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Washington County

Politics and Community in Antebellum America

Paul Bourke and Donald A. DeBats

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In the 1850s, Washington County, Oregon, gathered together a broad cross-section of antebellum America. More than that, however, it left for historians a rare opportunity to explore political, social, and cultural trends in American history due to its unique practice of viva voce voting—announcing individual ballots publicly rather than recording them in secret. Paul Bourke and Donald DeBats tap into this remarkable resource to reveal how individual political identities developed and political choices were made.



A study of the relationship between culture and political participation. Bourke and DeBats are able to take scholarly understanding beyond that gained from aggregate voting returns because of the happy survival of a near-complete set of pollbooks, the written records of votes given by voice in Washington County elections between 1855 and 1860.

A richly detailed and valuable portrait of an American community in the making... Few historians have been more diligent than Paul Bourke and Donald DeBats in reconstructing an American community by linking together a mass of data on its citizens, mapping its neighborhoods, and analyzing political life.

This is a major work of scholarship which, in closely looking at a single county on the distant Pacific coast, nevertheless poses some absolutely fundamental questions. It offers the closest and most satisfying analysis of individual partisanship in the mid-nineteenth century available. The larger implications of their conclusions are sure to be debated for some time to come.

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Paul Bourke

Paul Bourke is professor of history in the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University in Canberra.
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Donald A. DeBats

Donald DeBats is professor of American Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.