Friday, April 12, 2013

Jeans and Sailors

The Republic Afloat: Law, Honor, and Citizenship in Maritime America by Matthew Taylor Rafferty. Published by University of Chicago Press, 2013.

Not always was the law at sea well known to landlubbers and the general citizenry. In fact the expectation was that a sailor’s fate was in the hands of his captain, not as we normally believe, in a national law or set of statutes. The Republic Afloat examines maritime law as it developed in the fledgling new country of the United States, in the years following the Revolution and prior to the Civil War--the heyday of merchant shipping from U.S. coastal ports. By capitalizing on three themes, law, honor and citizenship, the author brings new insight to the issues facing sailors and their masters.

Struggle for identity under the law was less arduous for officers than for sailors, because as Rafferty notes in his Conclusion:

“The reach of the law turned seamen from wards to citizens, at least in their own eyes…”

The only image in the book is shown below, evidence of certain emblems of culture at the time: sailors “aloft” representing American manhood combined with the denim icon.

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