There was a time when young people were the most
passionate participants in American democracy. In the
second half of the nineteenth century--as voter turnout
reached unprecedented peaks--young people led the way, hollering,
fighting, and flirting at massive midnight rallies. Parents trained
their children to be "violent little partisans," while politicians
lobbied twenty-one-year-olds for their "virgin votes"—the
first ballot cast upon reaching adulthood. In schoolhouses,
saloons, and squares, young men and women proved that democracy is
social and politics is personal, earning their adulthood by
participating in public life.
Drawing on hundreds of diaries and letters of diverse young
Americans--from barmaids to belles, sharecroppers to cowboys--this
book explores how exuberant young people and scheming party bosses
relied on each other from the 1840s to the turn of the twentieth
century. It also explains why this era ended so dramatically and
asks if aspects of that strange period might be useful today.
In a vivid evocation of this formative but forgotten
world, Jon Grinspan
recalls a time when struggling
young citizens found identity and maturity in democracy.