The Polite and the Plebeian

Michael Zuckerman

in The Oxford Handbook of the American Revolution

Published in print December 2012 | ISBN: 9780199746705
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The Polite and the Plebeian

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  • United States History
  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)



In May 1774, Alexander Hamilton set off from his home in Annapolis and embarked on a journey from Delaware to modern-day Maine. His travels took him to eight very different colonies, and he recorded his impressions of the diverse customs and habits of the people he met in a journal that he called Itinerarium, which offers a glimpse into manners in colonial America and provides an intimate ethnography of social relations during the period. Historians who view the American Revolution as the indispensable determinant of American democracy have failed to see what Hamilton saw. Hamilton found out that men who laid claim to worldly estate were considered genteel, whereas men without wealth were not seen as gentlemen. Historians have argued that the Revolution was a watershed in social as well as in political relations, but Hamilton's Itinerarium shows that democratic manners were prevalent long before the imperial crisis.

Keywords: Alexander Hamilton; American Revolution; colonies; Itinerarium; gentlemen; America; social relations; democracy

Article.  9048 words. 

Subjects: History ; United States History ; Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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