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Land and FreedomRural Society, Popular Protest, and Party Politics in Antebellum New York$
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Reeve Huston

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780195136005

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195136005.001.0001

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Fast-Fish and the Temple of the Philistines

Fast-Fish and the Temple of the Philistines

(p.175) Chapter 8 Fast-Fish and the Temple of the Philistines
Land and Freedom

Reeve Huston

Oxford University Press

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

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