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Political doctrines of ruling
classes in Europe.
THE EVOLUTION OF POLITICAL ISSUES IN THE UNITED STATES
A GOVERNMENT is not an abstract thing - a set of rules and regulations. It is at bottom a determinate number of persons set off from the community at large and authorized to discharge certain public duties. Under the modern system of party rule, the general character and policy of the government at any given time depend upon the interests and ideals of the political party which placed the dominant and directing officials in power. "For practical purposes," says Judge Cooley, "the Constitution is that which the government in its several departments and the people in the performance of their duties as citizens recognize and respect as such; and nothing else." Thus it happens that a description of American government which leaves out of account party issues, methods, and organization, fails to reveal both the realities of governmental practice and the opportunities of the citizen to take part in the direction and control of his government.
38. Federalists and Jeffersonians
Washington, in common with many of his contemporaries, deplored the introduction of party spirit into American politics, but the new Constitution had hardly gone into effect before the voters and leaders began to differ about practical measures and theoretical doctrines; and over these issues they divided into two groups, Federalists and Jeffersonians. The general views of the two parties are thus characterized by Jefferson:
The fact is, that at the formation of our government, many had formed their political opinions on European writings and practices, believing the experience of old countries, and especially of England, abusive as it was, to be a safer guide than mere theory. The doctrines of Europe were, that men in numerous
associations cannot be restrained within the limits of order and justice, but by forces physical and moral, wielded over them by authorities independent of their will. Hence their organisation of kings, hereditary nobles, and priests. Still further to constrain the brute force of the people, they deem it necessary to keep them down by hard labor, poverty and ignorance, and to take from them, as from bees, so much of their earnings, as that unremitting labor shall be necessary to obtain a sufficient surplus barely to sustain a scanty and miserable life. And these earnings they apply to maintain their privileged orders in splendor and idleness, to fascinate the eyes of the people, and excite in them an humble adoration and submission, as to an order of superior beings.
of the Feder
Although few among us had gone all these lengths of opinion, yet many had advanced, some more, some less, on the way. And in the convention which formed our government, they endeavored to draw the cords of power as tight as they could obtain them, to lessen the dependence of the general functionaries on their constituents, to subject to them those of the States, and to weaken their means of maintaining the steady equilibrium which the majority of the convention had deemed salutary for both branches, general and local. To recover, therefore, in practice the powers which the nation had refused, and to warp to their own wishes those actually given, was the steady object of the Federal party. Ours, on the contrary, was to maintain the will of the majority Jeffersonian of the convention, and of the people themselves. We believed, with them, that man was a rational animal, endowed by nature with rights, and with an innate sense of justice; and that he could be restrained from wrong and protected in right, by moderate powers, confided to persons of his own choice and held to their duties by dependence on his own will. We believed that the complicated organization of kings, nobles, and priests was not the wisest nor best to effect the happiness of associated man; that wisdom and virtue were not hereditary; that the trappings of such a machinery consumed by their expense those earnings of industry they were meant to protect, and by the inequalities they produced
in the wisdom and
virtue of the people.
exposed liberty to sufferance. We believed that men, enjoying in ease and security the full fruits of their own industry, enlisted by all their interests on the side of law and order, habituated to think for themselves, and to follow their reason as their guide, would be more easily and safely governed, than with minds nourished in error, and vitiated and debased, as in Europe, by ignorance, indigence and oppression.
The cherishment of the people then was our principle, the fear and distrust of them, that of the other party. Composed, as we were, of the landed and laboring interests of the country, we could not be less anxious for a government of law and order than were the inhabitants of the cities, the strongholds of federalism. And whether our efforts to save the principles and form of our constitution have not been salutary, let the present republican freedom, order and prosperity of our country determine.
