Friday, May 16, 2008, 3:00–5:00 p.m.
Manufactories of Public Sentiment: Political Parties and the Concept of Public Opinion, 1787-1850
Mark Schmeller, Northeastern Illinois University
In 1787, Americans adopted a constitution designed to check the evils of political factions. Half a century later, organized mass political parties were a basic fact of national political life. Historians have long debated the meaning and significance of this transformation. Did the rise of the two-party system indicate a widespread acceptance of pluralism and liberal, interest group politics? This essay argues that changing concepts of public opinion played a vital yet often neglected role in legitimating parties. I first show how the anti-partyism of the founding generation rested upon classical humanist ideas of popular opinion as unstable and easily counterfeited. As these ideas fell into disuse, a new generation of politicians reconfigured the relation between party and public opinion. Democrats advanced a “constitutionalist” rationale for party government. They equated public opinion with the popular will, and saw parties as necessary means for implementing that will. Whigs developed a weaker “sociological” defense of party organization. They defined public opinion as a product of civilization and economic “improvement,” and argued that it would contain the violence of partisan conflict.
All papers are pre-circulated electronically to those who plan to attend the seminar in person. For a copy of the paper, e-mail Jenny Butler at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (312) 255-3524. Please do not request the paper unless you plan to attend the seminar.
The Newberry Library Seminar on Technology, Politics, and Culture is co-sponsored by the University of Illinois at Chicago, Roosevelt University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and Northwestern University's School of Communications
The Newberry Library
Dr. William M. Scholl Center for
Family and Community History
60 W. Walton St.
Chicago, Illinois 60610
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