"American history buffs will savor this detailed yet accessible roundup of political imbroglios." —Publishers Weekly
Political scandals have become an indelible feature of the American political system since the creation of the republic more than two centuries ago. In his previous book, Libertines: American Political Sex Scandals from Alexander Hamilton to Donald Trump, Michael Martinez explored why public figures sometimes take extraordinary risks, sullying their good names, humiliating their families, placing themselves in legal jeopardy, and potentially destroying their political careers as they seek to gratify their sexual desires. In Scoundrels, Martinez examines thirteen of the most famous (or infamous) and not-so-famous political scandals of other sorts in American history, including the Teapot Dome case from the 1920s, the Watergate break-in and cover-up in the 1970s, the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s, and Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Combining riveting storytelling with insights into 200 years of American political corruption, Martinez has once again written a book that will enlighten all readers interested in human nature and political history.
J. Michael Martinez is the author or editor of 20 books on American history and law including the Rowman & Littlefield titles A Long Dark Night: Race in America from Jim Crow to World War II (2016), Terrorist Attacks on American Soil: From the Civil War Era to the Present (2012), Coming for to Carry Me Home: Race in America from Abolitionism to Jim Crow (2011), and Carpetbaggers, Cavalry, and the Ku Klux, Klan: Exposing the Invisible Empire during Reconstruction (2007). He teaches political science at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia.
Introduction and Acknowledgments
Chapter 1: “The Day Will Come When Another and More Pure & Virtuous
Legislature, Will Make Null & Void This Sale of Birthright”:The Yazoo
Chapter 2: “If I Were to Name This, I Would Call It the Will o’ Wisp Treason”:
The Aaron Burr Conspiracy
Chapter 3: “Mr. Sumner, I Have Read Your Speech Twice Over Carefully. It Is a
Libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, Who is a Relative of Mine”: The
Caning of Charles Sumner
Chapter 4: “Have Those Men Dismissed by 3 O’clock This Afternoon or Shut
Down the Bureau”: Grant Administration Scandals of the 1870s
Chapter 5: “Do You Believe This Man is Crook? If He is a Crook, Convict
Him”: The Teapot Dome Scandal
Chapter 6: “I Am the Only Candidate Inspected by the United States Government
and Found to be 100 Percent Pure.”: William “Wild Bill” Langer
Chapter 7: “Nobody Sat Down in Front of Me with a Suitcase of Money”:
Chapter 8: “I Am Not a Crook”: The Watergate Scandal
Chapter 9: “Money Talks in This Business, and Bullshit Walks”: The
Chapter 10: “I Have Been in Government Long Enough to Know That You
Don’t Have to Ask the Question Explicitly to Know What the Message
Is”: The Savings & Loan Scandal
Chapter 11: “I Told the American People I Did Not Trade Arms for Hostages.
My Heart and My Best Intentions Still Tell Me That’s True, but the Facts and
the Evidence Tell Me It Is Not”: The Iran-Contra Affair
Chapter 12: “All He Was Worried About was Jack. Jack Has to Get His Next BigCheck”: Jack Abramoff and Influence Peddling
Chapter 13: “Everybody’s Trying to Get Me. It’s Unfair. Now Everybody’s Saying I’mGoing to be Impeached”: 2016 Russian Election Interference
About the Author
Political scientist Martinez examines in this solid survey the long history of greed, corruption, and deceit in American politics. Ranging from the Yazoo Land Fraud of 1795, in which private land companies bribed a group of Georgia state legislators into enacting a law that allowed them to sell lands from the state’s western border for ‘scandalously attractive prices,’ to Donald Trump’s efforts to stymie investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Martinez offers brisk and insightful accounts of 13 different scandals. Some are well-known—Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair, Abscam—while others are less familiar, including former vice president Aaron Burr’s 1805 scheme to ‘lead a private army into Spanish territory to grab as much land as he could’ and North Dakota governor William ‘Wild Bill’ Langer’s 1934 trial for soliciting political contributions from state and federal employees. Throughout, Martinez makes clear the lasting damage that even a whiff of scandal can do to citizens’ faith in democracy, analyzes the factors that allowed some politicians to withstand allegations of corruption while others didn’t, and sheds light on the ‘powerful, corrosive effect of money in American politics.’ American history buffs will savor this detailed yet accessible roundup of political imbroglios.
The U.S. has a long, colorful history of political scandals, from the time of the founders up to the present day. Martinez has gone through our history and examined some of the most (in)famous episodes, and he explains what they were all about, what made them so scandalous, and how they impacted political discourse in this country, for better or for worse. He also clarifies the facts; for instance, Ulysses Grant’s administration was legendarily corrupt, but Martinez makes clear that Grant himself was never implicated. And Martinez casts a very wide net, ranging from top dogs (Nixon, Reagan, Trump) to small fry (the Abscam congressional-bribery sting) to regional scandals (the Teapot Dome affair). Martinez’s histories are entertaining, enlightening, and often depressing, showing how rife with corruption America has always been. But in showing how that corruption is rooted out and punished, these histories give us cause for hope as well.
Martinez's Scoundrels is an extremely well-written account of famous and lesser-known scandals. In covering the misdeeds of our political leaders from the earliest days of our democracy, Martinez reveals that today's scandal-ridden polity is, unfortunately, nothing new. It is an excellent resource for those interested in learning about the scandalous political history of the United States
J. Michael Martinez has done it again. He brings a wonderfully engaging narrative style to describing political scandals and the politicians in the middle of them. Scoundrels works well as an adjunct reading for courses in American History and American Politics and provides enough detail to make readers well-informed about each of these scandals, but is succinct enough to cover a sufficient number of them to give readers the broad history of political scandals in America. If you don't assign it, read it for pleasure.
10/14/21, Choice: This book was featured in a roundup of “Forthcoming Titles in Political Science & Economics.”