The Birth and Growth of Gerrymandering in Early America

Gerrymandering, the politicians’ practice of drawing district lines to favor their party and expand their power, is nearly as old as the republic itself. Elbridge Gerry was a powerful voice in the founding of the nation, but today he’s best known for the political practice with an amphibious origin. Long and thin, the redrawn state[…]

Elbridge Gerry’s Monster Salamander that Swallows Votes

Examining the two-hundred-year-old creation of Founding Father Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. By Harlow Giles Unger As Americans prepare to vote in local and state elections on Election Day, tens of thousands–even millions–will find their votes chewed, swallowed, and discarded by a monstrous “salamander”—the two-hundred-year-old creation of Founding Father Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Gerry created the[…]

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates: Opponents Unified in Founding Principles

They asked voters to sort through mounds of partisan propaganda and do whatever necessary to understand the issues. By Georgiann Baldino Political insults and conspiracy theories are nothing new in American history. One election in particular set a standard for nasty charges and countercharges. In the 1858 Illinois senatorial contest, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas hurled insults and[…]

Overpromise, Lie, and Other Hairy Political Advice from Quintus Cicero in 64 BCE

His brother, Marcus (the famed orator), was running for consul, the loftiest office in the Roman Republic. If Karl Rove had lived in ancient Rome, he might have written something like Commentariolum Petitiones, a down-and-dirty electioneering guide from 64 B.C. published in English by Princeton University Press as How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide[…]

Lessons in the Decline of Democracy from the Ruined Roman Republic

A new book argues that violent rhetoric and disregard for political norms was the beginning of Rome’s end. By Jason Daley The U.S. Constitution owes a huge debt to ancient Rome. The Founding Fathers were well-versed in Greek and Roman History. Leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison read the historian Polybius, who laid out[…]

A Century of Protest in D.C.

From veterans to civil rights, a history of marching in Washington. By Dr. Alexander SternWriter/EditorThe Learning Agency Marching on Washington may seem an obvious recourse for a national protest movement today, but it wasn’t until more than a century after the District of Columbia’s founding in 1791 that protesters first marched on the Capitol. The[…]

Jane Addams and Lillian Wald: Imagining Social Justice from the Outside

Their relationships were profoundly instrumental to their vision of social justice that changed America. Anyone who has taken a United States history course in high school knows the story of Jane Addams and Chicago’s Hull House, the first Settlement House in America and arguably the genesis of social work in the country. More advanced textbooks[…]

H. L. Mencken Loved to Cover Political Conventions but Had Little Faith in Voters

“As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people.” On June 20, 1948, a round and no doubt rumpled correspondent for the Baltimore Sun looked into the galleries of a Philadelphia convention hall and spotted the future. His name was Henry Louis Mencken, and he didn’t like[…]

Four Presidential Elections that Changed U.S. Politics

The changes the 20th century brought to American politics continue to hold true in the 21st century. Margaret O’Mara, associate professor of history at the University of Washington and author of Pivotal Tuesdays: Four Elections that Shaped the Twentieth Century (University of Pennsylvania Press) discussed the book and the four critical elections with writer Peter Kelley. I[…]

“Divide et Impera”: A History of “Divide and Rule”

The use of this technique is meant to empower the sovereign to control subjects who collectively might be able to oppose his rule. Introduction Divide and rule (from Latin divide et impera), or divide and conquer, in  politics and sociology is gaining and maintaining power by breaking up larger concentrations of power into pieces that individually have less power than the one implementing the[…]

Populism, Sovereigntism, and the Unlikely Re-Emergence of the Territorial Nation-State

Populists deployed an extreme concept of popular sovereignty over the course of the 20th century. Abstract In the last three decades, the rise of a populist challenge to the liberal political mainstream exposed how shallow the supposed victory of global liberalism was, even in its heartlands in Europe and North America. Exclusive nationalism and nativism,[…]

When Populist Wendell L. Willkie Upended the GOP Primary in 1940

The populist businessman known as “the barefoot Wall Street lawyer” took over his party’s convention in Philadelphia. Later this week, the historic nomination of the first female candidate for president by a major political party at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia is sure to generate considerable hoopla. But, as with all U.S. presidential conventions[…]

The Public Relations Strategy That Made Andrew Jackson President

Long before his campaign launched, ‘Old Hickory’s’ supporters were scrubbing his image. Sixty-five years ago, historian John William Ward had the insight that for better or worse, Andrew Jackson’s victory over the British at New Orleans on January 8, 1815, made him the “Symbol for an Age.” There are those who would argue that the[…]

