The Killers is a tale of gang violence, revenge, kidnapping, racial and ethnic conflict, international intrigue, and working-class triumph. Based on the real-life events of a Philadelphia race riot, this long-out-of-print sensational novella showcases the political and literary interests of its author, bestselling novelist George Lippard.
2014 | 256 pages | Cloth $45.00 | Paper $22.50
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Table of Contents
Note on the Text
The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia, by a Member of the Philadelphia Bar
Appendix 1. Life and Adventures of Charles Anderson Chester
Appendix 2. Introduction to the Serialized Version of The Killers
Appendix 3. Related Contemporary Documents
Equal parts crime novella and city mystery, The Killers: A Narrative of Real Life in Philadelphia showcases the wide-ranging political interests and formal innovations of its author, Philadelphia writer, labor activist, and reformer George Lippard. Over the course of a short but prolific career, Lippard (1822-54) published his own weekly paper, the Quaker City, and authored more than twenty novels, including his most famous, the wildly popular The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall (1844-45), a lurid exposé of Philadelphia political corruption. "The critics never can accuse him of laziness—that is certain," remarked his earliest biographer in 1855. The Quaker City was the best-selling U.S. novel before Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, and it helped make Lippard a major literary figure. Little known today, in the 1840s, Lippard was read more widely than either Edgar Allan Poe (who happened to be a close acquaintance) or Nathaniel Hawthorne. The Killers offers a compact portrait of Lippard's narrative obsessions, his formal innovations, and his political commitments. It is spun around tales of gang violence, corrupt bankers, and inner-city racial tensions, and it resonates today no less for its foreshadowings of the Occupy Wall Street movement, transnational gang warfare, and black market economies than for its valuable insights into key topics in American literary and cultural studies. It refracts histories of American race relations, the politics of immigration and labor conflict, the United States as empire, transnational political and literary economies, and ephemeral popular literary forms like the city mystery and sensational pamphlet novel, directed toward a largely working-class readership.
Cheap popular print though it was in its day, only a few copies of The Killers are known to survive. After a brief description of Lippard's life and career, this introduction will offer cultural and historical background for reading The Killers, including a brief account of what is known about its publication history.
The fourth of six children, Lippard was born on a farm near Yellow Springs, Chester County, Pennsylvania, in 1822. When he was two years old, the family sold the farm and moved to Germantown in northwest Philadelphia. Lippard had a hard childhood. Frequently ill, his parents eventually became physically incapable of working, and relatives raised him and his siblings. He lived with a grandfather and two maiden aunts who, facing increasingly straitened circumstances, were forced to sell off the family property piecemeal. Lippard moved to Philadelphia proper after the death of his mother in 1831. As a teenager, Lippard was intended for training in the ministry, but dropped out of a Methodist seminary at age fifteen. His father died soon thereafter and left his son with no legacy. Lippard, quickly falling out of good relations with the aunts who had charge of him, found himself more or less homeless in the middle of one of the worst economic collapses in the United States' history, in the wake of the Panic of 1837. Lippard found employment as an assistant in law offices, but the position paid little, and he quickly became disillusioned.
In 1840, Lippard turned to fiction, beginning his first long romance, The Ladye Annabel; or, The Doom of the Poisoner, which he would complete two years later. He got his start in the literary marketplace with a penny newspaper in Philadelphia, the Spirit of the Times, where he worked as a copy editor and city news reporter. During this time, Lippard presumably met Poe, who worked across the street in the offices of Graham's Magazine and with whom he forged a literary friendship. Lippard began to make a name for himself with satirical columns; writing later for a paper called the Citizen Soldier, he wrote a literary-critical column called "The Spermaceti Papers" that furthered his fame. In 1847, as his popularity and success grew, Lippard married Rose Newman in an unconventional moonlit ceremony that took place overlooking the Wissahickon in Germantown. Family tragedy, however, continued to haunt Lippard, who later suffered the loss of his beloved wife and two children to tuberculosis. "Death has been busy with my home," mourns Lippard's prologue to New York: Its Upper Ten and Lower Million (1853), "death hath indeed laid my house desolate."
Between 1842 and 1852, the literary historian David Reynolds estimates, Lippard published an average of a million words yearly in the form of sensational fiction, historical romances, public lectures, and critical essays. "In a day when Thoreau's social criticism went virtually unnoticed," Reynolds writes, "Lippard's took the nation by storm, provoking constant controversy and causing unprecedented sales of his fiction." He hit his stride in 1844-45 with The Quaker City; or, The Monks of Monk Hall, which is thought to have sold sixty thousand copies within its first year in print. With the success of The Quaker City, Lippard became the leading figure of a new popular genre: the inexpensive serial sensation novel, which drew upon, while revolutionizing, the reporting of current events in U.S. cities. In the 1830s, the advent of modern printing technologies facilitated the establishment of penny press newspapers in all major U.S. cities, and sensational journalism, with its lurid accounts of crime, blackmail, and scandal, became a popular form of entertainment. Lippard had begun The Quaker City as a seduction narrative, yet as its didacticism evolved, he "determined to write a book which should describe all the phases of a corrupt social system, as manifested in the city of Philadelphia" (2). In fictions like The Quaker City and The Killers, Lippard built a socialist critique of urban society through sensational depictions of city life that, while they used gothic elements popularized by the likes of Poe, prioritized arguments on behalf of the working class over aesthetic concerns. And while a writer for the masses, Lippard also distinguished his writing from the amoral sensationalism of the penny press, to which his writings were often compared.
Lippard embraced an ardent democratic politics and protested the betrayal of the Founding Fathers' republican ideals in nightmarish visions of nineteenth-century America ruined by capitalist exploitation, religious hypocrisy, and class divisions. In city mysteries like The Killers, Lippard exposed all manner of social inequities through highly charged "flights of the subversive imagination, and freely drawing on the irrational and grotesque" after the style of his much-admired predecessor, the Philadelphia novelist Charles Brockden Brown, to whom he dedicated The Quaker City. At the same time, Lippard lashed out against the urban literary establishment, satirizing the vogue in feminized sentimental fiction while advocating a politicized national literature that aligned him with Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. Lippard's works pervaded the antebellum literary scene; from Whitman's early short fiction such as "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" (1844), to the powerful but flawed reformer Hollingsworth in Hawthorne's The Blithedale Romance (1852), to Melville's depiction of city life in his novels Redburn: His First Voyage (1849) and Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852), the themes, stances, and stylistics of Lippard and his fellow city-mysteries storytellers can be found influencing U.S. writers across the canonical spectrum. Indeed, Lippard's vigorous attacks on literary sentimentalism and the hypocritical paternalism of middle-class reformism that he associated it with would find their counterpart in postbellum America in the subversive humor of Mark Twain.
