Party Games

Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in Gilded Age Politics

By Mark Wahlgren Summers

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 illus. , notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5537-9
    Published: April 2004
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6375-6
    Published: December 2005
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7774-1
    Published: December 2005

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Much of late-nineteenth-century American politics was parade and pageant. Voters crowded the polls, and their votes made a real difference on policy. In Party Games, Mark Wahlgren Summers tells the full story and admires much of the political carnival, but he adds a cautionary note about the dark recesses: vote-buying, election-rigging, blackguarding, news suppression, and violence.

Summers also points out that hardball politics and third-party challenges helped make the parties more responsive. Ballyhoo did not replace government action. In order to maintain power, major parties not only rigged the system but also gave dissidents part of what they wanted. The persistence of a two-party system, Summers concludes, resulted from its adaptability, as well as its ruthlessness. Even the reform of political abuses was shaped to fit the needs of the real owners of the political system--the politicians themselves.

About the Author

Mark Wahlgren Summers is Thomas D. Clark Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. He is author of many books, including The Press Gang: Newspapers and Politics, 1865-1878 and Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion: The Making of a President, 1884.
For more information about Mark Wahlgren Summers, visit the Author Page.


"With acerbic wit and an incomparable grasp of period detail, Summers paints a picture of U.S democracy's late nineteenth-century style." --American Historical Review

"A welcome addition to Gilded Age political historiography. . . . Challenges accepted historiography and provides a lively account of the professionals who dominated US politics at the end of the nineteenth-century."--Canadian Journal of History/Annales canadiennes d’histoire

"Combining rigorous research, superb narrative capacities, and robust enthusiasm for his subject, seasoned historian and writer Mark Wahlgren Summers relates the complex and comprehensive details accounting for the survival and thriving of the two-party system in American politics. . . . Party Games: Getting, Keeping, and Using Power in the Gilded Age merits a 'yes' vote."--Rhetoric & Public Affairs

"With impressive research . . . Summers effectively links [Gilded Age politics] into a coherent political universe, illuminated by interesting and often obscure vignettes. . . . An important and provocative book that commands attention and will reward reading."--Journal of Southern History

"Summers has created an exemplary work that will shed additional light on the politics of the Gilded Age in American history."--North Carolina Historical Review

"A vivid and nuanced study that is all the more effective for the discrete and tempered presentation of its arguments. . . . Those arguments are also written with wit and an engaging turn of phrase."--Civil War Book Review