Alan Trachetenberg


Chapter 05: The Politics of Culture


In "What Makes a Life Significant?" William James recalls "happy week" at the famous Chautauqua grounds in upstate New York. Founded in 1874 as an annual summer retreat for Methodist Sunday-school teachers and church workers, by the 1890's the Chautauqua assembly had supplemented its summer classes with home-study and correspondence courses. Under the educational direction of William Rainey Harper, later president of the University of Chicago, Chautauqua became synonymous with American self-education, an outgrowth of the antebellum lyceum movements through which distinguished lecturers had brought culture and learning into remote cities and towns. For James, visiting Chautauqua in 1896 (he published his essay in 1899), the place had become a "sacred enclosure," its atmosphere infused with success. "Sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness, pervade the air ... Beautifully laid out in the forest and drained, and equipped with means for satisfying all the necessary lower and most of the superfluous higher wants to man," the town included a college, a chorus of seven hundred voices, athletic fields, schools, religious services, daily lectures, "no zymotic diseases, no poverty, no drunkenness, no crime, no police," and "perpetually running soda-water fountains." Founded on the principle of enlightenment for the common man, Chautauqua had become a "middle-class paradise." "You have culture, you have kindness," James observed, "you have cheapness, you have


equality, you have the best fruits of what man kind has fought and bled and striven for under the name of civilization for centuries.

Obviously, the "happy week" displeased the famous Harvard psychologist and philosopher, its "foretaste of what human society might be ... with no suffering and no dark corners turning sour for him. Why? Had not Chautauqua managed to achieve just what James's friends among intellectuals and reformers of the 1880's so desperately desired, a worldly Celestial City? Rejecting this very vision precisely because of its insulation from suffering, from adventure and risk, from those dangers which make life significant, James reflected in this essay, as in his other writings of the 1890's, a new turn in that decade, a "reorientation," as John Higham has put it, in values and ideals. In its very success, middle-class culture had come to seem stifling, enervating, effeminate, devoid of opportunities for manly heroism. The same nagging and nervous discontent which drove Roosevelt, Wister, and Remington to the West, Henry Adams to medieval France and the South Seas, and the offspring of Northern elite families into cults of arts and crafts, militarism, and Orientalism, James away from Chautauqua, "wishing for heroism and the spectacle of human nature on the rack."

He finds that spectacle, as he leaves the vicinity of the assembly in an unexpected place: through the window of speeding train, in a flashing glimpse of "a workman doing something on the dizzy edge of a sky-scaling iron construction." What is unexpected is the discovery of "great fields of heroism lying around about me in the daily lives of the laboring classes, in the physical work, in cattle yards and mines, on vessels and lumber rafts, "wherever a scythe, an axe, a pick, or a shovel is wielded." The scales falling from his eyes, James realizes at once that heroism need not be confined to the romance of battle. His soul fills with "a wave of sympathy with the common life of common men."

Recounting this extraordinary moment, James urges the students in his audience to resist that endemic blindness to the "lives of the other half," that American condition by which "everybody remains outside everybody else's sight." His new insight attacks the very basis of the Chautauqua ideal: if we wish to "redeem life from insignificance," he writes, "culture and refinement all alone are not enough." Instead, we must stiffen "our own ideals" with the tonic of the-common


By such an infusion of masculinity into the predominantly feminine precincts of refinement, the entire society will pass forward some newer and better equilibrium." In that process, indeed, the unrefined laboring masses also stand to benefit through "some sort of fusion, some chemical combination" with the ideal aspirations" of culture. Just as "we" must learn to see that our comfortable lives depend on "their patient hearts and enduring backs and shoulders," so they, especially the ignorant immigrants among them, must open their eyes to the higher things about them. With "one-half of our fellow-country-men...entirely blind to the internal significance of the lives of the other half," we live in treacherous disunity. By joining the culture of art, refinement, formal education with the daily heroism of unwashed but patient and enduring labor, James thus envisions a restored and renewed body politic, a fusion of higher and lower through a revitalized culture: Chautauqua invigorated with the life of the street, field, and factory.

Similar images of a whole restored through culture had preoccupied a wide range of Americans in the previous three decades. Indeed, the idea of self-cultivation represented by Chautauqua had seemed the very promise of social unity and harmony. And, to be sure, it succeeded, as James observed, but at the cost of insulating itself from the daily realities of great numbers of unprivileged fellow citizens. The presiding concept of culture, James explained, restricted the applicability of the Chautauqua idea, thus fostering further exclusions, blindness, disharmonies, rather than the unity so desperately wanted. The intellectual and aesthetic realms of "sweetness and light" (in Matthew Arnold's famous words) must open themselves to physical labor, to risk and adventure, if America were to achieve genuine social harmony. James's critique, then, expresses dissatisfaction with a notion of culture as mere sweetness and light; he accepts the value of "ideal aspirations" but wishes to bring even the lower orders within their domain by an exchange of virtues. Thus, through an expanded concept of culture, might Americans of all social classes become visible and real to each other.

Both Chautauqua and James's criticism of its limitations belong to a current of thinking in the Gilded Age which viewed culture as a hopeful social and political force. By culture, most thinkers in the period meant nonutilitarian activities and goods:


the arts, religion, personal refinement, formal higher education. In effect, the word implied leisure: those energies which did not go into the making of a living. Imprecise and vague, the term nevertheless named definite aspirations to rise above the mundane, to enrich one's life by cultivation of nonmaterial enjoyments. Sometimes called genteel or high or elite, this notion of culture differs considerably, giving rise to frequent confusion, from the notion more common today (and throughout this book) of culture as the "way of life" of a society or group. Thus, while James saw culture and labor as unfortunately separate from each other, we might just as well speak of the culture of labor, referring thereby to values and habits, to structures of thinking, feeling, and acting shared by the community of labor. This broader definition of culture embraces the arts and intellectual experiences, but is not confined to them. While genteel or elite notions of culture are normative, setting special value on certain styles of art or patterns of behavior, the broader definition is descriptive, referring to the entire complex realm within a society in which values and outlooks take shape and guide behavior. The culture of the Gilded Age, we might then say, contained a particular idea of culture as a privileged domain of refinement, aesthetic sensibility, and higher learning.

The Chautauqua James saw had been produced, refined, and set in place during the Gilded Age as a virtually official middleclass image of America. It was, moreover, deliberate and conscious alternative to two extremes, the lavish and conspicuous squandering of wealth among the very rich, and the squalor of the very poor. The extremes represented menace, peril to the original idea of a republic of freeholding independent property holders. Culture would offer a middle ground, and insofar as it was based on education (the purpose on which Chautauqua rested), it offered a democratizing influence, accessible to all those willing to raise themselves to the status of American. Culture and refinement, then, conveyed a political message, a vision of a harmonious body politic under the rule of reason, light, and sweet, cheerful emotion.

This vision of a middle-class paradise drew on several sources and models. Founded on a newly fashioned creed of art and learning in the service of Protestant virtue, it came to represent an official American version of reality. And although that outlook


crystallized in almost direct response to the turmoil and impassable gulfs accompanying industrial incorporation-the new immigrant work force, the doom of the countryside and rise of the great city, the mechanization of daily life, the invasion of the marketplace into human relations, the corruption and scandal of a political universe dominated by great wealth-it sealed itself off from these realities. The emergent idea of the cultured life made it increasingly difficult, as James recognized, for its devotees even to see the rest of the world, let alone see it critically. Stock notions of the "other half " were implanted in the evolving middle-class consensus, notions which served the negative purpose of proclaiming what the true America was not, what it must exclude or eradicate in order to preserve itself Thus, incorporation spawned a normative ideal of culture which served as protection against other realities.

Advocates and guardians of culture performed a major role in these years, setting in place what remain the key official institutions: large private universities, municipal museums and concert halls, immense central public libraries. In a mere decade, an entire apparatus appeared, an infrastructure which monumentalized the presence of culture, of high art and learning, within the society: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1870, the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1876, the Art Institute of Chicago in 1879. Open to the public, such institutions seemed to their advocates and supporters democratic enterprises, serving to diffuse knowledge, taste, and refinement. What they in fact diffused, however, was a set of corollaries to the idea of culture. Organized by the urban elite, dominated by ladies of high society, staffed by professionally trained personnel, housing classic works of European art donated by wealthy private collectors, the museums subliminally associated art with wealth, and the power to donate and administer with social station and training. Their architecture reinforced the message: magnificent palaces with neoclassical fronts, marble columns, sweeping staircases, frescoed ceilings, and stained-glass windows. The splendor of the museums conveyed an idea of art as public magnificence, available in hushed corridors through a corresponding act of munificence by private wealth. European and classical masterpieces epitomized the highest, purest art. Thus, museums established as a physical fact the notion that


culture filtered downward from a distant past, from overseas, from the sacred founts of wealth and private power. By the same token, private universities emerged bearing the names of their donors as monuments to the philanthropy of private wealth: Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Vanderbilt, and Stanford Universities, the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and the University of Chicago (founded by a gift from John D. Rockefeller), all appearing between the late 1860's and the early 1890's.

