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5 - Credibility

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 March 2022

Kristin A. Olbertson
Affiliation:
Alma College
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Summary

In Massachusetts, the elite solidified their identity and legitimated their claims to rule by linking veracity, and all the social perquisites that entailed, to gentlemanliness and whiteness. Laws against deceptive speech practices, and prosecutions of them, concretized and reinforced cultural associations between gentility and credibility. These prosecutions also had larger political significance. In naming defendants as false speakers, presentments and prosecutions formally defined them as ineligible for participation in a community of shared civil discourse. In perjury prosecutions, this process meant that certain men were much more likely to be believed in institutional and legal contexts, thus endowing them with greater power in those contexts. In false news prosecutions, the process enabled a small coterie to control sanctioned versions of public information. The outrage manifested over mumpers reveals elite anxieties about the strength and resilience of these still-emerging ideologies of truth-telling. But these tricksters and their interventions in polite society nevertheless managed to expose the inherent deceptiveness of the polite ethos itself.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Dreadful Word
Speech Crime and Polite Gentlemen in Massachusetts, 1690–1776
, pp. 181 - 251
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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