A spirited reevaluation of the public moralists who shaped public policy in nineteenth-century America, Mugwumps: Public Moralists of the Gilded Age provides a refreshing look at a group of Americans whose importance to the history of our country has commonly been dismissed.
A public interest group that labeled the generation following the American Civil War as the "Gilded Age," Mugwumps were college-educated individuals who lived the lessons of their moral philosophy—Christian values, republican virtue, and classical liberalism. Tracing Mugwump values back before the term was commonly used, Tucker defines these liberals as benevolent and altruistic, active campaigners against slavery and imperialism, and for sound money, lower tariffs, and civil service reform. The earliest Mugwumps took on the self-assigned task of advocating public principles over private interests.
Evaluations of these public moralists during the 1950s and 1960s, however, did not paint the Mugwumps in so positive a light. Awash in the popular New Deal public policies that advocated positive government intervention and regulation in the economy, these studies dismissed Mugwump liberalism as outdated. More specifically, the reformers were criticized as being self-interested failures.
Tucker obliges readers to look beyond such dismissals to the history and accomplishments of Mugwumps as a whole. Unlike previous historians, Tucker examines the antebellum roots of the Mugwumps and follows their ever-increasing participation in American government throughout the nineteenth century. Tucker portrays Mugwumps not as selfish agents of the middle class but as fascinating practitioners of eighteenth-century public virtue and nineteenth-century social science.
This book forcefully challenges previous studies on the Mugwumps and restores these public moralists to the mainstream of nineteenth-century American history. Their concerns for morality and free-market economics are again fashionable in contemporary politics and deserving of fresh attention from both the general reader and the scholar.