Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Era of Experimentation

Era of Experimentation: American Political Practices in the Early Republic

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Era of Experimentation
    Book Description:

    InEra of Experimentation,Daniel Peart challenges the pervasive assumption that the present-day political system, organized around two competing parties, represents the logical fulfillment of participatory democracy. Recent accounts of "the rise of American democracy" between the Revolution and the Civil War applaud political parties for opening up public life to mass participation and making government responsive to the people. Yet this celebratory narrative tells only half of the story.

    By exploring American political practices during the early 1820s, a period of particular flux in the young republic, Peart argues that while parties could serve as vehicles for mass participation, they could also be employed to channel, control, and even curb it. Far from equating democracy with the party system, Americans freely experimented with alternative forms of political organization and resisted efforts to confine their public presence to the polling place.

    Era of Experimentationdemonstrates the sheer variety of political practices that made up what subsequent scholars have labeled "democracy" in the early United States. Peart also highlights some overlooked consequences of the nationalization of competitive two-party politics during the antebellum period, particularly with regard to the closing of alternative avenues for popular participation.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3561-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
    (pp. 1-14)

    The Election of President of the United States has at this season excited very little interest, either in the private circles, or in the newspapers,” observed a correspondent to theRichmond Enquirerin November 1820. “There will be no contest,” “Virginius” continued. “Mr. Monroe is as sure of his re-election, as his most sanguine hopes, or his warmest friends could possibly desire.” In the eyes of the author, the president’s success owed “as much to the present state of parties, as to the excellence of his administration.” For Monroe’s Republican predecessors, “party spirit was active and vigorous enough to present...

  5. 1 “ ‘WE THE PEOPLE’ HAVE NO POLITICAL EXISTENCE”: The Rise and Fall of the Middling Interest in Boston, Massachusetts
    (pp. 15-46)

    The following satirical article, a parody on the fugitive slave advertisements that filled the southern press, appeared in a Boston newspaper four days after the congressional election of 1820:

    DESERTED from the federal cause, on 23d inst. SIX HUNDRED legal voters, principally merchants and mechanics. They have no other excuse for their conduct, than that the overseers, who have lately taken the management upon their shoulders, have threatened them withgagging,if they refused obedience. They may be known by their attachment to the good old federal politics of ’96, which they are fond of exhibiting on all occasions, and...

  6. 2 “LET US UNITE LIKE ONE MAN”: Organizing the Opposition to Slavery in Illinois
    (pp. 47-72)

    On 2 August 1824 the citizens of Illinois were called upon to decide whether to summon a constitutional convention in order to open their state to slavery. At “the elections through the State, the utmost exertions prevailed, but no riots,” recorded one observer. “The aged and crippled were carried to the polls, and men voted on this occasion that had not seen the ballot box before in twenty years.”¹ Modern scholars have identified the establishment of political parties as a necessary precondition for mass engagement in politics. If this were true, then few parts of the United States during the...

  7. 3 “ASSOCIATE YOURSELVES THROUGHOUT THE NATION”: The Struggle to Shape Federal Tariff Policy in Pennsylvania and Virginia
    (pp. 73-107)

    Reflecting during the summer of 1820 on the recent defeat of the Baldwin tariff bill in Congress, the Philadelphia printer Mathew Carey, a vocal advocate of protection for American manufactures, was in no doubt as to the culprit. In a lengthy “Prefatory Address” to his latest pamphlet in favor of increased import duties, Carey railed against the “miserable spirit of party” that had once again proved fatal to the protectionist cause. “This distinction between federalism and democracy, has, in great measure, subsided,” he claimed, with much justification. “Good men of both parties, think nearly alike on the affairs of government,”...

  8. 4 “YOU MUST ORGANIZE AGAINST ORGANIZATION”: The Presidential Election of 1824
    (pp. 108-138)

    Written during the canvass by John C. Calhoun, himself a candidate for the White House, the following appraisal of the presidential election of 1824 presents a stark contrast to the standard celebratory narrative, which paints political parties as agents of democracy:

    It cannot be doubted that a party has grown up in our country, who aspire to the government of the Union, not th[r]ough the confidence and attachment of the people, but by a dextrous use of what is called party machinery. The great object of the party has been to enlist in its cause political leaders, who were supposed...

    (pp. 139-148)

    In his inaugural address, in March 1825, John Quincy Adams expressed the hope that the “baneful weed of party strife” might be finally eradicated from the nation’s politics.

    Ten years of peace, at home and abroad, have assuaged the animosities of political contention and blended into harmony the most discordant elements of public opinion. There still remains one effort of magnanimity, one sacrifice of prejudice and passion, to be made by the individuals throughout the nation who have heretofore followed the standards of political party. It is that of discarding every remnant of rancor against each other, of embracing as...

    (pp. 149-164)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-202)
    (pp. 203-228)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 229-238)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 239-240)