Democratization of Old Dominion: Virginia and the Second Party System, 1824-1861

Democratization of Old Dominion: Virginia and the Second Party System, 1824-1861 – Review

Democratization of Old Dominion: Virginia and the Second Party System, 1824-1861. By William G. Shade. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997. Pp. 480. $45.00.)

Two historians share the Avery O. Craven Award for 1998. They are William G. Shade of Lehigh University and Mark M. Smith of the University of South Carolina. The Craven Award was first given in 1985 and is presented annually by the Organization of American Historians for the most original book on the coming of the Civil War, the Civil War years, or the era of Reconstruction, excluding purely military history.

Shade’s study considers political change in Virginia from the beginning of the republic through the antebellum era with emphasis on the origins, timing, and shifts in political behavior and partisan preferences during the period. In doing so, he challenges the notion that religion and ethnicity had little or no influence on political alignments in the Old South. Shade argues that such factors influenced voting preferences in important ways and succeeds in getting past the long-held idea that antebellum politics in the Old Dominion was a simple struggle between the slaveholding east and the non-slaveholding west. The analysis in this book is as skillful as it is wide-ranging.

Mark Smith’s study was praised for its original conceptualization and nuanced interpretation. He introduces the issue of “mechanical time” into the social history of the Old South as an overlapping feature of both capitalist and non-capitalist social formation. The use as well as the distribution of time pieces is considered, as are the ways in which slaveholders used docks to organize and regulate work, and these are contrasted with the slaves’ conceptions of time. Based on innovative research, the book is an important and engaging study that links consciousness and technology, experience and social structures, as well as ideology and labor relations.

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