Friday, November 9, 2012

Is the Republican Party destined to suffer the fate of the Whig Party?

Our nation just came through another presidential election. I witnessed the posturing of both parties since the 2008 elections and was struck by how radical those people in power who were elected as a Republican had become. Immediately the Whig Party crossed my mind.

I remember studying the Whig Party in high school and college but had long forgotten about the details. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a Whig is a member a political party that was formed in opposition to the Jacksonian Democrats. It was established about 1834 and was replaced by the Republican party in 1854.

The party was not particularly successful until it ran William Henry Harrison for president in 1839. The Panic of 1837 was largely responsible for Martin Van Buren's failure to be elected to a second term. Harrison died in 1840 after serving only 31 days of his term and was succeeded by John Tyler.

Tyler vetoed the Whig economic legislation and as a result he was expelled from the party in September of 1841. He served the remainder of his presidential term without a party affliation. The party did not fare too well in the 1842 Congressional races but ran a close presidential race in 1844, however, the Whig candidate, Henry Clay, lost to James K. Polk. Henry Clay was a protectionist and was opposed to the western expansion.

When the party selected Zachary Taylor as their candidate in 1848, the Democrats were split. The Democrats ran Lewis Cass, a prominent Midwesterner. (I wrote about Cass on October 30, 2011.) But a splinter group, called the Free Soil Party, ran Martin Van Buren. Taylor won the presidency but died in July 1850.

Although Taylor was a slaveowner, he was opposed to allowing slavery to be expanded to the western territories. His successor, Millard Fillmore, helped push the Compromise of 1850 through Congress. This compromise delayed the issue over slavery for about four years. The Whig Party never managed to form a cohesive party and finally began to disintegrate about 1852.

The Irish Famine resulted in a large migration of poor Irish to the United States and this resulted in a new issue of nativism and prohibition. A new party was formed on the platform of denying Irish immigrants the ability to become a citizen. (I wrote about this on May 26, 2010.)

The anti-slavery issue re-emerged as a major issue. In addition, the deaths of Whig leaders, southener Henry Clay and northerner Daniel Webster, in 1852 severely weakened the Whig Party. Many of the northern Whigs moved to the new Republican party and most of the southern Whigs moved a newly formed American Party.

The Democrats won the next two elections. It was the Republican Abraham Lincoln who won the election in 1860. The Republican party held presidential positions through 1884 when the party lost the position to Grover Cleveland. Since that time, the office has been held by both Republican and Democrats.

Since I was able to vote, I may have been disappointed that my candidate did not win but I never saw it as a catastophe when my candidate lost. There was a civility that I have watched erode. When I lived in Los Angeles, I noticed that I was much more forgiving of the traffic trangressions of my neighbors than of those whom I did not know.

I began to watch the erosion of this civility after the 2000 elections. I am not certain why this happened, but I believe that this was the beginning of the downfall of the Republican Party. I see a fanatic faction taking over the party and are leaving behind the moderates who are interested in the well-being of our country.

I was greatly troubled when I heard the leaders of the Republican party after the election of Barack Obama say that their goal was to make him a one term president. I was really hoping that their goal would have been to make our country succeed.

As I watched this last election cycle, I found the Republican leadership out of touch with what the American public wanted. I was waiting for the moderate Republicans in office to stand up. They didn't and Barack Obama won. I am wondering if the Republican Party is on the path of demise like the Whig Party.

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