The American Political Nation, 1838-1893

By Joel H. Silbey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
"Organize! ORGANIZE! ORGANIZE!"

Go to work, we say, at once, and organize every ward, precinct and county. Break these organizations again into smaller subdivisions; appoint officers in each; have your captains of thousands, your captains of hundreds, and your captains of tens, as the Jews did before you.

-- Richmond Whig, Oct. 3, 1848

THE CELEBRATION OF PARTY continued unalloyed from the early 1840's onward. But more than rhetorical affirmations were now at play on the American political scene. The energies of this political nation lay in mobilizing voters on behalf of specific policies or general visions of national purpose subsumed under a party label. Party leaders devoted much energy, therefore, to building increasingly elaborate organizational structures to manage their affairs and to mobilize voters and legislators and instruct them in their partisan duty. The whole adult white male population was now directly involved in politics, along with others who participated indirectly. Given the numbers involved and the need to operate nationally, how politics functioned had to change. At the same time, organizational development was also particularly stimulated by the chronology of the nation's political events -- the rhythms of politics that energized and made relevant the building of nationwide party structures.


The Rhythms of Politics

In the nineteenth century, there was always an extraordinary amount of political activity in the United States. Governments had their regular schedule of legislative sessions and administrative operations. Congress and most state legislatures met annually, for example, usually in winter. But it was the electoral universe that was particularly busy -- all but never at rest. Election activity filled most months of most years. The parties were repeatedly nominating, running, or preparing to nominate or run some candidate for one or another of the wide range of elected offices in the United States. Newspapers were filled with notices for city or local party conventions, the "primary" meetings that began the process which culminated at the state convention later in the year. One such notice, in August 1843 in the

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