State of the Marital Union
Rhetoric, Identity, and Nineteenth-Century Marriage Controversies
223 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: July 2014
State of the Marital Union documents the transformations of public identity occurring in American society through a close examination of the rhetoric used in nineteenth-century marriage controversies. Leslie J. Harris argues that American citizenship is, in part, rhetorically constituted through marriage.
The public debates over seemingly distinct marriage controversies, such as domestic violence, divorce, polygamy, free love, and interracial marriage, functioned as ways of both challenging and solidifying norms of gender, race, class, and ethnicity. Public sentiment operated as a lens for understanding some of the most heated public issues of the time, including slavery, westward expansion, women's rights, and immigration. Harris demonstrates how the private wife became the public woman by contesting legal standing in both the court of law and the court of public opinion.
State of the Marital Union makes the case that marriage is a critical site for constituting and performing ways of being in the American public, which has significant implications for understanding both female roles and the body politic.
Introduction: Marriage and the Nation
1 Abuse, Murder, and Discipline in Marriage
2 Constituting the Divorced Citizen and Saving the Nation
3 Polygamy and the Relics of Barbarism
4 Free Love, Licentiousness, and Civic Identity
5 Miscegenation and the Future of Civilization
Conclusion: State of the (Marital) Union
While the public nature of the allegedly private realm of marriage has been established in the academic literature for some time, Harris’s contribution is the specificity of her work, particularly in her use of rhetorical analysis (blended seamlessly with archival and legal research) to explore various marital controversies and their meanings. This approach allows her to build a persuasive case for the ways in which debates about the institution were especially meaningful from a gendered perspective.~Kristin Celello, Journal of American Studies
State of the Marital Union is an important and timely book, offering subtle comment on our own era by way of its history.~Eric C. Miller, Rhetoric and Public Affairs
A timely and insightful analysis of ‘the public conception of marriage’ in the United States~Darryl W. Stephens, Marginalia
Relying on extensive archival research, this examination of marriage in the US is well written, readable, and timely. It will be valuable to those interested in rhetoric and gender studies.~Choice
Weaving together five nineteenth-century marriage controversies, Leslie J. Harris fastens on the metaphor of slavery to detail the complexity of women’s lives in a matrix of polygamy, divorce, prostitution and adultery, interracial marriage, marital rape, domestic violence, and immigration.~Jane Sutton, Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences, The Pennsylvania State University, York
Carefully argued, grounded in archival research, and packed with historical detail, State of the Marital Union elucidates the complex rhetorical intersections of national identity, sexual morality, familial ideology, and normative notions of race and gender in the discourses accompanying some of the 19th century’s most sensational public controversies.~Bonnie J. Dow, Vanderbilt University, author of Watching Women's Liberation, 1970: Feminism's Pivotal Year on the Network News
State of the Marital Union: Rhetoric, Identity, and Nineteenth-Century Marriage Controversies is a valuable contribution to a body of scholarship in rhetoric, communication, and gender studies. It is a deeply engaging and insightful study of how gender resides among interactions of discourses on race and the nation.~Iklim Goksel, Rhetoric Society Quarterly