[(essay date summer 2006) In the following essay, Cohoon argues that eighteenth-century children's periodicals sought to guide the evolving sense of American independence among their young readers.]
An article titled "The Glorious Fourth" published in the Youth's Companion on June 29, 1854, describes
a scene in one of the streets of a large city on the Fourth of July; a day which all my readers know is set apart to commemorate the glorious occasion when the Declaration of the Independence of our country was made to all. That day, although many, many years have passed away, is still remembered, and various manifestations of joy are evidenced by the inhabitants of our towns, villages, and cities, upon its yearly return.(37)
This article, like many children's texts published in the 1840s and 1850s, records the "various manifestations" that commemorate independence from England, including the carnivalesque parades and fireworks and other more dangerous pursuits. While the Fourth does not have the titillation of a freak show or the deliberately lowered inhibitions of Mardi Gras, it does have its carnival qualities. The Fourth supposedly celebrates the independence of all citizens of the United States, an independence that embraces the "world turned upside down" qualities of the carnival, but it simultaneously draws lines of belonging and contains revolutionary tendencies within the boundaries of the day itself. Through an examination of representations of Fourth of July celebrations in periodical literature and series books written for children during the 1840s and 1850s, this article suggests that literary Fourths construct "festive" citizenships; these citizenships delineate membership in the nation and also circumscribe the ways in which participation in the Fourth negotiates changes and challenges to citizenship.
Children's civic identity is shaped through repeated cultural rituals that are associated with freedom and independence, and adults rely on the culture surrounding festive scenes to construct citizenship for children. One of the most powerful cultural forms for both adult and child readers during the first half of the nineteenth century was the periodical, and it was this form that helped to promote the development of series books through the serialization of episodes that served as advertisements for the entire texts. While there are other discursive arenas that contain significant records of the cultural significance of the Fourth, this article focuses on periodicals as a particularly productive interpretive site because of the regularized relationship that their form establishes between editors, writers, and readers. Richard Brodhead has described how literary culture in the nineteenth century established a "disciplinary intimacy," which called on child readers to incorporate the lessons and punishments given to fictional characters. In children's periodicals this disciplinary nature is emphasized because editors select content with the child audience in mind ("Sparing the Rod" 70).1 In addition, editors of children's periodicals guide readers' responses more explicitly through inserted commentary and explanation than in periodicals for adults (see Brodhead, "Sparing the Rod"). There are connections between the regularized disciplinary power of the periodical, narratives about national citizenship that participate in the...