Author: Jon Grinspan
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
They built a calmer, cleaner democracy, but also a more distant one. Americans’ voting rates crashed and never fully recovered. This is the origin story of the “normal” politics of the 20th century.
A raucous history of American democracy at its wildest-and a bold rethinking of the relationship between the people and their politics. Democracy was broken. Or so many Americans believed in the decades after the Civil War. Shaken by economic and technological disruption, they found safety in tribal partisanship defined by race, class, and ethnicity. The results were the loudest, closest, and most violent elections in U.S. history. Yet paradoxically, these elections shaped a thrilling public culture of campaigning by ordinary citizens and drew our highest-ever voter turnouts. Then, at the century's end, a movement to tame democracy calmed the era's wild politics and crafted our modern norms and voting laws. But in restraining their savage system, reformers traded away participation for civility. This is the origin story for the “normal” politics today's Americans grew up with. The Age of Acrimony offers a revelatory account of 19th-century democracy's unruly spectacle-and what it cost to cool the republic. At its center is the captivating drama of a remarkable father-daughter dynasty: William “Pig Iron” Kelley, a radical, working class congressman, and Florence Kelley, a fiery intellectual who defied him and went on to become a leader of the Progressive movement. Through Will and Florie's personal struggles-and their friendships and feuds with a lively cast of characters-historian Jon Grinspan traces a narrative of American democracy in crisis, revealing our divisive political system's enduring capacity to heal itself.