During the American Revolution and into the early republic, Americans fought with one another over the kinds of political expression and activity that independence legitimized.
Liberty poles — tall wooden poles bearing political flags and signs — were a central fixture of the popular debates of the late eighteenth century.
Revolutionaries had raised liberty poles to symbolize their resistance to British rule. In response, supporters of the British crown often tore them down, sparking conflicts with pole-raisers. (You can read about New York City’s liberty poles here.)
In the 1790s, some Americans (liberal minded Democratic-Republicans) revived the practice of raising liberty poles, casting the administrations of George Washington and John Adams (both more conservative Federalists) as monarchists and tyrants.
Echoing the British response, Federalist supporters of the government destroyed the poles, leading to vicious confrontations between the two sides in person, in print, and at the ballot box.
Shira Lurie’s The American Liberty Pole: Popular Politics and the Struggle for Democracy in the Early Republic (University of Virginia Press, 2023) is the first comprehensive study of this revealing phenomenon, highlighting the influence of ordinary citizens on the development of American political culture.
Shira Lurie, Assistant Professor of History at Saint Mary’s University, demonstrates how, in raising and destroying liberty poles, Americans put into practice the types of popular participation they envisioned in the new republic.
Book purchases made through this Amazon link support New York Almanack’s mission to report new publications relevant to New York State.
See more new books HERE.