Not Pretty


Paul Munnis

The last time America saw a Republican Party melt-down was when the Whig Party self-destructed. According to “Smithsonian Magazine:”

The major American political realignment of the mid-1850s had been brewing for decades due to fundamental divisions over the place of slavery in American politics. By the late 1830s a small and radical group of abolitionists had become fed up with the two major parties, the Whigs and Democrats. Both systematically downplayed slavery, opting instead to spar over seemingly unrelated issues including taxation, trade policy, banking and infrastructure spending.

Abolitionists, by contrast, insisted that those issues were secondary to combatting the southern “slave power’s” control of federal policymaking. Antislavery third parties (the abolitionist Liberty Party from 1840 to 1848 and the more moderate antislavery Free Soil Party from 1848 to 1854) relentlessly attacked the major parties’ inherent incapacity to offer meaningful policy outcomes on their central issue. These activists fought fiercely, and ultimately successfully, to demolish the existing party system, seeing it (correctly) as overly protective of the slave states’ political power. As the slavery issue grew increasingly salient in the face of rapid national expansion, so did disputes over slavery’s place in new western territories and conflicts over fugitive slaves. The old issues began to matter less and less to average northern Whig voters.

The 1852 election was a disaster for the Whigs. In the vain hope of once more bridging the widening sectional rift, the party crafted a measured, proslavery platform distasteful to many northern Whigs, thousands of whom simply stayed home on Election Day. Two years later, when Congress passed divisive legislation that could introduce slavery into Kansas, the teetering Whig party came tumbling down. A new coalition that combined most of the Free Soil Party, a majority of northern Whigs, and a substantial number of disgruntled northern Democrats came together to form the Republican party. In less than two years, this grand, and not-at-all-old, party emerged as the most popular political party in the North, electing the Speaker of the House in February of 1856 and winning 11 of 16 non-slaveholding states in the presidential contest later that year.

The one policy goal that united all Republicans was opposition to the expansion of slavery, though there were a host of other issues that this Republican Party also coalesced behind (including, ironically, many former Whigs’ disgust at the growing “problem” of Irish Catholic immigrants). Abolitionists had long argued that the southern states unfairly controlled the national government and needed to be stopped from further extending slavery’s reach. Finally, after more than 20 years of agitation, the new Republican Party organized around precisely this agenda. Just a few years prior, such developments would have been almost completely unimaginable to all but the most prescient antislavery political spokesmen.”

I could continue the parallel but the point is that we haven’t witnessed such upheaval since the Civil War and the loss of the Whig Party and we are once more divided over the same issues that caused the Civil War and the death of the GOP. As a result, resolution is inevitable. Segregation is back as a major issue, unresolved, but it’s ugly head is showing even as the GOP is destroying itself and it isn’t pretty to witness.

We Democrats are fairly content to sit by and watch the R’s commit suicide but we pay a price with citizen disgust with politics even as our Constitution requires a two party contention system to operate else we become a dictatorship.

Somebody phrased it as “democracy is a messy affair,”and when a party dies it’s indeed messy. At least it’s painful for the nation, regardless of Party.

All we can do is await GOP reorganization, which is coming..