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Columbia Rising

Civil Life on the Upper Hudson from the Revolution to the Age of Jackson

John L. Brooke

Cloth: 978-0-8078-3323-0 ($55.00)
Paper: 978-1-4696-0973-7 ($29.95)

Copyright 2010
University of North Carolina Press

A Prize-Winning Book

  • Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize, New York State Historical Association (2010)
  • Best Book Prize, Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (2010)
  • Choice Outstanding Academic Title (2011)
  • Herbert H. Lehman Prize for Distinguished Scholarship in New York History, New York Academy of History (2010)

In Columbia Rising, Bancroft Prize-winning historian John Brooke explores the struggle within the young American nation over the extension of social and political rights after the Revolution. By closely examining the formation and interplay of political structures and civil institutions in the upper Hudson Valley, Brooke traces the debates over who should fall within and outside of the legally protected category of citizen.

The story of Martin Van Buren--kingpin of New York's Jacksonian "Regency," president of the United States, and first theoretician of American party politics—threads the narrative, since his views profoundly influenced American understandings of consent and civil society and led to the birth of the American party system.

Brooke masterfully imbues local history with national significance, and his analysis of the revolutionary settlement as a dynamic and unstable compromise over the balance of power offers an ideal window on a local struggle that mirrored the nationwide effort to define American citizenship.

About the Author

John L. Brooke is Humanities Distinguished Professor of History at Ohio State University. He has won the Bancroft Prize for The Refiner's Fire: The Making of Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844.


John Brooke’s Columbia Rising is a tour de force. Consolidating and developing some of the most compelling themes in recent scholarship on the early republic, Brooke brings the ‘public sphere’ down to earth, offering a deeply grounded approach to the study of political culture and history that will transform the field. Columbia Rising is a magnificent achievement.

--Peter S. Onuf, University of Virginia

Brooke’s history of the rise of a post-Revolutionary civil society mobilizes a cast of thousands to illustrate how subjects were transformed into citizens. With amazingly deep research, he includes those outside the borders of formal political participation–women, blacks, slaves, poor tenant farmers–to show how some fostered an autonomous public presence for themselves.

--Patricia Cline Cohen, University of California, Santa Barbara

Must reading for anyone interested in the period. . . . Brooke marshals a daunting array of primary and secondary sources as he explores the forging of citizenship, consent, and deliberation from the contested revolutionary settlement to the rise of political parties. Brooke’s complex argument, always alive to contradiction, nuance, and irony, trumps previous grand narratives of decline or triumphalism. A major new interpretative synthesis, Columbia Rising combines richly textured history with brilliant analysis.

--Ron Formisano, University of Kentucky

In remarkable detail, Brooke mines the archives to balance his portrait between the perspectives of the wealthy landowners . . . and the disenfranchised. . . . Will be valuable to students of history and political theory and others interested in America's early days.

--Library Journal

A welcome contribution to the cultural history of the early American republic.

--Essays In History

A masterful work. . . . Brooke's research is impressive.

--Journal of the North Carolina Association of Historians

This grand work peels back the layers of the troubled and very long 'Revolutionary settlement' in New York's Columbia County. . . . Brooke has made the opaque brilliant and, in the process, highlighted useful interpretive frameworks for scholars of early America. . . . Essential.


Inspiring . . . . Brooke's book will hopefully provide a framework for future scholars to test as they seek to understand the process by which Americans moved from the crisis of Revolution to the establishment of a relatively stable political system.


Through their impeccable scholarship, Levine and Wilson effectively locate Whitfield as a significant figure. . . . A valuable resource for engaging with and rethinking nineteenth-century African American literary thought in order to include James M. Whitfield.

--Resources for American Literary Study

This is a work sure to provoke a reexamination of the early republic's notions of citizenship, consent, and social membership, and the legacy of the American Revolution.

--Journal of American History

Brooke's magisterial command of the lives of a host of characters, some obscure and others not so obscure, makes for compelling reading.

--William and Mary Quarterly