After the Revolution, Americans abandoned the political economy of self-denial and sacrifice that had secured their independence. In its place, they created one that empowered the modern citizen-consumer. This profound transformation was the uncoordinated and self-serving work of merchants, manufacturers, advertisers, auctioneers, politicians, and consumers themselves, who collectively created the nation's modern consumer economy: one that encouraged individuals to indulge their desires for the sake of the public good and cast the freedom to consume as a triumph of democracy. In Luxurious Citizens, Joanna Cohen traces the remarkable ways in which Americans tied consumer desire to the national interest between the end of the Revolution and the Civil War.
Illuminating the links between political culture, private wants, and imagined economies, Cohen offers a new understanding of the relationship between citizens and the nation-state in nineteenth-century America. By charting the contest over economic rights and obligations in the United States, Luxurious Citizens argues that while many less powerful Americans helped to create the citizen-consumer it was during the Civil War that the Union government made use of this figure, by placing the responsibility for the nation's economic strength and stability on the shoulders of the people. Union victory thus enshrined a new civic duty in American life, one founded on the freedom to buy as you pleased. Reinterpreting the history of the tariff, slavery, and the coming of the Civil War through an examination of everyday acts of consumption and commerce, Cohen reveals the important ways in which nineteenth-century Americans transformed their individual desires for goods into an index of civic worth and fixed unbridled consumption at the heart of modern America's political economy.
Introduction. Imagining the Citizen-Consumer
Chapter 1. Dilemmas of Abundance
Chapter 2. The Marketplace of Retribution
Chapter 3. The Perils of the Public Auction
Chapter 4. Of Tariffs and Taste
Chapter 5. "They Now Advertise Liberally"
Chapter 6. Consumers at War
Epilogue. The Citizen-Consumer and the State of the Nation
“Cohen’s research is expansive, her sources diverse; her writing is clear, her voice and endnotes authoritative. She leaves the reader hoping that a sequel, focusing on the twentieth-century American consumer, is in the works.”—Times Literary Supplement, 29th September 2017
"With [her] marvelous new study, Joanna Cohen [has] demonstrated how the consumer has been a key category in American political culture since the late eighteenth century. . . . [This] highly original and beautifully written and researched book has expanded the vision of the consumer citizen . . . [and] effectively put to bed tired assumptions about the commercialization of politics and the apolitical nature of consumer culture in modern America."—Enterprise & Society
"Luxurious Citizens challenges us to rethink the historical origins of the modern American consumer-citizen. A rich cultural and political history of economic ideas, no other book explains so well how the United States, a country born from a consumer boycott against British luxuries, became a nation in which consumer gratification was a fundamental entitlement of democratic citizenship. Deeply researched, gracefully written, incisively argued, Luxurious Citizens is no less timely."—Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago
"Luxurious Citizens offers a bold new history of American civic culture between the Revolution and the Civil War. Skillfully moving between the learned treatises of political economists and the everyday desires of shoppers, Cohen rethinks enduring questions of capitalism, citizenship, and governance through the crucial lens of consumerism."—Seth Rockman, Brown University
"Cohen provides a new and insightful analysis of America political economy. . . . The cultural history is vibrant and compelling throughout."—The American Historian
"With shimmering vignettes, Cohen's Luxurious Citizens draws us into the contested terrain of the early republic's clamoring eager consumers. And with uncommonly compelling arguments, Cohen guides us through a profoundly original interpretation of the years between Revolution and Civil War."—Cathy Matson, University of Delaware
"Combining a range of sources, including political tracts and speeches, business records and advertisements, and consumers' letters and diaries, Cohen artfully weaves together six chapters to show how Americans came to see shopping as a civic duty rather than a sacrifice."—Journal of Social History
"Luxurious Citizens demonstrates wonderfully how American political culture in the nineteenth century created 'citizen consumers' as an important constituency. With a sophisticated blend of sources from the worlds of culture, policy, and business, Joanna Cohen reexamines familiar political and economic debates to reveal new meanings of consumption in American society."—Ellen Hartigan-O'Connor, University of California, Davis