© 2018

Municipal Accountability in the American Age of Reform

The Gadfly at the Counter, 1870–1920


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-ix
  2. David Ress
    Pages 1-13
  3. David Ress
    Pages 15-24
  4. David Ress
    Pages 25-40
  5. David Ress
    Pages 41-59
  6. David Ress
    Pages 61-78
  7. David Ress
    Pages 79-93
  8. David Ress
    Pages 95-114
  9. David Ress
    Pages 115-122
  10. Back Matter
    Pages 123-128

About this book


At the foundations of our modern conception of open government are a handful of disgruntled citizens in the Progressive Era who demanded accountability from their local officials, were rebuffed, and then brought their cases to court. Drawing on newspaper accounts, angry letters to editors, local histories, and court records, David Ress uncovers a number of miniature yet critical moments in the history of government accountability, tracing its decline as the gap between citizens and officials widened with the idea of the community as corporation and citizens as consumers. Together, these moments tell the story of how a nation thought about democracy and the place of the individual in an increasingly complex society, with important lessons for policy makers, journalists, and activists today.


Gilded Age Progressive Era the age of reform in America government accountability government in the Gilded Age American jurisprudence William M. Tweed right of access to public records gadfly American democracy incorporated municipalities municipal government authority John F. Dillon Thomas M. Cooley Home Rule People's Party Progressive movement municipal administration municipal politics American urban governance

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.University of New EnglandArmidaleAustralia

About the authors

David Ress is an Honorary Research Associate at the University of New England, Australia. 

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title Municipal Accountability in the American Age of Reform
  • Book Subtitle The Gadfly at the Counter, 1870–1920
  • Authors David Ress
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2018
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages History History (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-68257-0
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-319-88572-8
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-68258-7
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages IX, 128
  • Number of Illustrations 0 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics US History
    Social History
    Urban History
    US Politics
    Urban Studies/Sociology
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“When we demand so much of our political leaders, how timely it is to explore the issue of accountability. David Ress does this with deft nuance and significant detail. Accountability is not a flat characteristic of democracy but a product in tension, that responds to demands, changes with circumstances, adapts, is challenged and defended and emerges triumphant. David Ress tells the story of municipal accountability through the exploration of several key examples. He asks us to question the relationship between the governed and those who govern. What an important story it is and what an important question to ask.” (Jennifer Clark, Head of School, School of Humanities, University of Adelaide, Australia)

 “While accessing government records often is now as easy as clicking on a link, this fascinating new study by award-winning journalist Dave Ress reminds us  how hard it once  was to pry information out of the State Capitol or the nearby City Hall. In a compelling report that takes readers from New York City’s Tammany Hall to government outposts on the prairies, we learn of the difficult struggles to ensure the public’s right to access what we know now as public information. It’s a lively read of gadflies and foot-dragging governments, how what citizens today take for granted actually came to pass.” (Stephen Famsworth, Professor and Director, Center for Leadership and Media Studies, University of Mary Washington, USA)