Political Appropriations and the Construction of the Jefferson Icon in the United States Congress, 1934-1943


  • Caroline Heller




Jeffersonianism, Socialist Liberals, iconicity, practical Christianity, appropriation, discourse analysis


This essay analyses the rhetorical appropriation of Thomas Jefferson by diverse Congressmen between 1934 and 1943. The critical discourse analysis reveals how the consensual and dissentaneous interpretations and appropriations of Jefferson contributed to the construction of the “free-floating“ Jefferson icon. I explain why depictions and appropriations of Jefferson as humanitarian, (Christian) radical, and Socialist became the saving grace during the years of social and economic crisis.

Author Biography

Caroline Heller

I enrolled at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz in 2006 and first pursued a major in American Studies and Book Science. In 2008, I changed my Book Science major into a minor and took up British Studies. In the same year, I went abroad as a German teaching assistant at Middlebury College, Vermont, and continued my American Studies there under Matthew Dickinson (Political Science), Deborah Evans (American Studies), and Amy Morsman (U.S. History). Up to then my research interests lay on the second half of the nineteenth century, and in particular on American realism, the American Civil War, and the Fireside Poets. During my year abroad (2008/2009) at Middlebury, I explored the field of political science in the course The American Presidency. I also became interested in the literature of the American South. On my return to the University of Mainz for the winter semester of 2009/2010, I investigated the construction of American identity through the centuries and developed an interest in the pastoral tradition through the study of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale“. I was able to combine and further follow up most of these research interests in my Master’s thesis: “Robert Penn Warren as Cultural Critic“ (1.0), for which I was supervised by Prof. Winfried Herget.


In my thesis, I concluded that Warren’s opinions on the social, political, and cultural developments in America, as expressed in his many articles and novels, can only be understood by considering his appropriation of Thomas Jefferson’s principles. By integrating both Robert Penn Warren and Thomas Jefferson, my dissertation topic evolved into “We Are All Jeffersonians Now“: The Construction of the Thomas Jefferson Icon in Twentieth-Century America“. After my graduation in American Studies (1.0), British Studies (1.0), and Book Science (1.0) in May 2012, I started the dissertation on 1 September 2012 and received a scholarship from the Cusanuswerk foundation in January 2013. The doctoral advisor is Professor Winfried Herget.




How to Cite

Heller, Caroline. “Political Appropriations and the Construction of the Jefferson Icon in the United States Congress, 1934-1943”. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 15, no. 1, June 2014, doi:10.5283/copas.183.




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