|Republicanism and Pugilism: The Cultural Significance of Boxing in the Early American Republic
by Joe Eaton,
National Chengchi University, Taiwan, ROC
In my presentation, I deconstruct elite American attitudes towards boxing in the early republic, in particular during the era of the War of 1812. Historians have noted American’s slow adoption to pugilism. As the sports historian Elliott Gorn has noted of the legendary Tom Crib-Tom Molineaux 1810/1811 boxing matches, there was “feeble response in America” and few Americans even knew the American boxer’s (Molineaux) name.
In fact, the subject of pugilism played a culturally significant role within American journals and newspapers in the first decades of the nineteenth century. Although boxing did not become a national sport until the 1840s, American writers were aware of boxing and often found political/cultural symbolism in pugilism. For instance, the Niles’ Weekly Register, America’s national weekly newspaper of the early nineteenth century, made reference to “Ajax and Agamemnon, Cribb [sic] and Molineaux," employing references to the English national sport to differentiate differences between the United States and Britain. Most consequently, American writers did not shy away from positive portrayals of boxing when it suited their political and nationalistic worldviews.
Recent scholarship doubts the success of American efforts to achieve a real independence from the British Empire, instead emphasizing the continuing connections between the United States and the Mother Country. My paper adds to our understanding of how Americans appropriated, and excluded, pugilism, an important aspect of Englishness.