The Age of Acrimony

The Age of Acrimony

How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865-1915

Jon Grinspan
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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.
[A] period chronicled in vivid and loving detail . . . Plunges readers into a pulsating political culture long vanished * Wall Street Journal, on THE VIRGIN VOTE * An imaginative and suggestive study that places American political history in a broad social context. * American Historical Review, on THE VIRGIN VOTE * As a study of the excitement and larger significance of political engagement in the [19th century], this is the most thoughtful and indeed the best book written in at least a generation. It is also quite a lot of fun. * The Journal of the Civil War Era, on THE VIRGIN VOTE * Fascinating and timely . . . this important book makes clear that we need a modern version of the Wide Awake movement. * Vox, on THE VIRGIN VOTE * In this energetic account of the rise and fall of youthful political engagement in the nineteenth century, Jon Grinspan embraces the narrative zeal of his subjects with his own fast-paced and exuberant writing style. * Journal of Southern History, on THE VIRGIN VOTE *
Jon Grinspan is curator of political history at the Smithsonian' s National Museum of American History. He holds a PhD in American history from the University of Virginia. Grinspan is the author of the award-winning The Virgin Vote: How Young Americans Made Democracy Social, Politics Personal, and Voting Popular in the 19th Century. He also frequently contributes to the New York Times, the Atlantic, and other publications, and has been featured in the New Yorker, the Washington Post, NPR programs, PBS, and NBC. He lives in Washington, D. C.