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Music in the American political experience, 1788-1865

Music is a familiar presence in the story of early American popular politics. But what motivated its political use? And how was its political function understood? To answer these questions I highlight a distinctively conservative strain of American musical thought and action and trace its development from the early national period through to the end of the Civil War. Doing so runs against the grain of an existing literature that typically explains political music in the United States as an inevitable by-product of democratisation. Here I show instead that conservative elites also used music specifically to militate against the dangers of a mass political party system. A string of conservative Americans – from Federalist elites to Whig party politicos, social reformers, and Confederate women – all shared both scepticism of unchecked popular democracy and belief in music's capacity to mitigate its excesses. To their minds, music could inject a sense of propriety and refinement into public life, cast an air of patriotism and respectability over partisan political participation, and harmonise a fractious society in support of elite values. The identification of this trend challenges modern notions of music’s inherently emancipatory or democratising qualities and complicates recent attempts to promote political and patriotic songs as unproblematic entry points into the early American popular mind. It suggests, I argue, that the impetus for music’s political presence in early American political culture was driven as much from above as it was from below, and that elitist ideals were central to the popular practices of American politics.
Date January 2015
CreatorsColeman, W. H.
PublisherUniversity College London (University of London)
Source SetsEthos UK
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation

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