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Philadelphia Chapter Event: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy

Friday, April 9, 2021, 5‑6:30pm EDT
Location: Online via Zoom
Registration Deadline: Thursday, April 8, 2021
Contact: Jean Brubaker

Curator of Political History at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC), Jon Grinspan studies how politics and popular culture grew up together in America. In the 1800s, American political campaigns blended government and entertainment, youth culture and saloon culture, crime and comedy and so much more. The result was a mixing of the personal and the political, creating a bold experiment in self-government and thrilling human stories. Grinspan will discuss his work as a historian of American democracy as well as his new book, The Age of Acrimony: How Americans Fought to Fix Their Democracy, 1865 – 1915, where he takes us from the chaos of post-Civil War America to the progressive era, showing parallels to today.

Democracy was broken. Or that was what many Americans believed in the decades after the Civil War. Shaken by economic and technological disruption, they sought safety in aggressive, tribal partisanship. The results were the loudest, closest, most violent elections in U.S. history, driven by vibrant campaigns that drew our highest-ever voter turnouts. At the century's end, reformers finally restrained this wild system, trading away participation for civility in the process. They built a calmer, cleaner democracy, but also a more distant one. Americans' voting rates crashed and never fully recovered.

The Age of Acrimony charts the rise and fall of 19th-century America's unruly politics through the lives of a remarkable father-daughter dynasty. The radical congressman William “Pig Iron” Kelley and his fiery, Progressive daughter Florence Kelley led lives packed with drama, intimately tied to their nation's politics. Through their friendships and feuds, campaigns and crusades, Will and Florie trace the narrative of a democracy in crisis. In telling the tale of what it cost to cool our republic, historian Jon Grinspan reveals our divisive political system's enduring capacity to reinvent itself. This is the origin story of the “normal” politics of the 20th century. Only by exploring where that civility and restraint came from can we understand what is happening to our democracy today.

The Zoom link will be sent 24 hours prior to the event. 

Material from, 03:01:52 April 12, 2021.
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