This article argues for a new model in the analysis of elites during the early nationhood of the United States. To speak of one elite class is as problematic as talking about one working class in the early republic. There was not one elite, but many elites: those that differed by economic or geographic scale, by local or regional interest, by business pursuits, by ethnicity, by religion, by race, and by gender. Elites should be examined on different scales and in different contexts, and through four disparate lenses. First, each elite should be considered through its level of access to various kinds of capital; second, through its ability to invoke or command the power and authority of the state to further its interests; third, through its degree of elite consciousness, as expressed private, publicly, and in dress, deportment, and other modes of elitist behavior; and fourth, through its patterns of public and private actions that reinforce class divisions. Using these criteria, we can better identify elites and consider the extent to which their composition and conduct changed over time. By doing so, scholars of the early American republic may draw a more accurate, complete, and nuanced picture of class, of society at large, and of social change in the early republic.
Journal of the Early Republic – University of Pennsylvania Press