This introductory chapter explains the theme of this volume, which is about class formation in America during the early industrial period. This book tries to show that the cultural arena provided opportunities for antebellum Americans to make sense of and give order to the profound social changes that were underway. It considers class formation more in terms of how power is wielded than in terms of how power is resisted and attempts to account for the relative success of the middle class in consolidating its social and cultural authority by considering how classes formed discursively at the same time that they formed socially. It argues that antebellum Americans constructed a class society in a broad popular discourse on mechanization that flourished in the newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets of the day.
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