The Johns Hopkins University Press

Reconfiguring American Political History

Ronald P. Formisano, Paul Bourke, Donald DeBats, and Paula M. Baker, Series Founders

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Reconfiguring American Political History

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The Big Vote

Gender, Consumer Culture, and the Politics of Exclusion, 1890s–1920s

Liette Gidlow

Low voter turnout is a serious problem in American politics today, but it is not a new one. Its roots lay in the 1920s when, for the first time in nearly a century, a majority of eligible Americans did not bother to cast ballots in a presidential election. Stunned by this civic failure so soon after a world war to "make the world safe for democracy," reforming women and business men launched massive campaigns to "Get Out the Vote." By 1928, they had enlisted the enthusiastic support of more than a thousand groups in Forty-six states. In The Big Vote, historian Liette Gidlow shows that the Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns—overlooked by historians until now—were in fact part of an important transformation of political culture in the early twentieth century. Weakened political parties, ascendant consumer culture, labor unrest, Jim Crow, widespread anti-immigration sentiment, and the new woman suffrage all raised serious questions about the meanings of good citizenship. Gidlow recasts our understandings of the significance of the woman suffrage amendment and shows that it was important not only because it enfranchised women but because it also ushered in a new era of near-universal suffrage. Faced with the apparent equality of citizens before the ballot box, middle-class and elite whites in the Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns and elsewhere advanced a searing critique of the ways that workers, ethnics, and sometimes women behaved as citizens. Through techniques ranging from civic education to modern advertising, they worked in the realm of culture to undo the equality that constitutional amendments had seemed to achieve. Through their efforts, by the late 1920s, "civic" had become practically synonymous with "middle class" and "white." Richly documented with primary sources from political parties and civic groups, popular and ethnic periodicals, and electoral returns, The Big Vote looks closely at the national Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns and at the internal dynamics of campaigns in the case-study cities of New York, New York, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Birmingham, Alabama. In the end, the Get-Out-the Vote campaigns shed light not only on the problem of voter turnout in the 1920s, but on some of the problems that hamper the practice of full democracy even today.

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Burdens of War

Creating the United States Veterans Health System

Jessica L. Adler

During and after World War I, policy makers, public health advocates, and veterans laid the groundwork for the extension of government-sponsored medical care to millions of former service members. In the process, they built a pillar of American social policy. In Burdens of War, Jessica L. Adler explores how the establishment of the veterans’ health system marked a reimagining of modern veterans’ benefits and signaled a pathbreaking validation of the power of professionalized institutional medical care.

Adler reveals that a veterans’ health system came about incrementally, amid skepticism from legislators, doctors, and army officials concerned about the burden of long-term obligations, monetary or otherwise, to ex-service members. She shows how veterans’ welfare shifted from centering on pension and domicile care programs rooted in the nineteenth century to direct access to health services. She also traces the way that fluctuating ideals about hospitals and medical care influenced policy at the dusk of the Progressive Era; how race, class, and gender affected the health-related experiences of soldiers, veterans, and caregivers; and how interest groups capitalized on a tense political and social climate to bring about change.

The book moves from the 1920s—when veterans requested better and more services, Congress continued to approve new facilities and increased funding, and elected officials expressed misgivings about who should have access to care—to the 1930s, when the economic crash prompted veterans to increasingly turn to hospitals for support while bureaucrats, politicians, and doctors attempted to rein in the system. By the eve of World War II, the roots of what would become the country’s largest integrated health care system were firmly planted and primed for growth. Drawing readers into a critical debate about the level of responsibility America bears for wounded service members, Burdens of War is a unique and moving case study.

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Fireside Politics

Radio and Political Culture in the United States, 1920-1940

Douglas B. Craig

In Fireside Politics, Douglas B. Craig provides the first detailed and complete examination of radio's changing role in American political culture between 1920 and 1940—the medium's golden age, when it commanded huge national audiences without competition from television. Craig follows the evolution of radio into a commercialized, networked, and regulated industry, and ultimately into an essential tool for winning political campaigns and shaping American identity in the interwar period. Finally, he draws thoughtful comparisons of the American experience of radio broadcasting and political culture with those of Australia, Britain, and Canada.

