“This is a fascinating book. It is one of the best studies of the ways that parties and politics get conducted in any American state. Masket shows that legislators can be perfectly content without parties that control agendas and does a terrific job of explaining the transition from free-wheeling legislators to rigidly partisan voting blocs.”
—Sam Popkin, University of California at San Diego
“No Middle Ground makes a significant contribution to the study of American parties and legislative politics.”
—Matthew Green, Catholic University of America
Despite concerns about the debilitating effects of partisanship on democratic government, in recent years political parties have gained strength in state governments as well as in Washington. In many cases these parties function as machines. Unlike machines of the past that manipulated votes, however, today’s machines determine which candidates can credibly compete in a primary.
Focusing on the history and politics of California, Seth E. Masket reveals how these machines evolved and how they stay in power by directing money, endorsements, and expertise to favored candidates, who often tend toward the ideological extreme. In a provocative conclusion, Masket argues that politicians are not inherently partisan. Instead, partisanship is thrust upon them by actors outside the government with the power to manipulate primary elections.
“Wilentz brings a lifetime of learning and a mastery of political history to this brilliant book.”—David W. Blight, author of Frederick DouglassA New York Times Book Review Editors’ ChoiceA Foreign Affairs Best Book of the YearAmericans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of slavery. In this essential reconsideration of the creation and legacy of our nation’s founding document, Sean Wilentz reveals the tortured compromises that led the Founders to abide slavery without legitimizing it, a deliberate ambiguity that fractured the nation seventy years later. Contesting the Southern proslavery version of the Constitution, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass pointed to the framers’ refusal to validate what they called “property in man.” No Property in Man has opened a fresh debate about the political and legal struggles over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Civil War. It drives straight to the heart of the single most contentious issue in all of American history.“Revealing and passionately argued…[Wilentz] insists that because the framers did not sanction slavery as a matter of principle, the antislavery legacy of the Constitution has been…‘misconstrued’ for over 200 years.”—Khalil Gibran Muhammad, New York Times“Wilentz’s careful and insightful analysis helps us understand how Americans who hated slavery, such as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, could come to see the Constitution as an ally in their struggle.”—Eric Foner
A radical reconstruction of the founders’ debate over slavery and the Constitution.Americans revere the Constitution even as they argue fiercely over its original toleration of slavery. Some historians have charged that slaveholders actually enshrined human bondage at the nation’s founding. The acclaimed political historian Sean Wilentz shares the dismay but sees the Constitution and slavery differently. Although the proslavery side won important concessions, he asserts, antislavery impulses also influenced the framers’ work. Far from covering up a crime against humanity, the Constitution restricted slavery’s legitimacy under the new national government. In time, that limitation would open the way for the creation of an antislavery politics that led to Southern secession, the Civil War, and Emancipation.Wilentz’s controversial and timely reconsideration upends orthodox views of the Constitution. He describes the document as a tortured paradox that abided slavery without legitimizing it. This paradox lay behind the great political battles that fractured the nation over the next seventy years. As Southern Fire-eaters invented a proslavery version of the Constitution, antislavery advocates, including Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, proclaimed antislavery versions based on the framers’ refusal to validate what they called “property in man.”No Property in Man invites fresh debate about the political and legal struggles over slavery that began during the Revolution and concluded with the Confederacy’s defeat. It drives straight to the heart of the most contentious and enduring issue in all of American history.
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