Fast-Fish and the Temple of the Philistines

Reeve Huston

in Land and Freedom

Published in print October 2000 | ISBN: 9780195136005
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848782 | DOI:
Fast-Fish and the Temple of the Philistines

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This chapter begins with a passage from Herman Melville, published in 1851, which offers a painful insight into the politics and economy of his era. Regarding property in human beings, the law of fast-fish was inviolable. Nor was Melville referring only to slavery. Between 1847 and the publication of Moby Dick, anti-renters learned with dramatic finality the limits to popular power under the second-party system. Melville's passage contained not just a description, but also a portent of change: like the Temple of the Philistines, a structure with only two props cannot stand. It was not the law that was at risk, however, but the party system through which lawmakers were chosen and organized. It doubtless referred to the slavery controversy, but perhaps not to that alone. New York's anti-renters and landlords helped undermine the stability of the second-party system and assisted in laying the groundwork for a new political order.

Keywords: Herman Melville; politics; economy; fast-fish; slavery; Moby Dick; anti-renters; second-party system; Temple of Philistines; New York

Chapter.  9763 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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