Liberty, Equality, and Justice

Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and the Regulation of Business, 1865–1932

Liberty, Equality, and Justice

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: Published: August 1997

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > U.S. History

Liberty, equality, and justice have long been treasured in American culture as core values. In Liberty, Equality, and Justice, Ross Evans Paulson studies social and intellectual changes in a critical period of American history—from the end of the Civil War to the early days of the Depression—and argues that attempts to achieve civil rights, women’s rights, and the regulation of business faltered because so many Americans ranked liberty for themselves higher than equality with others and justice for all.
Surveying a crucial period in the formation of the modern state and society, Paulson examines the prevailing conflicts of the time and the limitations of various attempts to institute reform, radical change, or ritualistic renewal of American society. His reading of existing scholarship highlights contested social constructs, clashing priorities, changing meanings of key terms, and shifting institutional dynamics in light of their contributions to a complex tragedy in which all parties fell short of the demands for democratic mutuality. Along with discussions of the movements and manipulations of presidential, congressional, and judicial politics, he integrates the experiences of diverse populations—including African Americans, women, Asian immigrants, Native Americans, and working people—and offers a new interpretation of the ways in which social change and political events interact to reframe the many possibilities of American society.


“Paulson offers fresh insights from probing contested key words to capture cultural conflict within individuals as well as institutions.” — , American Journal of Sociology

“This is a good book, based upon a wide-ranging synthesis of the relevant literature. . . . Paulson interweaves his interest in American’s core values in a sophisticated and sensitive fashion, simultaneously discussing how they related to race, ethnicity, gender, and class, over a tumultuous and extended time frame. It is recommended for anyone seriously interested in the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, and the often lean years of the 1920s.” — H-Net Reviews

“This volume is not only an interesting blend of social groups, juxtaposed in the first part of the book and intermingled in the second part; it is also a challenge in use of language, definitions, and legal and intellectual argument. . . . [A] brave attempt to organise key questions about race, gender, and class into an intellectual history which provides a critique of Americans’ concerns to maintain individual liberty at the expense of equality and justice for all.” — Margaret Walsh, Business History

“Paulson’s analysis speaks to long-standing debates over the core values that define American society and the repeated attempts in America’s past to bring those values and that society into greater harmony through movements for social change.” — Nancy A. Hewitt, Duke University

“Paulson’s delicate interweaving of civil rights, women’s history, and business regulation causes the reader to reconsider the connectedness of strands of Gilded Age and Progressive Era social change that historians often keep separate. In elegant prose his thoughtful and compelling reinterpretation illuminates our understanding of the era in truly innovative ways.” — Stacy A. Cordery, Monmouth College

“Paulson’s work is a fine addition to our historical understanding of a central theme in American history—the priority of individual rights over collective welfare. This is an important book that will have an important historiographic impact.” — Kathryn Kish Sklar, SUNY Binghamton


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Ross Evans Paulson is Professor of History Emeritus at Augustana College and author of numerous books, including Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition.

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1991-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1982-5
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