Presidential Races: The Battle for Power in the United States (People’s History)

Presidential Races: The Battle for Power in the United States (People's History)

By: Arlene Morris-Libsman
Publisher: 21st Century Books 
Publication Date: September 2007
ISBN: 978-0822567837
Reviewed by: Deb Fowler
Review DateL: January 2012

Candidates once again have their eye on the prize, the presidency of the United States. Their strategies may be similar while their platforms can vary widely. Some of them even shout out their messages on Facebook and Twitter. The simple thought of campaigning would be an anathema to our earliest candidates. In fact “In 1796 most people agreed that actively campaigning for the presidential office was demeaning.” Candidates simply declared their intentions and legislators chosen by the states made the selections. The president was chosen by caucus and the citizenry had little or no say in the matter.

It wasn’t until the 1820's that the individual had some say in who would serve as their president when “King Caucus” died out. Presidential candidates still did not campaign, but the “public learned about [them] from the newspapers and the nominees’ correspondence” via printed matter. People learned about Andrew Jackson in his “first-ever campaign biography,” while his opponent John Quincy Adams was quieter. He did however, shoot out barbs by claiming Jackson was an “odd nuts and drumsticks” man. The age of negative campaigning had begun.

Political parties began to form, some lasting while others faded into obscurity. For example the Liberty Party, one that opposed slavery, came and went with the times. Issues relevant to the people and their eras excited the fervor of campaigns once they ceased to be demeaning and began to be critical to the candidates. In 1860 Stephen Douglas ran the “first-ever national stumping tour.” While unsuccessful, it was a new tactic that quickly took hold. In this book you’ll receive a front seat view of the history of the presidential campaigns from the days of state delegate elections to the modern-day excitement for “the battle for power in the United States.”

Although any book of this nature is quickly dated, I found that the historical background and facts concerning the presidency was amazingly well done. There were no “fillers” in this book and there were any number of areas in which a student could draw upon for a report. The evolution of the country and the presidency was quite well done and included minutiae such as the nickname for Democrats who “wanted to end the fighting and negotiate peace,” the “Copperheads.” The book is generously illustrated with photographs, period cartoons and ephemera (all black and white). In the back of the book is an index, a listing of election results (1789-2004), source notes, a selected bibliography, additional recommended book and website resources to explore.

Quill says: This is a well-written, concise, and exceptionally readable compendium of presidential race facts.

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