Beecher confronts head-on the problem in all injunctions to virtue: that the picture they paint of vice is more compelling and attractive than the staid, dutiful path of righteousness. In towns and cities, the young man continually comes into contact with “a very flash class of men,” “swol[le]n,” or puffed up clerks, “crack sportsmen, epicures, and rich, green youth.” His vivid experiences at the theatre, the circus, and the race track cause him to loathe “industry and didactic reading.” Beecher combats this threat by offering a point of anchorage for market culture’s unmoored subjectivity. In the floating world of antebellum capitalism, reality is one densely woven veil of illusion: speculative schemes, fictitious capital, paper promises, counterfeit notes. The young man treads his perilous way amid a “mimic glow,” a painted Paradise. The devilish serpent in this garden of illusory delights is the Tempter, the “dangerous m[a]n” who lies in wait to snare the young man “by lying, by slander, by over-reaching and plundering him.” The commercial world is one in which copies proliferate: the young man, seeing the brilliant wit, is “smitten with the itch of imitation,” driven to emulate “the smooth smile, the roguish twinkle, the sly look.”


Welcome to Commonplace, a destination for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit less formal than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Commonplace speaks—and listens—to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900. It is for all sorts of people to read about all sorts of things relating to early American life—from architecture to literature, from politics to parlor manners. It’s a place to find insightful analysis of early American history as it is discussed in scholarly literature, as it manifests on the evening news, as it is curated in museums, big and small; as it is performed in documentary and dramatic films and as it shows up in everyday life.

In addition to critical evaluations of books and websites (Reviews) and poetic research and fiction (Creative Writing), our articles explore material and visual culture (Objects); pedagogy, the writing of literary scholarship, and the historian’s craft (Teach); and diverse aspects of America’s past and its many peoples (Learn). For more great content, check out our other projects, (Just Teach One) and (Just Teach One African American Print).


How to cite Commonplace articles:

Author, “Title of Article,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, date accessed, URL.

Sophie White, “Trading Looks Race, Religion and Dress in French America,” Commonplace: the journal of early American life, accessed September 30, 2019, https://commonplace.online/article/trading-looks-race-religion-dress-french-america/


Joshua R. Greenberg, editor


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