Lippard's moral stance was premised on a profound Christian faith, which, together with a resilient Jeffersonianism, underwrote much of his reform activity and writing. Lippard argued, for example, for land reform and free homesteading; against slavery, but with emancipation premised on land reform to prevent capitalistic devaluation of labor; and for labor unionization. Many of his other platforms—banking and prison reforms, for example—may be found articulated in The Killers. Lippard's founding of the Brotherhood of the Union, a national network of trade unions, is a good example of this vision. In his Quaker City story paper, Lippard began promoting the Brotherhood of the Union and serialized the tale that would become The Killers. The popular if short-lived Quaker City realized Lippard's dream of founding his own newspaper and advancing social reform through popular literature unmediated by editorial intermeddling. Based in local cooperatives, the Brotherhood of the Union envisioned labor unity across race, sex, religion, and trades. A national union, it nonetheless drew on both the rhetoric and the emotional disappointments (for socialists like Lippard) of the failed European revolutions of 1848. The Brotherhood was a secret society, sustained by, in Reynolds's words, "a quasi-religious and patriotic ritual that would remind workers that they were members of a larger Brotherhood of Toil founded by Jesus and fought for by George Washington." Four years from its founding, the Brotherhood could boast local circles in twenty-four states across the union. "The War of Labor—waged with pen or sword," Lippard once wrote, "is a Holy War!" While tuberculosis would end that war for Lippard at the early age of thirty-one, the Brotherhood persisted; the same may increasingly be said for Lippard's writing.
In one sense, The Killers is a classic tale of the Philadelphia in which Lippard grew up, a city viewed by residents and observers alike as a "laboratory for a social experiment with international consequences," in the words of literary critic Samuel Otter. Here, the short story format favored by Poe forced Lippard to craft a more tightly plotted tale than he had in the digressive The Quaker City, resulting in a more unified narrative effect. Lippard's story begins in the (not so) hallowed halls of academic learning, at Yale College in the summer of 1846, at the onset of the Mexican-American War. But the plot quickly recenters in the landmarks of antebellum Philadelphia, taking the reader through the solitary cells of the controversial modern marvel of prison reform Eastern State Penitentiary, to the print shops made famous by Benjamin Franklin, and South Philadelphia's historic free African American community, whose denizens later provided the materials for W. E. B. Du Bois's pathbreaking sociological study The Philadelphia Negro (1899).
The Killers is a ninety-page sensational fiction based on the real-life events surrounding an infamous 1849 Philadelphia race riot. It is a tale of revenge, murder, gang violence, racial and ethnic conflict, international conspiracy, urban mystery, and, ultimately, working-class triumph. Fast-paced and wide-ranging, the story revolves around a corrupt Quaker-born Philadelphia merchant and banker, Jacob D. Z. Hicks, whose participation in the illicit international slave trade—banned in the United States as of 1808, but carried on by smugglers through the Civil War—begins a series of events culminating, in Lippard's fictionalization, in the California House Riot on election night, 1849. Hicks's abandoned biological son Elijah teams up with his disowned half-brother Cromwell to get revenge on their father, fueled by the money and secret rage of a Cuban émigré, Don Jorge Marin, whose father had been abandoned to his death by Hicks during a failed slave-trading voyage. This revenge plot intertwines with the story of Elijah's fictive kin sister, Kate Watson. Abandoned by his birth mother, Elijah has been raised as brother to Kate, the beautiful factory girl turned actress, whom Hicks attempts to abduct for nefarious purposes. In Lippard's fiction, wealthy villains like Hicks—representatives of the exploitative financial establishment—are also the monstrous seducers of female virtue, and by extension, the republican virtue of the young nation. Like Hicks, Gustavus Lorrimer and Byrnewood Arlington, the immoral antagonists of The Quaker City, are Philadelphia merchants, and their seductions of two innocent women also drive the novel's convoluted revenge plot. In The Killers, Cromwell is killed by Black Andy, an African American grogshop owner hired by Hicks to kidnap Kate, while the gang that Cromwell leads, the Killers, burns down the bar. Don Jorge, meanwhile, attempts to steal Hicks's hidden money and is killed by a booby-trapped document box. Elijah witnesses the event and makes off with the money and a "merchant's Ledger," implicating "some four or five respectable houses in the profitable transactions of the African Slave Trade." Kate, saved from the burning bar by Black Andy before his own demise, joins Elijah; the two successfully blackmail the corrupt Philadelphia merchants and head to Central America to a new life.
The Killers is linked in important ways to contemporaneous U.S. literature, and it takes an important place in the international development of the literary gothic. Lippard drew on urban gothic conventions made popular in Europe and the Americas by French writer Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of Paris (1842-43), the most popular of the French romans-feuilletons (newspaper serial novels) and the rise of the "penny dreadful," the cheaply printed lurid British serial novels that began in the 1830s. Dubbed the American Sue, Lippard was often compared to the French writer who set his popular novel in the equally torturous back alleys and seedy groggeries of the Parisian underworld. These European and American sensational traditions developed in reciprocal relation, although The Killers was published years before the English writer Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White (1859-60), which is often cited as commencing the British variant of the genre. In The Killers, Lippard drew upon the tabloid-like stories of murder and intrigue featured in the recently established New York National Police Gazette and the lurid pamphlet publications that it helped popularize, such as Life and Adventures of the Accomplished Forger and Swindler, Colonel Monroe Edwards (1848), chronicling the exploits of an infamous confidence man who smuggled slaves into Brazil, Cuba, and Texas (thought to have inspired Herman Melville's 1857 The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade). The characterization of the sympathetic hero Elijah Watson, imprisoned for the crime of attempting to pass a counterfeit bill at one of Hicks's banks, also calls upon the compelling criminal types popularized by the British Newgate novel, which Lippard admired, particularly William Harrison Ainsworth's Rookwood (1834) and Jack Sheppard (1839).
