America has had some notable Republican Presidents, a couple of whom are carved into the face of Mt. Rushmore. Abraham Lincoln was America’s first Republican President but he had not always been a Republican. He had previously been a member of the Whig Party; a reactionary party formed in opposition to Democrat Andrew Jackson’s policies. The Whigs viewed themselves as an opposition party against what they perceived as Jackson’s tyrannical methodology. The Whig Party was much like the Tea Party of today.
And they probably weren’t too far off the mark; Jackson was a bit of a bully and had come by the nickname “Old Hickory’ honestly. Once when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of honouring treaties with native American tribes, Jackson proclaimed, “You made the law, now you can enforce it”. After that snub to the Supreme Court he then exiled five of the eastern Indian tribes to Oklahoma. And this after native Americans had helped Jackson win some key battles. The most infamous of these relocations resulted in the Cherokee Trail of Tears. As far as Democrats go, Jackson was an asshole.
So it’s not all that surprising that Abraham Lincoln was a member of the Whig Party. But the Whig Party was an embattled bunch and had several conflicting interests the most conspicuous of which being slavery. The Whigs fell apart after only a couple of decades and four lackluster Presidents only two of whom were actually elected. Both William Henry Harrison and General Zachary Taylor died in office leaving their Vice Presidents to serve out the remainder of their terms (Harrison was in office a mere 31 days). Lincoln could not reconcile himself with many in the Party’s views on expanding slavery to the western territories and like many others, he left to join the newly founded Republican party. In 1860, Lincoln became the first Republican President and the one man who had to bear the burden of the political upheaval from Jackson’s days that threatened to take the ‘United’ out of the United States of America.
The opposition of the Whigs did come to resemble the divide that still exists in today’s politics; one side believes in individualism and less government and the other side thinks government best serves the citizenry as a whole. But the two parties have changed over time. The Republican party of today is much different from the party of Lincoln. Illustrations often provide a better example than words. This is the political division of the country in Lincoln’s day:
The yellow states are the Constitutional Union Party which was only in existence for this particular election. They are former Whig Party states who wanted to remain neutral on the slavery issue. They went Democratic by the time the Civil War began. Newly admitted Missouri managed to stay neutral as well.
Quite the contrast to the political divisions of today. In fact, the states tend to be completely opposite these days:
Compare this to 1904:
That’s a fairly distinct political divide and gives rise to the name ‘Southern Democrat’. This was the era of Teddy Roosevelt, another notable Republican President who didn’t behave like Republicans of today. Roosevelt was a true conservative. In fact, he pioneered conservatism by creating or fostering National Parks and Forests. Aside from that hunting habit, Teddy hardly qualifies as a modern Republican.
That’s a lot of blue. And it would remain that way for another decade. So did the nation just up and decide that we were all Democrats? To put it simply, yes. Americans tend to put aside partisanship when times get tough. There’s nothing like poverty and a shared enemy(s) to function as the great equalizer. But it didn’t stay that way for long. In the post WWII era of growth, it flipped:
And we’re all Republicans again except for those pesky Dixiecrats. All that would change again one November day in Texas:
We lost a Democratic President and that surely had an effect on the 1964 election almost as galvanizing as the Great Depression of the thirties or Pearl Harbour in 1941. We also had civil rights come of age over 100 years after the emancipation proclamation and the 13th amendment. It’s hard to believe any argument that disputes that this was the end of the Southern Democrat. Even Lyndon Johnson acknowledged that.
And it paved the way for the latter part of the 20th century to become a new Republican nation. But it’s not the Republican nation of days gone by. It’s different now. And Americans tend to fluctuate with their political beliefs based on circumstances of the time. It tends to be a pendulum swing that alternates in roughly ten year political cycles. 1900’s were Republican dominated, the teens were Democratic war years, the twenties were Republican, the thirties and half of the forties were Democratic, the fifties were Republican, the sixties were Democratic, the seventies were confusing, the eighties were Republican, the nineties were Democratic, and the oughts were Republican. If this trend continues then 2016 or 2020 will mean the country turns Republican again.
Causation? Correlation? It’s possible that particular events shape the political mood of the nation. But it could just as easily be the result of circumstances far more fickle. We might just get bored with being a particular way and want a new pair of shoes.
This article will continue later this week on the topic of how the Republican party has changed.
- Who was the leader of democrats in 1830’s (wiki.answers.com)