THE IDEA OF A PARTY SYSTEM
The Rise of Legitimate Opposition in the United States, 1780-1840
In this lively study, Professor Hofstadter suggests that: the national elite passed a Constitution designed to prevent a voter-majority from coalescing and instituting democratic government, and also to disarm factional conflicts within the elite. They considered parties subversive of both aims; but once they began to rule, the "patricians" found themselves using party organizations in the service of policy disputes and wider efforts to contain the discontented citizenry, especially over the issue of war with France. Not that Hofstadter consistently spells this out clear and strong. He bypasses the issue of westward expansion (which permeated the period in question) and also stammers over political spades--which renders his lengthy discussions of the all-important Madison theories quite puerile. On subjects like Washington's Farewell Address, the XYZ affair, the 1800 election (first peaceful transfer of governing power in modern history, he stresses), Hofstadter has much to offer the general reader in history (these were originally Jefferson Memorial Lectures). And his reputation makes it a desirable library book. But specialists--noting, for one thing, that Hofstadter never explains exactly how the first parliamentary opposition was organized--will find mainly a bookmark, rather than a beacon, on a relatively neglected crisis-period.