Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century

Civic Wars: Democracy and Public Life in the American City during the Nineteenth Century

University of California Press
9780520216600
0520216601
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Book Description

Mary P. Ryan traces the fate of public life and the emergence of ethnic, class, and gender conflict in the nineteenth-century city in this ambitious retelling of a key period of American political and social history. Basing her analysis on three quite different cities—New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco—Ryan illustrates how city spaces were used, understood, and fought over by a dazzling variety of social groups and political forces. She finds that the democratic exuberance America enjoyed in the 1820s and 1840s was irrevocably damaged by the Civil War. Civic life rebounded after the War but was, in Ryan's words, "less public, less democratic, and more visibly scarred by racial bigotry."

Ryan's analysis is played out on three different levels—the spatial, the ceremonial, and the political. As she follows the decline of informal democracy from the age of Jackson to the heyday of industrial capitalism, she finds the roots of America's resilient democratic culture in the vigorous, often belligerent urban conflicts that found expression in the social movements, riots, celebrations, and other events that punctuated daily life in these urban centers. With its insightful comparisons, meticulous research, and graceful narrative, this study illustrates the ways in which American cities of the nineteenth century were as full of cultural differences and as fractured by social and economic changes as any metropolis today.