Monday, February 20, 2017

Southern Whiggery and Southern States

This is post number eight in a series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

In my last post, I made reference to a 1954 American Historical Review article by Charles Grier Sellers titled “Who Were the Southern Whigs”. In the article, Mr. Sellers argued against Southern Whiggery being the result of state-rights sentiment, but rather the result of adverse reaction to Jackson’s Bank War. In that same post, I countered that had Whiggery been simply National Republicans in drag the Southern state righters would have never been involved at all. Taking that one step further, Clay would not have gained control of the Senate committees in December 1833, and the term Whig would have remained where it belonged with the patriots of ’76, John C. Calhoun, and the Southern Nullifiers/state righters who opposed the central government’s overreach (protective tariff/military coercion against a sovereign state). No matter what Southern Whiggery became, or Whiggery period for that matter, its roots are South Carolina’s nullifiers and the grudging support Calhoun’s principles found among the likes of John Tyler of Virginia, Wylie P. Mangum of North Carolina, and Dixon Lewis of Alabama. It is this core that Henry Clay locked his sights on and into which he moved the National Republicans lock, stock, and barrel, leaving the Old Jeffersonian Party to the Jacksonians. In so doing, Clay struck out anew, freed of the overt “nominal” baggage of the defunct Federalists who had found their way into National Republican ranks. Covert or not, those men followed Clay out of the Jeffersonian Party and shortly after identified as Whigs (Northern Whigs).

Add to that the Southern National Republicans, who were already sitting in good political stead when Clay consolidated his new party. These men remained nationalists in the “National Republican” scheme of things. Oh, they wanted the South to have her rights within the nation, but with the choice between nationalism (Union/centralization) and state-rights, nationalism held sway. For those of that stripe, Southern Whiggery evolved, and Southern sectionalism evolved along with it.

For those of you who have been following my series on Alcorn, think back on his criticism of Jefferson Davis’ execution of the War Between the States. James Alcorn was a Southern nationalist...and a centralizer. That is a characteristic of Southern Whiggery passed down from the National Republicans.

Another failure in the study of Southern Whiggery that Charles Sellers points to is the missing, according to him, application of geographical sectionalism within the states themselves—the division between upcountry and low country, hill country and black belt. Sellers suggests the study of that aspect of Southern Whiggery has been omitted due to the focus on national sectionalism and state rights and that the Southern Whigs’ opposition to the nationalistic leg of the party has been over emphasized. Well, maybe it had dropped out of the narrative by 1954, but Arthur Cole certainly mentioned it in Whig Party of the South published in 1914. Perhaps in the not so distant past (sixty years ago) there was a tendency to focus on the party after attacks on slavery had caused Southerners to close ranks, obscuring the look back at the social, economic, and ideological lines that originally crisscrossed within each state—Sellers did make reference to the “modern” scholar of the subject, but Sellers specific references to Cole’s shortcomings in his article mitigates against that. I’ve not noted that omission myself. I’ve always known that the Whigs represented business and banking interests and in the South included the wealthiest cotton planters.

Sellers goes on to imply that recent studies (circa 1954) fail to recognize that when the Whig party formed, the antebellum South had a vigorous two-party system, and the individual voter was focused on his party and its place and success within the section of the state he resided. The banding together of Southern Whigs (and Democrats) against a common, anti-Southern foe didn’t evolve until the late 1840s. Now, I do believe the study of Southern Whiggery is lacking...or lost. Where I disagree with Sellers is where...well... the point made when I started this post—Sellers’ argument that the formation of the party in the South was over the Bank, not state-rights. I believe it was both. I think there was a big dichotomy in Southern Whiggery—strict construction/loose construction, republicanism/nationalism, state rights/Union, and constitutionality/tyranny. I say this because I can see the dual nature of Southern Whiggery in my study of Reconstruction. Both strains bled through to the end.

Let’s look first at the 1824 election that sent John Quincy Adams to the White House and the more popular Andrew Jackson back to Tennessee and how it panned out in Dixie: Andrew Jackson carried Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana (except the extreme southeast, where the sugar barons resided—they went for Adams), both North and South Carolina, and most of Maryland. Missouri and Kentucky went for Clay. Georgia went for William Crawford (a native son) as did Virginia and extreme western Maryland. 

