Date of Graduation
Eberly College of Arts and Sciences
This dissertation examines the ways Americans registered concerns about antebellum democratic political culture through their mourning of national leaders. A "eulogizing class" consisting of clergymen, politicians, lawyers, and educators was especially prominent in shaping how contemporaries remembered the dead. As a class, the eulogists were conflicted about democracy and partisanship, and conveyed their concerns through the potentially demagogic form of the eulogy---the practice of glorifying the "great man." Through an examination of eulogies, sermons, and newspaper editorials after the deaths of William Henry Harrison, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster, this dissertation reveals the tensions inherent in the cultural act of eulogy. Eulogists crafted a cultural narrative that promoted republican virtue and antidemocratic ideals and sought to convince their audiences---"the people" in democratic parlance---to reject a highly partisan democratic political culture. And yet, they realized that they could only communicate their antidemocratic beliefs through the means of democratic political culture, and their efforts illuminate how eulogists helped to shape democratic politics in antebellum America. Eulogists nostalgically looked backward to past political events in order to shape conversations about presidential elections and the political controversies of the day. During the secession crisis, Americans continued this trend, mourning the death of the nation by turning nostalgically toward the republican past as they sought the surest way to protect and promote their vision for the nation's future. However, eulogists mourning for the Union also showed greater acceptance of democracy and urged their listeners to act in virtuous ways.
Rizzo, Joseph M., "What Shadows We Pursue: Death, Democracy, and Disunion in Antebellum America" (2015). Graduate Theses, Dissertations, and Problem Reports. 6510.