The Decline of Centrist Politics and the Rise of the Punitive State: A Political History of Nelson Rockefeller


ACLS Fellowship Program




This political history considers the career of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller from 1959 to 1973, to contextualize the decline of centrism and moderation in US politics—with a regional focus on the Northeast—after the passage of 1960s federal civil rights legislation. With an emphasis on racially-inflected policies related to welfare, drug policies, policing, and mass incarceration, it reimagines the traditional political history that focuses solely on elected leaders and high politics by incorporating the concerns of social history. This project reveals how and why punitive policies known for their disproportionate effect on racial minorities originated with a moderate governor who first made his name as an advocate for civil rights legislation.