Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy: Liberty and Power in the Early American Republic

Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy: Liberty and Power in the Early American Republic

Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy: Liberty and Power in the Early American Republic

Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy: Liberty and Power in the Early American Republic

Synopsis

"This work will take its place among the growing corpus of important studies that examine patriarchy and society's need to punish its criminals in ways it paradoxically deemed more enlightened and humanitarian than in times past. Kahn uses substantial primary and secondary material.... Recommended." - Choice

Punishment, Prisons, and Patriarchy tells the story of how first-generation Americans coupled their legacy of liberty with a penal philosophy that promoted patriarchy, especially for marginal Americans. American patriots fought a revolution in the name of liberty. Their victory celebrations barely ended before leaders expressed fears that immigrants, African Americans, women, and the lower classes were prone to vice, disorder, and crime.This spurred a generation of penal reformers to promote successfully the most systematic institution ever devised for stripping people of liberty: the penitentiary. Today, Americans laud liberty but few citizens contest the legitimacy of federal, state, and local government authority to incarcerate 2 million people and subject another 4.7 million probationers and parolees to scrutiny, surveillance, and supervision. How did classical liberalism aid in the development of such expansive penal practices in the wake of the War of Independence?

Excerpt

American patriots fought a revolution in the name of liberty. Their victory celebrations barely ended before civic leaders expressed fears that people would abuse liberty and foment disorder. These fears gave rise to a new penal philosophy that promised to secure order by denying liberty to many marginal Americans. Reformers recommended long-term incarceration in penitentiaries as the primary deterrent and punishment for deviance, vice, and crime. Their success in legitimizing penitentiary punishment demonstrated that patriarchal political power could be perpetuated in a liberal society.

Liberty over Patriarchy?

The American Revolution elevated liberty over patriarchy. Patriots affirmed the liberal notion that free individuals were the best judges of their own good and could be obliged to obey political authority only by their own consent. the belief that a monarch or any other political father figure could be trusted to govern for the good of the people was subjected to relentless criticism. Patriarchy—the idea that one or more men should govern other men, all women, and inferior races—became permanently suspect.

Patriots' deep desire for liberty over patriarchy persisted among the heirs of the Revolution. Women claimed more authority within families, gained greater access to education, and assumed a larger role in monitoring civic morals. Young men left parental homes, migrated to cities, and pioneered frontiers. They sought upward mobility, tested careers open to talent, and introduced innovations into the nation's economy. Abolition in the North, voluntary emancipation in the Upper South, and slave escapes everywhere enlarged the ranks of free blacks. Jeffersonian ideology . . .

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