An investigation that shows the impact of manifest destiny and domesticity on women and nonwhite men in nineteenth-century America
American culture was firmly
undergirded by two dominant rhetorics during the nineteenth century: manifest destiny and
domesticity. The first celebrated a divinely ordained spread of democracy, individualism,
capitalism, and civilization throughout the North American continent. The second codified
"natural" differences and duties of American men and women.
While the two rhetorics were
touted as "universal" in their application and appeal, in actuality both assumed
a belief in masculine Anglo-Saxon American superiority. The triumph of the nation could be
accomplished only through the concomitant removal, acculturation, or elimination of
nonwhite peoples and through a careful circumscription of white women. The rhetorics not
only were linked through a virulent ethnocentrism and misogyny but also were connected
through their reliance on the Protestant belief system and on the church itself.
Yet, curiously, despite their
exclusion from the Protestant rhetorics of manifest destiny and domesticity, the
nineteenth century featured a remarkable growth in the conversion of women and nonwhite
men to the Protestant faith. Why did women and nonwhite men seek to join a dominant
religion that in many ways set out to limit and oppress them?
This book responds to that
question by exploring the actual words and rhetorical choices made by some of the most
progressive Protestant white, African-American, and Native American thinkers of the era:
Olaudah Equiano, William Apess, Catharine Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth,
and Amanda Berry Smith. It argues that American Protestantism was both prohibitive and
constitutive, offering its followers an expedient, acceptable but limited means for
assuming social and political power and for forming a mutually empathetic, relational
notion of self while at the same time foreclosing the possibility for more radical roles
and social change.
At Miami University of
Ohio Carolyn A. Haynes is an assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies and director
of Windate Writing Center.