A complex of factors lay behind these developments; they included the recent accumulation of an economic surplus large enough to fund such nonprofit enterprises. The new significance of knowledge, of the social as well as the physical sciences, contributed to the rise of private elite universities and the professionalization of graduate study. No doubt, personal motives were important: the wish for a conspicuous display of philanthropy on the part of wealthy donors, and for status on the part of the gentry, for whom the custodianship of culture provided desirable opportunities for noblesse oblige. Also, associated with leisure, culture seemed increasingly the sphere of women, of ladies of charity as well as schoolteachers and librarians; indeed, cultivation was already the touchstone of femininity. The rise to power of culture was at once the rise of a powerful idea of the feminine, of woman's role: the dispensing of values nonmaterial, nonaggressive, nonexploitative. As culture came to seem the repository of elevating thoughts and cleansing emotions, it seemed all the more as if the rough world of masculine enterprise had called into being its redemptive opposite.

New social roles developed for culture. Changes in social structure, the polarization of rich and poor, and the growth of a salaried middle class anxious about its own status opened the opportunity-indeed, created the necessity-for the healing properties identified with high culture. When narrowly defined as art, polite cultivation and manners, genteel styles of speech and dress, culture seemed antithetical to the rough and tumble of everyday life, to the quotidian and the practical, yet available through the ministrations of women as a refining and redeeming anodyne. Women represented "the beauty principle," the influential minister and theologian Horace Bushnell wrote in 1869; it was complementary to the "force principle" represented by men. The terms appear in his tract against voting rights for women,


Women 's Suffrage: The Reform Against Nature, which argued that participation in the civil realm would corrupt the feminine character, their "indoor faculty, covert, as the law would say, and complementary, mistress and dispenser of the enjoyabilities." In her The American Woman's Home, published the same year, Catharine Beecher agreed that women should rule the domestic sphere, stay away from the ballot box, and devote themselves to the "great mission" of "self-denial." In her influential Treatise on Domestic Economy of 1841, of which the 1869 book was a revision in collaboration with her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, she had urged American women to take up their "exalted privilege" to "renovate degraded man, and 'clothe all climes with beauty."'

For Bushnell and Beecher, culture performed its work chiefly in the home, the domestic sphere protected from the corrupting powers of the competitive marketplace and the political arena by the nurturing powers of women. The notion exercised great appeal, reflected in the outburst of popular manuals and treatises such as Beecher's and Stowe's on domestic arrangements, on furnishings, choice of wallpapers, design of rooms; of mass-produced miniature plaster sculpture suck as John Roger's genre scenes of country life and family happiness; and a corresponding rise in concern with child rearing. Early implantation of culture lay as a motive behind the founding of kindergartens in these decades. The growing literature of domesticity must be counted along with the founding of museums and concert halls, the creation of public parks, and the spread of public schools, as part of a concerted middle-class effort to find in culture both pleasure and instruction , Bushnell's "enjoyabilities" and Beecher's lessons in the virtue of sacrifice and domestic harmony.

This feminization of culture, its location within the precincts of the home, implied that view of culture William James found so stifling at Chautauqua, a view of aesthetic experience as merely receptive, passive, spectatorial. Writing about the design of parks in 1870, Olmsted had evoked that very theory, describing, as he put it, two capacities latent in all people, the "exertive" and the "receptive." One kind of park design might well "stimulate" exertion, games and sports, for example. Another, related to "music and the fine arts generally," will "cause us to receive pleasure without conscious exertion." A place designed for games and sports would encourage that very competitiveness and


reminder of physical labor he wished to expunge from the zone of the park. Sports and games would invite rowdy working-class youths and disrupt the tranquillity of promenade and contemplation. The receptive faculties, he continued, can further be divided into two types, the "gregarious" and the "neighborly." By allowing people to congregate in peace and quiet, the public park will satisfy the first need. The second is more difficult to describe, and Olmsted reaches for an illustration "in a familiar domestic gathering, where the prattle of the children mingles with the easy conversation of the more sedate, the bodily requirements satisfied with good cheer, fresh air, agreeable light, moderate temperature, snug shelter, and decorations adapted to please the eye." The domestic scene thus induces "a pleasurable wakefulness of mind without stimulating exertion." It induces that very condition Bushnell described, in which the "masculine force" sinks "into the bigger self that he calls his home ... sheltered in the womanly peace he has protected, for the gentler and more dear protection of his own stormy life."

Feminization thus implied that art and culture were sinking into, a losing of oneself in a larger emotion, a "bigger self." It was this apparent selflessness of the experience of art which emerged as a common motif in numerous commentaries about the social utility and necessity of culture. Culture was represented increasingly as the antidote to unruly feeling, to rebellious impulses, and especially to such impulses showing themselves with more frequency, as the years went on, among the lower orders. The conjunction of culture with wealth and property on one hand, with surrender, self-denial, and subordination to something larger on the other, gave it a cardinal place among instruments of social control and reform. Moreover, by offering a middle ground presumably secure from aggressions of the marketplace, culture would offer an alternative to class hostility. It would disarm potential revolution, and embrace all classes.

Throughout the period, writers made explicit the political uses of culture. For the art critic James Jackson Jarves in the late 1860's, museums, galleries, churches, universities, and parks served as "moral physical reformers." He cited Central Park itself as "a great free school for the people ... a magnetic charm of decent behavior, giving salutary lessons in order, discipline, comeliness, culminating in mutual good will." A decade later,


after the turmoil of the 1870's, the Unitarian minister Jonathan Baxter Harrison adopted a more embattled tone. His observations and tours of factory towns in New England convinced him that America was "in the earlier stages of a war on property, and upon everything that satisfied what are called the higher wants of life." Raising the alarm in Certain Dangerous Tendencies in American Life (1880), he recounted his firsthand investigations in a New England mill town, where he found among workers "distrust, suspicion, and hostility regarding all who do not belong to their claw."

Harrison undertook to learn as much as he could about the culture of mill workers: "I saw their food and their methods of preparing it, examined the books and papers which they read, and listened to their accounts of their own life and work and experience." He found the New York "story papers" and their serialized tales devoured by factory youths "vapid, silly, turgid, and incoherent." He found "older operatives, especially foreigners," deeply engaged in the reading of a labor newspaper just then carrying "a very long serial story of the overthrow of the republic in 1880" by revolutionary workers. In such literary offerings and in the "declaration of principles" printed weekly, "the tone and spirit of the paper are indescribably bitter, and expressive of intense hostility against the possessors of property and culture." In the evenings, younger workers of both sexes divert themselves in one or another of the many saloons and music halls in the town, listening to ballad singers and a striking, suave black performer of spirituals and minstrels. Sexual behavior, he is pleased to say, seems in good order, "more pure and free" than most moralists think, which proves the happy point that "toil represses passion." Factory workers have "little leisure for vicious thoughts, for nourishing mischievous and profligate desires." Thus, the minister concludes on the question of the hours of labor that the more the better; all men need more than eight hours of work a day "in order to keep down and utilize the forces of the animal nature and passions." Otherwise, "society would rot in measureless and fatal animalism." On this count, the culture of industrialism is to be applauded.

But social hostility is not so easily repressed. Harrison proposes that the mill owners take responsibility, in their own interest, to provide "suitable reading matter" for their hands, uniting


with "cultivated people" in the town to publish low-priced, elevating newspapers for the working people. On a national scale, "those who believe in culture, in property, and in order" must take steps to found "the necessary agencies for the diffusion of a new culture." The sheer cultural differences of workers, nativeborn and foreign-born alike, represent the dangerous tendency. "We do not know as much about them as we should," writes Harrison, striking a chord James, too, would echo: "It is not safe or wise to allow so large a class to be so far alien and separate from the influences and spirit of our national life."

While Harrison does not make explicit the theme of feminization, a theory of pacification through culture runs through his warnings and his proposals. We find the concept repeated in the press and in sermons throughout the period: fear, on one hand, of the cultural degradation and alienation produced by industrial life and immigration, and, on the other, reinforcement of an image of the cultured home as middle ground, a domestic island of virtue and stability. Tenders of machines, observed the Boston Brahmin industrialist Edward Atkinson in 1876, risk "becoming a machine, well-oiled and cared for, but incapable of independent life." In the past, labor itself was the basis of culture, calling "upon all the faculties." The routinization of mechanical labor has radically altered the relatations: "the culture and refinements of today come from leisure and opportunity more than from the development of men in the necessary work of their lives." Deprived of the very "capability of enjoyment," those who toil at machines seek only "bad and sensational books" and the excitement of cheap amusements. Labor's new proletarian culture has created a new condition, requiring for workers "instruction in what constitutes the true use of leisure." Work will remain, he implies, a realm of unredeemed exertion.

With cultural proletarianization looming as threat and menace, the cultivated home grew stronger and laid greater claim as the official image of America. "The laborer ought to be ashamed of himself," admonished Henry Ward Beecher on the appropriate date of July 4, 1876, "who in 20 years does not own the ground on which his house stands ... who has not in that house provided carpets for the rooms, who has not his China plates, who has not his chromos, who has not some books nestling on the shelf." The image descended from above. "Just a plain, roomy house," wrote


Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner about the habitation of the good Squire Oliver Montague in The Gilded Age (1874), bastion of the "middle ground" in that novel of scoundrels and schemers.

Every room had its bookcases or book-shelves, and was more or less a library; upon every table was liable to be a litter of new books, fresh periodicals and daily newspapers. There were plants in the sunny windows and some choice engravings on the walls, with bits of color in oil or watercolors; the piano was sure to be open and strewn with music; and there were photographs and little souvenirs here and there of foreign travel.

