Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Black Gambler's World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: William Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839-1917

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

A Black Gambler's World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: William Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839-1917

Article excerpt

A Black Gambler's World of Liquor, Vice, and Presidential Politics: William Thomas Scott of Illinois, 1839-1917. By Bruce L. Mouser. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014). Pp. 187, notes, index. Paper, $24.95.)

At a time when the confluence between race and party politics is at the forefront of American discourse, the past illuminates ever-shifting relationships. African American solid support of the Democratic Party, taken as a given in 2016, was not always a given. Bruce L. Mouser, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, uses the life of William Thomas Scott as a lens to examine the shift of African American support away from the Republican Party in the second half of the nineteenth century. As Henry Louis Gates writes in the foreword to A Black Gamblers World, "the groundwork for 'the switch' was being laid as early as the 1880s and 1890s, when in the decades after Reconstruction, the Republican Party took 'the black vote for granted to the point that it no longer felt it had to give anything back except to remain the lesser of two evils" (p. ix).

William Thomas Scott is not the obvious subject for a political biography, but his story makes for an interesting and informative narrative. Scott, born free in Ohio three decades before the Civil War, spent his life working the margins between legality and illegality, politics and commerce, respectable society and the underworld. Scott used the hustling skills learned in the margins of legality to exert political influence and become the National Negro Liberty Party's presidential nominee in 1904, only to be supplanted by George Edwin Taylor who better represented the politics of respectability. Scott's life has been relatively unexamined up to now, and the lack of primary sources from Scott (he left no letters, writings, photographs, nor business records) explains the brevity of this volume (125 pages of text). The lack of sources forces Mouser to reconstruct Scott's life through a creative use of extensive contemporary newspaper coverage of Scott, two lengthy newspaper interviews of Scott, and numerous secondary sources. …

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