[It’s sometimes hard to align the politicians of this era primarily because party principles/platforms hadn’t solidified. The term National Republican doesn’t appear until 1830, and since we know that some National Republicans had started calling themselves Whigs by the spring of 1834, the term wasn’t around long (though you wouldn’t know it by the way it pops up in history). Nevertheless, though the life of the name was brief during its day, the principles of National Republicanism within the Democratic-Republican ranks went back to the presidency of James Madison who promoted a kinder, gentler form of government interference...oops, excuse me..., I meant to say, promotion of the national economy manifested by Henry Clay’s American System. In applying terms to the Adams’ administration, these men are often called anti-Jacksonians; however, that term is used well into the Jacksonian period and it does not follow (at least, in my mind) that all anti-Jacksonians were National Republicans in the “Madisonian”sense of the term.]

Now let’s look at the Southern state legislative elections following the formation of the Whig Party in the winter/spring of 1833-1834. And before I continue, this is how I plan to frame this series on the Southern Whigs—reviewing politics within each Southern state vis-à-vis what’s happening with the national party and the Whig delegations in Congress.

This information on the 1834 and 1835 state elections is culled primarily from Michael Holt’s Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party.

In Maryland, Kentucky, and Louisiana the National Republicans already had a hold. Here the National Republicans carried on under their new name and the conversion was pretty much seamless. Maryland always having been a predominantly National Republican state, the Whigs won 5 of 8 congressional seats in 1835, and in Clay’s Kentucky during the summer/fall of 1835, Whigs won 8 of 13 congressional seats, up 5 seats from the previous Congress (Kentucky also gained a seat that year).

Much farther south, Louisiana’s Whigs won the governorship in July of 1834. An overly optimistic Clay attributed the victory (along with gubernatorial wins in Indiana and Illinois) as a referendum against Jackson. In Louisiana, however, the Whig victory dealt more with the popularity of the candidates and factional rivalries than national issues. Though Louisiana’s Whig legislators denounced removal of the deposits in the spring, it was ethnic rivalries between French Creoles in Southern Louisiana and native Americans in the northern part of the state (I think Holt here refers to white folks who had moved in vs the French-mix, who had been in Southeastern Louisiana since the early 18th century) had long shaped state politics. The Creoles had maintained power through suffrage restrictions, gubernatorial patronage, and over representation in the legislature. When the Democratic nominee suggested changing the situation in 1834, the Creoles rallied behind the Whig candidate, who just happened to be a Creole, and the Whigs prevailed.*

In Virginia, nationalists in the west (National Republicans representing the region’s mining interests) who’d backed Clay in the 1832 presidential contest merged with the more numerous eastern state-rights advocates to condemn Jackson’s removal of the deposits . This coalition adopted the Whig name and took the Virginia legislature in 1834. The legislature then forced the resignation of Jacksonian William C. Rives from the Senate by instructing him to vote for restoration of the deposits (which he refused to do). In his stead, it elected prominent state righter Benjamin Watkins Leigh to replace Rives. John Tyler, another state righter, was Virginia’s senior senator. State righter Littleton W. Tazewell was elected governor. In Virginia, the struggle was one between liberty and power, rather than bank or no bank.

In North Carolina, Calhounites led by John Branch, state-rights followers of the influential Senator Willie P. Mangum, and a tiny group of National Republicans joined forces to protest Jackson’s removal of the deposits and to contest the August legislative election. By the summer of 1834, they were using the name Whig to identify themselves even though North Carolina Whigs didn’t hold their first state convention until December 1835. As it turned out, the national issue of the bank deposits didn’t make the cut in North Carolina. The Whigs needed state issues with which to confront the Democrats, because taking on Jackson with only a national issue didn’t engage the voting populace.* The Democrats defeated the Whigs in August and immediately tried to push Mangum out (but he held on until November 1836). By the summer/fall of 1835 the Whigs held only six of thirteen Congressional seats. Still, that’s more than the three seats held the year Jackson won reelection.