The authors may well have had in view their own splendid homes in the literary community of Nook Farm in Hartford, with every room "more or less a library." But, as Beecher happily explained, the same (or its image) could be reproduced for all

Americans especially by what James Parton in Triumphs of Enter

prise, Ingenuity, and Public Spirit (1874) called "Oil Paintings by Machinery." Chromolithography, argued Parton, perhaps the most popular biographer and essayist of the decade, perfectly suited "the special work of America at the present moment," when fl oods of immigrants from Europe's under-classes "as well as the emancipated slaves of the South" awaited conversion "into thinking, knowing, skillful, tasteful American citizens."

Parton's shrewd linkage of machinery with culture, of the devices of mechanical reproduction and the potential for mass diffusion of the tangible signs of culture, points to the social changes which made the cultivated middle-class home so urgent and esse ntial an image. Mechanization made possible the mass production of culture in the form of consumable objects. The same process which fragmented labor into minute mechanical tasks, which brought into the cities new masses of people experiencing wage labor for the first time, thus destroyed old forms of labor and community, old cultures of work and shared pleasures, replaced the larger extended family with the nuclear family as the basic domestic unit. As old cultures dissolved, a new culture of mechanicall y produced goods and values arose in their place; the same process which produced insecurities at the same moment pandered new images of security in home and consumption, in goods inscribed with culture.


The logic of the process remained obscure for most observers, preoccupied as they were by signs of a frightful gulf, a "growing gap," in the economist Simon Patten's words, between the standards of life of the laboring and the employing classes. In his es say of 1889, "The Consumption of Wealth," he presents the first serious effort to understand "abundance" as a new economic reality, viewing the cultural gap with as much misgiving as others. He understood clearly, however, that a solution lay in consumpti on: not in reordering social relations but in providing more opportunities for the lower classes to consume a greater variety of goods. "Opposition between the interests of different men," he wrote, "can be reduced only by the growth of new pleasures whic h they can enjoy in common." The problem was ready-made to be solved by mechanical reproduction, a standardization of goods and the pleasures they bestowed.

Patten based his original and prophetic argument on a stunning explication of the logic of consumption. Aiming his barbs against the prevailing image of an "economic man desiring only material wealth," Patten (like Freud) assumed a pleasure-seeking human impulse. Men work not only to relieve the pain of hunger but to gain the pleasure of satisfying their desires. He argued that "repeated gratification" developed new capacities and new needs; appetites develop into tastes, calling for a greater variety of pleasurable experiences. The true measure of a standard of life is thus not the absolute quantity of available goods but "the mental state of a man after the order of his consumption has been changed so as to allow a greater variety."

How, then, might the menacing gap between low and high standards of living be closed? The crux of the class difference is that goods appealing to older, more primitive appetites remain cheap, while more refined goods remain expensive, out of reach of thos e "newer classes of immigrants" who "seek to remain European in their living ... Drinking, smoking, and other amusements which tend to the wrong direction are much cheapened; while music, art, and education have become in their higher forms more costly." Let us then reverse the priorities, making culture cheaper and mere amusements and vices more expensive. Let us shorten the hours of labor by law, and make accessible cheaper education to raise the working-class level of taste. This will lead to greater c onsumption of a greater variety of goods on


the part of the lower classes, and thus a greater "harmony with their environment." A new middle culture of shared refinement, Patten contends, will not only help maintain social peace but also stimulate even greater production of consumer goods.

In the language of social science, then, Patten repeats the familiar refrain that culture bridges the impassable gulf, the growing gaps in American life. Again he assumes lower classes to be in a lower cultural condition, clinging to old ways only out of stubborn habit. But it is a point of interest and significance that an argument similar to Patten's had already taken root among labor reformers. Jonathan Baxter Harrison had reported in 1880 a conversation with a labor editor who advocated a six-hour wor kday, arguing that the best means of improving the condition of workers was through a "multiplication of their wants; that is, they should be taught to live more and more expensively." Demanding more, they would compel employers to meet their needs with h igher wages. Harrison's friend seemed to be representing the arguments of Ira Steward, self-educated machinist and theorist of the eight-hour movement. "Men who labor excessively are robbed of all ambition to ask for anything more than will satisfy their bodily necessities," wrote Steward in 1865, "while those who labor moderately have time to cultivate tastes and create wants in addition to mere physical comforts." The similarity of argument makes it likely that Patten was familiar with Steward's views, perhaps in their systematic presentation by George Gunton in Wealth and Progress (1887), after Steward's death in 1883. But more important is the place of culture-culture conceived as high art, the higher, nonmaterial experiences-in their respective argum ents, for the coincidence on this count indicates the power of the concept. Steward, like Patten, advocated a reduction of the hours of labor for the sake of allowing workers to develop their faculties, their "wants, habits, and character," on the basis o f which they consume goods. "Frequent contact with an increasing variety of social influences" will thereby increase "their natural capacity to consume wealth." Steward describes the process in terms almost exactly like Patten's: by repeated satisfactions , desires "grow into tastes, and tastes into absolute wants, which ultimately become a part of the fixed character or 'second nature.' "

Thus, the concept of a higher culture guiding consumption


and leading to a society of equals appeals to a bourgeois economist fearful of the degrading effects of immigrant laborers and a working-class theorist of the major workers' movement of the era, for the eight-hour day. And for both, culture and America sh ared an exceptional identity. "American conditions," wrote Patten, are especially favorable if only because "the processes of invention have cheapened the process of reproducing pictures and brought the beautiful within reach of all." Even advertisements, he points out, reproduce scenes of beauty, filling "the homes of the poorest people" everywhere with "beautiful objects" at no cost. "And when their taste is improved by contact with these objects, others more suited to their new condition can be obtain ed at a slight increase of cost." Putting it more succinctly, Steward declared: "In America every man is king in theory, and will be eventually, and in the good time coming every man will be a capitalist."


"Two enemies, unknown before, have risen like spirits of darkness on our social and political horizon"--wrote Francis Parkman in "The Failure of Universal Suffrage" (North American Review, 1878)-"an ignorant proletariat and a half-taught plutocracy." The eminent historian of more heroic days of conquest and settlement in the New World assured his readers, who needed no such assurance, that culture befriended neither the "dangerous classes" nor "vulgar wealth." He called for an alliance of the educated, th e cultivated, even the "literary feller"--all who "find their exercise in the higher fields of thought and action"--to beat back the menace of "greedy and irresponsible crowds," the "barbarism ... ready to overwhelm us." Attacking the failures of suffrage , Parkman called for a crusade against the dangers of democracy itself.

"Wherever men of cultivation looked," writes Richard Hofstadter, "they found themselves facing hostile forces and an alien mentality." "Frustrated aristocrats" and "genteel reformers," many of these figures felt themselves out of place in the age, uncomfo rtable with both the new businessmen and the new politicians, and horrified by the new urban masses, swarming immigrant laborers or paupers and vulgar, success-minded mem


bers of the rising middle class. Some sought roles in politics, joining forces even with labor reformers in the Liberal Republican Party in 1872, later dropping away even further from their primary loyalty to the Republican Party, as Mugwump supporters of Democrat Grover Cleveland in 1884. Others- found roles as reformers, advocates of charity, social work, cultural enlightenment. The best-known were teachers and editors: the Harvard art historian Charles Eliot Norton; the editor of The Nation, E. L. Godk in; literary editors of the major respectable journals, including George William Curtis of Harper's Weekly, and Richard Watson Gilder of the Century; poets, playwrights, and critics like Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Bayard Taylor, and Edmund Clarence Stedman. T heir ranks included revered literary figures of the recent post, New Englanders who survived into the Gilded Age as notable remnants of a better age: James Russell Lowell, Parkman himself, and, most revered of all, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Destined for the gr eatest fame among the younger group of alienated and displaced intellectuals was Henry Adams: once editor of the prestigious North American Review, historian and teacher at Harvard, novelist and man of letters, jaundiced commentator on the politics and mo rals of an age he despaired to influence.

Without much say in the affairs of the times, these figures, differing considerably among themselves, have exerted an influence of great magnitude on the intellectual life of the nation since. It is their characterization of the age as "gilded" which has guided historians; many of their documents, such as Godkin's essays and, especially, Henry Adams's Education of Henry Adams, have informed the perceptions and attitudes of students. More important, their conception of the marginal role of cultivated intel ligence within modern society would become in the twentieth century a common perception among many American academic intellectuals. For they were the first group of writers and thinkers, chiefly literary and political, to view themselves as alienated, and to describe and judge their times against the measure of their own alienation. In doing so, they were led by the force of their perceived circumstances toward cultural criticism, a new kind of writing in which these conservative writers seized on the eme rging popular and political culture.

