Ask the average person do you know about the Whig Party and you will get a blank stare. They don’t know about it because it doesn’t exist anymore. That’s another thing the average person doesn’t understand political parties are not forever nor were they meant to be. In fact, our founding fathers though the very ideas of parties were repugnant and a barrier to the democratic republic they built.
In George Washington’s Farewell Address he warned his fellow Americans about the dangers of political parties. He said, “The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism.” He claimed the partisanship would lead to inter-political conflict, divide the nation, and give rise to cases of tyranny.
This is ironic given by the time he gave this speech he did belong to a political party, the Federalists, though he did not initially belong to any party when he became President. A whole encyclopedia could be done on the party system in this country, starting off with the First Party system, where we find the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans to the Second Party system where we find The Whigs, Free Soilers, Know Nothings, Democrats, and Republicans.
While James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, also warned of the downfall of factions, it nonetheless didn’t stop them from growing. “All civilized societies would be divided into different sects, factions, and interests, …of rich and poor, debtors and creditors, … the inhabitants of this district or that district, the followers of this political leader or that political leader, the disciples of this religious sect or that religious sect. In all cases where a majority are united by a common interest or passion, the rights of the minority are in danger.” His political party? The Democratic-Republicans.
These facts are important to know because with the nomination of Donald Trump to the Republican party and the mass dissatisfaction he has brought with him, it won’t be long until the third party takes off in this country.
The Whigs-Who Were They?
In the textbook, Created Equal: The Social and Political History of the United States it states: “The Whigs, a coalition anti-Jackson forces, sought to craft an economic program that would appeal to the largest number of voters. Less concerned with the purity of their ideas than with success at the ballot box, the Whigs saw their policies as means to winning elections and not necessarily as ends in themselves.” (pg. 390)
Does that sound like any party you know? More concerned with success at the ballot box than the purity of ideas. Obviously, that idea didn’t work.According to the same textbook, “The choices offered by the whigs and Democrats failed to represent what many groups saw as their pressing political and economic interest. Many Americans turned to violence to advance or defend their causes.” (ibid)
Again does this sound like the Republican party? Failing to represent what many saw as their pressing political and economic interest? The Republican party consistently ignores their base and focuses on “winnable” issues, this sort of neglect is what led people to leave the Whig party and join the Republican party in the first place, but they have seemed to have forgotten their history.
What the Whigs Became
The Whig Party lasted 20 years, from 1834-1854. From the Whigs, we had four presidents-William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore. From the book, The Missouri Compromise and its Aftermath we are told: “On its face, this would seem to suggest that the strict constructionist viewpoint represented the consistent and scrupulous position claimed by its adherents, founded purely on traditional Whig distrust of power and unfettered government tendency towards consolidation and corruption.”
Therefore, the party that was started to fight corruption in a short 20 years became corrupt itself. Whatever their problems with “Old Hickory” at the beginning of their regime, would not be enough to save it at the end when the other parties started forming.The Whigs had real power in their heyday and I am sure many told them, it was futile to have these other parties because they were not going to beat the Whig party, but that didn’t stop them from trying. Today, people say the same thing, the Democrats and Republicans are just too strong, a third party will never work. Well, there hasn’t been enough upset people to make it work, but today there are.
The Encyclopaedia Brittanica states: “In 1840 they abandoned the sectional approach to nominate the military hero William Henry Harrison. The subsequent contest was devoid of issues, Harrison winning on the basis of incessant electioneering by his supporters in the “log cabin” campaign.”
As you can see the issues became less and less important as time went by, and because of this, people became violently opposed to the Whig Party and that is where the Republican Party finds itself today.
The Republican Party has a great and long history. It was the party responsible for ending slavery, segregation and has been a beacon hope and equality but it has stopped caring about those things and has become corrupt. It has become the Whigs where it cares more about its image and electioneering than it does about its base voters.
In my political science classes at UCLA, it was often discussed, that politicians seek to bring in the independent voters because they know they base will never leave them. They are wrong, though! I always knew they were wrong. You cannot disregard the base and expect them to stick around. The Whigs have proved that and now the Republican party is proving them once again. The base can only take so much before they let you know in no uncertain terms that you have lost them and you have lost them for good. If the Christian base leaves the Republican party, it will never recover and no amount of “independent” voters are going to change it. Because “independent” voters make their decisions by polls not morals and the minute it becomes problematic to be a Republican they are out.
The Republicans have “Whig”ed out and now it won’t be long until they are part of the ash heap of history.
James Madison-The White House