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Motivating Voters (Circa 1840- An Excerpt From "The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party")
The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party | 1999 | Michael F. Holt

Posted on 07/16/2003 5:42:42 PM PDT by William McKinley

[pages 115-121, from the chapter "Harrison and Prosperity or Van Buren and Ruin"]

Like the Democrats, the Whigs not only emphasized that they advocated distinctive programs, they also stressed that they represented the values, interests, and needs of the particular groups in society who formed their voting base. Each party drew some support from virtually every element in the social spectrum, whether that element was defined by occupation, class, religion, ethnicity, or regional identity. Nonetheless, Whigs and Democrats attracted distinguishably different constituencies... Broadly put, Democrats were a coalition of those still outside the market economy who feared its spread and those who had experienced and been victimized by market mechanisms. Whigs, in contrast, attracted those who wanted to expand the market sector because they had already enjoyed its benefits or hoped to do so in the future. But that was not the only cleavage in the electorate...

Whigs ran well among almost all social classes in cities and trading centers, but they were especially attractive to the economic and social elite of those communities. Of men worth more than $100,000 in New York, for example, 85 percent were Whig; in Boston, 89 percent of a similar category adhered to Whiggery; and in relatively poorer Pittsburgh, three-fourths of the men worth more than $25,000 were Whigs. Not only fear of Democratic radicalism and attraction to the Whig economic platform explain this behavior. For such patricians, belonging to the Whig party was the equivalent of belonging to an exclusive gentleman's club of social peers...

The division of the electorate in many nothern states was even more complex because the population was much more diverse. There rival cultural grouups were much more frequently in contact, and they often chose one party simply because the hostile group supported the other. These groups might be religious. Everywhere, for example, Catholics voted overwhelmingly for the Democrats, while the Protestants who disliked them the most-- Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists-- voted Whig when they lived near them...

At the same time, northern Protestant denominations tended to divide on moral reform. Evangelical men and women stirred by the revivals of the 1820s and 1830s, who saw no separation between religious and secular realms and thought that Christians must ensure that society adhered to God's standards of behavior as revealed in the Bible, tended to support the Whigs... On the other hand, denominations that believed religious and secular spheres should be kept separate, that frowned on intrusive and especially state imposed do-goodism, like Catholics, Lutherans, German Reformed churches, and southern Anti-Mission Baptists, tended to vote Democratic... Yet the Whigs attracted precisely those...people who wanted to impose moral standards on others through legislation like Sunday blue laws or prohibition, people who favored a culturally homogeneous society and who felt threatened by alien cultural values...

One social distinction was moe important than all the others. The majority of the middle and upper classes in rural areas, small towns, and large cities supported the Whigs-- especially in relatively prosperous areas involved in the production and exchange of goods for cash. The party's economic platform constituted one reason for this support, but not the only one. Whigs portrayed themselves as the party of probity, respectability, morality, and reason-- as "the party of law, of order, of enterprise, of improvement, of beneficence, of hope, and of humanity," New York's Whigs put in 1844. By improvement and order, Whigs meant more than physical improvement and self-discipline. They believed that men must be educated, that individuals must control carnal appetites and other dangerous passions with their reason, and that they must develop habits of sobriety, thrift, industry, and self-control. In contrast, the Whigs painted the Democrats as wild-eyed radicals, agrarian levelers, "bearded enthusiasts", lawless and lazy drunkards, a contemptible and dangerous rabble. In many communities, those who considered themselves church-going, God-fearing, law-abiding, sober, educated and respectable probably voted Whig. In turn, they probably associated any manifestation of social disorder--be it prostitution, public drunkenness, Sabbath breaking, or rowdyism-- and any opposition to social improvement-- such as resistance to school taxes-- with Democrats. In addition to evangelical desire for moralistic legislation, in short, a cultural tone of patrician respectability attracted many Whig adherents. Not only middle-class shopkeepers and artisans but also native-born workers and English, Scottish, and Scotch-Irish immigrants who yearned for respectability leanded toward the Whigs because of that tone or image.

Precisely Whigs' smug, holier-than-thou attitude, precisely their attempt to distance themselves (psychologically, rhetorically, and often physically) from supposedly uncouth inferiors allowed Democrats to pillory them as silk-stocking snobs. Democrats thus not only capitalized on resentment toward and fear of the Whigs' economic and social programs. They also exploited popular antagonism against Whigs' very tone and image...

After 1840 political leaders could predict how most men would vote. The question was whether they voted at all. To mobilize the troops, Whig politicians developed an organization, used harrah techniques, and stressed that the parties were in conflict. By demonstrating that interparty conflict existed, they reinforced party identity and capitalized on the animosity between Whig and Democratic voters. They could usually count on their former supporters voting Whig, if only to inflict a defeat on, or to avert the mortification of a victory by, the despised foe. "As a general rule," wrote a Mississippian, "about one half of those who vote look upon the privilege as worthless unless they can use it to gratify a personal hostility or religious antipathies, or to inflict injury on what they hate." Party leaders sought to instigate men "to inflict injury on what they hate" rather than to stay at home on election day.

