David A. Bateman
’s fascinating new book opens with a puzzle. In 19th-century America, why was mass democratization – abolishing property and tax qualifications – accompanied by the mass disenfranchisement
of black, male citizens? The book highlights the importance of understanding democratization as both a process of extending political rights and a deliberate effort to change the composition and character of a particular community. Democratization is not simply a neutral set of procedures but a conflict over people-making and Bateman explores the political importance of these narratives with both a deep dive into the American case and two complementary case studies: the United Kingdom and France in the early and late 19th century.
Disenfranchising Democracy: Constructing the Electorate in the US, the UK, and France
(Cambridge University Press, 2020) first explores democratization at the time of the American revolution – finding that democratization was neither connected to disenfranchisement nor focused on race. But, in the early Republic, bi-sectional factions within the Jeffersonian coalition contested black citizenship and the necessity of a white man’s republic. Understanding both the revolutionary and early republican narratives clarifies the mass disenfranchisement of black men in the antebellum period. Chapters on the United Kingdom and France explore the power of political narrative and the construction of “The Other” based on religion, gender, and class. Bateman connects all three cases to contemporary narratives of “real Americans” or “make American great again” arguing that these are new examples of how “the people” can be reconfigured to create hierarchies of worth.
won the American Political Science Association’s J. David Greenstone Award for the best book in history and politics. The podcast includes a trenchant analysis of New Jersey as a radical leader in democratization – for free people of color and independent property-owning women.
Susan Liebell is associate professor of political science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. She is the author of Democracy, Intelligent Design, and Evolution: Science for Citizenship (Routledge, 2013).