In this working-class hero, Lippard develops a powerful critique of the dehumanizing effects of solitary confinement in the experimental prison system pioneered by Philadelphia's famous Eastern State Penitentiary (also known as "Cherry Hill"). At the time, Eastern State, with its radial architectural design, was one of the largest, most expensive structures in the United States. It transformed Philadelphia into a world center for penal reform and a popular tourist destination on this account. On his well-publicized tour of North America, British novelist Charles Dickens expressed a keen desire to visit "the falls of Niagara and your Penitentiary," the latter of which he later denounced in American Notes (1842). Motivated by the rehabilitative value of incarceration, advocates of Eastern State's "separate system" (or the "Pennsylvania system") viewed solitary confinement as the pathway to penitence, for it prevented the influences of bad association endemic to overcrowded city prisons while allowing inmates solitude to meditate on the error of their ways. New York developed a rival program known as the "Auburn system," which housed prisoners in small, multitiered interior cells with communal workshops and mess halls. Unlike the costly Eastern State, the Auburn system achieved economic self-sufficiency through a rigorously enforced regimen of silent labor, typically lasting eleven hours a day. Eastern State partisans, however, fiercely resisted reform and developments occurring elsewhere even as critics like Dickens and Lippard, who condemned solitary confinement as mental torture, began undermining public confidence in the system.
Watson's life after his release from Eastern State (where The Quaker City's notorious evil character Devil-Bug once served as executioner) bears much in common with that of Clifford, the "wasted, gray, and melancholy figure" from Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Like Elijah, Clifford suffers a long solitary penitentiary confinement that turns him into a "material ghost"—indeed, the embodiment of the "carceral gothic," in Caleb Smith's words—unable to readjust to domestic life once released. "Solitary Confinement is a murder of Body and Soul," proclaims Lippard's The Killers, "It is the cruelty of the most barbarous age, sharpened and refined by the light and civilization of the nineteenth century." This critique of solitary confinement might also be read as a transatlantic rebuttal to Sue's argument for the humanizing reform of the prison system in The Mysteries of Paris, which charts, among other things, the vicissitudes of two orphaned Parisian girls, La Goualeuse and Rigolette, imprisoned for vagrancy. For Rigolette, imprisonment serves as a pathway to working-class bourgeoisification, for it transforms her into a resourceful and skilled seamstress. The pleasuring-loving and improvident La Goualeuse also finds a blissful sanctuary in prison, only to fall victim to urban prostitution upon her release. Unlike Sue's romanticized grisettes (working women), Lippard's Elijah is an honest shoemaker pushed to criminal activities to survive. The events that follow his release—his failed effort to begin anew as a compositor at a print shop, his humiliating public dismissal as a former convict, and his desperate bid to join the Killers in a filibustering expedition to Cuba—offer a profound critique of the justice system and state authority couched in the melodramatic plot of filial estrangement and resistance against paternal authority. Lippard's preference for haunted and morally ambivalent protagonists such as Elijah Watson in The Killers also aligns his fiction with other outcast antiheroes from the American Renaissance, from Melville's Bartleby, Ishmael, and Queequeg to Hawthorne's Miles Coverdale and Arthur Dimmesdale. In this fashion, The Killers weaves together other important formal strains from antebellum U.S. literature: it draws on the reform tradition (albeit shorn of the middle-class respectability associated with it) of antislavery, antigallows, and temperance novels (such as Whitman's Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate of 1842) and labor papers; anticipates Philadelphia-centric novels such as Frank J. Webb's 1857 The Garies and Their Friends; and may be regarded as a precursor to Martin R. Delany's Blake; or, The Huts of America (1859-62) in its depiction of the Cuban slave trade.
The exact composition history of the novella is not known. The story first appeared as a serial, titled The Killers, over five weeks, starting at the beginning of December 1849. It was the last of five new serialized novellas published in the weekly paper Quaker City, of which Lippard was the editor. Very soon after, also anonymously, the pamphlet version, Life and Adventures of Charles Anderson Chester, appeared, with a fake publisher listed on the title page, almost certainly published at the expense of Lippard or his partner Joseph Severns. Chester was advertised as an "account," rather than a novella: "This work is no fiction, it is a true history from real life." It seems likely that both the long and the short versions of the text were being prepared for publication at the same time, though they read very differently. The Killers was later reprinted with that title in book form (authored "by a member of the Philadelphia Bar," without copyright statement, and again claiming an apocryphal publisher), and as The Bank Director's Son with Lippard's name, in 1851.
Such a publishing path was not uncommon at the time for a sensational story based on current events. Printing the same tale in different formats and selling it at different prices reached a wider audience (and quickly), balanced investment, and was more likely to fulfill Lippard's desires of reaching working-class readers as well as wealthier audiences. The Quaker City, for example, had been published in parts, with some parts labeled as a "sequel," and then all parts combined to make a single title, sold first as a one-volume work and then in two volumes. Keeping his name and an identifiable publisher off of the title pages of the various versions of The Killers until 1851 might have been a bid to make the story seem less biased, as Lippard by this point in his career was famous for his involvement in labor politics and other radical endeavors. But it might just have easily been a function of the fact that Lippard was more or less bankrupt in late 1849, and in debt to his partner, Severns, who controlled his literary output as a result. Or, as in the case of The Quaker City, anonymity might have been designed to avoid prosecution for salacious or slanderous content—or merely a way of attracting readers by implying that the tale was sufficiently scandal-worthy to require anonymity. The only known subsequent reprinting of the story happened in the 1960s, when a small press in Kentucky published Charles Anderson Chester as a children's story. Very few copies of the four original versions are known to exist. Our edition is based on the book version of The Killers, which features few variants from both the serial version and The Bank Director's Son.
A new realism marked these later city mysteries that modified the excessive gothic irrationalism and salaciousness of Lippard's earlier works like The Quaker City. An adulterous affair between a respected young merchant's wife, Dora Livingstone, and a foppish confidence man, Colonel Algernon Fitz-Cowles, drives The Quaker City's revenge plot. Adultery recedes into the background of both Charles Anderson Chester and The Killers, which channel class conflicts through the parricidal impulses of vengeful scorned illegitimate sons. But the omissions, additions, and alterations of the pamphlet version of Charles Anderson Chester create a substantively different text from The Killers. Not only does Charles Anderson Chester leave out the Cuban subplot, the question of slavery, and the trenchant commentary on prison reform, but it also omits the complicated family dynamics key to the denouement of The Killers. Moreover, Charles Anderson Chester ends with the tragic death of Ophelia Thompson (recast as Kate Watson in The Killers), killed by chloroform in a botched kidnap, and she is named in a list of "the victims of the riot" appearing in the final chapter. In this, Charles Anderson Chester narrows the scope of its didactic outrage to the unchecked murderous violence of urban gangs while emphasizing the heroism of firemen like Charles Himmelwright, killed "while nobly engaged in the discharge of duty." In the variations between the two novellas, we see an author at work, experimenting with narrative structures, styles, and characterizations to hone an urban tale of class and race warfare with different political ramifications. While Charles Anderson Chester offers a pared-down narrative exposing Philadelphia's vicious underworld and the innocents like Ophelia whom it claimed as victims, The Killers offers a more complex tale of the international scale of capitalist exploitation, linking the contraband foreign slave trade to the domestic piracy of Quaker City bankers and merchants.