Not all voters, in short, shared leaders' awareness of, or interest in, every issue contested in distant state capitals and Washington. For them nineteenth-century partisan combat resembled the competitive mechanism between the fans of opposing twentieth-century college football teams. At most times their support for the team is latent, but the big game with the traditional rival fills the stadium with screaming partisans. Aroused spectators may have little interest in the game's itricacies or even in bettering the team's overall record, but they thirst for triumph over the long-time foe, if only to avoid his taunts. In 1846, for example, a Massachusettes Democrat gloried in a rare triumph over the party's "common and uncompromising foes! And a small victory, like this gained over them, gives me more pleasure than I can express in words."...

Just as it took the event of the game itself to convert latent into active support in the case of football fans, it took conflict to get Whig and Democratic voters to the polls. Hence, Whig newspapers defined how the parties differed on specific issues, and Whig committees distributed pamphlets highlighting the contrast between the parties. Hence, Whigs and Democrats alike welcomed joint debates on the stump, not only to educate voters on where the respective parties stood but also because the spectacle of Whig and Democrats spokesmen actually clashing on the hustings galvanized a party's voters the way a big game excited a team's fans...

For similar reasons, politicians welcomed attacks from the opposing party because nothing better stirred up the fighting spirit in their own ranks. In 1844, for example, Georiga's Alexander H. Stephens rejoiced that "the Locos seem determined to do what they can by gasconnading, and the only effect of it is I think to arouse the Whigs and make them energetic, and that is all we want." Five years later, a Chicago Whig echoed Stephens: "Whenever a locofoco abuses, or attempts to abuse, a Whig--the more I like that Whig-- and the more opprobrium a Locofoco Press attempts to hurl upon him, the closer I cling to him."...

TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: history; whigs
I have been reading this book, and I found it interesting how the predominant parties of the day aligned themselves-- and how similar these alignments are to today's political divide. Also, the passages about the desire "to inflict injury on what they hate" and of politicians welcoming attacks because it stirred up their own ranks both intrigued me, because of the conflicting influences both imply for the Howard Dean attack dog style of leftist insurgency.
1 posted on 07/16/2003 5:42:43 PM PDT by William McKinley
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2 posted on 07/16/2003 5:43:43 PM PDT by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: beckett; BlackElk; KC Burke; cornelis; x; logos
Poindexter, rev up the wayback machine...
3 posted on 07/16/2003 5:56:28 PM PDT by William McKinley (You're so vain, you probably think this tagline's about you)
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To: William McKinley
ping for a later read.
4 posted on 07/16/2003 6:00:28 PM PDT by Recovering_Democrat (I'm so glad to no longer be associated with the Party of Dependence on Government!)
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To: William McKinley
Thanks for posting, Mr. President. It does help to put today in perspective, and shows that in many respects the two parties still attract basically the same constituencies. It has normally been the Federalist or Whig or Republican who represented the entrepreneurial, upwardly mobile, conventionally pious person who sought "respectability." That is not the Dems target group, now or in 1840. The idea of being "respectable" is something to mock for Democrats. It does manifest itself in personal behavior -- you show me someone who drops an F-bomb in every other sentence, and 9 times out of 10 that person is a Democrat.
5 posted on 07/16/2003 6:07:50 PM PDT by speedy
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To: speedy
The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so goes the adage.
6 posted on 07/16/2003 6:09:20 PM PDT by William McKinley (You're so vain, you probably think this tagline's about you)
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To: William McKinley
Respected Civil War historian James McPherson stated not long ago that the Republican and Democratic parties had switched values by the end of the 20th century. What Republicans believed in the 19th century, he claimed, is now what Democrats believe, and vice versa. His aim, of course, was to claim abolitionist Republicans and Lincoln for the Democratic Party, just as Sinkmaster Clinton tried to do by putting a bust of Honest Abe behind his desk in the Oval Office.

Lincoln of course was a Whig before he became a Republican. He was a man of enterprise, of reason, of energy, a self-starter who did all he could to promote business and expansion first in New Salem and then in Springfield. He became a lawyer for the biggest business of his time -- the Railroads. He was the prototypical striver, not at all like the seethers and enviers so typical of the Democratic Party rank and file in both the 19th century and our own. Lincoln practiced conservative principles, conservative in the uniquely American sense that it was the American founding documents he championed and sought to conserve. His position on slavery, despite the dubious credentials regarding the "peculiar institution" of some of the authors, sprang from those documents.

McPherson's argument hinges on the observation, a correct one of course, that millions of formerly Yellow Dog Democrats, whom he regarded as a cancer within his own party, now pull the lever next to the Elephant's symbol. He seems to believe that the Yellow Dogs have imposed their values on Republicans, but in fact the reverse is true. Yellow Dogs now feel comfortable within our party because finally after a century and a half most of them now acknowledge that they lost the "War Between the States" and that Jim Crow is dead, never to be resurrected.

Republicans have not adopted the values of 19th century Democrats. They adhere remarkably closely, as you say, to the principles that drew Lincoln first to the Whig Party and then to the Republican. Today's Democrats, conversely, now inhabit some foreign territory that, except as a resting place for the perennial seethers and enviers, on policy questions would be mostly unrecognizable to both 19th century Democrats and Republicans alike.

7 posted on 07/17/2003 8:12:36 AM PDT by beckett
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Comment #8 Removed by Moderator

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