The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century

By Jon Grinspan | Go to book overview

1 » Violent Little Partisans

It began at home. For Susan Bradford, home was a green-roofed, whitewashed country mansion at the center of the Pine Hill Plantation. There she lived with her father, mother, extended family, and 142 enslaved “servants.” Beyond the mansion and slave cabins stood 3,000 acres of the finest red land in Florida, planted with flower gardens, fields of cotton, and dense stands of pine.1

Susan first discovered the mystery as an eight-year-old in January 1855. Though the weather was unusually cold for Leon County, her father and several local leaders gathered outside for a hushed conference in a frosted rose garden.2 Always a curious little detective, brown-eyed, square-jawed Susan watched through a low window. She did not know that the men were all prominent southern Democrats, sharing conspiracy theories about abolitionist agitators. She knew only that “there is something wrong somewhere” and wished, more than anything, that an adult would explain “what they were talking about.”3

A few months later “something funny happened.” Susan watched as a visiting northerner gave her father a copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She noted the way his face flushed when he recognized the cover. Over the next day he read it repeatedly. Father and daughter sat together in Pine Hill’s ornate library, Susan on the couch, scribbling in her diary, her father stiff in a chair, his sad brown eyes scanning Harriet Beecher Stowe’s abolitionist epic. When the guest approached and asked what he thought of the gift, the dignified Dr. Bradford, the master of Pine Hill, with his proud, mournful face and slicked gray hair, carefully placed the book in the snapping fireplace. Bradford looked his guest in the eye as the pages blackened and declared the coals “the best place for it.”4

Susan was puzzled. “I wanted to read that book myself,” she wrote in her diary that night, “but it must have been a bad book for Father, who loves books, to have treated it that way.”5

-15-

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The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the Nineteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction - Democracy out of Doors 1
  • 1- Violent Little Partisans 15
  • 2- The Generous Ambitions of Youth 37
  • 3- My Virgin Vote 60
  • 4- The Way for a Young Man to Rise 84
  • 5- Every One Is Fifty 107
  • Conclusion - Things Ain’t What They Used to Be 129
  • Afterword 152
  • Appendix 161
  • Notes 165
  • Bibilography 227
  • Acknowledgments 249
  • Index 251
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