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Vicarious Revolutionaries: Martial Discourse and the Origins of Mass Party Competition in the United States, 1789–1848

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2010

Cedric de Leon
Affiliation:
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Providence College

Abstract

Social scientists of democratic change have emphasized the role of class action in that process, neglecting the discursive shift that was necessary to legitimate mass party competition in the early American case. Although historians of U.S. party formation have emphasized the discursive dimension of this transition, they have focused on more formal theories of party and neglected the importance of martial discourse, which was perhaps more pedestrian, but had a distinctive mass appeal. Drawing on the papers of prominent politicians and the editorials of local party newspapers in Alabama and Illinois, I argue that incipient party elites used the language of wartime discipline to recruit national-level leaders, local operatives, and voters to the new form of elective politics. Martial discourse was therefore integral to the larger discourse of party, which ultimately helped to overcome the inherited antipartyism of the early Republic.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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References

1. I use the term “elite” to refer to politicians. I use the term “class” to refer to economic groups. Post-revolutionary politicians were not the landed and urban elite often referred to in the democratization literature. A key feature of post-revolutionary politics was the election to state legislatures of men of moderate wealth who replaced the wealthy few as the dominant force in American politics. See Main, Jackson Turner, “Government by the People: The American Revolution and the Democratization of the Legislatures,” William and Mary Quarterly 23 (1966): 404406Google Scholar and Wood, Gordon S., The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage, 1992), 87Google Scholar.

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4. By discourse, I mean a species of talk whose logic legitimates some practices and disqualifies others within a given polity.

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61. Benson, Lee, The Concept of Jacksonian Democracy: New York as a Test Case (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 27Google Scholar; Formisano, The Birth of Mass Political Parties, 55. On the class side of the debate, see for instance, Thornton, J. Mills III, Politics and Power in a Slave Society: Alabama, 1800–1860 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978)Google Scholar; Ashworth, John, ‘Agrarians’ & ‘Aristocrats’: Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837–1846 (London: Royal Historical Society; Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1983)Google Scholar; Sellers, Charles G., The Market Revolution: Jacksonian American, 1815–1846 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991)Google Scholar.

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