The American Political Nation, 1838-1893

By Joel H. Silbey | Go to book overview

Preface

THIS IS A BOOK about the world of politics in the party period of American history. In it, I am revisiting some welltrodden historiographic ground. Nineteenth-century American politics has lacked neither excellent description nor penetrating scholarly analysis. Even as political history has lost its dominant place in the study of America's past, political historians have continued to turn out important studies of individual episodes, biographies of a range of political actors, and in-depth analyses of the various eras that followed each other in the century after 1800. These studies have greatly expanded our knowledge. Some of them effectively challenged the conventional scholarly wisdom about specific details, causes, activities, relationships, and effects. Many of them also, I believe, suggest the need for some fundamental rethinking about the way that historians organize and articulate their understanding of the development of American political life since the colonial period.

But despite the good work available on the many parts that, together, make up our political world, both between 1800 and 1900, and more generally as well, that fundamental rethinking has been, at best, episodic. An integrated, descriptive analysis that incorporates recent insights and approaches to the study of past politics and that offers, as well, a needed, somewhat revised organizing scheme from that usually accepted, has not yet appeared`at least in a form that I find satisfactory. This book is my attempt to fill that gap: to elaborate and synthesize a generation's research, including my own, and to present a description and an interpretation of a particular, half-century- long moment in American political life, a moment unlike any other before it or any that has existed since it passed from the scene in the 1890s.

The idea for this study grew out of collaborative work that Lee Benson and I engaged in over the course of some years, generously

-vii-

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