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

5 » Every One Is Fifty

Stepping back from public did not mean abandoning politics. Samuel Tilden, an odd little frog of a man, directed campaigns, tallied margins, and mobilized voters, all from the ornate seclusion of his Manhattan mansion. More than any other leader, Tilden participated in the span of popular politics from the 1830s through the 1880s. And though hidden away in the cloistered elegance of Gramercy Park, Tilden knew how to draw young Americans out into politics.1

The “Sage of Gramercy” would never bring a revolver to a polling place, or ride his horse through an icy river, or even flirt with Democratic ladies at torchlit processions. Since his youth Tilden had been weird and retiring: a chronic hypochondriac who complained of Victorian afflictions like “corrugated tongue,” a brilliant student who dropped out of Yale because he disliked the food, a passionate Democrat for whom the party served as “wife, children, and church.”2 But he showed an unrivaled grasp of youth politics. While young people expressed their aspirations by heading out to join the noisy rallies, men like Tilden stepped back from the raucous public, binding their individual enthusiasms into something larger.

Tilden was once one of those American boys for whom politics was an engrossing sport. His family ran a country store in the Hudson valley in the 1820s, frequented by many of the founders of the Democratic Party. His father would sit young Samuel on the counter and have him explain the finer points of party ideology to Martin Van Buren or William Cullen Bryant. Tilden spent his teens giving speeches against the Bank of the United States, moneyed privilege, and “centralism,” his lifelong foe.3 He grew into a political mastermind. As an adult he loved organization, wooing editors, uniting feuding factions, and calculating likely turnouts. When he ran for governor of New York, Tilden not only won but estimated his margin of victory almost to the voter.4

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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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