Defending a Way of Life

An American Community in the Nineteenth Century

By Michael Cassity

Subjects: American Labor History
Series: SUNY series in American Labor History
Paperback : 9780887068690, 259 pages, May 1989
Hardcover : 9780887068683, 259 pages, May 1989

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Table of contents


Part One Of Dreams and Realities Born

Chapter I: Origins and Purposes

i. Dwellers of the Inland

ii. A Birthright Reclaimed

Chapter II: The Pattern of Community

i. Economy

ii. Polity

iii. Bonds of Mutuality

Chapter III: The Crisis of Change and War

i. Prometheus Bound

ii. A New Society

Part Two The Rising Pattern of Industrial Market Society

Chapter IV: The Engines of Economic Growth

i. Social Discipline

ii. The Juggernaut

Chapter V: God and Mammon: The Birth of East Sedalia

Chapter VI: A Vale of Tears: The Experiences of Change

i. More Than a Machine

ii. Visible Destruction

iii. The Corruption of Eve

iv. Of Faith and Fear

Part Three The Agency of the People

Chapter VII: The Businessmen and the Market

i. The Social Contract

ii. Competition: The Lifeblood of Freedom

iii. The Curse of Consolidation

iv. The Imperative of Autonomy

Chapter VIII: The Community of Workers

i. The Wellsprings of Vigilance

ii. Responsibility: Moral Vision and Social Need

iii. Amity and Equity

iv. The Sources of Discipline

v. Ishmael

Chapter IX: The Agrarian Commonweal

i. Arcadia and the Scourge of Nature

ii. Sowing the Wind

iii. Toward the Cooperative Commonwealth

Chapter X: The Travail of Sisterhood

i. The Ordeal of the Doyennes

ii. The World of Women and the World of the Market

iii. The Redeemers and the Seeds of Feminism

Part Four Conclusion

Chapter XI: A Way of Life Forsaken?

A Note on Historiography




This book profiles an American community in the nineteenth century to show the larger process by which the nation was transformed from a life close to the frontier to that characteristic of industrial capitalism. Michael Cassity considers this economic change from the broader perspective of an historian of the American people, offering insights into its social implications and consequences.

With graceful and moving prose, Cassity focuses on the process of social change, the pains that change generated, and the resistance to it. In the course of this transformation, the author examines the ways in which workers, farmers, businessmen, and women experienced and responded to the rise of a new industrial order.

Michael Cassity teaches history at the University of Wyoming at Casper.


"It is no secret that the field of American social history is presently in a quagmire. While some subspecialties (e.g., women's history) are developing fresh approaches, others (e.g. labor history) are not. Michael Cassity's Defending a Way of Life : An American Community in the Nineteenth Century is a marvelously refreshing attempt to free the field from all these problems and to suggest a new agenda for social historians. The various elements of this book weave together so well that it is hard to pinpoint which features are the most important. The strengths begin with the ambitious goal, to illuminate the human condition, carry through the warm and generous exploration of the many ways that human beings have preserved a sense of pride amid pains caused when external forces have changed their internal lives, and certainly include a style that is insightful, eloquent and impassioned in the best senses." — David Thelen, Editor, The Journal of American History