Kyle G. Volk
Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy
University Press 2014
Kyle G. Volk is an associate professor of history at the University of Montana. His book Moral Minorities and the Making of American Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2014) provides a compelling narrative of how nineteenth-century Americans negotiated the tension between majority rule and minority rights and between representative democracy and popular democracy. He focuses on debates in the antebellum northern states where moral reform efforts of Sabbatarians, temperance activist, and racial segregationists circumvented representative government to assert their social vision through direct majority rule. Volk shows how some Americans rejected majority reform projects of moral uplift as despotism. Non-elite minorities challenged the popular democracy initiatives that infringed on their constitutional rights to work on Sunday, sell and drink alcohol, and have access to integrated public transportation. Immigrants, blacks, abolitionists, liquor dealers, Catholics, Jews, Seventh-day Baptists, and others engaged in a proactive defense. They developed techniques to protect their rights through legal arguments, moral suasion of the press, and political action. The moral minorities of the nineteenth century bequeath the strategies for political and legal activism deployed in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by ethnic minorities and gay rights advocates. Volk’s work illuminates our understanding of American democracy and minorities’ position within it.