Jeffrey C. Benton
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Respectable and Disreputable describes how Montgomerians spent their increasing leisure time during the four decades preceding the Civil War. Everyday activities included gambling, drinking, sporting, hunting, and voluntary associations — military, literary, self-improvement, fraternal, and civic. The book also includes seasonal activities — religious and national holidays, fairs, balls, horse racing, and summering at mineral springs. Commercial entertainment, which became more prominent in the late antebellum period, included theater, opera, circuses, and minstrel shows. Historian Jeffrey Benton describes not only those everyday, seasonal, and commercial activities, but also shows how antebellum society debated the moral and philosophical questions of how leisure time should be spent. Woven throughout the book are comparisons between Montgomery and other cities and towns in antebellum America. Although the United States may have been increasingly divided economically, on rural-urban experiences, and of course on the issue of slavery, it seems that antebellum Americans — at least those living in or with easy access to urban areas — shared very similar leisure time activities.