Formative Acts: American Politics in the Making

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Political actors are a diverse lot, animated and engaged by the prospect of change. Operating inside and outside the government, they are out to instigate change or inhibit it, to promote or deflect it, to channel or absorb it. Their interactions keep the American polity in a perpetual state of development, rendering it always to some degree unsettled. In the past, the study of American political development has treated political institutions and ideas as disembodied subjects. In Formative Acts, leading scholars in the field seek to refocus the debate on the political agency of people, analyzing various modes of action and various sites of interaction with an eye to their transformative potential.

Seventeen essays illuminate critical junctures in American political development—from the social movements for women's suffrage, civil rights, and workers' rights, to Reconstruction, to the regulation of prescription drugs—as vantage points from which to examine how change is enacted. Contributors question not simply how political actors behave but also how and to what extent their actions change the American polity itself. At the same time, the transformative act is presented as larger than any one actor or group of actors; often the act of transformation involves many actors and a panoply of motives.

Three concepts claim center stage: political entrepreneurship—especially as it directs attention to ambiguity and malleability in the rules of action found in any complex institutional setting; political leadership—specifically the conundrum of democratic leadership; and political agency—particularly the strongly voluntaristic construction of that concept found within American political culture. The authors focus on each of these categories to link the study of political action more effectively to our understanding of the formation and reformation of American government and politics.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the most significant edited volumes on U.S. political history to come along in many years."—Rogan Kersh, New York University

"Editors Skowronek and Glassman present seventeen essays that collectively explain the history of America's political development. . . . A compelling and provocative narrative."—Choice

"A manifesto for the study of the United States' often peculiar politics, policies and institutions in historical perspective. . . . The essays in this volume emphasize the importance of political actors within institutional, systemic, and historical contexts for the development of American politics."—Australasian Journal of American Studies

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812219906
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 8/15/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Skowronek is Pelatiah Perit Professor of Political and Social Science at Yale University. Matthew Glassman is Analyst in American National Government at the Congressional Research Service.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Formative Acts
—Stephen Skowronek and Matthew Glassman

Chapter 2: The Terrain of the Political Entrepreneur
—Adam Sheingate
Chapter 3: Leadership and American Political Development
—Bruce Miroff
Chapter 4. Agency and Popular Activism in American Political Culture
—James Block

Chapter 5. A Calculated Enchantment of Passion: Bryan and the "Cross of Gold" in the 1896 Democratic National Convention
—Richard Bensel
Chapter 6. Organizing for Disorder: Civil Unrest, Police Control, and the Invention of Washington, D.C.
—Daniel Kryder
Chapter 7. Partisan Entrepreneurship and Policy Windows: George Frisbie Hoar and the 1890 Federal Elections Bill
—Richard M. Valelly

Chapter 8. Andrew Johnson and the Politics of Failure
—Nicole Mellow and Jeffrey K. Tulis
Chapter 9. Forging a New Grammar of Equality and Difference: Progressive Era Suffrage and Reform
—Eileen McDonagh
Chapter 10. The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Language, Culture, and Political Change
—Victoria Hattam and Joseph Lowndes

Chapter 11. Presidents and Social Movements: A Logic and Preliminary Results
—Elizabeth Sanders
Chapter 12. Leaders, Citizenship Movements, and the Politics Rivalries Make
—Daniel J. Tichenor
Chapter 13. The President in the Vanguard: Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Insurgency
—Sidney M. Milkis

Chapter 14. Entrepreneurial Defenses of Congressional Power
—Eric Schickler
Chapter 15. Inventing the Institutional Presidency: Entreprenuership and the Rise of the Bureau of the Budget, 1939-49
—Andrew Rudalevige
Chapter 16. Robust Action and the Strategic Use of Ambiguity in a Bureaucratic Cohort: FDA Officers and the Evolution of New Drug Regulations, 1950-70
—Daniel P. Carpenter and Colin D. Moore
Chapter 17. Retrospective: Formative Action and Second Acts
—Elisabeth Clemens

List of Contributors

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