"Of all the civilized nations," complained Charles Eliot Norton bluntly, America was "the most deficient in the higher cul


ture of the mind, and not only in the culture but also in the conditions on which this culture mainly depends." Only "the Nation & Harvard & Yale College" stood as "barriers against the invasion of modern barbarism and vulgarity." Deeply Anglophiliac, man y of these intellectuals judged the deficiencies of America against the more accommodating world of England, where Oxford and Cambridge remained centers of traditional culture and intellectuals might find respected roles as civil servants. On the whole, t hey responded with enthusiasm to the writings of John Ruskin and Matthew Arnold, both sharply critical of the culture of industrial society, the decline in appreciation of beauty and of religious values, the erosion of the authority of intelligence. Arnol d had written of America, after his visits in the 1880's, that the country seemed given over to practical-minded values and a religion of the heart, that it was lacking "distinction," a judgment which raised some patriotic objections but on the whole met with approval from genteel critics. Known as the "apostle of culture" since his Culture and Anarchy, published in 1867 in response to fears that the Reform Bill of that year would unleash anarchy in England, Arnold found an eager audience among American i ntellectuals. His formulation of culture as the "pursuit of our total perfection," our "best selves," found frequent echoes in American writings, as did his remark that perfection might be pursued "by means of getting to know, on all matters which most co ncern us, the best which has been thought and said in the world." He urged his American friends and followers to work for public education and a general cultural enlightenment. "A higher, larger civilization, a finer lucidity, is what is needed," he wrote in "A Word About America" in 1888, and suggested that cultivated Americans stop "hopping backwards and forwards over the Atlantic," stay home "and do their best to make the administration, the tribunals, the theatre, the arts" into "visible ideals" for t he purging and ennobling of "public sentiment." He urged they become an "apostolate" of civilization. A similar call had been sounded in 1867 by Emerson. He addressed the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard in that year on the theme of "The Progress of Culture," thirty years after his previous Harvard address before the same society on "The American Scholar ." In the earlier lecture he had called, like a


young titan, for a radical break with the culture of Europe: "We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe." Rejecting "the great, the remote, the romantic," he embraced "the common . . . the familiar, the low," and envisioned an American cult ure developing through a "gradual domestication of the idea of Culture." Now, more in harmony with Arnold and the changed tenor of the times than with his earlier vision, he invested his faith in "the power of minorities," in the "few superior and attract ive men," and called for a "knighthood of virtue" which would, like Arnold's apostolate, "calm and guide" a "barbarous age." Less militant than Parkman in his disdain for the new forces already visible in the postwar years, Emerson nonetheless gave heart to an attitude emerging since Appomattox that inheritors of New England culture and politics now represented a minority of virtue, intelligence, and cultivation, a saving remnant with a mission to preserve civility in public life. Another notable from the New England past, James Russell Lowell, in his "Ode for the Centennial" in 1876, gave crisp expression to a version of America by now official among the intellectual elite:

Murmur of many voices in the air
Denounces as degenerate,
Unfaithful guardians of a noble fate,
And prompts indifference or despair;
Is this the country that we dreamed in youth,
Where wisdom and not numbers should have weight,
See d-field of simpler manners, braver truth,
Wbere shams could cease to dominate
In household, church, and state?
Is this Atlantis?

Elsewhere, surveying the ethnic composition of his new "Atlantis" in an essay on politics, Lowell joined Parkman in questioning whether the older culture could survive the new America: would not "equality . . . prove dangerous when interpreted and applied politically by millions of newcomers alien to our traditions"? Was not equality, wrote the old abolitionist, now the most dangerous enemy of the nation, its traditions, and culture itself? Encouraged by the murmurings of their respected elders, the younger patrician intellectuals in the postwar decades fashioned a broad point of view, a frame of mind which, as Stow Persons


has suggested, contained in embryonic form a theory of "mass society," a society in which both the civil and political realms required expert administration and discipline, the rule of men of culture and special training. The theory did not cohere into an y particular program for abolishing political democracy; it appeared instead by implication in the form of expression most common to Emerson's knighthood, the critical essay. Nor was their criticism reserved alone for bloated plutocrats and ignorant masse s. In "Chromo-Civilization," for example, Godkin excoriated the "pseudo-culture" of that "large body of slenderly equipped persons" who mistake a "smattering" of knowledge and "a desire to see and own pictures" for real culture. A holy anger driving his s entences, Godkin wrote:

A large body of persons has arisen, under the influence of the common schools, magazines, newspapers, and the rapid acquisition of wealth, who are not only engaged in enjoying themselves after their fashion, but who firmly believe that they have reached, in the matter of social, mental, and moral culture, all that is attainable or desirable by anybody, and who, therefore, tackle all the problems of the day-men's, women's, and children's rights and duties, marriage, education, suffrage, life, death, and im mortality-with supreme indifference to what anybody else thinks or has ever thought, and have their own trumpery prophets, prophetesses, heroes and heroines, poets, orators, scholars and philosophers, whom they worship with a kind of barbaric fervor. The result is a kind of mental and moral chaos, in which many of the fundamental rules of living, which have been worked out painfully by thousands of years of bitter human experience, seem in imminent risk of disappearing totally.

Real culture, instead, is a result of discipline, of self-denial, "the breaking-in of the powers to the services of the will." It results from obedience to something superior: "the art of doing easily what you don't like to do," as if at the behest of a n oble mother. Among the articulate, well-placed editors and teachers of the age, a notion arose of culture embodying a hierarchy of values corresponding to a social hierarchy of stations or classes. The notion of respecting one's "betters," of "knowing one's place," fi ltered almost inconspicuously into public discourse, especially in respectable journals. In his lectures on sociology at Yale, William Graham Sumner gave the notion of cultural and social hier


archy perhaps the solidest theoretical foundation in the period. Classifying "societal value" on a curved scale, Sumner portrayed the social world as a range of values descending from "genius" through "talent" to "mediocrity" (identified with "the masses, " or middle groups), to "unskilled and illiterate proletariat," to the bottom line of the "defective, dependent, and delinquent." It was clear where the power to rule should lie.

No wonder, then, that Whitman, writing in 1871 in "Democratic Vistas," should exclaim that with "the word Culture . . . we find ourselves abruptly in close quarters with the enemy." Early in the postwar career of the concept, Whitman detected its antidemo cratic bias. "As now taught, accepted and carried out," the word propagates invidious distinction and class privilege, "certain portions of the people set off from the rest by a line drawn-they not as privileged as others, but degraded, humiliated, made o f no account." Sniffing out the "mass society" implications of "the word Culture," he also observed that the "merely educated classes," those with "taste, intelligence and culture (so-called)" find the masses an "affront." But the deepest affront lay in t he implied identification of America itself with a privileged culture distributed and administered with condescension from above, as if from a celestial source. Instead, he insisted on an antebellum egalitarian dogma, that America and democracy are "conve rtible terms," and called for a "radical change of category, in the distribution of precedence," a "programme of culture" based on equality, on a "native expression-spirit, getting into form." His theory had the sanction of a tradition now losing its appe al among the upper reaches of a society more and more divided into distinct levels yet still alive and articulate among labor and farm groups. Whitman saw the establishment of political equality in the American Revolution: "the great word Solidarity has a risen." Now the country awaited the step beyond equality toward a culture of solidarity, "not for classes, but for universal man . . . Democracy can never prove itself beyond cavil," he wrote, "until it founds and luxuriantly grows its own forms of art, p oems, schools, theology, displacing all that exists, or that has been produced anywhere in the past, under opposite influence." In short, America awaits, for its final realization, a revolution in culture.

Whitman shares with the patricians a jeremiad-like scorn of


the contemporary scene; like them he condemns and scorns the manners, morals, and politics of the Grant era. He is even more fierce than the Nortons and Godkins, less polite in saying that "these savage, wolfish parties alarm me," that business had become "this all-devouring modern word." He views the American scene with "severe eyes," like a "physician diagnosing some deep disease," and makes out "a sort of dry and flat Sahara," a wasteland "crowded with petty grotesques, malformations, phantoms, playing meaningless antics." He finds the spectacle "appalling," "flippancy and vulgarity, low cunning, infidelity" everywhere. He also grants that political democracy has its shortcomings. Yet it remains the best safeguard against further corruption and erosion . And furthermore, if we recognize that it serves only as a means to the end of allowing man, "properly train'd in sanest, highest freedom," to become "a law, and a series of laws, unto himself," then attacks on universal suffrage like Parkman's (or Thoma s Carlyle's, which Whitman takes up explicitly) appear as retrograde solutions. Instead of less democracy, more is wanted. But in his explanation of the more Whitman's argument founders into the vagueness of metaphysics and nostalgia.

Against the implicit "mass theory" of "the word Culture," Whitman raises a Hegelian formula of a dialectical rapport between the "self " and the "mass." "The two are contradictory," he writes, "but our task is to reconcile them." Reconciliation tak es place, however, not through a prográm of action, of communal experience, but through an image to be provided by democratic poets and artists of a "high average," the creation by writers of "a basic model or portrait of personality for general use," a t ranscendent type of "personality" which will delineate "the democratic ethology of the future." Drawing up into itself the characteristics of "the People," especially working people-"the facts of farms and jackplanes and engineers, and of the broad range of women also of the middle and working strata"-Whitman's "average," however, loses all specificity. It becomes "universal man," while the world still consists very much of particular men and women in fast solidifying social groups. The "high average" of "Democratic Vistas" rapidly loses touch with the very history whose negative face Whitman observes in such minute detail.

The loss of touch, the historical marginality of Whitman's


program, is all the more apparent when he turns his attention to the social conditions under which his program might succeed. He would take for granted, he explained, a "general good order" in society, an even "more universal ownership of property, genera l homesteads, general comfort-a vast, intertwining reticulation of wealth." As the social ground for his culture of "universal man," he assumed, that is, an antebellum, free-labor vision of independent producers, "middling property owners," "men and women with occupations, well-off, owners of houses and acres, and with cash in the bank." In 1871, Whitman had as yet no glimmer of what would come to him with a shock in a few years: images of a ruptured society, permanent class divisions. And the middling gr oups which did arise in the Gilded Age took their cultural bearings from their own insecurities in a changing world, their determination to distinguish themselves through education and cultivation from the masses. Chautauqua would proclaim their democrati c vista: culture and refinement coming to represent aspiration, desire for a "better" material life.

