Released December 2021

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Practical Agitation for the 21st Century:

John Jay Chapman published his Practical Agitation in 1900, but his analyses and criticisms of the political machinery of his day, as well as his encouragement and advice to those seeking to reform it, may sound familiar to those who lament the current state of politics. Replace his references to Tammany Hall with discussions of Super-PACs and you could pass the book off as newly written.

Here’s Chapman, writing at the dawn of the 20th century:

It is the ambition of the agitator to use the machinery of government to make men more unselfish.
—The illusion that it is wise or necessary to suppress our instinctive love of truth comes from an imperfect understanding of what that instinctive love of truth represents, and of what damage happens both to ourselves and to others when we suppress it.

“John Jay Chapman (born March 2, 1862, New York, New York, U.S.—died November 4, 1933, Poughkeepsie, New York), American poet, dramatist, and critic who attacked the get-rich-quick morality of the post-Civil War “Gilded Age” in political action and in his writings. Ancestors on both sides of his family had distinguished themselves in antislavery and other causes, and he sought to continue that tradition among the upper middle classes, whose integrity he felt had been eroded by the upsurge of big business.”

“Anybody who reads Chapman’s political writings—notably Practical Agitation—can see that as an observer of democracy at work, Chapman rivals Henry Adams and Brooks Adams in his analysis and surpasses them in the vividness of his direct experience. . . .[T]he deed at Coatesville after the lynching there of a black man makes Chapman the pioneer of our era of civil rights, his place in it not merely that of activist but of hero.”
—Jacques Barzun, French-American Historian

This new edition aims to bring Chapman’s still-relevant observations to today’s readers. I’ve added a Foreword and Afterword as bookends to his chapters, and included two related essays of his that speak to issues of civil rights that he may well have thought would have been resolved by now.

In presenting this book for the 21st century, I looked for a visual element that would reflect its continued relevance. The political cartoons of Sam Olmsted proved the perfect component.

Sam Olmsted is a political cartoonist and writer based in New Orleans. As a native of Washington D.C., Sam grew up in the proximity of politics but never took an active role in the political world. In recent years, Sam was energized by political change and used cartoons as a way to share his hopes, thoughts, and criticisms about our society, institutions, and leaders with others. Sam reaches thousands of people on a weekly basis with daily political cartoons posted on Instagram and other digital outlets under the handle @HonestPolitician.

Audiobook Now Available:

In addition to the print-on-demand book and Kindle ebook on Amazon, the audiobook version is now available on, Amazon, and iTunes.