The American Political Party System stultified during the Gilded Age, seemingly unable to capture the dynamic changes occurring in American society. Because of the frozen two-party system, a vigorous set of minor parties emerged, pressing ignored issues onto the policymaking agenda. Political scientists and historians have claimed the importance of minor parties in forcing the two-party system to break out of its lethargy. But they have not been able to evaluate this surge in policymaking as the Progressive era dawned because of poor data availability. In this paper, we introduce two rich new datasets of policymaking from the period. The first dataset consists of party platform planks from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as dozens of minor parties, from 1868 to 1944. The second consists of Congressional hearings conducted from 1870 to 1944. We coded each dataset using the Comparative Agendas Project subtopic classification system, allowing us to track the emergence of 220 subtopics onto the Congressional and party system policy agendas. Using these new datasets, we present a method of assessing the effects that the emergence of minor parties had on the policymaking system in the period and beyond.
Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 3 Special Issue: The Political Economy of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era: Articles Overview
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.