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The Democratic Experiment

The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History

MEG JACOBS
WILLIAM J. NOVAK
JULIAN E. ZELIZER
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 464
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7svds
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  • Book Info
    The Democratic Experiment
    Book Description:

    In a series of fascinating essays that explore topics in American politics from the nation's founding to the present day ,The Democratic Experimentopens up exciting new avenues for historical research while offering bold claims about the tensions that have animated American public life. Revealing the fierce struggles that have taken place over the role of the federal government and the character of representative democracy, the authors trace the contested and dynamic evolution of the national polity.

    The contributors, who represent the leading new voices in the revitalized field of American political history, offer original interpretations of the nation's political past by blending methodological insights from the new institutionalism in the social sciences and studies of political culture. They tackle topics as wide-ranging as the role of personal character of political elites in the Early Republic, to the importance of courts in building a modern regulatory state, to the centrality of local political institutions in the late twentieth century. Placing these essays side by side encourages the asking of new questions about the forces that have shaped American politics over time. An unparalleled example of the new political history in action, this book will be vastly influential in the field.

    In addition to the editors, the contributors are Brian Balogh, Sven Beckert, Rebecca Edwards, Joanne B. Freeman, Richard R. John, Ira Katznelson, James T. Kloppenberg, Matthew D. Lassiter, Thomas J. Sugrue, Michael Vorenberg, and Michael Willrich.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2582-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Chapter One THE DEMOCRATIC EXPERIMENT: NEW DIRECTIONS IN AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY
    (pp. 1-19)
    Meg Jacobs and Julian E. Zelizer

    We are now in a moment when American political history is flourishing. The contributors in this volume, who are all part of this exciting revitalization of the field, focus on two central questions. The first concerns the relationship of citizens to the government in a context where suspicion of a powerful state has been the overriding theme of American political culture. The second addresses the continually evolving mechanisms of democratic participation. As this volume shows, democracy in America has come alive in political contests over these two issues. Most modern democratic polities have confronted the need to legitimate the exercise...

  6. Chapter Two EXPLAINING THE UNEXPLAINABLE: THE CULTURAL CONTEXT OF THE SEDITION ACT
    (pp. 20-49)
    Joanne B. Freeman

    Democracy was a problem in the early republic. Though we view it as the heart of the American political system, the founding generation had no such assumption. In fact, they equated pure democratic governance with civic disorder and popular unrest. In a democracy, the entire population took part in the process of governance; republican governance seemed far more practicable, instilling order through the process of representation. Although political partisans of different stripes would come to have different understandings of democratic politics over the course of the 1790s, all agreed that America was not a democracy. The real question at the...

  7. Chapter Three AFFAIRS OF OFFICE: THE EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS, THE ELECTION OF 1828, AND THE MAKING OF THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
    (pp. 50-84)
    Richard R. John

    Shortly after the inauguration in March 1829 of Andrew Jackson as the seventh president of the United States, the influential Unitarian clergyman William Ellery Channing questioned the rationale for broadening the mandate of the government over which Jackson presided. The Constitution had established a national market, the federal courts had brokered disputes that might otherwise turn violent, and the Post Office Department had created a “chain of sympathies” that transformed the far-flung states into “one great neighborhood.”¹ Why should legislators undertake new initiatives that might imperil the “actual beneficent influence” that these governmental institutions were already exerting?² High tariffs impeded...

  8. Chapter Four THE LEGAL TRANSFORMATION OF CITIZENSHIP IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY AMERICA
    (pp. 85-119)
    William J. Novak

    As historians search for ways to reintroduce “the political” back into American history, one interpretive possibility that cannot be overlooked is the idea of citizenship. The concept of citizenship is in the midst of an extraordinary theoretical revival.¹ For good reasons. First, citizenship has the potential to integrate social and political history. Citizenship directs attention precisely to that point where bottomup constructions of rights consciousness and political participation meet the top-down policies and formal laws of legislatures, courts, and administrative agencies.² Second, citizenship deals directly with what has become a preeminent social and political question in our time—inclusion and...

