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

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University of California Press, Jun 16, 1997 - History - 394 pages
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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.

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CIVIC WARS: Democracy and Public Life in the American City During the Nineteenth Century

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

Bancroft Prizewinning historian Ryan finds the roots of American democracy at its best in the public passions of New York City, New Orleans, and San Francisco, circa 182580. Ryan (Univ. of Calif ... Read full review


From Public Realm to Civic Warfare
Peoples Places
The Performance of People in Association
Public Meetings and the Principles of Pure Democracy
Civil Wars in the Cities
The Vague and Vast Harmony of People in Space
The People in Ceremony Multiply Divide Explode Transcend
Publicity and Democratic Practice

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Page 8 - Thus the most democratic country on the face of the earth is that in which men have in our time carried to the highest perfection the art of pursuing in common the object of their common desires, and have applied this new science to the greatest number of purposes.
Page 6 - the public sphere" we mean first of all a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body.
Page 6 - We take then our point of departure from the objective fact that human acts have consequences upon others, that some of these consequences are perceived, and that their perception leads to subsequent effort to control action so as to secure some consequences and avoid others.
Page 9 - Everything is in motion around you ; here, the people of one quarter of a town are met to decide upon the building of a church ; there, the election of a representative is going on ; a little...
Page 8 - This ceaseless agitation which democratic government has introduced into the political world, influences all social intercourse. I am not sure that upon the whole this is not the greatest advantage of democracy; and I am much less inclined to applaud it for what it does than for what it causes to be done.

About the author (1997)

Mary P. Ryan is Professor of History and Women's Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Cradle of the Middle Class: The Family in Oneida County, New York, 1790-1865 (1981; winner of the Bancroft Prize) and Women in Public: Between Banners and Ballots, 1825-1880 (1990).

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