"For the People" offers a new interpretation of populist political
movements from the Revolution to the eve of the Civil War and roots
them in the disconnect between the theory of rule by the people and
the reality of rule by elected representatives. Ron Formisano seeks
to rescue populist movements from the distortions of contemporary
opponents as well as the misunderstandings of later historians.
From the Anti-Federalists to the Know-Nothings, Formisano traces
the movements chronologically, contextualizing them and
demonstrating the progression of ideas and movements. Although
American populist movements have typically been categorized as
either progressive or reactionary, left-leaning or right-leaning,
Formisano argues that most populist movements exhibit liberal and
illiberal tendencies simultaneously. Gendered notions of "manhood"
are an enduring feature, yet women have been intimately involved in
nearly every populist insurgency. By considering these movements
together, Formisano identifies commonalities that belie the pattern
of historical polarization and bring populist movements from the
margins to the core of American history.
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