Epilogue: After the Fall
THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE basic impulses defining different American political nations has been clear-cut. Each era in the country's history has had a distinct political life of its own. Seeking to find ways to govern a sprawling landscape containing multiple attitudes, demands, and values, all of them aggressively championed, America's political leaders have drawn on whatever resources were available and seemed appropriate in their particular environment to develop specific means of focusing conflict, presenting alternatives, and organizing the full range of political activities. Like all the others, the American political nation from the late 1830's into the 1890's had its own distinct mix of perceptions, realities, intellectual constructs, and tribal impulses, all interacting with the structures built to contain, manage, and integrate them.
The search for societal order and political responsiveness in the 1830's led to the creation of national political parties, which, their advocates believed, melded together America's diversity, provided an effective and durable means of fostering political involvement and cooperation, and kept often quite contentious conflict in reasonable bounds. 1 There were many political communities in the United States in the nineteenth century. Some of them were locally rooted; others were state, sectional, or national in their origins, meaning, and operation. The localist impulses originally shaped popular voting choice and promoted a close interaction between party structure and individual citizens. People at the local level could participate in politics directly and repeatedly, while keeping those politics within a framework of meaning clear to themselves and their neighbors. The national elements focused all of these and linked people and localities across much larger dimensions of attitudes and actions by providing symbols and meaning for abstract notions. All of the components, from local to national, gave meaning and texture to the whole experience.