The nineteenth century was the heyday of furious contention between American political parties, and Joel Silbey has recaptured the drama and substance of those battles in a representative sampling of party pamphlets. Political parties mapped the landscape of electoral and ideological warfare, constructing images of themselves and of their adversaries that resonate and echo the basic characteristics of America’s then reigning sets of ideas. The nature of political controversy, as well as the substance of politics, is embedded in these party documents which both united and divided Americans. Unlike today’s party platforms, these pamphlets explicated real issues and gave insight into the society at large. Andrew Jackson’s Democrats, Millard Fillmore’s Whigs, Abraham Lincoln’s Republicans, and other, lesser-known parties are represented here. The pamphlets demonstrate how, for this fifty-year period, political parties were surrogates for American demands and values. Broad in scope, widely circulated, catalysts for heated debate over the decades, these pamphlets are important documents in the history of American politics.
In an excellent Introduction, Silbey teases out and elucidates the themes each party stressed and took as its own in its fight for the soul of the nation.
Silbey’s preface, introduction and head notes are excellent. In accordance with his previous work, Silbey is emphasizing campaign rhetoric while politicians work up issues both substantive and circumstantial as they seek to persuade the electorate that their particular position on affairs of state is the correct one. In making their case, they describe their achievements and their goals in positive terms while they view the opposition negatively. One would expect this dialogue to prevail in a heated political campaign, but the style of the argument and the facts presented give major clues to the state of the society at any given time. Thus the pamphlets serve as a useful probe to a better understanding of the basic tensions that were developing in American culture that led to the Civil War and the ensuing Reconstruction. Silbey has made a good selection of pamphlets to reflect the partisan mood over nearly fifty years of contention or, as he puts it in one of his topical heads, ‘the culmination of the battle for the soul of America.’
- 320 pages
- 6-3/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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