The California House Riot
The Killers also marks a shift in Lippard's working-class politics, as it charts the growing significance of racial discourse to Lippard's class protest (which would culminate in his last novel, Eleanor; or, Slave Catching in the Quaker City, serialized in 1854). On election night of 1849, the notorious Irish Catholic street gang known as the Killers (allied to the volunteer Moyamensing Hose Company and sometimes referred to as the Moyamensing Killers), provoked by rumors that the mulatto proprietor was living there with a white wife, attacked the California House, instigating a two-day riot. By taking what came to be called the California House Riot as the setting for the sensational climax of The Killers, Lippard—himself the son of Palatine immigrants who had fled religious persecution in Germany—responds to both the unprecedented influx of Irish and German immigrants into northeastern cities and the sectional politics of race and slavery in the months leading up to the controversial 1850 Compromise and its infamous Fugitive Slave Act.
At nine o'clock Tuesday evening after elections on October 9, 1849, a violent race riot broke out at the corner of Sixth and St. Mary (now Rodman) Streets. Such violence was far from unfamiliar in the site, which was roughly one block from where an angry white mob had attacked a parade celebrating West Indian Emancipation in 1842. At the direction of William "Bull" McMullen, the charismatic leader of the Killers, the Moyamensing Hose Company rammed the four-story California House with a wagon full of blazing tar. A desperate fight broke out between McMullen's gang and the African Americans residing in an area that was a mere stone's throw from Richard Allen's African Methodist Episcopal Church, the vital epicenter of Philadelphia's black population in the Seventh Ward. The densest concentration of African American households lived in the area between Cedar Street (officially changed to South Street in the 1850s) and Fitzwater Street and between Fifth and Ninth Streets. In 1848, a third of all the African Americans in Philadelphia resided in the southwest part of the Cedar neighborhood in Moyamensing Township. Immigration in the 1840s and 1850s increased the Irish Catholic population in what became known as the Fourth Ward. By 1860, more than half of the foreign-born population lived in the outlying districts of Northern Liberties, Kensington, Southwark, and Moyamensing, which became part of the city proper in 1854. Indeed, the loss of life and property in the 1849 California House Riot (following upon race riots in 1834, 1838, and 1842), according to Samuel Otter, galvanized the movement toward consolidating the original city and its new suburbs "with the goals of strengthening law enforcement and fire protection and extending the tax base to provide services for the expanded industrial urban center."
But it was not just local civic leaders who found a warning in the violence. "Philadelphia," wrote antislavery activist Frederick Douglass in reference to the California House Riot, "has been . . . the scene of a series of most foul and cruel mobs, waged against the people of color—and it is now justly regarded as one of the most disorderly and insecure cities in the Union." In its coverage of the "bloody riot in Philadelphia," the Washington, D.C., antislavery newspaper the National Era reported in graphic detail on the mayhem that ensued when "a gang of rowdies, styled the 'Killers,' furiously assailed the California House." After a desperate fight with black defenders, the Killers "broke into the house, destroyed everything before them, and set fire to the building, which was soon wrapped in flames." Several of the adjoining houses caught fire. As the black residents fled the area, "the females," according to Douglass's North Star, "were pelted with stones by the rioters while carrying off articles of furniture." The white rioters assaulted the rival volunteer fire companies that rushed to the scene, cut their hoses, and carried off the engines after shooting down a few of the members. Policemen attempting to restore order were also driven off. By the time the military arrived, the rioters had dispersed, secreting themselves away, but the area was left without any guards against renewed hostilities. At six o'clock the next morning, the rioters, now more heavily armed with pistols and guns, again mustered and renewed their attack upon the African American neighborhood until the military was recalled and stationed in the lower district. "The companies," according to the North Star, "were assigned positions at the various avenues leading to the scene of riot, so as to command every approach completely." Two men were shot dead the first night; a third died the following day; and twenty-five more were severely wounded with little chance of survival. To effect greater verisimilitude, Lippard included a fictionalized list of the killed, wounded, and arrested in the final chapter of Charles Anderson Chester that was removed from The Killers. "There is not a city on the Union," admonished the National Era, "more shamefully mob-ridden than Philadelphia."
The African American community in Philadelphia's lower districts responded forcefully to the attack upon the California House. In his 1873 postbellum slave narrative, James Williams recalls receiving a buckshot wound to his right thigh and "a blow over . . . [his] left eye—the mark of which is there until this day" in his efforts to help extinguish the fire that destroyed the California House. In the characterization of the sole African American character in the novella, Black Andy, or the "Bulgine" (the name of a small locomotive used on the docks), Lippard offers a figural representation of this well-documented black resistance against the white rioters.
Initially enlisted in the fiendish plot to kidnap Kate Watson, Black Andy quickly loses interest in the scheme and "instinctively determines to save her" from harm, turning against his employer Jacob D. Z. Hicks, who has resurfaced in Philadelphia four years later after defaulting on creditors and falsifying his death. In the ensuing struggle, Black Andy kills Cromwell, the leader of the Killers: "And over him, triumphant and chuckling stood the negro, 'Bulgine'—the knife which he shook, dripping its red drops, upon his black and brawny arm." Two different illustrations of this chilling scene are found in the other variants of the novella (see Figure 2). Far more than a racist caricature, Black Andy, in full possession of his superior strength, taunts the drunken rioters: "Come to me, if you dar, you dam Killer tief!" Black figures often appear in Lippard's fiction; yet, these characters rarely drive plot development. Neither slave nor servant, Black Andy is the proprietor of the "Hotel," a grogshop catering to the multiracial denizens of South Philadelphia. Along with Black Sampson from Lippard's historical romance, Washington and His Generals; or, Legends of the Revolution (1847), Black Andy remains one of the more militant black heroes from Lippard's fiction, let alone in the city mysteries of other popular American writers, including Ned Buntline, George Thompson, and Augustine Duganne. He resembles the virtuous Richard Seaver, "a Chilian [sic] by birth," who became dubbed "King of the Negroes," from the serialized novels of Justin Jones (writing under the pseudonym of Harry Hazel), Big Dick, the King of the Negroes; or, Virtue and Vice Contrasted (1846) and Fourpe Tap; or, The Middy of the Macedonian (1847). The Killers also prefigures the work of black Philadelphian Frank J. Webb, who would incorporate details from the 1834, 1842, and 1849 race riots into the plot of his novel The Garies and Their Friends. It is important to note that such violence was not limited to antebellum Philadelphia. A few weeks after the California House Riot, the North Star reported another white-instigated "outrage upon the people of color" in neighboring New Jersey, where the "rowdies of Norristown emulating the 'Killers' of Moyamensing, attacked a three-story house in the east part of the borough, occupied by unoffending colored people."
