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Era of Experimentation

American Political Practices in the Early Republic

Daniel Peart

Publication Year: 2014

In Era 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 Experimentation demonstrates 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.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-xii

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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 the Richmond Enquirer in November 1820. “There will be no contest,” “Virginius” continued. “Mr. Monroe is as...

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“ ‘We the People’ Have No Political Existence”

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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...

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“Let Us Unite Like One Man”

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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...

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“Associate Yourselves Throughout the Nation”

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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...

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“You Must Organize Against Organization”

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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...

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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...

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pp. 149-164

To calculate the size of the electorate in each state I used data from the U.S. federal censuses of 1820 and 1830 and from state censuses where appropriate. For some states the electorate included all adult males; for some it included only white adult males; and for some it included only a proportion of white...


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pp. 165-202


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pp. 203-228


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pp. 229-237

Series Page

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pp. 238-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780813935614
E-ISBN-10: 081393561X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813935607
Print-ISBN-10: 0813935601

Page Count: 256
Illustrations: 1 graph, 11 tables
Publication Year: 2014