  9. Chapter Five BRINGING THE CONSTITUTION BACK IN: AMENDMENT, INNOVATION, AND POPULAR DEMOCRACY DURING THE CIVIL WAR ERA
    (pp. 120-145)
    Michael Vorenberg

    Reading the constitution is like skimming an American history textbook—albeit a dated one. The original body of the Constitution and the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, give a sense of the causes and resolution of the American Revolution, and each successive amendment reveals the country at a moment of evolution, ostensibly toward the “more perfect union” described by President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address of 1863. This feature of the Constitution—its potential to serve as a road map of the country’s imagined march toward perfection—is perhaps the reason that, of all the genres of...

  10. Chapter Six DEMOCRACY IN THE AGE OF CAPITAL: CONTESTING SUFFRAGE RIGHTS IN GILDED AGE NEW YORK
    (pp. 146-174)
    Sven Beckert

    On april 7, 1877, a crowd of New York merchants, industrialists, bankers, and elite professionals marched into Chickering Hall at Fifth Avenue and Eighteenth Street in Manhattan for a meeting of “taxpayers.” Despite their historic distaste for collective mobilizations, they assembled on this spring day to discuss a weighty issue: a proposed amendment to the constitution of the state of New York that set out to limit universal male suffrage in municipal elections. This remarkably antidemocratic amendment, unveiled only four weeks earlier, promised to consolidate significant areas of municipal government in a newly created Board of Finance. Property owners would...

  11. Chapter Seven DOMESTICITY VERSUS MANHOOD RIGHTS: REPUBLICANS, DEMOCRATS, AND “FAMILY VALUES” POLITICS, 1856–1896
    (pp. 175-197)
    Rebecca Edwards

    Though conflicts over “family values” are all too visible in the American political landscape today, historians have not yet appreciated the significance of such conflicts to party politics in the nineteenth century.¹ On the one hand, historians of women have redefined the political, emphasizing relations within the family, economic roles, and activities ranging from literary clubs to suffrage activism. They have studied women’s interactions with the state, asking questions about law, citizenship, and identity. But in thinking about parties and elections most historians of women reinscribe the notion of separate spheres: they describe women’s political values and organizations as separate...

  12. Chapter Eight THE CASE FOR COURTS: LAW AND POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT IN THE PROGRESSIVE ERA
    (pp. 198-221)
    Michael Willrich

    According to the conventional historical wisdom, America’s modern administrative and welfare state grew up in spite of the courts. The dominant narrative of law and political development in the Progressive Era (1890–1919) portrays “the courts” as a monolith: a singularly conservative obstacle to progressive legislation enacted to bring industrial capitalism under the heel of a socially responsive interventionist state. This essay argues that to a large extent the modern administrative and welfare state arosewithinthe courts—but not the high-level state and federal appellate courts that historians typically study. In the three decades before the New Deal, the...

  13. Chapter Nine “MIRRORS OF DESIRES”: INTEREST GROUPS, ELECTIONS, AND THE TARGETED STYLE IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICA
    (pp. 222-249)
    Brian Balogh

    The template used by elected officials to discern the preferences of their constituents is fundamental to democratic governance. This template shifted in the first third of the twentieth century. The way in which elected officials conceptualized voters evolved from one that employed reliable partisan cues about voters’ wishes to one that relied upon far more specialized profiles of voters and that delivered policy-prone information to elected officials. The dynamic relationship between interest groups, rapidly changing conceptions of consumers, and electoral politics, combined with the declining ability of political parties to convey voter preferences, accounts for this fundamental shift. Conceptualizing the...

  14. Chapter Ten POCKETBOOK POLITICS: DEMOCRACY AND THE MARKET IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICA
    (pp. 250-275)
    Meg Jacobs

    In the twentieth century, pocketbook issues rose to prominence in American politics. In 1914, the young Progressive journalist Walter Lippmann declared, “the real power emerging to-day in democratic politics is just the mass of people who are crying out against the ‘high cost of living.’ That is a consumer’s cry.”¹ That phrase, the “high cost of living,” gained currency at the turn of the century, when more Americans became urban consumers and when prices began an upward trend, reversing a century of deflation. As Americans became increasingly dependent on basic goods purchased in the market rather than produced at home,...

