Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791 by Van Beck Hall

Politics without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791 by Van Beck Hall

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University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972. Hardcover. 375 pages ; 25 cm. $14.95 dust jacket with minimal wear. Small tear to head of spine. Pages are clean and unmarked. Binding is firm.

Politics Without Parties: Massachusetts, 1780-1791

Historians have long argued that before the development of American political parties in the 1790s, political conflicts were rooted in personal factionalism or ideology. In this book, Van Beck Hall demonstrates that, to the contrary, they reflected differences in the values of the entire society. They were rooted in the human circumstances—social, economic, cultural—of all sectors of society, and they displayed an ordered, patterned, and persistent quality.

To demonstrate the patterned nature of preparty politics, Hall uses two methods. First, he describes the social, economic, and cultural characteristics of 343 towns and plantations in Massachusetts in relationship to one another. The result is a scale, a continuum, of degrees of commercialization and cosmopolitanism, from the parochial and isolated community on one end to the town involved in a developed market network and cosmopolitan life on the other. Secondly, he relates to these underlying patterns the phenomena of political life—popular voting for state and federal office, roll-call votes in the General Court and on ratification of the Constitution, and Shays's "Rebellion." He discovers that the two were closely related.

Using new data from archives in Massachusetts and new methods of ordering that data, and combining both quantitative and qualitative sources, Hall is able to provide a setting for Massachusetts politics that encompasses the entire state. In so doing he relates single towns to the entire social and political order of the Commonwealth. His study demonstrates how methods of systematic social analysis can revise fundamentally the way we look at the past.

Van Beck Hall is Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh.

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