The Mad Men Who Invented the Modern Political Attack Ad

Since 1964, advertising agencies have sold presidential candidates as if they were cars or soap. On September 7, 1964, a 60-second TV ad changed American politics forever. A 3-year-old girl in a simple dress counted as she plucked daisy petals in a sun-dappled field. Her words were supplanted by a mission-control countdown followed by a[…]

When American Politicos First Weaponized Conspiracy Theories in the 1820s and 1830s

Outlandish rumors helped elect Presidents Jackson and Van Buren and have been with us ever since. From claims that NASA faked the moon landing to suspicions about the U.S. government’s complicity in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Americans love conspiracy theories. Conspiratorial rhetoric in presidential campaigns and its distracting impact on the body politic[…]

Edith Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge: Partners in Life and Politics in the Early 20th Century

Long before Chasten Buttigieg became a ‘not-so-secret weapon’ in his husband Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign, another same-sex couple profoundly reshaped American social policy. Since openly gay South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced his bid for the presidency, news outlets have been full of stories about Buttigieg and his husband. By highlighting the novelty of an out[…]

Guts, Stamina, Audacity: Shirley Chisholm’s House Career

Beyond the headlines and iconic reputation she built across party lines, she had to fight just as hard within the House for the causes she supported. Introduction Fifty years ago this month, Shirley Chisholm, the charismatic and outspoken Brooklyn educator and politician, made history when she became the first African-American woman to serve in Congress. Small in stature,[…]

How Herbert Hoover Skirted Scandal to Win the White House

The public was charmed by his presentation as an antidote to politics, until the Great Depression hit. It was not the craziest election of the 20th Century, but it might have been the strangest. One candidate was a natural politician, affable and gregarious, a true man-of-the-people who favored flashy suits and a trademark derby hat.[…]

The Untold Story of the Presidential Candidate Once Named “Our Other Franklin”

Massive rallies, an emulated style, and voted from both Democrats and Republicans couldn’t save this quixotic candidate’s campaign – or his life. A populist desire for “reform” runs deep in the psyche of American voters. Every few decades, a presidential candidate channels this rebellious spirit. Andrew Jackson was such a candidate in 1828. So were[…]

Daniel Webster and the Dazzling 1830 Defense of a Strong Federal Government

New England statesman Daniel Webster believed in strong, centralized power when it served his region’s interests. For generations, school children memorized the ending to Daniel Webster’s “Second Reply to Hayne,” delivered during the famous Webster-Hayne debate of January 1830. This most-famous-of-debates began in a modest fashion, with an argument over westward expansion and morphed into[…]

Unethical, Even Illegal Campaign Tactics Are as Old as Our Republic

Since the earliest years of the republic, candidates have used deceptive, underhanded and dubiously legal tactics to discredit their opponents. 1800: Jefferson vs. Adams The 1800 race between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams was a lowly beginning for the new American democracy. Jefferson was Adams’ vice president from 1797 to 1801. To defeat his boss without[…]

The Unseen Significance of Jefferson’s Natural-Aristoi Letter to Adams

Thomas Jefferson crafted a letter to John Adams in a delayed reply to several other letters on views of aristocracy. On October 28, 1813, Thomas Jefferson crafts a letter to John Adams in a delayed reply to several other letters, written by Adams on his views of aristocracy, which cry out for a reply. Adams[…]

The Jewish People, Expatriate Artists, and Political Radicalism in Interwar France

Jewish would-be artists began arriving in Paris in the decade before the First World War. Jews were new neither to Paris nor to the artistic avant-garde in the 1920s. What was new were both their numbers and visibility. One French study estimates that over five hundred Jewish artists were working in Paris in the interwar[…]

Masculinity and Political Violence in Interwar France

It was an era and a culture that was both misogynist and racist, in which Jews from Léon Blum on down were castigated as effete “coffeehouse Jews.” On a clear, beautiful day in the center of the city of Paris I performed the first act in front of the entire world. Scholom Schwartzbard, letter from[…]

The Pankhurst Sisters: Bitter Divisions behind Their Fight for Women’s Votes

Sylvia Pankhurst’s book is the dominant narrative of the time, but was she unfair to her sister Christabel? Emmeline Pankhurst, her eldest daughter Christabel and some local socialist women founded, in 1903, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Their goal was to campaign for the parliamentary vote for women. The women-only WSPU, whose members were called[…]