Cover: Roosevelt’s Purge: How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party, from Harvard University PressCover: Roosevelt’s Purge in PAPERBACK

Roosevelt’s Purge

How FDR Fought to Change the Democratic Party

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674064300

Publication Date: 05/07/2012


384 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

20 halftones

Belknap Press


Dunn delves into a fascinating and overlooked aspect of the FDR presidency: Roosevelt’s brazen effort to assert control over his own party in the summer of 1938. Dunn has written an engaging story of bare-knuckled political treachery that pits a president at the peak of his popularity against entrenched congressional leaders who didn’t like where he was taking the country and their party. FDR tried to use the power of the White House, and his personality, to run his opponents out of the Democratic Party. He failed miserably.—Jonathan Karl, Wall Street Journal

[An] engrossing book.—Sam Rosenfeld, American Prospect

The definitive book on the 1938 election.—Peter Baker, New York Times

Dunn does an excellent job of putting this purge attempt into historical as well as political context, and demonstrates that the method to FDR’s madness can be seen in his effort to bring greater ideological consistency not only to the Democratic Party, but to the two-party system as well… Dunn’s book is clearly argued and well written, and gives a glimpse of the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the Roosevelt mind. It sheds light on not only presidency studies but also the FDR era.—M. A. Genovese, Choice

Dunn’s examination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s summer of ’38, when he attempted to rid his party of conservative elements, couldn’t be more relevant. The author colorfully and thoroughly chronicles the strategies that a once-popular president, who had helped America rise from a debilitating depression, employed when critics within his own party threatened his New Deal legislation… Roosevelt helped manipulate the outcome of Democratic primaries and supported liberals who challenged the seats of conservative incumbents… Even though FDR’s efforts ultimately failed, costing him political capital and bringing a beating upon Democrats in the midterm elections, the purge was ‘the precursor of a historic transformation of American political parties’ that ‘colors American Politics to this day.’ As the past prepares to repeat itself once more, FDR in ’38 is a perfect lens through which to view our current climate.Publishers Weekly

In the most authoritative, absorbing, and deeply researched account we now have of Roosevelt’s intriguing and little-understood battle to remake the Democrats into a more consistently ideological party, Dunn shows how a master politician sought to break the deadlocks of his own time, suggesting many lessons that deserve our urgent attention today.—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage and The Conquerors

Dunn portrays one of the most dramatic episodes in the development of the American party system. FDR’s assault on conservative Democrats in the midterm elections initiated changes that would eventually transform the Democratic Party—and American politics. This engagingly written book is must reading for those who wish to probe the deep roots of contemporary partisan rancor.—Sidney M. Milkis, author of The President and the Parties

How the most masterful presidential politician of the last century badly miscalculated in his bid to impose discipline on his party makes for a richly detailed and riveting narrative in Dunn’s superb new book. Hers is a resonant tale for today—a sharp reminder of the ideological and regional barriers confronting any president who harbors the ambition to transform American politics.—Bruce Miroff, author of The Liberals’ Moment: The McGovern Insurgency and the Identity Crisis of the Democratic Party

In 1938, when FDR tried to ‘purge’ conservative members of Congress who were running for reelection, he also hoped to transform the Democratic Party into a more progressive force for change. Dunn’s beautifully written, deeply researched book shows how and why he failed to do so. Her history of this pivotal failure has lessons for those in our own time who might wish to do the same.—James T. Patterson, author of Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945–1974

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