"Democratic Vistas" failed in its day to provide a genuine alternative program. It may have struck responsive chords among young artists with radical ideals, the painter Thomas Eakins and, most prominently, the architect Louis Sullivan. But it made no not able impression on the people who had real alternatives. Ethnic, racial, and regional diversity do not figure in Whitman's vista, although his vision of the "high average" would in theory embrace them. His vision of America would need the corrective of Ra ndolph Bourne's image of a "Trans-national America" early in the twentieth century. Moreover, Whitman seemed not to recognize that an alternative to "the word Culture" might arise in conjunction with a political movement created out of economic and social protest, such as the People's Party of the 1890's. Short-lived and doomed, Populism would nevertheless propose a tnarriage of democratic politics and culture which might well have fit Whitman's program, had he better grasped the new conditions of postbel lum society.

Those conditions included developments which eluded the Godkins and Adamses as well as Whitman, new levels and forms of stratification, a segmenting of the society into professional groupings, into new distinct subcultures of vocation and gender, of ra ce and ethnic language. The entire social world came to


resemble a chart of separate categories and systems of integration. As "the word Culture" came more and more to represent an outlook congruent with this process, it became all the more difficult to see its forms, visible monuments of culture rendering soc ial divisions and lines of control all but invisible.


To be sure, high culture-the culture of the intellectual, the artist, the writer, the thinker-made little direct impression on popular life, where older cultural ways held on against mass newspapers, advertising, story-paper romances. As Jonathan Baxter Harrison lamented, the cultivated lived in ignorance of the "other half"; the details of home and work and community, of preparing food, keeping warm, passing time after work, holding forth and keeping busy in mill and plant and shop, joining others in clubs, church, and labor meetings, burial and fraternal societies-all of which made up the daily life from which gentility stood apart. The rise in the 1890's of social work, of settlement houses, of literary adventures like Harrison's, seeking truth by expedition on the other half's own forbidden terrain, represented reactions against the genteel barriers to firsthand knowledge. By the turn of the century, the fictions of Stephe n Crane, Frank Norris, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, and the documentary narratives of Jacob Riis, Walter Wyckoff (an intellectual who traveled in disguise as a tramp), and Jack London had made vivid and credible for eager readers the details of socia l entrapment and cultural difference. In the Gilded Age, however, the realm of the popular would remain in cultured circles the realm of social mystery, of foreign ways and unimaginable consciousness.

It remained especially in the realm of politics, and in the minds of genteel reformers, the very ground of corruption. Here, in the imagination of reform, the twin specters of immoral wealth and ignorant foreign masses met in unholy alliance-met particula rly in the figure of the political "boss," the antichrist of reform. A gang of scrofulous and vulturous praetorians, their master a hulking, bearded Nero, their followers a horde of ape-like Irishmen with ragged clothes and battered top hats: so Thomas Na st portrayed the Tammany machine and Boss Tweed. Political car


toonist for Harper's Weekly, ardent advocate of the Radical Republican cause, defender of the party's claim to a monopoly of virtue and patriotism, devoted admirer of Grant, Nast propelled the loathed Tweed into immortal fame through caricature. Du ring his vitriolic campaign against Tweed in the early 1870's, Nast's cartoons depicted a political world as seen through faithful Republican eyes: the Tammany machine a tiger devouring the fallen Republic in a Roman arena, at the pleasure of tunic-garbed bosses licking their chops over the "spoils"; the low-browed, beetle-eyed, unshaved Irishman a slave chained to a post of rum and whiskey, induced to leave the old country by false promises, branded "Democrat" upon arrival, put to work as ditchdigger on "boodle" projects, driven to the polls on election day to stuff the ballot boxes. The other half, in this version of political reality, joined bloody hands with the unregenerate Confederacy and the scheming Fifth Avenue capitalist over the prostrate body of the black freedman, an alliance in wickedness and self-interest which remained the Republican stereotype of the Democrat through the 1860's, 1870's, and 1880's. "Nast," said Mark Twain after the reelection of Grant in 1872 against the Democrats and the renegade Liberal Republican Horace Greeley, "you more than any other man have won a prodigious victory for Grant-I mean, rather, for Civilization and Progress."

Mark Twain would shortly wonder about these terms in The Gilded Age (1873), but the identification of "civilization" with Republicanism ran deep among Northern elites, even those who bolted to Greeley or who later turned to Cleveland. Mugwum pism itself was an assertion of virtue, a painful turn from the Grand Old Party, which seemed to have lost its soul, especially in the Compromise of 1877, to party hacks and unmitigated greed. In the increasingly bitter, outraged, and mordant comments by Godkin, Adams, and others, culture stood aghast at the spectacle of party politics, of the "spoils system" which distributed the offices of power to the party faithful, regardless of qualifications. The language of political criticism abounded in imagery of rampant animals, creatures low on the scale of evolution. "Where did the public good enter at all into this maze of personal intrigue," wonders Henry Adams's appalled heroine of his novel Democracy (1880), "this wilderness of stunted natures where no s traight road was to be found, but only the torturous


and aimless track of beasts and things that crawl?" The image calls up the frontier, savages in the underbrush, while "straight road" recalls the civilized eighteenth-century New England village where, as in the Virginia of George Washington (slavery apar t), reason once dominated nature.

For genteel intellectuals with a taste for battle, defense of civilization took the form of campaigns for civil-service reform, the effort to defeat the spoils system, the rule of party machines and bosses, by removing government positions from patrona ge, opening them to competitive examination. The crusade aimed to replace the "scum" (as Adams put it) of Washington with properly educated men of intelligence, principle, and genuine loyalty to the republic. True democracy, civil-service reformers like C arl Schulz and George William Curtis went on to say, required absolute probity in government, and that required a corps of dedicated civil servants. The reformers who believed in the rule of the majority stressed the value of university training and famil y tradition, urging, despite the apparent purpose of their objectives, rule by a cultured elite. For purposes of polity, they argued, issues of state should be removed from politics, from the whimsy of voters and the wickedness of "coarse, selfish, unprin cipled" politicians. Over and again, Godkin insisted in The Nation that issues such as tariff regulation and monetary policy were too important for merely political decision. Many of them advocates of free trade and sound money, opposing both big business and Greenback agrarians, civil-service reformers looked eventually to government by commission, by experts immune from the vagaries of electoral politics.

Not surprisingly, reformers and genteel intellectuals who stood above party battles invited the scorn of the regulars, a scorn couched frequently in images fusing anger at feminizing culture with sexual innuendo, the manly braggadocio of the stalwa rt: "political hermaphrodite," "miss-Nancys," "man-milliners." Nonpartisans were a "third sex," "the neuter gender not popular either in nature or society." In the images of both sides, reform above parties and loyalty within parties, the issue seemed to join culture versus politics, the realm of the feminine against the realm of the aggressive masculine. But this apparent bifurcation by sex and culture only obscured the more significant underlying development: high culture-the culture of the intellectual world


-becoming more political in its motives, and politics more cultural in its methods and consequences. In fact, the political implications of "the word Culture" and the cultural policies of the major parties converged to create a single political universe d evoted to a single aim: the rule of business goals and methods in government.

For uncontested in the running battles between genteel reformers and party politicians was a figure of speech common to both, that politics and business served each other. Reformers proposed nonpartisan civil servants in order to place government o n the "plain principles of business administration." "We shall never govern a great city well or rightly comprehend it," wrote a reform lawyer in 1873, "until we consider its administration as involving a large amount of business done by businessmen, rath er than a large mass of politics to be managed by partisans." Moreover, the "plain principles" of business by the 1880's had come to rest less in the old practices of individual cutthroat competition, and more in the new structures of corporate organizati on, of decision from above by boards of directors. With its program for a governance by experts and the removal of economic policy from electoral decision, civil-service reformers taught the parties a lesson in professionalization, in centralization. In t his light, the crusade for civil-service reform proved less an antagonistic assault on the party system than an effort to purify, to systematize, to eliminate the waste and inefficiency of the spoils system.

The idea of business as a model of efficiency followed from the appropriation by businessmen of the free-labor rhetoric of the Radical Republicans, and from the increasingly decisive role played within the two major parties of businessmen themselve s: New York's Tom Platt, a banker and president of a lumber company; Michigan's Zachariah Chandler, also a lumber magnate; Chauncey Depew, both railroad counsel and senator. "Leading and substantial citizens," in Theodore Roosevelt's words, filled the upp er echelons of leadership in both parties: manufacturers, railroad and insurance executives, corporate managers. The hold of business on the top ranks of the parties increased in the course of the Gilded Age, arriving, with the victory of Benjamin Harriso n over Grover Cleveland in 1888, at a state of affairs in the Senate in which, in William Allen White's


account, "a United States senator . . . represented principalities and powers in business." In the "Millionaire's Club," which the Senate came to be called in the late 1880's, elected officials represented railroad and insurance companies, coal and iron a nd cotton interests, and their performance proved true to form, passing higher tariffs, higher premiums to government bondholders, and higher subsidies to contractors.

