In this paper, I delve into the publications and relic collections of the antiquarians not to understand America’s eighteenth-century past, but rather to illuminate the social and political landscape of the antebellum period that produced this generation of preservationists. With an eye on the rising tensions that define this period, such as sectionalism and nationalism, I explore what political motivations lay behind this early movement to preserve the material culture of the founding generation. I demonstrate that the material lives of the founders—as captured in artifacts, images, and anecdotes—can reveal as much about the generation of Americans who collected and treasured them as it can about the founders themselves. Griswold, Ellet, and their contemporary antiquarians coined the term “Republican Court” in the 1850s to define the political ideals of the past, yet the term has as much to express about the material politics of their era.
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