The politicians & the egalitarians The hidden history of American politics

Sean Wilentz

Book - 2016

'There are two keys to unlocking the secrets of American politics and American political history.' So begins The Politicians & the Egalitarians, by Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. First, America is built on an egalitarian tradition. At the nation's founding, Americans believed that extremes of wealth and want would destroy their revolutionary experiment in republican government. Ever since, that idea has shaped national political conflict and scored major egalitarian victori...es -- from the Civil War and Progressive eras to the New Deal and the Great Society -- along the way. Second, partisanship is a permanent fixture in America, and America is the better for it. Every major egalitarian victory in United States history has resulted neither from abandonment of partisan politics nor from social movement protests, but from a convergence of protest and politics, and then sharp struggles led by principled and effective party politicians. There is little to be gained from the dream of a post-partisan world. With these two arguments, Sean Wilentz offers a portrait of American history told through politicians and egalitarians including Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, and W.E.B. Du Bois -- a portrait that runs counter to current political and historical thinking.

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Subjects
Published
New York : W.W. Norton & Company [2016]
Edition
First edition
Language
English
Physical Description
xix, 364 pages ; 25 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references (pages 333-346) and index.
ISBN
9780393285024
0393285022
Main Author
Sean Wilentz (author)
  • The postpartisan style in American politics
  • America's forgotten egalitarian tradition
  • Thomas Paine: The origins of American egalitarianism
  • Life, liberty, and the pursuit of Thomas Jefferson
  • John Quincy Adams: Slavery's arch-enemy
  • John Brown: The temptation of terror
  • Abraham Lincoln: Egalitarian politician
  • Democracy at Gettysburg, 1863
  • The steel town and the Gilded Age
  • W.E.B. Du Bois: A heroic education
  • Theodore Roosevelt: Politics and folly
  • The liberals and the leftists
  • The Cold War and the perils of junk history
  • Lyndon B. Johnson: The triumph of politics.
Review by Library Journal Reviews

Author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Rise of American Democracy, Wilentz takes the long view on our parlous political climate. He argues that partisanship has always been with us, ultimately yielding social reform, and that our strong egalitarian streak is here to stay. [Page 68]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Wilentz (George Henry Davis 1886 Professor of American History, Princeton Univ.), author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Rise of American Democracy, a definitive sweeping political history of the antebellum period, here argues that economic and social equality are goals that have defined American political discourse since the country's founding. More so than ideological homogeneity, political partisanship and its trials have been and are still essential components for achieving those aims. All the personages covered in this book were embedded in an age in which partisanship was the temper of the times, and simultaneously iconic symbols of egalitarianism: for instance, Thomas Paine's entreaties to American independence, John Quincy Adams and antislavery in the antebellum period, and the Homestead Strike and organized labor. Each chapter is essentially a book review or two in context, including an evaluation of Michael Kazin's American Dreamers, of which the author is especially critical, and which could be read in conjunction with this volume. VERDICT Wilentz's examples support well the thesis of an egalitarian tradition rooted in the dynamic of partisan politics from Thomas Jefferson to Lyndon B. Johnson and up to the present. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 12/14/15.]—Jeffrey J. Dickens, Southern Connecticut State Univ. Libs., New Haven [Page 91]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Wilentz, author of the Bancroft Prize–winning Rise of American Democracy and professor of history at Princeton University, once again proves himself to be among America's most skilled (and pugilistic) historians with this brisk, hard-hitting book. He tries, with some success, to rescue liberalism from its detractors on the left and right by arguing that, at its best, liberalism has succeeded through pragmatic, principled politics as well as ideals. Wilentz also convincingly argues that efforts to reduce economic and other inequalities have been a constant in the nation's history. (It should be noted that he doesn't stress that counterefforts have also been a constant.) He makes his case principally by taking up other historians' work about major historical figures: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, W.E.B. Dubois, Theodore Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson chief among them. Sometimes Wilentz praises their work, but he's at his energetic best when on the attack against detractors of his foregrounded great men, and he doesn't hesitate to describe some histories as "nonsense" and "junk." In other hands, this would seem silly and lacking force; in Wilentz's, it's authoritative and telling. The result is wonderfully readable and the best kind of serious, sharp argumentation from one of the leading historians of the United States. (May) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

While the framers of the Constitution designed a national government they hoped would avoid partisanship’s debased ambitions and destructive tendencies, they managed to build a political system which inspired partisan politics. Wilentz notes that Americans recognized the need to combat economic privilege from the start, fighting endlessly about the meaning of democracy, and struggling against material inequalities that would threaten it. He offers his book as a source for making sense of American political history, a history which can be understood as the fitful chronicle of the politicians and the egalitarians and of the fateful occasions when their labors converged--the Progressive Era, the New Deal, and the Great Society--all achieved by and through the political parties. Annotation ©2016 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 2

An exploration of the role party politics has played in America's struggle against economic inequality discusses how every major egalitarian victory in U.S. history has resulted from a meeting of protest and politics, and struggles led by principled politicians.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

The author of the Bancroft Prize-winning The Rise of American Democracy reminds readers of the commanding role party politics has played in America's enduring struggle against economic inequality.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

One of our most eminent historiansreminds us of the commanding role partypolitics has played in America’s enduringstruggle against economic inequality.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

The Politicians & the EgalitariansFirst, America is built on an egalitarian tradition. At the nation’s founding, Americans believed that extremes of wealth and want would destroy their revolutionary experiment in republican government. Ever since, that idea has shaped national political conflict and scored major egalitarian victories—from the Civil War and Progressive eras to the New Deal and the Great Society—along the way.Second, partisanship is a permanent fixture in America, and America is the better for it. Every major egalitarian victory in United States history has resulted neither from abandonment of partisan politics nor from social movement protests but from a convergence of protest and politics, and then sharp struggles led by principled and effective party politicians. There is little to be gained from the dream of a post-partisan world.The Rise of American Democracy