Did economic interests determine voter behavior in Jacksonian Ohio?


          Twenty-first century politicians in the United States doggedly pursue the votes of minorities, college-educated suburban women and/or white men. But they don't stop there, and the strategy isn’t novel. Its origin lies in the Second Party System of the Jacksonian Era.

     The classic view of 'Jacksonian Democracy' holds that Democratic politicians were of modest means and appealed to voters like themselves; Whig politicians were rich and catered to wealthy constituents. Such accounts also focus on the character and actions of political leaders, especially Andrew Jackson and his war on the Bank of the United States. With the exception of a few studies, how-ever, little attention is paid to ordinary voters.

     Now, through a systematic analysis of voter choice in Ohio, Identity Politics adds another state to the idea first proposed in New York by historian Lee Benson: Democrats and Whigs relied on religion, ethnicity, nativity, the prejudices of Northerners and Southerners, even the value of 'party' as the bases of their political behavior. Cultural solidarity, not passing issues, determined their choices. In that respect, Jacksonian voters in Ohio foretold the future of American politics.

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     Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth; more than ruin; more  even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible, thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habit.

— Bertrand Russell

     Encouraged by President Franklin Roosevelt, who had warned earlier against giving in to fear, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI rounded up nearly 11,000 people of German ancestry, including Jewish refugees from occupied Europe and over 4,000 residents of Latin America and sentenced them to a nationwide gulag (see map on the 'Home' page).

     Weaving together first-person inter-views and government records in this unique study, Fox relates the inside story of internment and exclusion.

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     Set in World War II America, but with an eye to the present and future, Homeland Insecurity offers a unique, thematic commentary on the experiences of men and women of Italian and German ancestry who were relocated, interned or excluded.


     The award-winning author utilizes internee recollections and government documents—especially those of the FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service—to analyze the impact of government policies on detainees and their families.

     Homeland Insecurity demonstrates how policymakers, the media and the public are selective in their embrace of historical lessons. It shows how during the war, each of these groups chose the message that supported their assumptions. When these lapses in judgment coincided with the prejudices and insecurities of J. Edgar Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt, the result was tragic: an assault on the Bill of Rights, the ruin of countless reputations, the sacrifice of family well-being and lost lives.  Perhaps above all the American homeland emerged from the war less confident than before about the place of immigrants in a time of crisis.

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     The relocation of Japanese Americans during World War II is a well-known blemish on American history, but few are aware that from February through June of 1942 the federal government enacted a relocation program that forced thousands of West Coast Italian and German aliens and their families to leave their homes for so-called safe zones.  
     Law-abiding people who had lived in the United States for decades, including some who had sons in the armed forces, were subjected to surveillance and harassment simply because they had never obtained U.S. citizenship. The government eventually abandoned this program, but only because the process of relocating so many proved economically and politically unfeasible.
Other Italians, including American citizens, whose loyalty was deemed doubtful, were interned or excluded without trial.

UnCivil Liberties is an oral and documentary history focusing on the West Coast Italian-American experience in 1942. It uses the words of those affected by the relocation order to tell the human side of the story omitted by the government, and it presents documents that testify to the struggle of a country trying to square its actions with its values.

“Outstanding Book” — Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights in the United States, 1991.

“Outstanding Literary Achievement” — American Book Award (Before Columbus Foundation), 1992

Videos of Stephen Fox courtesy of Gennaro Lucchino (2/19)

© 2016 Stephen Fox

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