For the People

American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s

By Ronald P. Formisano

328 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-7262-8
    Published: August 2012
  • Large Print ISBN: 978-0-8078-8610-6
    Published: December 2009
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-8611-3
    Published: February 2008
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-8133-5
    Published: February 2008

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For the People offers a new interpretation of populist political movements from the Revolution to the eve of the Civil War and roots them in the disconnect between the theory of rule by the people and the reality of rule by elected representatives. Ron Formisano seeks to rescue populist movements from the distortions of contemporary opponents as well as the misunderstandings of later historians.

From the Anti-Federalists to the Know-Nothings, Formisano traces the movements chronologically, contextualizing them and demonstrating the progression of ideas and movements. Although American populist movements have typically been categorized as either progressive or reactionary, left-leaning or right-leaning, Formisano argues that most populist movements exhibit liberal and illiberal tendencies simultaneously. Gendered notions of "manhood" are an enduring feature, yet women have been intimately involved in nearly every populist insurgency. By considering these movements together, Formisano identifies commonalities that belie the pattern of historical polarization and bring populist movements from the margins to the core of American history.

About the Author

Ronald P. Formisano is William T. Bryan Chair of American History at the University of Kentucky. He is author of four books, including Boston Against Busing: Race, Class, and Ethnicity in the 1960s and 1970s.
For more information about Ronald P. Formisano, visit the Author Page.


"Masterfully draws on diverse literatures in political theory, political history, social history, and gender history to offer fresh interpretations of American populist movements from the Revolution to the 1850s. . . . Should become required reading for American historians and political scientists."--Journal of American History

"An utterly compelling and convincing book that will soon take its rightful place as one of the seminal political histories of nineteenth-century America."--Journal of Southern History

"Draw[s] on extensive research and a thorough examination of modern scholarship. . . . Essential reading for students of early American politics. . . . Greatly expands our understanding of and appreciation of the complex and paradoxical nature of American populist movements. . . . Will have important implications for current scholarly debates about the meaning and legacy of popular sovereignty in the decades after the Revolution."--Common-Place

"Formisano's theme is crucial in American history."--Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

"Provide[s] significant new material and insights. . . . Helps to clarify and contextualize the heritage of populism, leading to a better understanding of why its political legacy is indeed mixed."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Studies populist movements by taking a road less traveled. . . . Focuses on the people who made up the bulk of these movements, the rank and file, and he studies the separate activities as a collection of movements over a longer period."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society