Apart from several notable acts aiming at regulation of civil rights (the Civil Rights Act of 1875), at government organization (the Pendleton Act, placing a number of positions under civil service rules in 1883), and at regulation of business (the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890, interpreted by the courts initially in favor of corporations against labor unions), the work of government during the Gilded Age seemed concerned mostly with tariffs and money policy , with support for private business interests. Weak Presidents and relatively inactive Congresses gave rise to the perception that government did little. "The government does not govern," noted Henry Adams in 1870. "Congress is inefficient, and shows itse lf more and more incompetent . . . while the executive is . . . practically deprived of its necessary strengths by the jealousy of the Legislatures." Another observer wrote about state governments: "Legislatures have ceased to create or concentrate public sentiment; they have become clearing houses for the adjustment of claims." Government seemed more and more to follow the lead of business interests, less and less to govern in its own right. Yet at the same time it expanded its functions, widening its ro le within public life, establishing new departments (Agriculture, Justice, State, and Post Office) and new programs (Bureaus of Statistics, of Education, of Weather, and Commissioners of Immigration, Fish and Fisheries, and numerous new congressional comm ittees). Public expenditure increased severalfold. The size of the federal bureaucracy doubled between 1871 and 1881, while the number of positions covered by the Pendleton Act rose from more than 13,500 in 1884 to more than 94,500 in 1900. Similar expans ion in the number of new laws occurred at the state and municipal levels; rewriting of state constitutions was common in the period. With its new federal powers established during the Civil War and confirmed by the Union victory, the central government st rengthened its hold over civil society in the very years


it remained relatively inactive in shaping the emerging society.

Absence of substantive issues between the postwar parties marked the political universe evolving in these years into what historians call the "third party system," lasting from the realignment which had elected Lincoln in 1860 to the Republican sweep o f 1896. Moreover, the recession of divisive issues paralleled a new and extraordinary intensification of national-party loyalty and a correspondingly high voter turnout, as high as 78.5 percent in Presidential elections, and 62.8 percent in off years, bet ween 1876 and 1896. Although the Republicans won every Presidential election but two from the Civil War to 1896 (Grover Cleveland winning twice, in 1884 and 1892), most elections were very close, and the strength of the parties, especially after the end o f Reconstruction and the occupation of the South in 1877, was roughly equal. In this situation, writes Robert Marcus, "the closeness of elections, high turnout, and party regularity . . . seemed to be mutually reinforcing phenomena." Regularity or loyalty , or the appeal to party labels and slogans, thus served in lieu of substantive issues as means of mobilizing voters. This is not to say that the political combats were wholly devoid of issues; third-party movements advocating radical change appeared thro ughout the period, injecting issues the major parties could not ignore.

These ranged from agrarian demands for less deflationary money policies and labor demands for a legal eight-hour day, from calls among embattled Grangers for regulation of transport and grain-elevator rates to antimonopoly platforms for nationaliza tion of railroad and telegraph companies. Third parties regularly agitated the political universe with genuine issues of governance and polity, challenging not only the major parties but the prevailing laissez-faire philosophy regarding government. The pr inciples of the labor-reform newspaper popular among New England mill workers, in Jonathan Baxter Harrison's account of 1880, included government ownership of land, mines, railroads, and highways, demonetization of gold and silver in favor of government-i ssued greenbacks, a graduated income tax, controlled ground rents, the abolition of interest, and legal eight hour day. Deciding on "independent political action," the central labor union of New York in 1886 chose Henry George as its candidate for mayor o n a platform of positive government intervention in economic life. "We declare," the platform announced,


"the true purpose of government to be the maintenance of that sacred right of property which gives to everyone opportunity to employ his labor and security that he shall enjoy its fruits." Wealth belongs "to society at large," the George campaign held. He proposed that the "enormous value" represented by New York real estate "should not go to the enrichment of individuals and corporations, but should be taken in taxation and applied to the improvement and beautifying of the city, to the promotion of the h ealth, comfort, education, and recreation of its people, and to the providing of means of transit commensurate with the needs of a great metropolis."

With support from a significant stratum of nonworkers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergymen, and "working employers," the George campaign became a genuine threat to the Democratic machine in New York and to the party system itself. In an unusual d isplay of unity, labor leaders ranging from the trade unionist Samuel Gompers to the General Master Workman of the Knights of Labor, Terence Powderly, to socialist Daniel DeLeon joined forces behind George. In the face of the threat, Democratic Party regu lars persuaded Abram Hewitt to bear their banner. A leader of the anti-Tweed forces in the early 1870's, son-in-law of the revered Peter Cooper, and himself a wealthy industrialist, a gentry politician of unblemished reputation-he had served as Samuel Til den's campaign manager in 1877, had written on "The Mutual Relations of Capital and Labor," and as a congressman had earned Henry Adams's friendship and respect as "the most useful public man in Washington" -Hewitt swallowed his distaste of the machine an d accepted, even welcoming, "death in such a cause" as defeating "these enemies of civilization and social order," the "social danger" of "Socialism, Anarchy and Nihilism."

Hewitt's response bears out Walter Dean Burnham's observation that the party system in these decades aimed to "insulate" business groups from "mass pressures" which might disrupt their industrializing policies. Hewitt launched a frankly ideological campaign, virtually ignoring his Republican opponent, the twenty-eight-year-old aristocrat Theodore Roosevelt, and directed his attack against the very notion of a labor party. "A new issue has been suddenly sprung upon this community," he proclai med in his letter of acceptance. "An attempt is being made to


organize one class of our citizens against all other classes." The raising of class issues, he pointed out, represents "a radical departure from the existing methods of free government by political parties composed of citizens in every walk of life." Each party being a coalition including capital and labor, between whom "there never is and never can be any antagonism," the system represented the unity of social classes for the high purpose of efficient government. The working classes, "as they are called, " have their legitimate trade unions through which they might submit their "grievances" to "public judgment." Moreover, "self-help is the remedy for all the evils of which men complain. I have had to help myself from the earliest year I can remember, and every struggling young man who chooses to follow the same rule, who will help himself and not become dependent upon public or private charity, can achieve a measure of success that will satisfy every independent citizen."

Hewitt entered the fray, then, with no platform but the defeat of Henry George and his threat to the two-party system, as well as the menace of the radical platform to the rule of private property and corporate wealth. He won the support of "libera l reformers" like Godkin, Curtis, and Schulz. The country demanded a submergence of class issues into a "bigger self" of social harmony. Capital and labor, Hewitt reminded his supporters, are "natural and inseparable allies." It took, however, last-minute back-room deals between seasoned party bosses, Croker of Tammany and Platt of the Republican machine, to swing enough Republican votes away from Roosevelt to defeat the George menace by about twenty thousand votes.

In response to real issues, the major parties resorted to the idea of loyalty, loyalty in the form of voting the straight party ticket. And it was in national campaigns for votes that the major parties performed one of their most significant acts i n the governance of the American polity: the conversion of politics into mass spectacle, into cultural event. This, too, served the underlying goal of each party, to maintain viability for its financial supporters. Distinguished by tone and style, by char acteristic constituencies, the parties constructed themselves for each election as local and state coalitions, each represented at the top by businessmen or their spokesmen and allies. A cadre of professional or "machine" politicians ran the show, serving as administrators and conduits


for campaign funds, rarely running for office themselves but supporting the policies of their donors. The truly "controlling force in American life is not in its politics, but in commerce," the critic John Jay Chapman observed in 1899, in Causes and Co nsequences; he added that the party madness fostered by the Civil War left the machinery of government "in a particularly purchasable state . . . Political power had by the war been condensed and packaged for delivery, and in the natural course of thi ngs the political trademarks began to find their way into the coffers of the capitalist."

Those trademarks emerged as the emblems of electoral spectacles, the battles staged by Democrats and Republicans across the country over access to the public purse, the right to fill public positions with faithful party workers, and the power to en act laws on behalf of their paying clients. By the 1870's and 1880's, the parties had consolidated themselves in massive corporate-like structures with chains of command, systems of obedience and deference, and a military rhetoric of campaigns, parades, a nd banners, "stalwarts" and "half-breeds," the spoils of victory. "The smell of saltpeter, the snorts of horses, the shouts of men, the red and white ripple of the flags that went careening by the smoke and flame"-thus Brand Whitlock described a political parade in 1902, finding in it "some strange suggestion of the war our political contests typify, in spirit and symbol at least." The military metaphor was only partly in jest; for Tammany Hall boss Richard Croker it represented the serious inner meaning of political combat: "Chess is war, business is war; the rivalry of students and athletes is war. Everything is war in which men strive for mastery and power as against other men, and this is one of the essential conditions of progress." Party rhetoric an d visible behavior conveyed a picture of the social world as a battleground. Moreover, individuals were helpless creatures unless incorporated into a larger fighting unit, a sheltering "party" under protection of a "leader." The power of Tammany Hall, wro te one of its leaders, lay in its devices, including social services to the poor as well as outright graft and vote buying; it lay in "the completeness of its organization and the thoroughness of its discipline . . . The organization works with the precis ion of a well regulated machine."

The national parties learned in these years what recent histori


ens call "cultural politics," adjusting their appeals (their style of merchandising) to ethnic, racial, religious, and sectional difference. Party managers learned to trim and shape their platforms to constituencies composed of these differences, to explo it and harden them into virtual uniforms of identity. Thus, while Republicans continued even in 1896 to "wave the bloody shirt," recalling Civil War memories and the odor of treason attaching to Democrats, the Southern Democratic Party continued as the "p arty of the fathers," evoking sectional and racial loyalty. Party platforms and campaign techniques addressed particular cultural issues, creating enemies in "negative reference groups," appealing to "high" (ritual) Protestant fears of Scotch-Irish Cathol ic influences on school boards, or "low" ("pietistic") Protestant anxieties about the drinking habits of German Lutherans. Ethnicity, sectionalism, urban-suburban-rural distinctions: the party system raised tribalism to political salience, exploiting such differences by making them issues of loyalty and defining political interest in the imagery of group identity. Yankee, Southerner, white, black, Presbyterian, Catholic, Jew, city, rural: a political terrain composed of such labels familiar in twentieth-c entury politics had its origins in the Gilded Age party system.

