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USA - Late 19th Century Parties

After the Civil War, the growing industrial and financial markets of the eastern United States generally prospered. But the farmers of the south and west suffered from low prices for their farm products, while they were forced to pay high prices for manufactured goods. Throughout the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, farmers formed such political organizations as the Grange, the Greenback Party, the National Farmers’ Alliance, and the People’s (Populist) Party. All of these groups advocated many reforms (eg, the Interstate Commerce Act) considered radical for the times, including a graduated income tax.

The Republican leaders would go to their rank-and-file and say: "Just as we need Big Paternalistic Government on the local and state level to stamp out sin and compel morality, so we need Big Government on the national level to increase everyone's purchasing power through inflation, keeping out cheap foreign goods (tariffs), or keeping out cheap foreign labor (immigration restrictions)".

And for their part, the Democratic leaders would go to their constituents and say: "Just as the Republican fanatics are trying to take away your liquor, your beer parlors, and your parochial schools, so the same people are trying to keep out cheap foreign goods (tariffs), and trying to destroy the value of your savings through inflation. Paternalistic government on the federal level is just as evil as it is at home."

So statism and libertarianism were expanded to other issues and other levels. Each side infused its economic issues with a moral fervor and passion stemming from their deeply held religious values. The "mystery" of the passionate interest of Americans in economic issues in the epoch is solved.

Both in the second party and third party systems, however, the Whigs and then the Republicans had a grave problem. Partly because of demographics — greater immigration and higher birth rates — the Democratic/liturgicals were slowly but surely becoming the majority party in the country. The Democrats were split asunder by the slavery question in the 1840s and '50s. But now, by 1890, the Republicans saw the handwriting on the wall. The Democratic victory in the congressional races in 1890, followed by the unprecedented landslide victory of Grover Cleveland carrying both houses of Congress in 1892, indicated to the Republicans that they were becoming doomed to be a permanent minority.

To remedy the problem, the Republicans, in the early 1890s, led by Ohio Republicans William McKinley and Marc Hanna, launched a shrewd campaign of reconstruction. In particular, in state after state, they ditched the prohibitionists, who were becoming an embarrassment and losing the Republicans large numbers of German Lutheran votes. Also, they modified their hostility to immigration. By the mid-1890s, the Republicans had moved rapidly toward the center, toward fuzzing over their political pietism.

Grover Cleveland, a hard-money laissez-faire Democrat, was blamed for the Panic of 1893, and many leading Cleveland Democrats lost their gubernatorial and senatorial posts in the 1894 elections. The Cleveland Democrats were temporarily weak, and the Southern-Mountain coalition was ready to hand. Seizing his opportunity, William Jennings Bryan and his pietist coalition seized control of the Democratic Party at the momentous convention of 1896. The Democratic Party was never to be the same again. The Catholics, Lutherans, and the laissez-faire Cleveland Democrats were in mortal shock. The "party of our fathers" was lost.

Constitutional Union Party

Constitutional Union Party was a U.S. political party that sought in the pre-Civil War election of 1860 to rally support for the Union and the Constitution without regard to sectional issues. It was formed in 1859 by former Whigs and members of the Know-Nothing Party, the party nominated John Bell for president and Edward Everett for vice president. In attempting to ignore the slavery issue, its platform particularly appealed to border states, in which the party won 39 electoral votes. A by-product of the same ideological and sectional antipathies that had led to the formation of the Republican Party in 1856 and the splitting of the Democratic Party in 1860, the Constitutional Union Party was a short-lived vehicle for moderates that collapsed by the start of the Civil War. It succeeded only in helping to disperse the 1860 vote sufficiently to ensure the election of the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln.

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Page last modified: 01-11-2017 19:29:11 ZULU