This book rejects conventional accounts of how, and why, American political parties differ from those in other democracies. It focuses on the introduction of that most distinctive of American party devices, the direct primary, and argues that primaries resulted from a process of party institutionalization initiated by party elites. Thus, it overturns the widely accepted view that, between 1902 and 1915, direct primaries were imposed on the parties by antiparty reformers intent on weakening them. An examination of particular northern states shows that often the direct primary was not controversial, and only occasionally did it involve confrontation between party “regulars” and their opponents. Rather, the impetus for direct nominations initially came from attempts within the parties to subject previously informal procedures to formal rules. However, it proved impossible to reform the older caucus-convention system effectively, and party elites then turned to the direct primary — a device that already had become more common in rural counties in the late nineteenth century.
Professor Alan Ware taught at the University of Warwick from 1972 to 1990, and he has been a Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, since 1990. He has been a visiting scholar at American universities, most especially at the Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley. He is author or coauthor of six previous books, most recently Political Parties and Party Systems (1996), and editor or coeditor of a number of others.