I was reading Mark Neely’s The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era and thought the first chapter had a very interesting story that can be used to provoke discussion among students about politics of the 1864 presidential election in comparison to the politics of the 2008 presidential election.
Neely tells the story of Walt Whitman and his return from Washington D.C. to Brooklyn in order to vote. While at a bar, he noticed the barmaid wearing a McClellan pin. He asked the girl about the pin and she said that all the barmaids who worked at this bar supported McClellan and those that didn’t were not tolerated. Whitman describes how this was “one of those places where the air is full of scent of low thievery, foul play, & prostitution gangrened”*–not a place one would expect much political involvement. Neely uses this anecdote to introduce his point about the high level of involvement of the general public in politics during the Civil War Era.
Some points to take away in order to lead a discussion among students include the fact that barmaids would be so involved in politics when they did not have the right to vote and how that reflects the prevalence of politics on all levels of society. How does this compare to the current election?
There are several points made just even in this first chapter that present a range of ideas and points that can easily create a discussion among students. Neely will be presenting at the House Divided workshop on Friday, June 13 on the Politics of the 1850’s. Look on A House Divided YouTube Channel for an interview of Neely from this workshop.
*Mark E. Neely Jr., The Boundaries of American Political Culture in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill:The University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 2.