Land and Freedom

Land and Freedom : Rural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York

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During the early nineteenth-century, two million acres of New York's farmland were controlled by a handful of great families. Along the Hudson Valley and across the Catskills lay the great estates of the Van Rensselaers, the Livingstons, and a dozen lesser landlords. Some two hundred and sixty thousand men, women, and children-a twelfth of the population of New York, the nation's most populous state-worked this land as tenants. Beginning in 1839, these tenants created a movement dedicated to destroying the estates and distributing the land to those who farmed it. The "anti-rent" movement quickly became one of the most powerful and influential movements of the antebellum era. The anti-renters raised issues that lay at the heart of America's republican experiment: the distribution of land, the nature of democracy, and the meaning of freedom. In doing so, they left an indelible mark on politics and public ideals in both New York and the nation. They influenced and bitterly divided both major political parties, and helped create the Republican party.
Moreover, they shaped the ideas, policies, and careers of such national leaders as Martin Van Buren, Silas Wright, Horace Greeley, and William Seward. Deftly interweaving an engaging narrative history with broad-ranging social and political analysis, Land and Freedom brings to life the voices of antebellum northern farmers as they debated the critical social and political issues of their day. It grounds those debates in a detailed analysis of social and political change on New York's estates, and demonstrates the impact of farmers' ideas and initiatives on the broader social and political order. In doing so, it offers new insights into the social and political thought of northeastern farmers, the extent and limits of popular political power under the Jacksonian political order, and the social origins of free-labor ideology and the Republican party.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 304 pages
  • 158.5 x 240.3 x 22.4mm | 582.25g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New
  • halftones, 3 maps
  • 0195136004
  • 9780195136005

Table of contents

Introduction ; 1. Landlords and Tenants, 1785-1820 ; 2. Toward Crisis, 1819-1840 ; 3. The Fall of the House of Van Rensselaer, 1819-1839 ; 4. Origins of the Anti-Rent Movement, 1839-1844 ; 5. Land and Freedom, 1844-1846 ; 6. The Parties and "The People," 1844-1846 ; 7. "A Right to the Soil" ; 8. Fast Fish and the Temple of the Philistines ; 9. Toward Free Labor ; Statistical Appendix
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Review quote

"Deeply researched and gracefully written, Reeve Huston's Land and Freedom is a subtle and penetrating exploration of one of the most important social movements in antebellum American. Deftly weaving previously unconnected strands of social, economic, intellectual, and political history, Huston's portrait of New York's anti-rent campaign reveals hidden complexities in rural Americans' notions of republican government, market capitalism, and even freedom
itself. An outstanding contribution to nineteenth-century history." -Harry L. Watson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill "Land and Freedom shows the precise detail and the large significance of New York State's nineteenth-century struggles between great landlords and tenant farmers. Reeve Huston does not reduce any of his subjects to formulaic symbols. He demonstrates instead that achieving the tenants' goals was both a major change and a matter of profound historical irony." -Edward Countryman, Southern Methodist University "This is an excellent book, which tells a good story well. Probably the best work for decades on the New York Anti-Renters, it makes a significant broader contribution to our understanding of antebellum society and politics, and deserves wide attention from scholars and students. Huston's account of the Hudson River Valley and the Anti-Rent movement brings together the history of rural society and the history of party politics in an especially forceful and effective
way. Huston achieves something quite striking: he takes a movement that could, on its own terms, be said to have failed, but shows how it was central to the unfolding of American political ideology-in this case, the mid-nineteenth century conflict between slavery and 'free labor.'" -Christopher
Clark, University of Warwick "In a masterful achievement, Reeve Huston restores the Anti-Rent Wars to its vital place in the history of the antebellum north, describing a struggle that even in failure reshaped society and politics in New York, bridging the two worlds of proprietary manors and Free Soil Republicanism. Huston's balanced attention to practice, language, institutions, and the state make Land and Freedom a model of the newest American political history." -John L. Brooke,
Tufts University "Reeve Huston's Land and Freedom is the most exciting and original book on the social history of Jacksonian-era politics that I have read in many years. Not only does the book retell the fascinating story of New York's Anti-Rent Wars; it connects the riots and revels to the history of mainstream (and not-so-mainstream) politics in persuasive and provocative ways. It has all the markings of a classic piece of scholarship." -Sean Wilentz, Princeton
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About Reeve Huston

Reeve Huston is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
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