This impressive collection joins the recent outpouring of exciting new work on American politics and political actors in the mid-nineteenth century. For several generations, much of the scholarship on the political history of the period from 1840 to 1877 has carried a theme of failure; after all, politicians in the antebellum years failed to prevent war, and those of the Civil War and Reconstruction failed to take advantage of opportunities to remake the nation. Moving beyond these older debates, the essays in this volume ask new questions about mid-nineteenth-century American politics and politicians.
In A Political Nation, the contributors address the dynamics of political parties and factions, illuminate the presence of consensus and conflict in American political life, and analyze elections, voters, and issues. In addition to examining the structures of the United States Congress, state and local governments, and other political organizations, this collection emphasizes political leaders—those who made policy, ran for office, influenced elections, and helped to shape American life from the early years of the Second Party System to the turbulent period of Reconstruction.
The book moves chronologically, beginning with an antebellum focus on how political actors behaved within their cultural surroundings. The authors then use the critical role of language, rhetoric, and ideology in mid-nineteenth-century political culture as a lens through which to reevaluate the secession crisis. The collection closes with an examination of cultural and institutional influences on politicians in the Civil War and Reconstruction years. Stressing the role of federalism in understanding American political behavior, A Political Nation underscores the vitality of scholarship on mid-nineteenth-century American politics.
Erik B. Alexander, University of Tennessee, Knoxville · Jean Harvey Baker, Goucher College · William J. Cooper, Louisiana State University · Daniel W. Crofts, The College of New Jersey · William W. Freehling, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities · Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia · Sean Nalty, University of Virginia · Mark E. Neely Jr., Pennsylvania State University · Rachel A. Shelden, Georgia College and State University · Brooks D. Simpson, Arizona State University · J. Mills Thornton, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Separately and together, these essays make a persuasive argument for a return to traditional political history. Each contributor in the collection draws on the best of the extant literature in his or her field/bailiwick, synthesizes it, and suggests either new avenues for exploration or ways to think about and bring coherence to a field (political history) that has become fragmented if not diffuse. Incredibly well written and accessible.
Leading interpreters of America's mid-nineteenth-century political crisis join with several younger historians in this collection of insightful and provocative essays. Introducing new issues and topics as well as reexamining some of the more enduring ones, A Political Nation will be of great interest to all those who, quite understandably, find the Civil War era intriguing.
Gary W. Gallagher is John L. Nau III Professor of History at the University of Virginia and author, most recently, of The Union War. Rachel A. Shelden is Assistant Professor of American History at Georgia College and State University.