Tuesday, August 17, 2004

History lesson

I always wondered what caused the collapse of the Whig Party. Ed Ayers gives a concise version in In the Presence of Mine Enemies: War in the Heart of America, 1859-1863.
The political system based on these complex and interlocking loyalties flourished throughout the 1830s and 1840s but began to break apart in the early 1850s. The Whigs went first. To many voters, the Whigs no longer seemed to offer a coherent platform, ideology, or winning strategy. That party had long tried to reconcile irreconcilable groups: the largest planters in the South and leading businessmen in the North, nativists and men of generous spirit, evangelical Christians eager to use the government to improve society and people who did not believe the Bible sanctioned such a role. The Whigs had long attempted to appeal both to conservatives who valued stability and to forward-looking men who valued the party's emphasis on progress and enlightenment. To avoid alienating any of the constiuencies, the Whigs, even when they were strongest, repeatedly turned for their national ticket to innocuous candidates, men who stood for little except past military glory and good character.

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