The duration of intense racial violence and periodic rioting characterizing antebellum Philadelphia—that "mobocratic city," in Douglass's words—was sustained in part by a volatile mix of factors that included, according to Otter, "technological change (the city led the industrial revolution in the United States), factory servitude, a rapid increase in the white laboring population, an economic depression that lasted with occasional recoveries from the late 1830s until the early 1850s, an expanding gap between rich and poor, inadequate housing, and political incompetence and corruption." In addition, patterns of housing construction, particularly of cramped three-story alley homes, or "trinity" houses, built by speculators on cheap land located between large streets, allowed working-class African Americans and Irish immigrants to live in the same neighborhoods, yet not in the same community. Lippard's climactic riot scene takes place in Black Andy's groggery located in "Dog Alley," a mere "one square" from St. Mary Street, "principally inhabited by negroes," where the actual California House had been located. This same alley houses innocent Kate Watson and her morally vitiated, laudanum-addicted mother.
Leaving the theater where she works, Kate takes a circuitous pathway home that leads her "[u]p one street and down another, now passing through narrow alleys, and now along the streets . . . until at last she reached a small frame house, which stood at the extremity of a dark court, in that district somewhat widely known as 'Moyamensing.'" Challenging the symmetry and discipline of the original city's rectilinear design (see Figure 11), Moyamensing's crowded, unruly urban labyrinth propels the complex, intersecting subplots of Lippard's The Killers just as The Quaker City's gothic Monk-hall with its deadly maze of secret passages and trapdoors stands as an architectural embodiment of Philadelphia's Southwark.
Runnel's Court, where Hicks uncovers the long-hidden truth of his paternal relation to Elijah Watson, epitomizes the cramped and squalid conditions of urban working-class life in these lower vice districts. Located in the liminal space partly within the "City Proper, and partly in Moyamensing," "Runnel's Court, in the neighborhood of Sixth and South streets," reads Lippard's pungent commentary,
extended between two narrow streets, and was composed of six three story brick houses built upon an area of ground scarcely sufficient for the foundation of one comfortable dwelling. Each of these houses comprised three rooms and a cellar. The cellar and each of the rooms was the abode of a family. And thus, packed within that narrow space, twenty-four families managed to exist, or rather to die by a slow torture, within the six houses of Runnel's Court. Whites and blacks, old and young, rumsellers and their customers, were packed together there, amid noxious smells, rags and filth, as thick and foul as insects in a decaying carcase.Traversing between the old city and its newer outlying districts, The Killers' depiction of the geography, politics, and history of Philadelphia's race riots helped constitute Lippard's unique "aesthetics of place," in Otter's words.
Philadelphia native and Reconstruction-era politician Mifflin Wistar Gibbs vividly recalled the "ravages of what was known as the 'Moyamensing Killers,' who burned down the churches and residences of the colored people and murdered their occupants." In his memoir, Shadow and Light: An Autobiography (1902), Gibbs remarked upon the forces, both social and economic, that propelled Irish racial differentiation: "The Irish, having fled from oppression in the land of their birth, for notoriety, gain, or elevation by comparison, were nearly all pro-slavery." Labor competition in antebellum Philadelphia intensified the need to reestablish racial distinctions between white and nonwhite. The California House Riot pitted working-class Irish labor immigrants against working-class black labor migrants and undermined the idealized vision of class-based solidarity that Lippard sought to disseminate in his political writings. In The Quaker City, the minor character of Pump-Handle, a member of Devil-Bug's vagabond crew anticipates the riotous denouement of The Killers in his recitation of crimes for which he had been convicted: "'Why you see, a party of us one Sunday arternoon, had nothin' to do, so we got up a nigger riot. We have them things in Phil'delphy, once or twice a year, you know? I helped to burn a nigger church, two orphans' asylums and a school-house. And happenin' to have a pump-handle in my hand, I aksedentally hit an old nigger on the head. Konsekance wos he died'" (482). Pump-Handle's nonchalant recitation of brutality and murder illuminates the numbing regularity of working-class racial violence in antebellum Philadelphia.
In the months before the riot, Lippard published in his weekly story paper the Quaker City an outraged response to a critic who had reviled him as "fanatical" on the subject of "Black Slavery," writing, "Can we attack Wage Slavery and be silent about Chattel Slavery? Are we to hold our peace about the enslavement of white men, because the discussion of that topic involves a review of the nature and results of Black Slavery?" Such cross-racial identifications, according to Timothy Helwig, were not unique in Lippard's writings, particularly in his city mysteries, which often paired class consciousness with antislavery discourse. In an effort to resolve the contradictions of "free labor," Lippard radically reenvisions the historic conditions of the California House Riot in The Killers. He minimizes the ethnic divisions fracturing white working-class solidarity by eliding the Irish Catholic presence from the race riot, although he fashions for the young villain Cromwell a comical Irish "confidential servant" named Patrick who speaks in the "richest Hibernian." In Lippard's fictionalization, Cromwell initiates the riot, directing the Killers to "raise the devil among the niggers of Mary street" as a cover for an elaborate revenge plot against his father. Cromwell, the slave trader turned filibustering adventurer, exploits the Moyamensing men for his own purposes just as his corrupt banker father Hicks takes advantage of the election night bedlam to kidnap Kate. Hicks's kidnapping plot alludes to the scandalous 1843 murder case involving a prominent Philadelphian, Singleton Mercer, who had revenged himself upon a young gallant named Mahlon Heberton for the kidnap and seduction of his sister. Lippard partly based The Quaker City on Mercer's murder trial, and he returned to this plot device in The Killers. The final lines of the novella draw a critical analogy between father and son, linking the Philadelphia race riot, the international slave trade, and the Cuban annexation campaign as interrelated symptoms of a larger class and race crisis in its portrayal of the "Merchant and his confederates" as "Respectable Killers." Lippard's introduction to the version of the novella first serialized in the newspaper the Quaker City had made even more explicit this comparison: "The Killer of Moyamensing, drunk on bad brandy, and filthy with the mud of the kennel—reeking at once with rum and blood—is a decent, honest, and respectable man, compared to his smooth Brother—the Killer who skulks behind the Charter of a Bank" (see Appendix 2).
