Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Virginia D. Anderson

Second Advisor

Matthew Gerber

Third Advisor

Elizabeth A. Fenn

Fourth Advisor

Myles Osborne

Fifth Advisor

Henry Lovejoy

Abstract

What was the relationship between local events, national politics, and transnational ideologies during the Age of Revolution? That is the question at the heart of this analysis of liberty trees during the Age of Revolution. Liberty trees were symbolic trees that were planted, written about, and incorporated into the visual cultures of British North America, France, and Haiti from 1765 until 1860. They were important sites of negotiation that peoples in all three places used to map the contours of the revolutionary Atlantic, contemplate the nature of liberty, and cope with political changes. Yet in each context liberty trees took on different characteristics. In the United States, liberty trees emerged during the American Revolution as symbols of opposition to particular British policies. The advent of the French Revolution, however, led some Americans to reassess the symbols. The alteration in symbolic meaning stemmed from the direction of the French Revolution. In France, liberty trees initially represented a revolution aimed at toppling an absolute monarch and reorganizing France under a constitution. Once it became an experiment in democracy that begot a democratic authoritarian republic, liberty trees came to represent state power and state-sponsored terrorism. While events in France led Americans to reinterpret their liberty trees, peoples of African descent in Saint-Domingue, the French colony that would become Haiti, connected liberty trees with emancipation and formed the trees into inspirational symbols. Therefore, this comparative analysis of shared symbolism explains that liberty trees were singularly malleable symbols that Americans, French people, and Haitians constantly reconceptualized for nearly a century as they all worked to define liberty, construct national identities, and delineate the political and cultural geography of a world in flux.

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