Silbey, Joel H. 1933-
Silbey, Joel H. 1933-
Born August 16, 1933, in Brooklyn, NY; son of Sidney R. (a businessman) and Estelle Silbey; married Rosemary Johnson, August 13, 1959; children: Victoria, David. Education: Brooklyn College (now Brooklyn College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1955; University of Iowa, M.A., 1956, Ph.D., 1963.
Home—Ithaca, NY. Office—History Department, McGraw Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.
San Francisco State College (now University), San Francisco, CA, assistant professor, 1960-64; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, assistant professor, 1964-65, and University of Maryland, College Park, MD, assistant professor, 1965-66; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, associate professor, 1966-68, professor, 1968-86, President White professor of history, 1986-2002, professor emeritus, 2002—. Visiting fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1985-86; visiting scholar, Russell Sage Foundation, 1988-89; Harold V. Harmsworthy Professor of American History, Oxford University, 2004-05.
American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, Social Science History Association, Southern Historical Association.
The Shrine of Party, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1967.
The Transformation of American Politics, 1840-1860, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1967.
(Editor) National Development and Sectional Crisis, 1815-1860, Random House (New York, NY), 1970.
(Coeditor) Voters, Parties and Elections, Xerox College Publishing (Lexington, MA), 1972.
(Contributor) Arthur S. Link, editor, Critical American Elections, American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1973.
Political Ideology and Voting Behavior in the Age of Jackson, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1973.
A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War Era, 1860-1868, Norton (New York, NY), 1977.
(Editor, with Allan G. Bogue and William H. Flanigan) The History of American Electoral Behavior, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1978.
(Editor and author of preface) The Congress of the United States: Its Origins and Early Development, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The Congress of the United States: Patterns of Recruitment, Leadership, and Internal Structure, 1789-1989, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The First Branch of American Government: The United States Congress and Its Relations to the Executive and Judiciary, 1789-1989, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The United States Congress: The Electoral Connection, 1789-1989, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The Modern American Congress, 1963-1989, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The Rise and Fall of Political Parties in the United States, 1789-1989: The Congressional Roll Call Record, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) To Advise and Consent: The United States Congress and Foreign Policy in the Twentieth Century, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The United States Congress in a Nation Transformed, 1896-1963, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The United States Congress in a Partisan Political Nation, 1841-1896, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
(Editor and author of preface) The United States Congress in a Transitional Era, 1800-1841: The Interplay of Party, Faction, and Section, Carlson (Brooklyn, NY), 1991.
The American Political Nation, 1838-1893, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1991.
(Editor) Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System: Studies of the Principal Structures, Processes, and Policies of Congress and the State Legislatures since the Colonial Era, Maxwell Macmillan International (New York, NY), 1994.
(Editor) Russian-American Dialogue on the History of U.S. Political Parties, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 2000.
Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, Rowman & Littlefield (Lanham, MD), 2002.
Storm over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of articles and book reviews to professional journals.
Historian Joel H. Silbey concentrates on the history of American politics, with an emphasis on the nineteenth century—the period that saw the greatest experimentation with political systems. At the beginning of the century, the American party system was divided between Federalists (who believed in a deference-driven politics that limited the influence of the less-educated and poorer members of society) and Democratic Republicans (who believed in an expanded franchise that incorporated many more members of society). By the early 1820s, however, the Federalists had been virtually eliminated as a force in American politics. Perhaps partly in response, "in the 1830s, amid expansion, population growth, and economic change, a new structure arose," stated Paul D. Boyer in a Historian review of The American Political Nation, 1838-1893. "Decades of intense partisanship ensued, as Democrats and Whigs (later Republicans) articulated sharply divergent social and economic visions." Even the Civil War did not really threaten the differences between the two parties; despite the fact that the Republican Party aligned itself with the Union victory and the Democratic Party in general sought peace between the North and the South, the two-party system as a whole continued relatively unchanged from the end of the war until the Panic of 1893—the worst economic decline in U.S. history until the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Panic led to the decisive defeat of the Democrats in the 1896 presidential elections, and there would not be another Democratic administration in the White House for twenty years. "This is a thoughtful, illuminating, and welcome study," Boyer concluded. "Silbey offers encouraging evidence that ‘old-fashioned political history,’ informed by new analytical rigor, not only remains vigorously alive, but can tell much about the past."