Significantly, it is Black Andy (and not the sympathetic white working-class hero Elijah Watson) who single-handedly thwarts both diabolical plots. His heroic effort to save the innocent Kate re-signifies the rumored interracial relationship that instigated the actual attack upon the California House and allows Lippard to imagine a transient instance of solidarity across the divisions of class and race. Atop the burning grogshop, the powerful silhouette of Black Andy holding aloft the insensible Kate momentarily arrests the chaotic cacophony of the riot. In this brief, melodramatic moment, all those involved in the riot, from "negroes and whites, firemen and Killers" to "spectators at distant windows," cry out in unison, joined together in the common purpose to "Save the gal!" This dramatic effort to rescue virtuous womanhood reveals the possibilities of black and white coexistence and working-class coalition joined in a noble, albeit masculinized, cause.
In The Quaker City, Lippard associated blackness with the denizens of Philadelphia's underworld, particularly in the racially ambiguous figure of Devil-Bug, the murderous keeper of the house of vice. While Monk-hall's grand rooms host "the eloquent, the learned, and . . . the pious of the Quaker City" in riotous scenes of corruption and debauchery, its cavernous underground recesses house the "Outcasts of the Quaker City," a vagabond "mass of rags and lameness, filth and crime" over whom Devil-Bug rules as patriarch aided by two hulking black henchmen named Glow-worm and Musquito (476, 477). By describing Glow-worm and Musquito as "dressed in . . . flaring red flannel shirt[s]," Lippard links his black characters to the working-class consciousness embodied in local fire companies and their associated street gangs who were identified by their distinctive red flannel shirts (52). In fact, Lippard had initially envisioned the connection between blackness and working-class consciousness in the character of Devil-Bug, whom he described in a playbill for the censored theatrical adaptation of the novel (recently recovered by Sari Altschuler and Aaron Tobiason) as "a Negro, deeply dyed in crime." Critics often cite Devil-Bug's apocalyptic vision of the future as a powerful instance of Lippard's critical linkage of wage with chattel slavery: "Then came the slaves of the city, white and black, marching along one mass of rags and sores and misery, huddled together . . . the slaves of the cotton Lord, and the factory Prince" (389). Lippard further develops this cross-racial economic critique in the character of Black Andy whose heroic effort to save Kate revises the more brutish "Black Herkles" of Charles Anderson Chester. Kate's rescue redeems Black Andy's questionable moral virtue, while his murder of Cromwell, the leader of the Killers, takes on vigilante significance as the city reels from the ruinous destruction of the race riot that his gang has instigated.
The Philadelphia Underworld and the Moyamensing Killers
By the 1840s, the Moyamensing street gang known as the Killers had become the largest of more than fifty gangs prowling Philadelphia at the time, which included the Whelps, Bouncers, Flayers, Shifflers, Hyenas, Schuylkill Rangers, Buffers, Forty Thieves, Snakers, Stingers, Smashers, Gumballs, Rats, and Bloodtubs.
With their growing notoriety, the Killers also became the subject of cheap sensational fiction, such as The Almighty Dollar; or, The Brilliant Exploits of a Killer: A Thrilling Romance of Quakerdelphia (1847), which fashioned the Killers as proletarian heroes fighting "the scourge of vassalage . . . the iron-sway of the rich" even though its members were "mostly under twenty, of the ragamuffin and utterly depraved order, and undoubtedly the hardest cases to be found within the precincts of Quakerdelphia county." "[O]ur strength," exclaim the gathered Killers in The Almighty Dollar, "lies in the district of Moyamensing, and Moyamensing must be our stronghold" (15). In the ensuing arson trial of Robert, the leader of the Killers, the judge addresses the jury, declaring in no uncertain terms, "no one is safe at night in Moyamensing, wayfarers are plundered and injured, the inhabitants have to suffer insults and losses, no one dares inform, for then his all would be sacked and burnt; all law is set at defiance, the grossest species of inequity prevail, the district had become a nest for villains of every calibre and dye; such are the killers and the awful effects of their club" (34). In similar fashion, Lippard's title page represents his novella as a thrilling exposé of the Killers' reign of terror in Philadelphia's lower districts: "In which the deeds of the Killers, and the great Riot of election night, October 10, 1849, are minutely described." The nefarious exploits of urban gangs like the Moyamensing Killers became a mainstay of the salacious, muckraking city-mysteries genre, popularized in the sensational fictions of another writer, Ned Buntline, a contemporary of Lippard's, whose The B'hoys of New York (1850), a sequel to his successful Mysteries and Miseries of New York (1848), also features a Cuban filibustering subplot.
The Moyamensing Hose Company was one of the many volunteer companies that serviced Philadelphia. Often allied with local gangs, these hose companies and their violent rivalries became the subject of growing concern in the city, and didactic reform novellas such as H. C. Watson's Jerry Pratt's Progress; or, Adventures in the Hose House, Based on Facts (1855) illustrated the moral ills associated with the "Hose and Engine Houses . . . notorious as the haunts of the idle and depraved—as nurseries of vice—as the scenes of the ruin of many youths of promise."
In his 1893 memoir, journalist and folklorist Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903), a Philadelphia native, offered a scathing account of these companies and the reign of terror over the city that lasted until their elimination in 1871:
Whoever shall write a history of Philadelphia from the Thirties to the end of the Fifties will record a popular period of turbulence and outrages so extensive as to now appear almost incredible. These were so great as to cause grave doubts in my mind whether the severest despotism, guided by justice, would not have been preferable to such republican license as then prevailed in the city of Penn. I refer to the absolute and uncontrolled rule of the Volunteer Fire Department, which was divided into companies (each having clumsy old fire apparatus and hose), all of them at deadly feud among themselves, and fighting freely with pistols, knives, iron spanners, and slung shot. Of these regular firemen, fifty thousand were enrolled, and to these might have been added almost as many more, who were known as runners, bummers, and hangers-on. Among the latter were a great number of incendiaries, all of whom were well known to and encouraged by the firemen. Whenever the latter wished to meet some rival company, either to test their mutual skill or engage in fight, a fire was sure to occur; the same always happened when a fire company from some other city visited Philadelphia.Leland recalled "hearing ladies who lived in Pine Street describe how, on Sunday summer afternoons, they could always hear . . . the shots of the revolvers and shouts of firemen as they fought in Moyamensing" (218). The "southern part of the city was a favorite battleground" for these rival companies, and William McMullen, the undisputed leader of the Killers and the Moyamensing Hose Company to which the gang was allied, ruled this lower district.
