KC Johnson

American Political Parties

This course examines American political parties from the First Party System (Jeffersonian/Federalist) to the current day. Topics will include Jacksonian democracy, the rise and fall of the Whigs, the formation and evolution of the Republican Party, changing voting procedures and norms, the rise and fall of the New Deal coalition, and the effect of race and the Cold War on U.S. politics. The course will conclude by examining what the 2008 election says about the current party system.


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Study Questions and Supplementary Reading Assignments


January 27: Introduction

February 3: Jefferson and Jackson

February 10: No class—conversion day

February 17: Pre-Civil War Political Culture

February 24: Popular Politics

March 3: 1912 and Its Aftermath

March 10: New Deal Liberalism

March 17: Political Parties and the Cold War

March 24: Civil Rights and the Party System

March 31: 1964

April 7: The Collapse of the New Deal Coalition

April 14: No class—Spring Break

April 21: The New Republican Majority

April 28: The Politics of Abortion

May 5: Partisanship and the Party System: Impeachment, 2000

May 12: 2008 and the Party System

11 Responses

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  1. Erin Golembiewski said, on February 12, 2009 at 7.21pm

    1. Can an argument be made the assumption of Tyler to the Presidency was the beginning of the end for the Whig Party?
    2. How did Harrison’s death lead to a Jacksonion style economy?
    3. Why did Calhoun gain so much support in the 1840s across the U.S.?
    4. How did the Dorr Rebellion influence national politics?
    5. Does Wilentz gloss over Manifest Destiny, making the actions taken justifiable?
    6. Had Polk not pushed for California and the Mexican territories, which led to the expansion of slavery, is it possible that the divides within the political parties would never have occurred?
    7. On the other hand, did Polk’s presidency lead to “a new crystallization of parties in which there shall be one grand Northern party of Freedom” ? (pg 601)
    8. How can the Election of 1848 be compared to the Election of 2008?
    9. How did the Panic of 1857 and following depression impact the national political scene?
    10. Is Lincoln’s political transformation comparable to the transformation of U.S. politics during this time period?
    11. For a book entitled “From Jefferson – Lincoln”, does Wilentz devote enough time to the Lincoln period?
    12. Does Wilentz’s constant use of anecdotes and stories weigh down the book too much?

  2. Anthony said, on February 22, 2009 at 2.04pm

    1. What is McGerr trying to explain?

    2. With whom is McGerr picking a fight?

    3. According to McGerr, what is missing from existing points of view? Why are those explanations inadequate?

    4. What is his argument?

    5. McGerr argues that public life is more constricted after the 1920’s. The system is characterized by low voter turnout, skepticism of parties, more objective discussion of issues, and increased emotional identification of charismatic leaders?
    a. What are these constraints?
    b. Were there opportunities also?
    c. What does McGerr mean by more objective discussion?
    d. Was discourse objective in Jacksonian period? Why is this important to MCGerr?
    e. At what level of politics does emotional identification with charismatic leaders occur (local, state, national, all levels?)
    f. Was this sort of attachment absent during the second party system? If so, what changed?

    6. McGerr seems to suggest that people were loyal to the process during the Jacksonian Era, but afterwards they are loyal to charismatic candidates and leaders. Is this characterization accurate?

    7. In what ways is McGerr’s interpretation of the Jacksonian Era consistent with Wilentz’s and it what ways does it differ?

    8. McGerr argues that Liberal, upper-class reformers of 1860’s and 1870’s formulate a new, less partisan, and less democratic conception of political life
    a. How is this accomplished?
    b. What is the process?
    c. How do these liberal ideas grow?
    d. Is this purposeful? Is it an unforeseen consequence?

    9. McGerr argues that the decline of all forms of civic engagement is linked to development of “extra-partisan devices” (interest groups)
    a. How?
    b. Are not interest groups a form of civic engagement?
    c. Is interest group politics different from popular politics? If so, how?
    d. If interest groups are inherently elite, don’t they also require legitimacy and the type of visible expression McGerr argues is now absent? Is this a paradox in his argument?

    10. How does McGerr define the style of politics? What is the difference between advertising and educational style? How is this different from the politics of the previous period?

    11. McGerr argues that advertising agencies usurp campaign management/organization. Couldn’t parties have changed function by recognizing candidate centered trend on their own? If power of party totally usurped, why would politicians continue to turn to them/affiliate with them? (especially major parties)?

    12. How does McGerr define popular politics?

    13. McGerr uses example of October 1876 rally in New Haven as example of popular politics. What is the role of elites in this March? Who organized it? Is this a good example of popular politics? Is this an example of popular politics? Are rallies nonexistent today or are they just a different type?

