The American Liberty Pole

Americans put up Liberty Poles to express political beliefs in the period of the Early Republic. These poles were massive, highly decorated, and highly contested. Both Federalists and Anti-Federalists used them to promote their ideas of what the new Republic should reflect in terms of “liberty.” Join us to discuss how different early American political life was compared to the romantic version in the movies! Episode 555.

Buzzkill Bookshelf

Shira Lurie, The American Liberty Pole: Popular Politics and the Struggle for Democracy in the Early Republic

During the American Revolution and into the early republic, Americans fought with one another over the kinds of political expression and activity that independence legitimized. Liberty poles―tall wooden poles bearing political flags and signs―were a central fixture of the popular debates of the late eighteenth century. Revolutionary patriots had raised liberty poles to symbolize their resistance to British rule. In response, redcoats often tore them down, sparking conflicts with patriot pole-raisers.

In the 1790s, grassroots Republicans revived the practice of raising liberty poles, casting the Washington and Adams administrations as monarchists and tyrants. Echoing the British response, Federalist supporters of the government destroyed the poles, leading to vicious confrontations between the two sides in person, in print, and at the ballot box. This elegantly written book is the first comprehensive study of this revealing phenomenon, highlighting the influence of ordinary citizens on the development of American political culture. Shira Lurie demonstrates how, in raising and destroying liberty poles, Americans put into practice the types of popular participation they envisioned in the new republic.

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