Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

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Writing Reality: The Master Chord and Wider Views in Antebellum America
by Gardner, Tylar Duane, Ph.D., University of Notre Dame, 2018, 355; 13836175
Abstract (Summary)

Writing Reality engages the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry David Thoreau as a window through which to reconsider the ontological stakes of the deliberative deadlock that led to the Civil War. By 1850, just over sixty years after the signing of the United States Constitution, the fresh and fertile ground turned up by the American Revolution had bloomed into a bog. The passing of the Fugitive Slave Law recharged the crisis of the Constitutional Convention, spectacularly revealing the nation’s precarious footing that a tradition of practical politics had consistently shrouded. While some politicians attempted to continue the nation’s founding protocol of compromising around the principle of unity, others decided that the only way out of the bog was locating a solid foundation—“a higher law than the Constitution” that could provide a transcendent standard from which to regulate national policy. The challenge remained persuading the nation to agree on such an authority.

Comparing Stowe’s attempt to convince the nation to prioritize the “master chord of Christianity” with Thoreau’s push towards “wider views of the universe,” Writing Reality illustrates the range of appeals to a higher law and recasts the antebellum crisis as a conflict over the nature of reality itself. As it maps Stowe and Thoreau’s shared trajectory from committed proponents of nonviolent deliberation to outspoken supporters of John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the dissertation tracks the way ontological commitments ultimately transcended loyalty to the democratic process that sustained the early republic. In narrating Stowe and Thoreau’s struggle to define America’s highest priority, this project illuminates the contingencies and violence involved in forging the nation’s modern values, while interrogating the limits of deliberative democracy and the possibility of peaceful coexistence.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Walls, Laura Dassow
Commitee: Gustafson, Sandra M., Marshall, Kate, Walls, Laura Dassow
School: University of Notre Dame
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Indiana
Source: DAI-A 80/06(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Religion, American studies, American literature
Keywords: Fugitive slave law, Higher law, Realometer, Religion and literature, Stowe, Harriet Beecher, Thoreau, Henry David
Publication Number: 13836175
ISBN: 9780438833081
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