The son of an Irish immigrant, "Squire McMullen" would become the stuff of local legend: the subject of multiple failed assassination attempts by rival Shiffler Hose Company (named after George Shiffler, purported to have been killed by McMullen during a nativist riot involving Catholics and Protestants that engulfed Kensington in 1844 and served as the backdrop for Lippard's unfinished 1846 serialized city-mysteries novel The Nazarene; or, The Last of the Washingtons, the sequel to The Quaker City). McMullen would become, according to his 1901 obituary in the Philadelphia Public Ledger, "one of the best known men in local politics." The proprietor of a popular tavern (at Eighth and Bainbridge Streets) catering to the Killers and Moyamensing Hose Company, McMullen later became a ward leader. His varied exploits drove his political career, leading to his appointment to the board of inspectors for Moyamensing Prison and election as alderman in 1857. A Jacksonian Democrat, the young McMullen had evaded trial and likely imprisonment for attacking two Southwark policemen by enlisting for a tour of duty in the Mexican-American War (1846-48). McMullen and the Moyamensing men, many of whom were also Killers, became part of Company D of the First Pennsylvania Infantry assigned to General Robert Patterson's brigade. McMullen quickly assumed leadership of the company. Kirsten Silva Gruesz writes that the "twenty-months' war that followed, involving a full-scale invasion of central Mexico by land, a siege of the capital and its principal port, and a military expedition across the far western portion of the continent to Santa Fe, radically changed the balance of power in the Americas, arguably turning the United States into an imperial power." McMullen and his men returned to Philadelphia as heroes.
The young McMullen may have inspired Lippard's portrayal of Cromwell Hicks in his reincarnation as "Bob Blazes, the Captain of the Killers," once he puts aside his disguise as "the Loafer," in a plot device drawn from The Quaker City's antihero Luke Harvey, who also masks himself as "Brick-Top, a Loafer" to trap Devil-Bug. It is not a coincidence that Lippard pointedly alludes to Cromwell's elaborate scheme to attack the California House as "his plan of operations for the Mexican Campaign." Initially, Lippard had lent enthusiastic support to the Mexican-American War, but he later changed his views. In the second half of the novella, Lippard reintroduces Cromwell as the leader of a band of Killers hand-selected for a filibustering expedition to Cuba. "In a week, my boys, we'll start for Cuba," Blazes greets his "brawny fellows," "'Cuba, gold, and Spanish women,' that's our motto! You know that I'm in communication with some of the heads of the Expedition; I was told to pick out the most desperate devils I could find in Moyamensin'. I've done so. You've signed your names, and received your first month's pay. In a week you'll go on to New York with me, and then hurrah for 'Cuba, gold, and Spanish women!'"
The dynamics of U.S. empire building had driven the Mexican-American War, which ended in a territorial purchase forced upon a weakened, divided, and impoverished nation, according to Gruesz. After the Mexican-American War, Hispano-Anglo alliances set their sights on the annexation of Cuba, which had been the object of U.S. purchase offers for three decades. "Cuba, by geographical position, necessity and right, belongs to the United States; it may and must be ours," proclaimed an editorial in 1847. Playing upon "the national lust of territorial aggrandizement and universal empire," U.S. expansionists touted Cuba's strategic naval and commercial location to American Manifest Destiny: "Its possession would give us command of the Archipelago and all the neighboring seas, so that on island and continent, land and water, our power would be supreme."
Cuban Annexation and the Foreign Slave Trade
Lippard may have drawn from pro-slavery Narciso López's highly publicized recruitment campaigns for a filibustering expedition to Cuba (eventually blocked by President Zachary Taylor in 1850) in crafting the Cuban subplot of The Killers (and referenced in Charles Anderson Chester as "the celebrated Cubian [sic] expedition"). In the month before the California House Riot, newspapers reported on the "unusual number of Cubans . . . visiting New York." Like the character of Don Jorge, these "transient Cubans" were "young men, attached to wealthy and respectable families, of good education, but ardent, undisciplined, hot-blooded . . . ripe for rebellion and revolution." Another issue of the same paper speculated that the "secret expedition against Cuba" might have been "under the supervision of the refugees from Cuba . . . acting in concert with conspirators here." Early national Philadelphia—"la famosa Filadelfia," as it was called—emerged as a center for Hispanophone print culture during the years that Lippard was growing up there. Of all the northeastern cities, it figured most centrally in the independence movements against Spanish colonial rule throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Lippard alludes to this Hispanophone history in Don Jorge's portrayal of his father (who appears variously as Captain Velasquez and Antonio Marin, also the name of a Mexican officer in Lippard's 1848 'Bel of Prairie Eden: A Romance of Mexico) as a political refugee, "a native of Cuba, who for political offences had been exiled" and who passes his days "engaged upon some attempt or other to free [his] native Island from the Spaniard."
Such rumors and intimations of a Hispano-Anglo plot to annex slaveholding Cuba threatened ongoing antislavery efforts on U.S. soil, for Cuban annexation as a potential slave territory (as in the recently acquired Texas) would give "the Slave Power the preponderance in our National Legislature, and strengthen and confirm the hateful system in the States where it now exists." Indeed, abolitionists sought to demonstrate "how the necessities of slavery have mixed up our affairs with foreign interests, and infused into our diplomacy base principles and a spirit of dark intrigues." Foremost among these anti-annexation abolitionists stood Martin R. Delany, one of the earliest proponents of black nationalism, who, in April 1849, warned North Star readers of "a deep-concerted scheme for the annexation of Cuba to the United States." Cuba, as Delany cautions, "is the great channel through which slaves are imported annually into the United States, contrary to the law of the land, and the sovereign power by which the constitutional power of 1808 is stricken down, and made null and void at the will of the slaveholder." Delany describes the circuitous route by which men like the notorious Monroe Edwards and Lippard's fictional Don Jorge and Cromwell circumvent the 1808 ban against the importation of foreign slaves into the United States:
Into this island are there annually imported more than fifty thousand slaves, expressly for the human market, and being contiguous to the United States, vessels from Baltimore, Washington city, Richmond, and other American slave-markets usually after shipping a few slaves purchased in those particular places, sail to the isle of Cuba under the pretext of touching by Havana for trade. When they enter the barracoons, the traders to whom the slaves on board belong, frequently the master and owner of the vessel being concerned in the traffic, purchase a full cargo of slaves, sail to New Orleans where they are sold out to the highest bidder, at the slave market there, from whence they are taken to all parts of the South. In this high-handed manner is the provision prohibiting the importation of slaves into the United States after the year 1808, openly and constantly trampled under foot; and those in power, the supreme Judicial and Executive authorities being generally slaveholders or their abettors, well know these facts, and by keeping silence wink at and encourage such undisguised, infamous deeds of daring.As in Lippard's The Killers, the intertwined subplots of Cuban annexation and the illegal foreign slave trade would drive the second part of Delany's famously unfinished serialized novel, Blake; or, The Huts of America.
