chapter  2
12 Pages

Revolutionary Sexualities and Early National Genders (1770s–1840s)

ByRachel Hope Cleves

Historians debate whether American independence inaugurated a sexual revolution. The Revolution’s emphasis on individual liberties may have expanded the boundaries for non-marital and non-heterosexual erotic expression, especially among white youth. However, the construction of the settler-colonial American state likely limited the range of sexual and gender expression for indigenous peoples. In addition, the Revolution strengthened the power of the slave system, which was marked by sexual exploitation of enslaved women and men. By the 1840s, revolutionary sexual potentialities were being foreclosed by a backlash against gender and sexual nonconformity. The sexual revolution, if it took place, was limited in scope and duration.