But more important than such appeals to ethnic and religious identity was the fact that parties retained the appearance of genuine grass-roots organizations. In the cities, they were bound to local neighborhood clubs: Tammany Hall, for example, whi ch evolved from the Society of St. Tammany late in the eighteenth century into the main organ of the Democratic Party in New York City. Neighborhood political clubs offered help to the poor in difficult times, extended hospitality to new immigrants, found jobs for the unemployed (even if makeshift jobs on the public payroll). The party machines moved in two directions at once: toward closer ties of obligation and fealty to neighborhood block and ward, and toward centralization of municipal power within th e cadre of chiefs or bosses. The machines were able to perform essential urban functions, such as getting streets paved and streetcars into new neighborhoods; they filled vacuums of power, frequently the result of legal authority over city financing resti ng with state governments controlled by rural representatives. City machines prided themselves as public benefactors. As Tweed put it: "This population is too hopelessly split up into races and


factions to govern it under universal suffrage, except by the bribery of patronage and corruption." And their cultural functions seemed equally essential. Based on the principle that political power originates in personal loyalty-an atavistic notion at od ds with the Jeffersonian ideal of an informed citizenry acting for the public good-the machines consisted of a dense network of ward leaders and precinct captains who cultivated personal relations with the voters in their domain, speaking their language, learning their daily needs, assuring them that the ward club and party were ready to help: "None of your justice and law," wrote one city boss, "but help." The clubs held social affairs, kept after hours saloons. Buffers between immigrants and a hostile c ity, models for mobility (many bosses were of poor immigrant origins), the machines grounded loyalty not in political ideas but in cultural need.

Getting out the vote was the principal visible goal of party activity. The parties pioneered in techniques of mass persuasion. If their real though unstated aim was to make themselves effective as vehicles through which businessmen might win access to state power, then the open, public goal was to win straight-party votes, to discourage ticket-splitting. If their real politics consisted in packaging themselves for sale to private interests, the public face of the parties also wore the look of merch andise. Election campaigns became sales campaigns, with party symbols (the donkey and elephant invented by cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1870's took hold immediately) and names of candidates widely distributed on playing cards, posters, buttons, and other novelties. Of course, persuasion often took the form of cash for votes, and the line between getting out the vote and simply inventing it was often too blurred for close scrutiny. But these overt forms of corruption, which aroused the contempt of reforme rs, disclosed the secret of the system: that politics itself had become a business, and like all businesses, justified its means by its overriding end of private profit. "So many offices depend upon the result of the election," wrote an Iowa politician, " that electioneering is made a business, and politics reduced to a trade."

The boss represented the visible integration of politics and economics, the incorporation of mass politics into corporate society. Visible more as a type than as an actual person, he functioned to keep the transaction between public officials and p rivate inter


ests behind closed doors, out of sight, disguised by the formalism and "warfare" of the campaign. In this he served as a prime vehicle, and for those who saw him, as a visible symbol of the change in political life. He represented a new social phenomenon, a modern turn in civil life: the appearance in significant numbers, enough to count as a critical mass, of professional politicians, of those "servants of power" who, in Max Weber's distinction, live "off" politics as a permanent source of income, rather than "for" it as a personal commitment. Weber describes the social character of such a figure as "economically 'dispensable,' " relieved of normal economic concerns. He is the "propertyless politician" who devotes himself to party ends with the understan ding that a new social precondition has come into existence: "that regular and reliable income will accrue to those who manage politics." Neither an office seeker nor an administrator, his goals were entirely defined by "victory" and the booty that follow s. His skills were techniques of deference and domination.

Party funds accumulated from regular contributions of members and corporate clients, from tribute levied on the salaries of government officeholders beholden to the party machine, and from extralegal sources, bribes, and graft. In this structure, n otes Weber, the American machine boss served a critical function; he was "indispensable as the direct recipient of the money of great financial magnates, who would not entrust their money for election purposes to a paid party official, or to anyone else g iving public account of his affairs." Through him, to put the matter somewhat differently, part of the surplus wealth from the realm of production found its way as unearned income into the pockets of "professionals" whose labor was to drain political life of political significance, to watch over and manage the disappearance of real power from public view.

Conventional politics became less significant as a vehicle of debate over issues of economic control and social improvement. The party system removed politics from the street, and vested it in the back room. This is not to say that the parties were not responsive to their supporters. But their services in the end reinforced the central illusion of the system: that party allegiance represented authentic participation in political society, in the sharing of power and the making of policy. As Chapman neatly


put it, the parties controlled the masses by "bribery and terrorism," but in the "form of a very plausible appeal to the individual on the ground of self-interest." Like advertising, the party system produced an illusion which disguised its character, its alienation of political power from the very producers of the wealth that supported the system. To say that the parties were sites of cultural, rather than genuinely political, behavior is not to say that they were politically feeble or irrelevant, but th at their politics lay in displacing economic and social issues by appealing to cultural issues, in fostering among voters an imaginary sense of participation and control, while at once denying them the substance of politics. Mass politics substituted cult ural difference for ideological difference, made culture seem to be ideology itself. And thereby the major party system exercised its own control, further integrating the daily lives of Americans into the larger corporate system.


Assembled in Omaha on July 4, 1892, the People's Party proclaimed the aptness of the date: "the one hundred and sixteenth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence." The Populists inaugurated their first national convention on a thundering note of affirmation, identifying their "declaration of principles" with that of the nation's founders. "Filled with the spirit of the grand general and chieftain who established our independence," the convention declared its resolution "to restore the Government of the Republic to the hands of the 'plain people' with whose class it originated. We assert our purposes to be identical with the purposes of the National Constitution, to form a more perfect Union and establish justice . . . We declare that this Republ ic can only endure as a free government while built upon the love of the whole people for each other and for the nation." Thus the Populist movement, born in the agrarian unrest of the previous decade but gathering to itself radical criticisms of industri al capitalism reaching back to the antimonopoly campaigns of the Jacksonian era, laid formal claim to contested ground: it, not "capitalists, corporations, national banks, rings, trusts," represented the genuine America, the still-unrealized ethos of "the people."


The event was no idle ritual or game. The People's Party in 1892 emerged from an authentic mass movement of farmers in the South, Southwest, and (to a lesser degree) the Middle West. Impetus for a national political party arose directly from the ranks of the National Farmers' Alliance and Industrial Union, out of the dawning recognition (especially in the worsening economic situation of the early 1890's) that only political power over the apparatus of government would enable farmers and all "producers" to break the economic stranglehold of the railroads, banks, and industrial corporations. The Alliance provided the extraordinary spirit of hope and possibility which manifests itself in the Omaha preamble, while several generations of radical social and eco nomic thought, the programs of labor reform as well as farmers' groups, of urban as well as agrarian dissent, found expression in the 1892 platform. The People's Party provided a visible form on the national stage for an agitation which had been welling u nevenly across the nation. The party emerged as a synthesis, a coalition, but as it turned out in its debacle in the 1896 election, a quite fragile association of forces. The last and greatest of several third-party movements after the Civil War, the Peop le's Party failed in its high ambitions to define "America" according to its lights. But Populism has remained a haunting figure in American life, not least for signaling the deep connections between the realms of culture and politics. For in the end Popu lism succumbed to a more powerful alliance between cultural value and political practices than it was able to sustain. Composed in evangelical accents by Ignatius Donnelly, the Omaha preamble rang with echoes of revivalism, of backwoods democracy and grass-roots outrage. It trembled with apocalyptic apprehensions.

A vast conspiracy against mankind has been organized on two continents, and it is rapidly taking possession of the world. If not met and overthrown at once, it forebodes terrible social convulsions, the destruction of civilization, or the establishment of an absolute despotism.

Many twentieth-century historians and intellectuals have fallen on such passages as evidence of a simplistic satanism, a sign of the movement's confused, retrograde character. To be sure, many


Populist spokesmen clothed themselves in the garb of righteous evangels. But their idea of conspiracy drew from the movement's roots in native radicalism, in a secular rhetoric of "equal rights" and "anti-monopoly." "Conspiracy" in 1892 evoked at least a generation of political experience: free-trade opposition to high tariffs, Granger campaigns against railroad monopolies, Greenback condemnation of the "Crime of '73" when "gold bugs" plotted to impose the "gold standard," and enduring campaigns for labor reform, the eight-hour day, Prohibition, women's rights. The several abortive third-party efforts since the Civil War on behalf of these causes all aimed in some measure against a "conspiracy" of the few against the many. By "conspiracy," then, Populism called Satan by his modern name: monopolies and corporations, and their mundane methods of doing business, especially the business of buying votes, bribing officials, and scheming with the major parties.

