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6: The Body Politic, 1828-1865

  • Page ID
    • Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts
    • Washington University in St. Louis, University of Rochester, Stanford University and Harvard University

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    DURING THE DECADES from the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency in 1828 until the outbreak of the Civil War (1861), a period known as the antebellum years, the visual arts played an active role in shaping national identity. By "arts," we mean something more than painting and sculpture. We also include the buildings people made; the homes they lived in; the goods they created; and the styles they enjoyed. Art helped people express their values, share their visions, and comment on the issues of the day. Prints and paintings represented scenes of everyday life not necessarily as it was, but as it was imagined. Images in almanacs and newspapers showed readers what people from other regions of the country looked like. Artists created recognizable types and stereotypes; they engaged with politics and contemporary social issues. In an age of extraordinary social transformation-as increasing numbers of Americans were moving from fanµs to cities; as industrialization proceeded at alarming speeds; as new technologies such as the telegraph and the cotton gin and new transportation systems such as the train and steamboat transformed the pace of daily life; as the gap between workers and managers widened; as the numbers of immigrants, especially non-Protestant immigrants, increased dramatically; as the problem of slavery grew intractable; and as regional tensions between North, South, and West intensified-artists sought to bind society's many disparate parts together.

    Thumbnail: JAMES JOHN AUDUBON, The Carolina Parakeet, 1825. Watercolor. New-York Historical Society.

    This page titled 6: The Body Politic, 1828-1865 is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Angela L Miller, Janet Catherine Berlo, Bryan J Wolf, and Jennifer L Roberts.

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