The Antebellum American Textbook Authors' Populist History of Roman Land Reform and the Gracchi Brothers

in Journal of Educational Media, Memory, and Society
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  • 1 University of Louisville ecmcin02@louisville.edu
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This essay explores social and political values conveyed by nineteenth century world and universal history textbooks in relation to the antebellum era. These textbooks focused on the histories of ancient Greece and Rome rather than on histories of the United States. I argue that after 1830 these textbooks reinforced both the US land reform and the antislavery movement by creating favorable depictions of Tiberius and Caius Gracchus. Tiberius and Caius Gracchus (known as the “Gracchi”) were two Roman tribunes who sought to restore Rome's land laws, which granted public land to propertyless citizens despite opposition from other Roman aristocrats. The textbook authors' portrayal of the Gracchan reforms reflects a populist element in antebellum American education because these narratives suggest that there is a connection between social inequality and the decline of republicanism.