2018 - Winner
Going ‘on the stump’ — giving speeches to ordinary voters in everyday language and settings — is an established feature of modern democracy. In On the Stump, Sean Scalmer has traced the phenomenon to its colourful nineteenth-century origins in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. He shows that the first stump orators were fuelled by a desire to take politics out of parliaments and gentlemen’s clubs in order to engage directly with their constituents.
On the Stump brings to rumbustious life such figures as the American, Davy Crockett; the Briton, William Gladstone; and the colonial Australian, Charles Gavan Duffy. Scalmer offers a vivid sense of what audiences must have felt listening to these orators: now lulled and wooed, now uplifted or outraged. In other hands, a history of stump speeches could have been a worthy plod, but Scalmer’s evocative style ensures that his book is a delightful as well as instructive read.
Scalmer’s ability to evoke the sound and feel of nineteenth-century stump oratory comes at no expense of his work’s academic rigour. At all times, he wears his learning lightly. His work also has a fascinating contemporary resonance. As a history of populist oratory, On the Stump offers insights into the development of our current political moment, with its constant campaigning, its yearnings for political authenticity and its chaotically demotic pretensions and desires.