Georgia’s congressional election of 1834 and the 1835 gubernatorial race was between a pro-Jackson Union party and an anti-Jackson state-rights party led by John M. Berrien. The state-rights party denounced the removal of the deposits as tyranny and economically pernicious, but its main platform was support of state rights and hostility to Jackson’s Proclamation to the people of South Carolina and the Force Bill. But again, Holt points out that state issues* were missing and what the Georgia “Whigs” had in their arsenal were national issues. The Georgia pro-Jackson Democrats swept the congressional and legislative elections. In 1835, the Democrats elected both the governor and four congressmen.

In Mississippi, a state-rights association formed in the spring of 1834 in protest of the Force Bill, and in December, a Whig convention met denouncing the removal of the deposits and Jackson’s tyranny. This group then arranged a ticket, designed to gain state-rights support for the gubernatorial and congressional elections scheduled for November. The plan was to fuse the two major anti-Jacksonian groups in the state. In 1835, the Whigs won the governorship, but lost both congressional seats and the legislature by more than a two to one margin.

Missouri gave up no congressional seats to the Whigs in 1835; however, John Bull, a National Republican (and prior Jackson elector) was the first occupant of a newly created congressional seat in 1833 (Missouri’s second). That says something to me. He was replaced by a Jacksonian Democrat, Albert Harrison in 1835—well, that says something, too, doesn’t it?

By the end of 1834, Alabama was one of only three Southern states that had not formed an anti-Democratic party that might align with the Whigs. The other two were Tennessee and South Carolina. In 1835 Whigs held two of Alabama’s five Congressional seats.

In the spring and fall of 1835, Tennessee Whigs won 8 of 13 congressional seats, a major shift from the one seat National Republicans had traditionally held in that state in the years leading up to the Twenty-fourth Congress. The Whigs also won the gubernatorial contest over three-time incumbent Democrat William Carroll, but that victory had less to do with national issues and more to do with both state issues and Hugh White’s nomination as the Whig candidate for president to run against Van Buren. White’s candidacy, in fact, was the impetus for the formation of the Whig Party in Tennessee (1835). The Whig candidate for governor, Newton Cannon, won based on the huge vote from east Tennessee where Cannon’s advocacy for state-financed internal improvements found favor. The voter turnout in the 1835 gubernatorial contest was huge, even greater than that in the presidential race a year later (not unusual, except that Hugh White was a native son). Nevertheless, it was the gubernatorial race, not White’s candidacy, that solidified the Whig Party in Tennessee.

I have omitted South Carolina from the study, for she never formally participated in Clay’s altered Whiggery.

*Professor Holt makes this observation in discussing the state elections: Where the Whig Party campaigned almost exclusively against Jackson, one on one—especially where the only issues were national ones, the Jacksonians won. So for the Whigs, the glow of the spring of ’34 was dimming by the fall and had grown dismal as of 1835 (well, except in Tennessee where Whiggery was apparently booming). The improving economic situation resulting from an infusion of European capital and Biddle’s easing up on contraction had relieved the brief resentment against Democratic banking policies and prevented the Whigs from exploiting Jackson’s new anti-banking initiatives: specifically, his hard money initiative undermining circulatability of private banknotes and his Species Circular prohibiting the purchase of public land with paper money, an act that alienated Democratic businessmen. In time these practices would provide ammunition for Whig campaigners, but the three year boom starting in 1834 nullified Whig gains to date.

The election of 1836, Van Buren, the sub-treasury...and their effects on Whiggery in Dixie yet to come.

Thanks for reading,

Monday, February 6, 2017

Identifying Those Earliest Southern Whigs and Where That Has Led Me

This is post number seven in a series detailing Southern Whiggery. See the sidebar for earlier posts.

