The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865–1915

Bloomsbury. Apr. 2021. 384p. ISBN 9781635574623. $30. HIST
Presidential elections following the American Civil War were highly contested affairs. White Americans men voters often aligned themselves closely with one of the two main parties, which were heavily influenced by party bosses and political machines. Voter turnout averaged 77 percent; however, the era also saw one president impeached, three assassinations, and two presidents lose the popular vote but win the electoral college. By the early 1900s, measures were introduced by middle- and upper-class reformers with the aim of stabilizing U.S. politics, but they instead decreased voter turnout. The introduction of the secret ballot destroyed the power of machine bosses; racist terrorism and lynchings depressed turnout of Black voters in the South; and new laws kept recent immigrants from voting. This turbulent time in American politics is expertly captured by historian Grinspan (Smithsonian National Museum of American History; The Virgin Vote), primarily via the work of Pennsylvania congressman William “Pig Iron” Kelley and his activist daughter Florence Kelley. The highly readable account is based on extensive primary resources, such as the voluminous correspondence between the Kelleys.
VERDICT This compelling history of a time that mirrors our own will be enjoyed by readers interested in American history and politics.
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