One of the architects of the great nineteenth-century Democratic victory was Martin Van Buren, the eighth president of the United States. In Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, Silbey tells the story of the man largely responsible for the political victories of the Democrats under Andrew Jackson. Van Buren designed and created a Democratic political machine in his native New York state that proved powerful enough not only to deliver electoral victory to Jackson twice (in 1828 and 1832), but won the "Magician of Kinderhook" himself the presidency in 1836. Yet this "hard-core party man," declared Leonard L. Richards in the Journal of Southern History, "… deserted the Democracy in the late 1840s, ran as the Free-Soil candidate for president in 1848, and then deserted [the Democrats again] and endorsed their ‘doughface’ opponents in the 1850s." Like many other politicians in the nineteenth century, according to Silbey, Van Buren was brought down by a combination of economic factors (his presidency was marked by the worst economic downturn the country had known up to that point, the Panic of 1837) and the issue of slavery. "The question of slavery, according to Silbey, was one that Van Buren tried to avoid, but it was one that he increasingly had to face in his late career," explained C. Edward Skeen in the Historian. "Born in a slaveholding home, he shared the racial prejudices of most Americans of his time. He believed slavery was essentially a local question" and tried to ignore its national scope and consequences—to his political cost.
Storm over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War tells the story of how sectional tensions between the North and the slaveowning South slowly twisted the nation toward the conflict that would cost the lives of millions of Americans between 1861 and 1865. The bringing of Texas into the American union meant war with Mexico—a war (in the eyes of many) of naked aggression against a fellow state that had outlawed slavery when it won its independence from Spain—for the purpose of expanding U.S. slavery in the South. "The disintegration of the Union is played out from 1844 to close via the Mexican-American war and its aftermath," wrote Matthew Smith on American Studies Today Online, "through the political peaks and troughs that accompanied the spread of slavery and free soil, and the pyrotechnic meltdown of the Democratic Party." "Many northerners were furious at the war, leading to the Wilmot Proviso and the fear that the nation would collapse over whether the new territories would be slave or free," explained Eric Loomis on Alterdestiny. "Henry Clay managed to piece the nation back together through the Compromise of 1850. But these sectional demons could never be completely put away. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 brought them all back to the forefront and by then Clay was dead. The Whigs collapsed and the Republican Party formed in 1854, running John C. Fremont for president in 1856." "To gratify the South, northern Democrats went along with annexation, at severe cost to the general harmony that the political parties of the time maintained in their own ranks," stated William Murchison in the Weekly Standard. "Henceforth, sectionalism, fed by the South's insistence on preserving and extending slavery, drove the wagon." "Joel Silbey," Michael A. Morrison wrote in the Journal of Southern History, "has made a subtle, nuanced, and powerful case for reassessing the impact of Texas annexation on the Second Party System. More importantly this distinguished scholar has opened a new, promising path to be explored in the causation of the American Civil War."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1994, review of Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System: Studies of the Principal Structures, Processes, and Policies of Congress and the State Legislatures since the Colonial Era, p. 1973.
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May, 1992, J. Mushkat, review of The American Political Nation, 1838-1893, p. 1460; November, 1994, C. Teague, review of Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System, p. 424.
Civil War History, March, 2004, Christopher J. Leahy, review of Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, p. 66.
Historian, summer, 1993, Paul D. Boyer, review of The American Political Nation, 1838-1893; fall, 2004, C. Edward Skeen, review of Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics.
History: The Journal of the Historical Association, October, 1993, Bruce Collins, review of The American Political Nation, 1838-1893, p. 459.
Journal of American Studies, April, 2007, Alan Lowe, review of Storm over Texas: The Annexation Controversy and the Road to Civil War, p. 237.
Journal of Southern History, May, 2001, Harry L. Watson, review of The American Party Battle: Election Campaign Pamphlets, 1828-1876, p. 448; February, 2004, Leonard L. Richards, review of Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, p. 142; February, 2007, Michael A. Morrison, review of Storm over Texas, p. 182.
Library Journal, June 1, 1994, Louise A. Treff, review of Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System, p. 94.
Reference & Research Book News, November, 2000, review of Russian-American Dialogue on the History of U.S. Political Parties, p. 116; November, 2002, review of Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, p. 53; August, 2005, review of Martin Van Buren and the Emergence of American Popular Politics, p. 66.
Reviews in American History, September, 2006, "Interpreting the Causation Sequence: The Meaning of the Events Leading to the Civil War," p. 324.
School Library Journal, February, 1995, Daryl Grabarek, review of Encyclopedia of the American Legislative System, p. 132.
Southwestern Historical Quarterly, July, 2006, Randolph B. Campbell, review of Storm over Texas, p. 135.
Weekly Standard, December 5, 2005, "Prelude to War; Did Texas Statehood Lead to Southern Secession?"
Alterdestiny,http://alterdestiny.blogspot.com/ (February 21, 2008), Eric Loomis, review of Storm over Texas.
American Studies Today Online,http://www.americansc.org.uk/ (February 21, 2008), Matthew Smith, review of Storm over Texas.
H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online,http://www.h-net.org/ (November 24, 2008), Mark J. Stegmaier, review of Storm over Texas.
Oxford University Press,http://www.oup.com/ (February 21, 2008), author biography.