39. The Whig Party
After the second election of Jefferson in 1804, the Federalist a composite party as a fighting organization went to pieces, although it conparty of op- tinued for some time to put candidates in the field. With the advent of Andrew Jackson, the victorious party which had then assumed the name "Democratic," raised up a new opposition in the form of the Whig party which succeeded in electing two war heroes, Harrison and Taylor, and then went down before the Republicans because it was unable to meet the impending issue of slavery. Horace Greeley thus enumerates the elements of the Whig party:
(1) Most of those who, under the name of National Republicans, had previously been known as supporters of Adams and Clay, and advocates of the American system; (2) Most of those who, acting in defense of what they deemed the assailed or threatened rights of the States, had been stigmatized as Nullifiers, or the less virulent State-Rights men, who were thrown into a position of armed neutrality towards the administration by the doctrines of the proclamation of 1832 against South Carolina; (3) A majority
of those before known as Anti-Masons; (4) Many who had up to that time been known as Jackson men, but who united in condemning the high-handed conduct of the Executive, the immolation of Duane, and the subserviency of Taney; (5) Numbers who had not before taken any part in politics, but who were now awakened from their apathy by the palpable usurpations of the Executive, and the imminent peril of our whole fabric of constitutional liberty and national prosperity.
40. The Democratic Party as the Champion of Slavery
In the early days of the Republic, most earnest men looked upon slavery as an evil that would in time disappear; but with the invention of the cotton gin, the development of the tobacco and cotton industry, and the westward expansion of the South, the institution became intrenched behind economic interests so powerful as almost to defy criticism or assault. It was then discovered by Southern political philosophers that slavery was "a natural institution" and the "only relation which could be maintained between whites and blacks," and the South began to force the Democratic party to assume a positive and uncompromising defense of these propositions. As the Richmond Examiner put it, "The South makes and unmakes Presidents. She dictates her terms to the Northern Democracy and they obey her. She selects from among the faithful of the North a man on whom she can rely, and she makes him President. . . . In and out of Congress, in the science of politics, she holds the North to her purpose." In the platform of 1852, the Democratic party took the following stand on the slavery issue and foreshadowed disunion:
The evolution in the
philosophy of slavery.
Resolved, That Congress has no power, under the Constitution, Anti-slavery to interfere with or control the domestic institutions of the several States, and that such States are the sole and proper judges of everything appertaining to their own affairs not prohibited by the Constitution; that all efforts of the Abolitionists or others, made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most
1 There were about 350,000 slave-holders in a population of 25,000,000.
The "Compromise" of 1850 approved.
Kentucky and Virginia resolutions approved.
alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people, and endanger the stability and permanency of the Union and ought not to be countenanced by any friend to our political institutions. Resolved, That the foregoing proposition covers and is intended to embrace, the whole subject of slavery agitation in Congress; and therefore the Democratic party of the Union, standing on this national platform, will abide by, and adhere to, a faithful execution of the acts known as the "compromise" measures settled by the last Congress, "the act for reclaiming fugitives from service or labor" included; which act, being designed to carry out an express provision of the Constitution, cannot with fidelity thereto be repealed, nor so changed as to destroy or impair its efficiency. Resolved, That the Democratic party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.
Resolved, That the Democratic party will faithfully abide by and uphold the principles laid down in the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions of 1792 and 1798, and in the report of Mr. Madison to the Virginia legislature in 1799; that it adopts those principles as constituting one of the main foundations of its political creed, and is resolved to carry them out in their obvious meaning and import.
The rise of
41. The Platform of the Republican Party in 1860
In 1854 the triumphant pro-slavery party passed the Kansasthe Republi- Nebraska bill containing a clause expressly repealing the provision of the Missouri Compromise by which slavery had been excluded from the Louisiana Purchase north of a certain line. This action met with a storm of protest not only from abolitionists who were opposed to slavery everywhere, but also from the more moderate Northerners who were content for the time being, at
1 For the texts of these resolutions, see MacDonald, Select Documents of United States History, 1776-1861, pp. 149 sqq.