    14. McGerr argues that these types of events were demonstrations of power and were heeded by political leaders. This suggests political leaders responded to demands of general public. In what ways did political leaders respond to these demonstrations?

    15. What is McGerr’s methodology? Does this impact the way he sees political parties?

    16. Has the decrease in civic engagement had an impact on American society? McGerr says parties lost their hold on public life. Is this true? If so, what does it tell us about the role of parties today? Has the decline in parties doomed the potential for civic engagement?

    17. Do parties play a less significant role in government or has the role of parties changed?

    18. Are parties a part of process of disengagement? Which variable contributed more to the decline-parties or the press? How does their relationship with each other change over time?

    19. McGerr argues that “The more active the state becomes the less conspicuous are people in communities.” What is the cause of disengagement then……Is it declining parties, less responsible parties, government/state expansion, the rise of interest group politics or something else?

    20. McGerr argues that political parties provided opportunities for radical political action as well as constraints. The last radical movement was the Socialists prior to WWI. After that, “Americans lost touch with a tradition of popular political involvement, organization, and activity. Does the 2008 election disprove his thesis?

  3. Anesha Fuller said, on February 24, 2009 at 12.10am

    1. What kind of influence do you think Wilentz was trying to emphasis that Americans had on their right to exercise power?

    2. In which ways was Wilentz trying to distinguish the Jacksonian democrats from the Whigs?

    3. Do you think Wilentz description of the Whig party compares to that of the present day Republican party?

    4. Do you think their was two different systems of slavery, one in the north and one in the south? Why?

    5. If Lincoln was alive do you think he would have been a democrat or a republican?

    6. As the Whig party dissolved, Do you think the rise of Abraham Lincoln was inevitable?

    7. List at least three ways the challenges from Jefferson to Lincoln decisively shape America.

  4. Esther Pinedo said, on March 2, 2009 at 9.44pm

    1) When looking at Roosevelt and Wilson who is the warrior and who is the priest?
    2) What are the similarities and differences in Roosevelt and Wilson’s backgrounds and political ideas?
    3) Under Roosevelt and Wilson what is the role of the federal government in economic life?
    4) How did Wilson and Roosevelt each view America’s place in the world?
    5) How did each president shape foreign policy and do you agree with Cooper that they in fact transformed American diplomacy?
    6) What does Cooper argue is the style of leadership appropriate to a modern American democracy?
    7) According to Cooper, what were Roosevelt and Wilson’s philosophies of leadership?
    8) Are Roosevelt and Wilson similar to Hamilton and Jefferson respectively?
    9) Why is 1912 an important election?
    10) What is Progressivism?
    11) According to Cooper how is the New Freedom different from the New Nationalism?
    12) How are Roosevelt and Wilson reformers?
    13) What is Wilsonian ideology?
    14) What are the advantages to a political biography and what are the disadvantages?
    15) Do you agree with Cooper that Roosevelt and Wilson are “the principal architects of modern American politics” and surpass even Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Cooper 361)?

  5. Esther Pinedo said, on March 2, 2009 at 10.05pm

    Sorry one last question…
    16) Does Cooper gloss over Wilson’s view of race and African Americans?

  6. Jihan said, on March 16, 2009 at 5.39am

    1. Which groups did Clifford feel Truman needed to appeal to, to win the presidency?
    2. What was McCarthyism?
    3. Was there a difference in terms of policy making between liberals and Republicans during the McCarthy years (Griffith)?
    4. Does Griffith believe that McCarthyism would not have existed if Senator McCarthy had not made his famous anti –communist speech in Wheeling, West Virginia?
    5. How was fear used to help the reemergence of the Republican Party (Stone)?
    6. What was the failure of the Democratic Party that led to the rise of McCarthyism (Stone)?
    7. How does Stone compare post World War II to post September 11th?
    8. How was McCarthyism used to further segregate Detroit?
    9. Is it fair to say that Sugrue believes that the politics of the urban north during the 1940’ and 1950’s needs to be examined more to understand white rebellion against the New Deal?
    10. How do Revisionists view Truman’s presidency?
    11. Griffith states that the Revisionist view of the Truman administration was due to unhappiness of the youth in the 1960’s. How can this be related to the view young people have of the Bush administration?
    12. What role does fear play in each article?

  7. Scott said, on April 6, 2009 at 8.48pm

    1. Was Republican success in 1972 a product of political opportunity or a mandate by the American people?

    2. Conservatives used the widespread drug use of protest movement members to discredit them. How important was drug culture in defining the youth of the 1960s?

