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American Politics during the Eve of the Civil War

What was the political landscape of America on the eve of the Civil War? Many scholars point out that the Civil War was in many ways the product of the breakdown in the American political system that had effectively contained the divisive issue of slavery until the dissolution of the Whig Party on the eve of the Civil War.

This solution gives the student a sense of the two political parties and what factors likely decided one's political allegiance just prior to the regionalization of politics that occured in the run-up to war. A good account of the political history and the factors that led to collapse of a functioning 2 party system in US politics are provided.

This research was gathered with a focus on Ohio politics (a fascinating political state of the 19th century), but has very obvious national implications.

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Politics During the 1850's

Politics was a very popular topic during this period. Election Day was always one of the year's biggest events. Many preachers took time out of their sermons to remind their parishioners of the appropriate political attitudes and beliefs.

The two main parties had been the Whigs and Democrats since the triumph of Andrew Jackson in 1828. The Democratic Party, which Jackson personified, came to represent political democracy, equality of opportunity and the restraint of corporate power. Democrats, at this time, were often anti-bank and in favor of low tariffs. The Whigs on the other hand, were pro-bank and pro-business. They favored higher tariffs that protected domestic business, internal improvements and the promotion of education (Fox 23).

The Whig Party is frequently typified as the party of the wealthy and sophisticated. It appealed to businessman in the North and the planter class in the South.

The Democratic Party, in contrast, drew much of its strength from small farmers and laborers (Fox 23).

Most elections were fairly close, no matter the winner. This suggests that the factors that determined one's political allegiance, were more often than not, based on issues not directly linked to economics.

The largest predominantly Whig area in the state of Ohio was known as the Western Reserve. Located in the northeastern section of Ohio, it consisted of Erie, Huron, Lorain, Medina, Cuyahoga, Summit, Portage, Geauga, Lake, Ashtabula, and Trumbull counties. As Fox observed, the Western Reserve was "populated mainly by New Englanders, who gave it an ethnocultural homogeneity that no other section of the state could match...The appeal of a fellow New Englander, John Q. Adams, an educated and cultivated gentleman, as opposed to the seemingly crude and unlettered Jackson, was a powerful factor in molding political habits in the 1820's."

The following is an excerpt from a journal entry that explains some of the factors which determined political allegiance to the Whig Party. All information comes from Stephen Fox's The Group Bases of Ohio Political Behavior, 1803-1848.

-although it must be noted "neither party was exclusively the party of
wealth nor of high status...while the Whigs were more numerous within the Cincinnati establishment, they shared the lower status occupations almost equally with the Democrats."(73)

-Religion and ethnicity played, at least in my judgement, a more important
role in determining political persuasion than solely economic interests.

-Ardent abolitionists were often Whigs. These same abolitionists, or their
families, usually came from New England. "There is little doubt...that
abolitionism was a Puritan crusade." (127) "The Anti-slavery movement...[is]
thoroughly...a religious enterprise." (128)

-the evangelical denominations(New England Protestants-Baptists,
Presbyterians, Congregationalists, etc.) tended to support the Whig Party.
The Methodists were not as anti-slave as the rest, but they were
generally found within the Whig fold. (136)

-these denominations led progressive reform movements that greatly influenced politics. Included within these movements was "...the abolition of prostitution, alcohol, and slavery, but [what was not tolerated was] universal suffrage, Jackson, or rebellion..." (121)

-"...the Whigs rooted their ...

Solution Summary

The solution explores the political landscape of America during the eve of the Civil War, retracing the tensions that led to the a bloody conflict that divided the nation and shaped America into what it is today.

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