Jeff Broxmeyer has written a fascinating and insightful book about the party system in New York during the Gilded Age, but this is really only the foundation of the analysis. Electoral Capitalism: The Party System in New York's Gilded Age (U Pennsylvania Press, 2020) unwraps the many layers that contribute to our understanding of the party system not only in New York during this period after the Civil War, but throughout much of American politics during this time. As Broxmeyer notes throughout the book, this concept of electoral capitalism organized the party system in Gilded Age New York—and helps us think about how struggles over unequal wealth, or wealth gaps, shape democracy in America and the evolution of the party system in the U.S.
Electoral Capitalism essentially examines these ideas from the top down and from the bottom up, spending the first half of the book examining the different political machines that became the power and wealth brokers in New York (William “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall, and Roscoe Conkling and the Stalwart machine), and the second half of the book exploring the “spoilsmen” and the individuals who were desperate for these very precarious positions that would possibly help them through a difficult economic situation or keep them from losing their homes. Broxmeyer focuses particular attention on the interweaving of wealth and power that came together in politics during this time, and that it is quite difficult, if not impossible, to disentangle wealth and power from each other and from politics during the Gilded Age. Electoral Capitalism braids together historical and cultural contexts to better understand American political parties and their development, the evolution of democracy in the United States, and the role of money and politics.
Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).