Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson

Columbia Rising: Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson


In Columbia Rising, Bancroft Prize-winning historian John L. Brooke explores the struggle within the young American nation over the extension of social and political rights after the Revolution. By closely examining the formation and interplay of political structures and civil institutions in the upper Hudson Valley, Brooke traces the debates over who should fall within and outside of the legally protected category of citizen. The story of Martin Van Buren threads the narrative, since his views profoundly influenced American understandings of consent and civil society and led to the birth of the American party system. Brooke's analysis of the revolutionary settlement as a dynamic and unstable compromise over the balance of power offers a window onto a local struggle that mirrored the nationwide effort to define American citizenship.


The American revolution may prove the most important step in the progressive course
of human improvement. It is an event which may produce a general diffusion of the
principles of humanity, and become the means of setting free mankind from the shackles
of superstition and tyranny, by leading them to see that “nothing is fundamental but
impartial inquiry, an honest mind, and virtuous practice.… That the members of a civil
community are confederates, not subjects; and their rulers, servants, not masters.—And
that all legitimate government, consists in the dominion of equal laws made with com
mon consent; that is, the dominion of men over themselves; and not the dominion of
communities over communities, or of any men over other men.”

—Richard Price, Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution
(1784), in the Hudson Weekly Gazette, I, no. 1, Apr. 7, 1785.

Aristocratic countries abound in wealthy and influential persons who are competent to
provide for themselves and who cannot be easily or secretly oppressed; such persons re
strain a government within general habits of moderation and reserve. I am well aware
that democratic countries contain no such persons naturally, but something analogous
to them may be created by artificial means. I firmly believe that an aristocracy cannot
again be founded in the world, but I think that private citizens, by combining together,
may constitute bodies of greater wealth, influence, and strength, corresponding to the
persons of an aristocracy.

—Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835; 1838)

On April 7, 1785, printers Charles Webster and Ashbel Stoddard, newly arrived from Hartford at Claverack Landing, a small new settlement on the east bank of the Hudson River south of Albany, published the first issue of the Hudson Weekly Gazette. Two weeks later the Landing would be incorporated as the city of Hudson, and, in the year following, the hinterland to the east would be incorporated as the county of Columbia. As one of two papers published north of New York City, the Gazette would serve as the public print for city, county, and a wide circuit in the mid-Hudson region. Thus Stoddard and Webster took some care in choosing the essay with which to open their new paper. They settled on an excerpt from Richard Price’s introduction to . . .

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