That revivalism was a major source of Populist rhetoric cannot be denied. It was an element in the collective experiences of the Alliance: the rallies, wagon trains, encampments, stump speakers, and lecturers which for a few intense years from the late 1880's to the early 1890's had given the farmers' movement the momentum of a mass expression. But the Omaha platform did not confine itself to rhetorical solutions. It aimed at no less than a total revision of the conventional picture of American lif e: to distinguish true issues from the "sham" of such staged performances as the "battle over the tariff" by which the national parties distracted attention from the hard times of daily existence. As a political platform, the Omaha document made two prima ry assertions: (1) that the chief political issues of the day concerned economic ownership and exchange; and (2) that the aim of political action should be to expand the powers of government over economic life. Asserting the highest end of government to b e elimination of "oppression, injustice, and poverty," the platform focused on three obviously urgent concerns for farmers: money, land, and transportation. In regard to each, it called for a radical overturning of existing arrangements: an end to private banks, to speculative land monopolies and "alien ownership," and to private ownership of means of transportation and communication. It called for a flexible national currency and banking system adjusted to credit needs of producers (modeled


on the Alliance "Sub-Treasury Plan"), in place of the high interest rates (and constant threat of mortgage foreclosures) of private banks; for government ownership of railroads, telegraph and telephone systems; for a return to the government of "all land now held by railroads and other corporations in excess of their actual needs." In addition, the platform called for a graduated income tax, a Postal Savings Bank, the abolition of private antilabor armies (the "Pinkerton system"), the election of senators by direct vote, the initiative and referendum, and firm opposition to "any subsidy or national aid to any private corporation for any purpose." In short, the Omaha platform proposed a coherent program of economic change by means of government action. Cer tainly not a socialist platform-it did not call for state ownership of the means of production, of factories and raw materials -it nevertheless pits collective ownership and control against private ownership of those sectors of the economy having to do wi th exchange, especially money and transportation. But even more pointed than its specific proposals was its insistence on government responsibility for the economic well-being of the nation, for the "people," the true producers of wealth: "Wealth belongs to him who creates it; and every dollar taken from industry without an equivalent is robbery."

The chief political goal of the platform was to win reliable democratic controls over corporate capitalism. Still, the underlying "producer's philosophy" seemed an attack more on the scale of capitalism, on the "greed" of the already rich and power ful, than on the fundamental relations of production: the wage system. Thus, viewing the Populists chiefly as "employing farmers" rather than the "employed farmers of the country districts or the mechanics and laborers of the industrial cent ers," Samuel Gompers argued in 1892 that an "amalgamation of the wage-worker's organization with the People's Party" was "impossible, because it is unnatural." The plank calling for a "Perpetual Labor Union"-"that the union of the labor forces of the Unit ed States this day consummated shall be permanent and perpetual; may its spirit enter into all hearts for the salvation of the Republic, and the uplifting of mankind"-thus failed to win large-scale labor support. Its rhetoric more harmonious with the foun dering Knights of Labor than with the more limited trade-union objectives of the rising American Federation of Labor, the platform


made its appeal for farmer-labor unity on grounds already obsolete in the eyes of the skilled craft workers demanding shorter hours, higher pay, and job security. The failure of Populism in its goal of forging a national mass movement of "producers" raises questions about the political wisdom of the platform, whether its creators understood well enough the new realities of the urban, corporate society it wished to change; whether, that is, it did not raise an outmoded hope, for a "producer's commonwealth," into a utopian program. More important than its precise political program in 1892 (whether wise or foolish, effective or stumbling) was its deeper agenda, its im plicit revision of the prevailing view of politics. For the significance of Populism lies less in its political failure than in its cultural expression. The Omaha platform wished to make its revision in the name of the "outcries of a plundered people," to give voice to voices excluded from the major agencies of representation: the big-city press, the national periodicals, and especially the major parties. In this sense, apart from the indecisive collectivism of the platform, Omaha challenged the power of a version of reality: a challenge to the culture of conventional politics. In its platform, Populism established itself as an opposing culture, an alternative view not only of "politics" and "economics" but of the world as such. In its diction, in the sty le and tone of its language, the platform bespeaks a world seen and understood by "the people," as against a sham world of the national parties. It assumed, of course, that its roots in the Alliance and in the dozens of radical reform groups that also flo cked to Omaha granted it authority to speak on behalf of "the people"-an assumption severely shattered by the victory of the conventional in the Republican landslide of 1896.

Still, that assumption had some basis in the fact that Populism had brought together those growing numbers of distressed citizens who had aligned themselves with third-party movements throughout the previous two decades. The size of the dissident v ote, never large enough to win a national election, had risen steadily, from just over one percent in 1876 to 11 percent in 1892. "Minor parties regularly captured a significant share of the popular vote," writes Peter H. Argersinger, "and received at lea st 20 percent in one or more elections from 1874 to 1892 in more than half of the non-Southern states." Often they held a balance of


power, "at least once in every state but Vermont" between 1878 and 1892. But their challenge lay at a level deeper than numbers of votes alone. Invariably, they scorned the very notion of "party" and loyalty, and conventional politics. "A very lamentable evil is the education of the people into the belief that a permanent political party is a great good," proclaimed the Prohibition Party (one of the most durable of the dissident coalitions of the period) in 1869. This is not to say that the third parties saw themselves as merely symbolic; they sought office and entered into fusion alliances with major parties when feasible. But they presented themselves less as parties than as movements, as crusades. "Ours is not a political party," declared a North Dakot a Populist. "It is more, for in it are crystallized sentiments and measures for the benefit of the whole people." The People's Party itself implied an end to parties, an upwelling of the people in a direct political expression.

And it is in this, in its efforts to give expression to the people as a political entity outside the party system, that Populism must be seen as undertaking a cultural campaign of great magnitude: a campaign short-lived but far-reaching in its extr apolitical ambitions. Those ambitions show most forcefully in what Lawrence Goodwyn calls the "movement culture" of the Farmers' Alliance: not only the forms of collective manifestation, such as the wagon trains gathering from all points of the countrysid e to save a cooperative venture from failure, or the open-air rallies where Southern farmers declared their determination to defy the patterns of deference and racism on which the authority of the "party of the fathers" rested, but also the painfully cons tructed alternative institutions, the lecture system, the far-flung National Reform Press Association, and the cooperative themselves. Goodwyn portrays a movement in which people learned to act independently on their own behalf, to think critically about their common predicament. There is no denying the evidence of ferment in the Southwestern countryside and small towns. According to one writer, "People commenced to think who had never thought before, and people talked who had seldom spoken." The image su ggests an awakening of language, of reading and speaking, of new and radical powers discovered in words. Indeed, among the institutions bred by Populism, none surpassed in importance the Alliance lecture circuit and the far-flung National


Reform Press Association (bringing together dozens of radical newspapers which could count only on their readership for support). Lecturers and journalists breathed new life into the standard words of political discourse, words such as "democracy," "the p eople," "America." Populism projected an unmistakable cultural ferment, a ferment in which cultural practices and political ideas mixed in a campaign to restore America to original meanings. Political calls for government ownership, against the grain of inherited Jeffersoni an notions of limited government and of laissez-faire to which many independent farmers clung, implied a kind of cultural earthquake. The tremors, however, failed in the end to collapse the walls separating farmers and workers, whites and blacks, country and city. While it survived in splinters and fragments, as a political movement Populism could not resist the assaults of the major party system, rigged election laws, physical intimidation, and the pressures in 1896 to fuse with the Democratic Party in s upport of William Jennings Bryan and his deceptive "free silver" platform. And one among many explanations for its short-lived glory lies in the overlapping elements of culture and politics in its fundamental assumptions.

Considering itself in a struggle for the true America, Populism inevitably absorbed certain long-standing unresolved ambiguities within the word "America" itself. Is America a nation, a body joined by shared cultural values and experiences? Or i s it a political state, an apparatus for governance in which laws serve to protect classes rather than universal interests in the society? Of course, the same ambiguity exists in all modern nation-states. The peculiarities of its founding, its assumption that the act which constituted the political state, the very Constitution, also constituted and originated the nation as a whole body. America seemed to promise a fusion of the civil and the political, of the personal lives of people with their status as free citizens. The vesting of political authority in "the people" seemed to fulfill that hope of Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau and Jefferson that the private person might view his own private interests, for the first time in history, as identical w ith those of the whole society, of the nation, his needs and desires and efforts at enjoyment perfectly consistent with his rights as a citizen. This identity of interest, with its assumption that all citizens share membership


in an organic body known as the nation or "the people," was the hope of utopia within the American polity.

The meaning of that utopia lay at the base of political and social controversy throughout the nineteenth century. Was the true America best represented by its most successful citizens, those for whom laws protected the private means of enjoyment -p rivate property and contract-and permitted accumulation of private wealth? Or did utopian "America" demand for its realization a new social order, the abolition of private property, the emergence of the nation as a collective body of shared wealth as well as culture? Experimental utopian communities before the Civil War attempted to put into practice this implicit America: a corporate body fusing the personal and the social in communal polity. The utopia remained effective in conventional society and poli tics as well, assimilated into the rhetoric of politics which continued to assume that "one nation, indivisible" meant a total identity of private interests with those of the political state. With universal white manhood suffrage achieved under Jackson, a nd especially with the victory of Union over Secession in the Civil War, the presumed identity of nation and state, of "the people" and their government, deepened into a commonplace orthodoxy of both political and cultural thought.

Thus, America originated and evolved as a nation unique among nations: simultaneously an ideal of a restored harmony between the civil and the political, the private and the public, and a set of political institutions embodying that ideal. Americans of all persuasions rarely opposed the state as such, for to do so, as abolitionists and the slave power both discovered, was to place themselves perilously outside the nation, to declare themselves antagonists to the corporate entity of America itself. Cons tituted in the name of "the people," the republican state seemed one with the nation, the society, the culture. Not the state itself, but those who temporarily occupied its sacred corridors and residences, placed themselves in contention in the normal pol itical processes. Questions of power and policy, in Gilded Age politics, receded in favor of contentions over "America," over which party best represented its original virtue, its continuing utopia.

To be sure, increasing numbers of Americans, especially in the tense struggles of the 1880's and early 1890's, experienced the state firsthand as a power clearly antagonistic to their interests,