This is the first article in a 5 part series that I’m calling “The New Republican Party”. In it, I will try to explain the massive shift in the Republican Party and how it left some of it’s supporters disaffected. The Birth of the GOP will lay out the groundwork for how the party was formed. In future articles I will discuss major events that precipitated the massive shift of the party under President Trump.
The Birth of the GOP: How it all began.
In order to understand the GOP, we have to look at the Whig Party and what happened to it. To contextualize it, we will look at how they differed from the Jacksonian Democrats.
The Whig Party rose in opposition to the Jacksonian wing of the Democratic Republican Party (current day Democratic Party). Jackson opposed tariffs and the central bank. Another wing of the Democratic Republican Party under John Adams supported both of those measures. Since the Federalist Party had lost favor with the public, this left a group of smaller parties in opposition. Since many of them also supported tariffs and a central bank, they joined together with the Adams Democrats to form the Whig Party following Jackson’s defeat of President Adams in 1828.
The Whig Party would survive through the 1852 election. In 1854, the Kansas Nebraska act nullified the Missouri Compromise which had prevented slavery from spreading into territories acquired in the Louisiana Purchase other than Missouri. This shook up the political system, and lead to the dissolution of the Whig Party and the formation of the Republican Party. Hence, many early Republicans were either Whigs, or Northern Democrats that had previously aligned with Adams.
A rose by any other name…
The difference between Republicans and Democrats at that time can be quantified by their names. A Republic is a system of government in which the governed are represented by elected representatives. The United States being a Constitutional Republic, the authority of the Government derives from the Constitution which limits it’s power and confines it’s exercise thereof.
A Democracy is the rule by a majority. Prior to President Jackson, the party was known as Democratic Republicans, although contemporaries would simply call them Republicans. After Jackson, they were henceforth known as Democrats. Andrew Jackson’s governing principals of Democracy now defined the party.
Jackson thought that voters had the right to not just elect, but to instruct their representatives on how to vote. Elected officials unwilling to follow the will of the majority of voters on any particular issue should resign. While this is the basic operating premise of a Democracy, it is incompatible with a Republican form of government.
Examples of Jacksonian philosophy of Democracy.
Get ready for some irony here. Andrew Jackson opposed both paper money and a central bank. However, he currently occupies center stage on our $20 paper note from the Federal Reserve. That aside, he wanted to destroy the Second Bank of the United States. For further irony, he wanted to do so because he found it to be unconstitutional. This is a complaint Jackson would use to his advantage, while simultaneously showing callous disregard for the law.
In an attempt to damage the bank, Jackson ordered his Treasury Secretary to withdraw federal funds from the bank and deposit them in State banks. This was only legal if the Treasury could show that the funds weren’t safe in the National Bank. Since the Treasury Department had just issued a report declaring the Bank to be on solid financial ground, this was not the case. Hence, his treasurer refused and was promptly fired.
Outraged, Jackson replaced him with a Secretary who hated the bank as much as Jackson himself did. Unfortunately, this secretary also respected the law. He too declined to remove the funds and was also fired. A third secretary found a compromise. He wouldn’t withdraw the federal funds from the bank. However, he would operate the government from the money in the bank while depositing it’s collections from tariffs and land sales into state banks. This would eventually bleed the accounts dry without violating the law.
Worcester v. Georgia
Another example of Jacksonian Democracy in action related to Indian Removal. The state of Georgia got itself into some trouble when they arrested some missionaries to the Cherokee Indians. Georgia wanted to (and eventually did) ship the natives off to Oklahoma and seize their land. They saw the missionaries activities as an impediment to negotiating a bad faith deal with the tribe, so they arrested them for being on Cherokee land without a permit from the Georgia government.
The missionaries were convicted and imprisoned. They appealed to the Supreme Court and won. As President, it was Jackson’s job to enforce the ruling. However, he (and his base) sided with the State of Georgia. Jackson responded to the decision by reportedly saying “John Marshall has ruled, now let him enforce it”. The court did not challenge him by ordering federal marshals to carry out the ruling, as was customary. After a few months, Georgia reached a deal with Mr. Worcester and he was released.
Georgia was able to then negotiate their bad faith deal with the Cherokee. On the resulting Trail of Tears, 4,000 of the 16,000 members of the tribe would perish on the trip to Oklahoma. This wouldn’t play well in some parts of the Country, and would lead to the rise of the Whigs and the birth of the GOP.
The Birth of the GOP
It would be 25 years before the GOP was born. However, the Whigs operated on the same basic principals that were set up in staunch opposition to Jackson and where he had taken the Democratic Party. Since his doctrine placed the will of the people over the law of the land, it was an affront to Republicanism and the two parties would be juxtaposed in stark contrast to each other. Jackson’s Democrats would push towards a Democracy. Whigs and later Republicans would fight for the Republic on a strong law and order platform of adherence to the Constitution.
However, before the Republicans could take up the fight, the Whigs had to be dissolved. Furthermore, they weren’t the obvious heir apparent to the defunct party. In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss the aftermath of dissolution and how slavery played a role in the platform of the infant Republican Party. Until then, if anyone asks, just repeat the following. I know nothing!