Why did it spread in the 1830s?
It's not really a coincidence that T. D. Rice and the so-called Ethiopian delineators got going in the early 1830s. That's precisely when issues around slavery and abolition begin to heat up -- not at the center of American politics but certainly as its margins and increasingly moving towards the center. In 1831 there's the Nat Turner rebellion. In 1831 William Lloyd Garrison begins his newspaper, The Liberator, in Boston, proclaiming the cause of immediate abolition. By the middle of the 1830s there are tense riots directed against abolitionists in the North and in the South.
These elements of culture, songs, stories, jokes, toasts, all of these kind of things which once before had only really been very localized, through transportation and through new kinds of printing technologies and new methods of diffusing all kinds of cultural products, come to be portable. So this industry grows during the nineteenth century and eventually becomes the entertainment industry that we know today, which is very complex. It's at the very earliest moments where Americans are beginning to define who they are distinctively apart from the rest of the world, particularly apart from western Europe, where many American ancestors had come from.
I think that as an industrial order arises and then clamps down in the 1830s and 1840s in America, it is not countenanced anymore that when you're in the shop, one person reads to the other workers from the newspaper while they work. Rather, it's more and more standardized, it's more and more routinized. You can't drink at work anymore. There's a general, sort of clamped-down cleanup going on. [The blackface minstrel show] was a place of incredible release from all that.
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