  15. Chapter Eleven THE UNEASY RELATIONSHIP: DEMOCRACY, TAXATION, AND STATE BUILDING SINCE THE NEW DEAL
    (pp. 276-300)
    Julian E. Zelizer

    Most politicians sense that Americans hate taxes. We are a nation with a long tradition of tax revolts. Yet despite an abundance of historical studies about state building in the twentieth century, few have confronted the reality of tax resistance and fiscal constraint. Even research on American antistatism has emphasized the intellectual history of liberalism and republicanism rather than opposition to federal taxes, the most concrete manifestation of antistatism. Hostility toward federal taxation has remained extremely strong in all income brackets, ranging from blue-collar workers who were central beneficiaries of New Deal programs to elite financial investors. Resistance to local...

  16. Chapter Twelve ALL POLITICS IS LOCAL: THE PERSISTENCE OF LOCALISM IN TWENTIETH-CENTURY AMERICA
    (pp. 301-326)
    Thomas J. Sugrue

    The twentieth century witnessed a remarkable expansion of the power of the federal government. An increasingly powerful executive branch supplanted the state of “courts and parties.” Imperial ventures, two world wars, and a cold war dramatically extended the power of the military and the state’s influence over key sectors of the economy. AfterWorldWar II, a new “proministrative state” consolidated power in the hands of bureaucrats and experts. Witness the profusion of new government agencies, the alphabet soup of federal social and economic programs, and the staggering growth of public-sector employment.¹ Despite the irrefutable expansion of central government power, particularly in...

  17. Chapter Thirteen SUBURBAN STRATEGIES: THE VOLATILE CENTER IN POSTWAR AMERICAN POLITICS
    (pp. 327-349)
    Matthew D. Lassiter

    During the late 1960s and early 1970s, a populist revolt of the Silent Majority rippled upward into national politics and established powerful constraints on Great Society liberalism and civil rights reform. In an opening phase, suburban parents in the Sunbelt South launched grassroots uprisings to defend their children’s neighborhood schools against the legal challenge of court-ordered busing. White-collar home owners who claimed membership in the Silent Majority invented a potent “color-blind” discourse that portrayed residential segregation as the product of economic stratification rather than historical racism. This political formula eventually gained national traction as a bipartisan defense of middle-class consumer...

  18. Chapter Fourteen FROM HARTZ TO TOCQUEVILLE: SHIFTING THE FOCUS FROM LIBERALISM TO DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA
    (pp. 350-380)
    James T. Kloppenberg

    Democracy in america has been a contest among diverse groups of people sharing neither common convictions nor common aspirations. Disagreements over issues as basic as salvation, slavery, and sovereignty date from the arrival of English settlers in North America. Although the impulse to identify an essential and enduring American ethos has persisted ever since, the evidence of struggle has become irresistible. Designating any specific set of commitments as genuinely or distinctively “American” no longer seems convincing. The chapters in this volume emphasize both the depth of the battles that have shaped our national political culture and the contingency of the...

  19. Chapter Fifteen THE POSSIBILITIES OF ANALYTICAL POLITICAL HISTORY
    (pp. 381-400)
    Ira Katznelson

    Writing in 1956 with the authority conferred by three pathbreaking books, Richard Hofstadter, the most important political historian of the United States in his generation, bemoaned the unfilled cavernous space between historical narratives and focused monographs. “Authors of narrative histories,” he observed, “rarely hesitate to retell a story that is already substantially known, adding perhaps some new information but seldom in systematic fashion or with a clear analytical purpose,” while “many a monograph . . . leaves its readers, and perhaps even its author, with misgivings as to whether that part of it which is new is truly significant.” Seeking...

  20. INDEX
    (pp. 401-421)