Ambrose Bierce, the great 19th-century author, journalist and cynic, defined "presidency" as "the greased pig in the field game of American politics." If you are fascinated by the color and pomp of presidential politics in the Gilded Age, or if you see parallels between American politics in the years between 1870 and 1900 and the issues facing our country today, then this blog is for you.
I am the author of the recently published Skirmisher: The Life, Times, and Political Career of James B. Weaver (Edinborough Press), the first full-length biography of the Iowa Populist and two-time presidential candidate published in almost 90 years.
In the course of researching and writing Skirmisher, I became intrigued by the political personalities and issues of the period, which, given the woeful lack of interest in or knowledge about U.S. history in our country, are sadly neglected today.
Bierce didn't have much use for history, defining it as "An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools." I reject the first two elements of his definition but find myself nodding in agreement -- and chuckling -- at the latter two. The study of history is vitally important and teaches much about who and where we are and how we got there. At the same time, it is a catalogue of human folly, redeemed from time to time by courage, nobility and principle.
William Jennings Bryan, Frederick Douglass, James B. Weaver, Susan B. Anthony, James A. Garfield, Roscoe Conkling, James G. Blaine, "Silver Dick" Bland, James Harlan, Mark Hanna, Theodore Roosevelt, Mary E. Lease and others too numerous to mention offer a rich field for study, instruction and, on occasion, amusement.
Women's suffrage, chronic labor strife, civil rights, railroads, big business and the birth of the regulatory state, "greenbacks" and "free silver" versus gold -- all shaped to one degree or another presidential campaigns in the decades after the Civil War and all have relevance to our politics today.
With luck, this site will evolve and grow as the muse dictates and readers suggest. So, welcome!