The Democratic Experiment: New Directions in American Political History

By Meg Jacobs; William J. Novak et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter Seven
DOMESTICITY VERSUS MANHOOD RIGHTS

REPUBLICANS, DEMOCRATS, AND “FAMILY VALUES”
POLITICS, 1856–1896

Rebecca Edwards

Let us then go beyond the political party to the relationship
between society and politics, make forays from the
world of each party system back into the social order
from which it sprang.

—Samuel P. Hay

THOUGH CONFLICTS over “family values” are all too visible in the American political landscape today, historians have not yet appreciated the significance of such conflicts to party politics in the nineteenth century.1 On the one hand, historians of women have redefined the political, emphasizing relations within the family, economic roles, and activities ranging from literary clubs to suffrage activism. They have stud- ied women’s interactions with the state, asking questions about law, citi- zenship, and identity. But in thinking about parties and elections most historians of women reinscribe the notion of separate spheres: they de- scribe women’s political values and organizations as separate from men’s, with convergence occurring only in the twentieth century. Since historians can rarely analyze the choices of female voters before 1920, most con- clude that the electoral system excluded women, and they look elsewhere for “women’s politics.”2

Meanwhile, among political historians, controversy rages over the sig- nificance of nineteenth-century parties, the factors that drove voter partic- ipation, and the links (or lack thereof) between popular campaigns and government policy. While voters’ religious, racial, and ethnic loyalties have received close attention, the maleness of the electorate has seemed perhaps too obvious to warrant analysis. Historians now recognize their subject as gendered, calling electoral politics “all-male territory” and not- ing that the major parties “of course were not open to women.” Some note in passing that nineteenth-century women took an active interest in partisan campaigns.3 Yet little attention has been given to ways in which

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