevailing assumptions may provide us with strategies to increase liberalism’s capacity to deliver social justice in our own time.” — Kenneth Warren, University of Chicago


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Caroline F. Levander is Professor of English and Director of the Humanities Research Center at Rice University. She is the author of Voices of the Nation: Women and Public Speech in Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture and a coeditor, with Carol J. Singley, of The American Child: A Cultural Studies Reader.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction : Natal Nationalism: The Place of the Child in American Cultural Studies 1

1. The Child and the Racial Politics of Nation Making in the Slavery Era 29

2. Southern Fictions and the “Race” of Nations Along the Mexican Border 52

3. Consenting Fictions, Fictions of Consent: The Child and the Nineteenth-Century Sentimental Novel 78

4. Transnational Twain 111

5. Henry James, Pauline Hopkins, and Psychologies of Race 133

6. Raceless States: W.E.B. Du Bois and Cuba 157

Notes 179

Bibliography 211

Index 239
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3872-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3856-7
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