The proof is in the pudding, and by that I mean the “truth” is in the pudding—in the taste, not in the pretty picture on the box. Calhoun and his fellow nullifiers from South Carolina were the Whigs and the original anti-Jackson “party” as opposed to a mere “faction” of the Old Jeffersonians. If the Whig Party had looked at the beginning like what it evolved into (over a relatively short period) there would have been no reason to involve the Southern state righters. The National Republican faction (which already contained Southerners) would have simply broken with the Jacksonian Democrats (which had a lot more Southerners) and life would have continued pretty much as it eventually did anyway. Ah, but Henry Clay would have had no more Southern support in 1836, 1840, or whenever, looking into the then unforeseeable future, than he’d had in 1832 when Andrew Jackson smashed him in his second win of the presidency. Southern Whiggery, at its inception, was not an endorsement of Clay’s policies, but was anti-Jacksonian in its own right. The National Republicans and the state righters making up the new “Whig Party” were allies operating on opposite ends of the spectrum regarding Constitutional interpretation and were personified in the beings of Clay and Calhoun.

From the very beginning, there were Americans in the young Republic, in then much less polarized sections, who fought liberal interpretation of the Constitution. But with the end of the War of 1812, a spirit of nationalism swept the country and found a home in the hearts of many Southerners, Calhoun among them. Recall that Federalist New England had opposed the war because, simply put, blockades and embargoes declared necessary by the central government hurt her interests. As a result, focus was placed on the interests of the nation as a whole, which meant using the powers of the central government for the “general welfare” of all. By the 1830s the “revenue” only tariff had morphed into a high protective tariff benefiting New England (and Midwestern) mercantilists to the detriment of everyone else, in particular the agrarian South. The by now more pragmatic ex-young nationalist John C. Calhoun had stopped second-guessing what had gone wrong and was determined to set things right. Funny thing about setting precedents, once that cat is out of the bag, it’s hard to get him back in. A generation of American leaders had failed to heed what the political theorists of the founding generation had warned against, utilization of a centralized state to promote self-aggrandizing, un-republican values. Folks tend to cite Thomas Jefferson here, and I certainly have no problem with that, but he did support ratification of the Constitution. My favorite is Patrick Henry who warned us not to ratify the thing with its nominally limited central government...the first and biggest precedent of all.

Another, who was still around and kicking at the time, was North Carolina’s Nathaniel Macon, who also opposed ratification, but represented his state in the House and later the Senate almost from the inception of the new government. The focus of his career of thirty-seven years was keeping the central government limited as decreed by its charter. An original opponent of the Federalist Party, Macon never fell under the spell of its brand of economic nationalism, forwarded in turn by Clay and the National Republicans. The fact remained that a central government had been created and what would follow would be generations of self-serving men seeking to control it. Their weapon of choice and, not coincidentally the one most conducive to wheedling power and money from the people in the name of common good, was the general welfare clause.

By the time the nationalistic ardor created by the War of 1812 had cooled and the stark reality of having fallen victim to its passion struck home, dramatic action was called for. President Andrew Jackson, an ardent nationalist of the Jacksonian mold (I’m being facetious, but I can’t think of a better way to say it—he was an anti-New England Unionist) struck against Biddle’s National Bank to the cheers of the common folk in the South and the West and the jeers of the National Republicans regardless of section. Calhoun (and South Carolina) struck against the tariff. Ah, but a strike against the tariff was a strike against the national government, which the nationalist Jackson could not tolerate. Jackson’s counter was to propose a military strike against South Carolina. That was something the Jacksonian-Democrat state righters—even those not in sympathy with Calhoun—could not sit idly by and abide. The nullifiers were limited in number and weak, but Southerners were plentiful, and Jackson was pushing the envelope (and Southerners made up a good chunk of his base).

But the Nullification Crisis didn’t occur in a vacuum. Many wealthy and powerful Southerners (the sugar planters of Louisiana, Kentucky hemp-growers, the mining industries of western Virginia) supported a protective tariff, but also of significance in the abandonment of Jackson by some state righters was the issue of the U.S. National Bank, an entity which had Southern supporters in the aforementioned sugar merchants, miners, and hemp-growers as well as black-belt cotton planters. These men were primarily of the National Republican variety, but the existence of nominal supporters of a national bank among state righters does have purchase. A national bank stabilized the money and banking in general. The problem with Biddle’s bank was its partisanship; it catered to and was supported by, a certain, finite, class of people.

