Mania for Freedom

American Literatures of Enthusiasm from the Revolution to the Civil War

By John Mac Kilgore

298 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 3 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2972-8
    Published: October 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2971-1
    Published: October 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2973-5
    Published: September 2016

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"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1841. While this statement may read like an innocuous truism today, the claim would have been controversial in the antebellum United States when enthusiasm was a hotly contested term associated with religious fanaticism and poetic inspiration, revolutionary politics and imaginative excess. In analyzing the language of enthusiasm in philosophy, religion, politics, and literature, John Mac Kilgore uncovers a tradition of enthusiasm linked to a politics of emancipation. The dissenting voices chronicled here fought against what they viewed as tyranny while using their writings to forge international or antinationalistic political affiliations.

Pushing his analysis across national boundaries, Kilgore contends that American enthusiastic literature, unlike the era’s concurrent sentimental counterpart, stressed democratic resistance over domestic reform as it navigated the global political sphere. By analyzing a range of canonical American authors--including William Apess, Phillis Wheatley, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Walt Whitman--Kilgore places their works in context with the causes, wars, and revolutions that directly or indirectly engendered them. In doing so, he makes a unique and compelling case for enthusiasm’s centrality in the shaping of American literary history.

About the Author

John Mac Kilgore is assistant professor of English at Florida State University.
For more information about John Mac Kilgore, visit the Author Page.


"Here John Mac Kilgore uncovers and recovers a rich and important rhetorical tradition of 'literatures of enthusiasm' in American literary history, and a powerful means of expressing political dissent for minorities and other marginalized people. He makes a significant addition to a growing field of study."--Nathaniel Cadle, author of The Mediating Nation

"Energetically argued and convincingly researched, Mania for Freedom offers a literary and cultural history of the rhetorical convention of enthusiasm, one that connects the seemingly disparate political and literary writings of dissent into a coherent tradition. In offering an account of enthusiasm’s history, Kilgore fills a void in nineteenth-century literary studies."--Justine S. Murison, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign