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

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

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

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


This analysis of the contours and social bases of mass voting behavior in the United States over the course of the third electoral era, from 1853 to 1892, provides a deep and rich understanding of the ways in which ethnoreligious values shaped party combat in the late nineteenth century. It was this uniquely American mode of "political confessionals" that underlay the distinctive characteristics of the era's electoral universe.

In its exploration of the the political roles of native and immigrant ethnic and religious groups, this study bridges the gap between political and social history. The detailed analysis of ethnoreligious experiences, values, and beliefs is integrated into an explanation of the relationship between group political subcultures and partisan preferences which wil be of interest to political sociologists, political scientists, and also political and social historians.

Unlike other works of this genre, this book is not confined to a single description of the voting patterns of a single state, or of a series of states in one geographic region, but cuts across states and regions, while remaining sensitive to the enormously significant ways in which political and historical context conditioned mass political behavior. The author accomplishes this remarkable fusion by weaving the small patterns evident in detailed case studies into a larger overview of the electoral system. The result is a unified conceptual framework that can be used to understand both American political behavior duing an important era and the general preconditions of social-group political consciousness. Challenging in major ways the liberal-rational assumptions that have dominated political history, the book provides the foundation for a synthesis of party tactics, organizational practices, public rhetoric, and elite and mass behaviors.


Political history is often sterile stuff, a collection of names, titles, and events beaded on a chronological string. Yet a time perspective can yield an awareness of dimensions of the political system that otherwise escape detection. The wars of domestic politics, like those between nations, are not events of a moment but extend through the years.

V. O. Key, Jr.

The analysis of past politics is replete with potential pitfalls and unique analytical opportunities. Conceived as a series of recurring, but individually unique, developments "beaded on a chronological string," political history produces analytically "sterile stuff." More broadly conceived, political analysis enables us to move beyond idiosyncratic happenings and to penetrate the relation between society and political system.

Traditional research strategies have encumbered that sort of analytical penetration. They have focused instead on exciting events, colorful personalities, and the dramaturgy of political notables. Pertinent evidence has often been skillfully blended to produce graceful, and even elegant, narratives. Yet for all of their informational value and analytical insights, these subordinate conceptual unity to chronological sequencing. Their central preoccupation has been telling the "story."

The ways that events unfolded and the roles that particular elites played are neither unimportant nor irrelevant to an understanding of past politics, but they do not constitute the beginning, the middle, and the end of political history. Yet traditional research strategies typically have focused on these aspects of past politics to the virtual exclusion of mass electoral behavior. Most political narratives, of course, refer to elections and to their results, but those references occupy a distinctly secondary role. Far less attention and fewer pages of monographs are devoted to . . .

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