[I believe an argument could be made that support of Biddle’s bank was not necessarily the same as support for a national bank for which, at a number of junctures in our early history, an amendment to the Constitution was suggested to accommodate.]

To rehash, Dr. Michael Holt in the Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party states that at the opening of Congress, December 1833, there were twenty National Republicans and twenty Jacksonians squaring off in the U.S. Senate along with two nullifiers and six Southern state-rights senators who had abandoned the Jackson camp in the wake of Jackson’s overt threat to South Carolina. These eight senators held the balance of power in the Senate. Neither Holt nor Arthur Cole in History of the Whig Party of the South identified precisely who these men were. South Carolina’s nullifiers, of course, are easy to identify: John C. Calhoun and William C. Preston. I’m not absolutely sure who the other six were, but having done a little research, I hereby take a stab at identification: Gabriel Moore of Alabama, John Black and George Poindexter of Mississippi, Willie P. Mangum of North Carolina, John Tyler of Virginia, and Joseph Kent of Maryland.

Originally a Jacksonian, Mangum is on record for warning his fellow Southerners to trust no administration forcing the South to wear the chains of the American System, and in 1833, he broke with Jackson for doing what he perceived as that very thing.

Just for the record, at the same time the anti-Jacksonians seized control of the Senate, the House gained an additional eleven Southern anti-Jacksonians and five additional nullifiers—four of the latter from South Carolina and one from Alabama. Of course, it made no difference in the House, where Jacksonian Democrats had things locked up.

In the course of searching for the identity of those six senators, I came across a 1954 article by Princetonian Charles Grier Sellers in The American Historical Review titled “Who Were the Southern Whigs.” From the title, as you may have guessed, I had hoped for specific identities of those six men, but his article didn’t deal with the U. S. Senate, but rather focused broadly on the House and on state legislatures. Mr. Sellers’ argues it was the Bank War, not state rights, that shaped the Southern Whig Party. He appears to be challenging the prevailing belief 63 years ago that state rights shaped Southern Whiggery. Perhaps this is still the prevailing academic position, particularly among Southerners. I admit that I have trouble seeing the Southern Whigs as state righters, but I have less of a problem seeing them as strict constructionists, and therein might be the problem—using the term “strict constructionist” interchangeably with “state righter”. Swap nullifier and secessionist for strict constructionist and the problem increases. Those latter were definitely strict constructionists, but does it follow that all strict constructionists were secessionists?

[Now, in my mind, if you apply strict construction to the Tenth Amendment, then you believe in the right to secede—how could you not? Whether you’re in favor of secession or not is a different question. But that’s me.]

Throughout their history, Southern Whigs compromised their strict-constructionist stance, condoning violation of the Constitution only in “certain situations.” But who determines what constitutes those “situations”? One cannot simply qualify what is necessary and proper under certain conditions, then proceed with the violation in the name of an arbitrary, so-called good. Not, that is, and remain a strict constructionist. A “so-called good” is relative, all too often, to one’s self-interest, and the basest form of self-interest is greed. This is a classic un-republican concept. Further, one can’t advocate the sanctity of Union, then vote for secession, which is what a lot of them eventually did, indicating the Union wasn’t quite so sacred after all. Pondering that, when push came to shove, sounds like the Southern Whigs’ state-right colors bled through.

I’m gonna close the post at this juncture because the story of Southern Whiggery is as much about what the Southern Whigs were as it is about who they were. Throughout its evolution, the character of Southern Whiggery varied from state to state and was shaped not only by the interests of the individual states, but by the interests of different sections within each state. The story is as rich and varied as everything else about the South and goes hand in hand with what can be detailed about the opposition Southern Democrats. Each state had a healthy, viable two-party system before sectionalism (and nationalism, darn it) clouded the political horizon. I think it’s a story worth telling and is, in my humble opinion, critical to understanding what led to sectionalism, war, discord within the Confederacy, Reconstruction, Redemption, and eventually the solid “Democratic” South.

So, my anticipated “brief” junket into the history of Southern Whiggery has taken on a life of its own. I will continue with who/what were the Southern Whigs next time. At the same time I plan to return to Alcorn and the dark days of Reconstruction, and the two series will parallel each other.

Thanks for reading,