Are you a political junkie who loves campaigns? Fond of reading history? Then let me introduce you to the University Press of Kansas “American Presidential Elections” series https://kansaspress.ku.edu/series/american-presidential-elections.html?limit=all, edited by Michael Nelson, Fulmer Professor of Political Science at Rhodes College in Memphis, and John M. McCardell, Jr., a history professor at Sewanee: The University of the South, where he was formerly the president.
Nelson and McCardell have so far assembled 24 volumes, covering 25 elections, from George Washington’s first presidential victory to both of Clinton’s two White House wins. Written by top-flight political historians and political scientists, the volumes tend to be about 200 pages, plus notes and sources. They’re generally first-rate, with authors steeped in the era about which they write and capable of setting the scene and putting the reader in the action.
Start anywhere you like, but the latest volume isn’t a bad place to begin. It’s the contest of 1880, one of the many close-run contests of the Gilded Age. In this one, Democrats try overcoming the curse of their party’s identification with the defeated Confederate South by nominating an authentic Union war hero, Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, while the Republican Convention is deadlocked for 36 ballots until delegates finally reject the renomination of former President Ulysses S. Grant and pick Congressman James A. Garfield of Ohio, the darkest of dark horses who’d earlier placed in nomination his state’s senior Senator, John Sherman.
This starts a general election that Democrats could have and should have won and why they didn’t in a tale worth reading. More importantly, author Benjamin T. Arrington, site manager of the Garfield National Historical Site, also explores the question of what Garfield might have done had his presidency not been ended by an assassin’s bullet just shy of four months into his term. The volume is called THE LAST LINCOLN REPUBLICAN: THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OF 1880. You’ll find it an interesting introduction to a great series that will satiate any political junkie’s cravings.
After three years preparing The Triumph of William McKinley by reading very little but books, letters, articles and newspapers from the Gilded Age, I’m trying to get back into my regular routine, which I’ll chronicle here with an occasional review of what I’ve read.