In A Nation of Faith and Flesh, Gerard Jones chronicles the first “culture war” in American history, when private morality and religion were politicized as never before—and as they are still being politicized today.
What began with a protest against a ballerina baring her thighs on a New York stage in 1827 snowballed into a national campaign against alcohol, Catholicism, prostitution, and, finally, slavery. Arthur Tappan, a pious merchant who entered the public sphere only to save his city from naughty dancing, found himself almost accidentally leading a sweeping agenda of Christian moral reform. Another group led by the iconoclastic feminist Fanny Wright worked to further their own Utopian vision, one based in science, workers’ rights, and sexual freedom. As Jones brilliantly shows, these two groups became unlikely allies in support of causes as varied as abolitionism, health food, and anti-masturbation, all the while drawing the ire of the ingrained economic and political elite—not to mention cynical newspapermen, prostitutes, and their clients. Believing they had begun a struggle that would end with the Millennium, these reformers instead saw many of their projects end in failure. But in the process they birthed a singular movement that would redefine the nation.
Told with the energy and empathy of the best novels, A Nation of Faith and Flesh plunges readers into the moral crucible that forged many of the alliances, divisions, and social movements that have defined American society to this day.
(Note the use of the Oxford comma even in promotional materials. That’s why I love FSG!)