Historian Writes About Politics in 1800s

Contact: Ralph Derickson

Image of book cover: “Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics”

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In “Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics,” published by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., Summers tells the full story of the political carnival, but he adds a cautionary note about the dark recesses: vote-buying, election-rigging, blackguarding, news suppression, and violence.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (May 7, 2004) -- Much of late-nineteenth-century American politics was parade and pageant, according to a new book by University of Kentucky history Professor Mark Wahlgren Summers. Summers, the Thomas D. Clark Professor of History, said voters crowded the polls, and their votes made a real difference on policy.

In “Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics,” published by the University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., Summers tells the full story of the political carnival, but he adds a cautionary note about the dark recesses: vote-buying, election-rigging, blackguarding, news suppression, and violence.

Summers also points out that hardball politics and third-party challenges helped make the parties more responsive. Ballyhoo did not replace government action. In order to maintain power, major parties not only rigged the system but also gave dissidents part of what they wanted, Summers added.

The persistence of a two-party system, Summers concludes, resulted from its adaptability, as well as its ruthlessness. Even the reform of political abuses was shaped to fit the needs of the real owners of the political system – the politicians themselves.

Summers is the author of many other books, including “The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865 – 1878” and “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1844.”


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