In Lippard's novella, Don Jorge entices a circumspect Cromwell with the seemingly benign vision of Cuba as "an island in the gulf . . . with many a snug cove to shelter a craft which has not been properly cleared at the Custom House." After four years in the foreign slave trade, Cromwell returns to Philadelphia battle-scarred and ferocious. He seizes leadership of the Killers, entertaining the ruffian lot with his tales of "life in Havana—of life on the coast of Africa—of slave ships stored thick and foul with their miserable cargo—and of the manner in which certain mercantile houses, in the north, made hoards of money, even at the present day, by means of the Slave Trade." The Killers concludes with a footnote citing an extract from President Taylor protesting "that barbarous traffic," which continued illicitly in the United States despite congressional efforts in 1820 to enforce the 1808 abolition by declaring participation in the foreign slave trade to be an act of piracy punishable by death. At the end, the novella comes full circle, given the coded references to "piracy" that punctuate Don Jorge's initial efforts to lure the young Cromwell into participating in his slave-trading scheme. By identifying Cuban annexation with the foreign slave trade, Lippard refuses to resolve his violent, tangled gothic plot of urban class and racial formations in an appeal to U.S. expansionism, revising the empire-building stance he promoted in his two earlier Mexican-American War novels, Legends of Mexico (1847) and 'Bel of Prairie Eden (1848).
The complex, intersecting plotlines of Lippard's The Killers gradually enfold the race, class, and immigration conflicts erupting in urban Philadelphia within the framework of the transatlantic slave trade and U.S. economic ties to the global South. Cromwell Hicks and Don Jorge, agents of conspiracy and race riot, not only have ties to fathers implicated in the foreign slave trade, but they seek to reengage the United States in that international traffic. According to "popular rumor," Hicks is descended from an old Quaker family whose wealth "had been acquired in the slave trade at a time when the slave trade was as legal, moral, and religious, as stock gambling at the present day." In addition to this primitive accumulation, Hicks further augments the family fortune by engaging in the now-illegal foreign slave trade with Velasquez, whom Hicks later betrays and leaves to "rot in jail, on the charge of piracy" after their vessel is "seized off the Brazil coast." The Killers thus reveals the longue durée of class formations in northeastern cities as inseparable from the slave trade and U.S. imperial expansion—what Shelley Streeby describes as the "nexus of city and empire" characterizing Lippard's writings. Moreover, Lippard casts a disparaging eye upon the liberation rhetoric suffusing the various campaigns to annex and "free" Cuba from Spanish tyranny. Don Jorge, jubilant over his ill-gotten fortune, blithely denounces his "hot-headed [Cuban] compatriots" and their false "talk of love for their native land." In the final scenes, Lippard also revises the largely passive role of his working-class female heroine. Unlike the tragic Ophelia of Charles Anderson Chester, Kate lives to confront the Philadelphia merchants with proof damning them for participating in the illegal foreign slave trade in Cuba, and flees with Elijah to Panama, the cosmopolitan entrepôt and gateway to the fabled goldfields of the American West. As in The Quaker City, Lippard resolves the plot of this family melodrama in a vision of the as yet uncorrupted western territories. Their triumph is both financial and ethical, effected first by blackmailing Hicks's wealthy Philadelphia associates with proof of their participating in the illegal foreign slave trade in Cuba and then, it is implied, handing that proof over to the federal government.
This republication of The Killers contributes to current efforts to revitalize George Lippard for a new generation of readers. In 1855, a biography published shortly after Lippard's death (and assumed to be the work of John Bell Bouton, editor of the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland, Ohio) likened his literary craft to "the earnest skillful work of the dissecting-knife—the faithful laying bare of black hearts and oppressive institutions." "He thought of these wrongs," it continues, and "[w]ith scorn, and wrath, and execrations he flung defiance in their face, and shouted a battle-cry over the dumb anguish of the millions perishing in conventional lies." In this iconoclastic spirit, The Killers' critique of corrupt Philadelphia banking establishments charts the uneven flows of global finance capital, and its squalid account of working-class tenement life reveals the interrelation of urbanization, industrial capitalism, and foreign immigration in the American city. In the novella, Lippard points to the generational continuities between slave-trading fathers and race-rioting sons, by situating, according to Otter, "the events that occur on a discrete Philadelphia night in systems of commerce that extend across the eastern seaboard and into the Caribbean." He speaks to the ambiguities and contradictions of foreign relations in the formation of national culture, ongoing concerns in our ever-changing, interconnected world, and key analytics in the transnational and hemispheric turn in American studies. A wildly popular and polarizing figure in his day, Lippard continues to be one of the most underappreciated of major American writers. Written toward the end of his literary life, The Killers reveals a honed political aesthetic that centers racial discourse and proletarian struggles within an expanded critique of modern finance capitalism and its speculative culture founded on the transatlantic slave trade. At the end, the notorious Irish Catholic gang from which Lippard derives the novella's sensationalized title—and on whose morality he had focused in the shorter pamphlet version of the work—disappears from view. In its place, Lippard turns to the bankers, priests, and judges he calls the "Respectable Killers," as he transforms a gritty tale of urban gang violence into revolutionary political allegory. The "relentless foe of kingcraft, priestcraft, and a mere moneyed aristocracy," Lippard defied literary and social conventions, and his political critiques remain as prescient today as they were more than 150 years ago, foreshadowing the Occupy Wall Street movement and its unifying slogan of "We are the 99 percent."