    3. How important was J Edgar Hoover in the conservative’s success?

    4. Pearlstein referes to the Black Panthers as “Revolutionaries in an only-in-America kind of way.” I have never heard of them refered to that way. Thoughts?

    5. What were the ramifications of the violent acts committed by the military and police against rioters and the innocent?

    6. Did the indecision created by political concerns contribute to the violence in the various riots?

    7. How successful was the “war on poverty” in redistributing wealth? Is the fact that non-whites saw income rises faster than whites for a short period enough to call it a success?

    8. How realistic was the optimism that the “nation was finally coming around with the president on Vietnam” in late 1967, early 1968?

    9. How important was the Tet offensive in the decline of the Democratic Party’s support?

    10. Why did Martin Luther King Jrs’ death help the Republican Party?

    11. Was the “law and order” preaching of the Republican Party the key to their sucess?

    12. Was Richard Nixon merely cashing in on the military’s previous failures in Vietnam as an excuse to appeal to patriotism and expand military spending and the war?

  8. Sabina Hall said, on April 20, 2009 at 4.16pm

    1. What is the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI-Star Wars)?

    2. Why was Reagan so successful in gathering support for the SDI?

    3. How did Reagan and his administration use fear of the Soviet Union and China to gather support for the SDI?

    4. Was Reagan simply a talanted salesman who “sold” SDI to the American public despite its difficulties and complexities?

    5. How was Reagan able to convince scientists (or those who understood the program in depth) when there was substantial evidence that SDI could not do what it was set out to do (destroy nuclear ballistic missiles in open air)?

    6. Was SDI a political tool developed by the Reagan administration because he was doing poorly in the polls?

    7. Did Reagan’s Star Wars truly contribute to the end of the Cold War, or was the collapse of the Soviet Union inevitable?

  9. Tracey F. Laroche said, on April 20, 2009 at 10.12pm

    1. How does the picture of Nixon’s inauguration reflect the subtitle of Pearlstein’s book? ”The Fracturing of America”

    2. How does playing a “poker game of world diplomacy” reflect on Nixon obsession with his persona?

    3. Though Cornell was run by a liberal administration, how were they quite similar to Nixon?

    4. How does the difference between who is protesting effect the outcome of their protest? Middle class whites vs Negroes

    5. Whose ideology regarding campus anarchy was more effective; Nixon or Reagan?

    6. How were students effective in casting a negative shadow on Vietnam?

    7. What were the benefits of the Nixon-Moynihan Family Assistance Program?

  10. Avi N. said, on April 21, 2009 at 2.43am

    1. Perlstein referred to Nixon’s administration as a “machine for manipulation.” Discuss the implications of this theory.

    2. It can be argued that Nixon had an almost obsessive need for public approval. How did that hinder his political performance?

    3. Richard Nixon: great political leader or PR genius?

    4. Were the strategies that Nixon employed in fighting the “New Cultural War” successful? How might one argue that they were instead inadequately addressed?

    5. According to Perlstein, in order to save the American people from what Nixon viewed as the oncoming crises of 1972, he had to “bluff” the country into believing that it was “invincible.” Was this a successful venture or was it the beginning of the end for Nixon?

    6. What was the “New American Revolution?” What were Nixon’s public and private prerogatives regarding this issue?

    7. Discuss the validity of Perlstein’s assertion which posits that America became Nixonland because of the rise of two American identities.

    8. How did Nixon capitalize on the Democrats’ split over the war?

    9. Was Nixon’s polity of “Vietnamization” triumphant? What were some of the program’s most fundamental flaws?

    10. How did the Kent State massacre foreshadow the impending political climate that Nixon invariably was responsible for creating?

    11. In what ways was Nixon responsible for radically altering the political ideology of the American people?

  11. Ann Y. said, on April 27, 2009 at 10.07pm

    1. Why does Saletan state in the title that conservatives won the abortion war, even though abortion remains legal and Roe v. Wade has not been overturned?

    2. According to Saletan, what flaws in the liberal pro-choice strategy ultimately lead to the conservative victory in the war on abortion?

    3. How did Bill Clinton’s stance on abortion, first as governor of Arkansas and then as President, influence the evolution of the issue in state and national politics?

    4. What role did the media play in affecting voters’ decisions on the issue? How effectively were factions on different sides of the argument able to shape and communicate their positions through their respective media strategies?

    5. How were certain politicians able to exploit the issue to their advantage?

    6. How did those with an “absolute” point of view strengthen or weaken the case on either side?

    7. Privacy is a recurring issue throughout, whose privacy is central with regard to the abortion debate?

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