Regulating Passion: Sexual Behavior and Citizenship in Massachusetts, 1740-1820

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2006-11-21

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"Regulating Passion" explores how sexual behavior affected the construction of citizenship and the body politic in Massachusetts between 1740 and 1820. Patriarchal regulation of the sexual behavior of Massachusetts residents facilitated the "sexual management of citizenship," a term used in this dissertation to describe how sexual regulation reinforced subordinate statuses and created a debasing sexual rhetoric regarding Native Indians, African Americans, poor whites, young whites, and white women, and, in turn, denied each group access to citizenship. Elite white men's regulation of sexual behavior constructed their subordinates as dependent, lustful, irrational, and immoral, which limited their ability to make claims to citizenship. Massachusetts residents also used sexual behavior and rhetoric as acts of resistance against and as a tool to enter the hierarchical body politic. This dissertation is based on my analysis of the court records of the General Sessions of the Peace and the Supreme Judicial Court, personal manuscripts, charitable organization records, government records, and church records from Massachusetts. Tracts and newspapers emanating from Massachusetts were also extensively researched.

Part One focuses on the late colonial era and demonstrates how patriarchal sexual regulation assisted in constituting gender, race, and class. Elite white men's prosecution of illicit sexual behavior illustrated their subordinates' inability to fit within the patriarchal New England ideal of marriage and family. The identities created by sexual regulation were linked to the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, which in late colonial America was limited to propertied white men. Part Two explores the role of sexual behavior in the transformation to the republic. Colonists used sexual rhetoric and sexual behavior to distinguish between "virtuous" Americans and the "luxurious" and "debauched" British. White women cleansed their overly sexual reputations by blaming illicit sexual behavior on licentious white men. American Indians, African Americans, and poor whites continued to be hierarchically ordered in the body politic by derisive sexual rhetoric that defined them as dependant and sexually corrupt.

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