The Third Electoral System 1853-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures

By Paul Kleppner | Go to book overview

Preface

This book constitutes the second installment of my continuing effort to analyze the social bases of American mass political behavior. The first was a monograph that analyzed the political realignment of 1893-96 in the Midwest -- especially in the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.1 Future works will explore the social bases of partisanship and participation during the fourth party system, the social and political preconditions of minor-party voting, and the impact of realigning sequences on both recruitment of elites and subsequent transformations in policy.

The present book presents a description and analysis of mass voting behavior over the course of this nation's third electoral era ( 1853-92). In part, the research was designed to fill a gap in knowledge to which I had drawn attention earlier.2

Historians have devoted considerable attention to the story of late nineteenth-century politics. Yet their studies typically have not included careful and detailed explorations of the patterns of mass voting behavior. And even less intellectual energy has been expended to analyze the social and attitudinal bases of that behavior. These omissions are especially curious for at least two reasons. First, officeholding, and therefore the capacity of elites to shape policy directly, depended ultimately on electoral success. Second, the era was marked by high levels of participation by citizens in electoral politics. Although late nineteenth-century party battles may appear vacuous and vapid to most historians, to most involved contemporaries election results mattered. And high voter turnout provides stark evidence of that broadly diffused sense of concern and involvement.

Yet despite its inherent substantive and theoretical potential, until the past decade or so political historians have not paid much attention to analyses of voting behavior. Widespread commitment to a "letristic method" accounts for that neglect, for that method, no less than any other, predetermines the types of evidence that will be examined and,

____________________
1
Paul Kleppner, The Cross of Culture.
2
Kleppner, Cross of Culturele, p. 7.

-xv-

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