Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791

Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791

Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791

Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791

Excerpt

Politics without parties seems a contradiction in terms. Yet even in modern states, governments, representative or not, can make vital decisions affecting millions of people without or outside of the ministrations or influence of parties. What tends to be exceptional today was the rule in the eighteenth century. There were, of course, parties, if the term is extended to include factions, ideological divisions, and the loose and transitory confederations which united to sponsor certain, usually broad, programs. But the modern institutionalized party had not yet emerged.

This fact places the historian studying the eighteenth century at a serious disadvantage. Scholars studying the nineteenth or twentieth centuries have been able to correlate tremendous amounts of social, economic, religious, and cultural data to a definite number of well-organized, relatively stable parties. The availability of data and the finite number of parties enable them to describe the differences among the parties in terms of leadership and voting support and permit them to study changes in these categories over time. Many, after developing this description, have pushed on to analyze rhetoric, issues, and changes in party positions and have attempted to show how these factors are interrelated with party support and leadership. But the eighteenth-century historian faces two serious and related problems: (1) the absence of parties which provide a ready-made structure for his analysis, and (2) the lack of massive quantities of social, economic, and other types of data that can be used to describe the society and can then be used to compare the support for various parties.

Most political historians working in the eighteenth century have avoided these difficulties by their choices of approach and research techniques. Many have concluded that politics, both in Britain and in the colonies, revolved around countless numbers of factions united by personality, by family alliance, or by narrowly . . .

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