From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail: The Transformation of Politics and Governance in the Gilded Age

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In the wake of civil war, American politics were racially charged and intensely sectionalist, with politicians waving the proverbial bloody shirt and encouraging their constituents, as Republicans did in 1868, to “vote as you shot.” By the close of the century, however, burgeoning industrial development and the roller-coaster economy of the post-war decades had shifted the agenda to pocketbook concerns—the tariff, monetary policy, business regulation.

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From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner Pail: The Transformation of Politics and Governance in the Gilded Age

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Overview

In the wake of civil war, American politics were racially charged and intensely sectionalist, with politicians waving the proverbial bloody shirt and encouraging their constituents, as Republicans did in 1868, to “vote as you shot.” By the close of the century, however, burgeoning industrial development and the roller-coaster economy of the post-war decades had shifted the agenda to pocketbook concerns—the tariff, monetary policy, business regulation.

In From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner-Pail, the historian Charles W. Calhoun provides a brief, elegant overview of the transformation in national governance and its concerns in the Gilded Age. Sweeping from the election of Grant to the death of McKinley in 1901, this narrative history broadly sketches the intense and divided political universe of the period, as well as the colorful characters who inhabited it: the enigmatic and tragic Ulysses Grant; the flawed visionary James G. Blaine, at once the Plumed Knight and the Tattooed Man of American politics; Samuel J. “Slick Sammy” Tilden; the self-absorbed, self-righteous, and ultimately self-destructive Grover Cleveland; William Jennings Bryan, boy orator and godly tribune; and the genial but crafty William McKinley, who forged a national majority and launched the nation onto the world stage. From Bloody Shirt to Full Dinner-Pail also considers how the changes at the close of the nineteenth century opened the way for the transformations of the Progressive Era and the twentieth century.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The politics of the late 19th century, or the Gilded Age, is the subject of this short history, and the author hopes to draw parallels between then and now. Voter turnout often surpassed 75%, political scandals were abundant, and odd third parties and flamboyant figures captured the public eye. The era has given Calhoun plenty to chew on, and the author, manifestly passionate about his niche, suggests that we are missing the implications of the historical drama. Unfortunately, by filling his book with a bewilderingly pedestrian barrage of facts, he fails to draw a persuasive parallel. Either too determined to be brief, or too loyal to his single-minded premise, Calhoun's summary of the era's politics is scholarly, complete, and bone dry. While its central impetus, the shifting balance between the influence on politics of moral issues and brute economics, is a worthy anchor point, the sheer stultifying force of endless dithering over tariffs, monetary policy, in-fighting, and partisan bickering is too strong. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

“[A] long-overdue and sorely needed overview of American politics from the end of the Civil War through the beginning of the 20th century . . . The author’s inviting prose and steely knowledge of his subject remind us that the political compromises and executive decisions forged during the latter half of the 19th century have come to define the most central tenets of modern American politics . . . Lucid and illuminating.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“In this impressively succinct and insightful book, Charles W. Calhoun makes a compelling case both for the importance of Gilded Age politics and for the significant political transitions that occurred during that era. Altogether, a splendid performance.” —Michael F. Holt, author of The Fate of Their Country
 
“Calhoun has distilled a lifetime of research in Gilded Age politics into a succinct and engrossing book, demonstrating convincingly that the interlude between Reconstruction and Progressivism was far from inconsequential. There was a two decade struggle between the nationally oriented Republican Party, willing to use federal power and presidential leadership to enforce civil rights and to achieve economic prosperity, and the laissez-faire, states rights Democratic Party, that ended with Republicans as the dominant majority. That victory presaged the Progressive Era.” —Ari Hoogenboom, Professor Emeritus, Brooklyn College
 
“In our time, the scope, cost, effectiveness, and integrity of government have again become stormy public issues. Despite all the loose parallels drawn by some present-day writers, the Gilded Age is gone, and we do not live in a new one. Yet in this accessible narrative of national politics during the late nineteenth century, the respected historian Charles W. Calhoun offers clear and convincing analysis of a period whose political divisions and issues are now manifestly relevant, and one that has never deserved its exceptionally low reputation.” —Alan Lessoff, Professor of History, Illinois State University, and editor of Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
 
“At last, a succinct, perceptive and well-written account of national politics from Grant to McKinley. Charles W. Calhoun’s engaging book delivers a comprehensive account of presidents, parties, and policies during the Gilded Age.” —Jean Baker, Professor of History, Goucher College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809047932
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 8/3/2010
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 8.78 (w) x 11.04 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

Charles W. Calhoun is Thomas Harriot College Distinguished Professor of History at East Carolina University. A former National Endowment for the Humanities fellow, he is the author of, most recently, Minority Victory: Gilded Age Politics and the Front Porch Campaign of 1888 and Benjamin Harrison, in Holt’s American Presidents series.

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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Introduction 3

1 General in the White Honse 11

2 Hayes: Uncertain Triumph 41

3 "Fold Up the Bloody Shirt" 67

4 Grover Cleveland: The Last Jacksonian 97

5 Harrison, Cleveland, and the Purposes of Power 123

6 The Emerging Republican Majority 157

Notes 187

Suggestions for Further Reading 197

Index 199

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