Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sobel Wiki: power to the people

This week's featured article at the Sobel Wiki is on the People's Coalition, a populist political party in the C.N.A. that managed to do what our own history's Populists didn't: gain power. The People's Coalition is created in 1869 out of disparate groups of discontented people who are alienated from the existing political system by the corruption of the two major parties. The Coalition receives a major boost when the C.N.A.'s economy suffers a recession in the early 1880s. This enables Ezra Gallivan, the estranged son of a railroad tycoon, to win election as Mayor of Michigan City (our own world's Chicago). Gallivan proves to have a gift for political organization, and under his leadership the Coalition gains a plurality of seats in the Grand Council nineteen years after its founding.

Robert Sobel, the Australian business historian who is the nominal author of For Want of a Nail, is careful to avoid noting the strong ties between the founders of the Coalition and the leaders of the North American Rebellion of a hundred years earlier. The reason is clear enough: Sobel is utterly contemptuous of the rebels of '75, which he readily admits to at one point in the book, and which Professor Frank Dana of the United States of Mexico emphasizes in his critique of Nail. The last thing Sobel wants to do is admit that the Coalition, which has become thoroughly respectable at the time he is writing, drew its inspiration from the despised rebels.

Thus, Sobel mentions without comment the fact that the Coalition's founding document was called the Norfolk Resolves. He ignores the obvious implication of the Coalition winning control of the most pro-Rebellion areas of the C.N.A., the provinces of New Hampshire, Virginia, and North Carolina. He lays no stress upon the fact that Gallivan thoroughly distances the C.N.A. from Great Britain, in sharp contrast to his predecessor John McDowell's attempts to bring the two closer together.

Eventually, the People's Coalition falls victim to its own success. After thirty-five years of uninterrupted power, the Coalition becomes complacent. When a new protest movement appears in the early 1920s, its target is the same mechanized, industrialized, modern society that the Coalition had helped to create. Calvin Wagner, the fifth successive Coalitionist head of the C.N.A., is baffled by the challenge. Wagner becomes the first Governor-General to lose a re-election campaign since John McDowell, the man Ezra Gallivan defeated in 1888.

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