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The Price of Progress

Public Services, Taxation, and the American Corporate State, 1877 to 1929

R. Rudy Higgens-Evenson

Between the Civil War and the Great Depression, twin revolutions swept through American business and government. In business, large corporations came to dominate entire sectors and markets. In government, new services and agencies, especially at the city and state levels, sprang up to ameliorate a broad spectrum of social problems. In The Price of Progress, R. Rudy Higgens-Evenson offers a fresh analysis of therelationship between those two revolutions. Using previously unexploited data from the annual reports of state treasurers and comptrollers, he provides a detailed, empirical assessment of the goods and services provided to citizens, as well as the resources extracted from them, by state governments during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.Focusing on New York, Massachusetts, California, and Kansas, but including data on 13 other states, his comparative study suggests that the "corporate state" originated in tax policies designed to finance new and innovative government services. Business and government grew together in a surprising and complex fashion. In the late nineteenth century, services such as mental health care for the needy and free elementary education for all children created new strains on the states' old property tax systems. In order to pay for newly constructed state asylums and schools, states experimented for the first time with corporate taxation as a source of revenue, linking state revenues to the profitability of industries such as railroads and utilities. To control their tax bills, big businessesintensified lobbying efforts in state legislatures, captured important positions in state tax bureaus, and sponsored a variety of government-efficiency reform organizations. The unintended result of corporate taxation—imposed to allow states to fulfill their responsibilities to their citizens—was the creation of increasingly intimate ties between politicians, bureaucrats, corporate leaders, and progressive citizens. By the 1920s, a variety of "corporate states" had proliferated across the nation, each shaped by a particular mix of taxation and public services, each offering a case study in how the business of America, as President Calvin Coolidge put it, became business.

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Protesting Affirmative Action

The Struggle over Equality after the Civil Rights Revolution

Dennis Deslippe

A lightening rod for liberal and conservative opposition alike, affirmative action has proved one of the more divisive issues in the United States over the past five decades. Dennis Deslippe here offers a thoughtful study of early opposition to the nation’s race- and gender-sensitive hiring and promotion programs in higher education and the workplace. This story begins more than fifteen years before the 1978 landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. Partisans attacked affirmative action almost immediately after it first appeared in the 1960s. Liberals in the opposition movement played an especially significant role. While not completely against the initiative, liberal opponents strove for “soft” affirmative action (recruitment, financial aid, remedial programs) and against “hard” affirmative action (numerical goals, quotas). In the process of balancing ideals of race and gender equality with competing notions of colorblindness and meritocracy, they even borrowed the language of the civil rights era to make far-reaching claims about equality, justice, and citizenship in their anti–affirmative action rhetoric. Deslippe traces this conflict through compelling case studies of real people and real jobs. He asks what the introduction of affirmative action meant to the careers and livelihoods of Seattle steelworkers, New York asbestos handlers, St. Louis firemen, Detroit policemen, City University of New York academics, and admissions councilors at the University of Washington Law School. Through their experiences, Deslippe examines the diverse reactions to affirmative action, concluding that workers had legitimate grievances against its hiring and promotion practices. In studying this phenomenon, Deslippe deepens our understanding of American democracy and neoconservatism in the late twentieth century and shows how the liberals’ often contradictory positions of the 1960s and 1970s reflect the conflicted views about affirmative action many Americans still hold today.

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Securing the West

Politics, Public Lands, and the Fate of the Old Republic, 1785–1850

John R. Van Atta

Few issues defined the period between American independence and the Mexican War more sharply than westward settlement and the role of the federal government in that expansion. In Securing the West, John R. Van Atta examines the visions of the founding generation and the increasing influence of ideological differences in the years after the peace of 1815. Americans expected the country to grow westward, but on the details of that growth they held strongly different opinions. What part should Congress play in this development? How much should public land cost? What of the families and businesses left behind, and how would society's institutions be established in the West? What of the premature settlers, the "squatters" who challenged the rule of law while epitomizing democratic daring? Taking a broad approach, Van Atta addresses three interrelated queries: First, how did competing economic beliefs and divergent cultural mandates influence the various outcomes of this broad debate over the means, timing, and purposes of settling the trans-Appalachian West? Second, what alternative visions of western society lay behind the battles among policy makers within the government and the interested parties who would sway them? Third, why did settlement of the West take such a different course in the end from that which the earliest leaders of the republic intended? This story explores dimensions of the federal lands question that other historians have minimized or left out entirely. Van Atta draws upon a range of sources known to influence public discourse, including congressional debates, committee reports, and correspondence; editorial writings by the famous and unknown; and news coverage in various widely circulated newspapers and magazines of the period. Much of the attention focuses on Congress—the elected leaders who advocated divergent plans about western lands. In Congress, more than any other place, public leaders articulated basic concerns about the character, structure, direction, and destiny of society in the early United States. By 1830, many other important national concerns had become critically entangled with land disposition, creating points of ideological tension among rival regions, parties, and interests in the early years of the republic—particularly in Jacksonian America.

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To Enlarge the Machinery of Government

Congressional Debates and the Growth of the American State, 1858–1891

Williamjames Hull Hoffer

How did the federal government change from the weak apparatus of the antebellum period to the large, administrative state of the Progressive Era? To Enlarge the Machinery of Government explores the daily proceedings of the U.S. House and Senate from 1858 to 1891 to find answers to this question. Through close readings of debates centered around sponsorship, supervision, and standardization recorded in the Congressional Globe and Congressional Record during this period, Williamjames Hull Hoffer traces a critical shift in ideas that ultimately ushered in Progressive legislation: the willingness of American citizens to allow, and in fact ask for, federal intervention in their daily lives. He describes this era of congressional thought as a "second state," distinct from both the minimalist approaches that came before and the Progressive state building that developed later. The "second state" era, Hoffer contends, offers valuable insight into how conceptions of American uniqueness contributed to the shape of the federal government.

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