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When the USA Two Party System Broke Down

  1. Apr 29, 2013 #1
    1852! Slavery had been a big issue for decades and wasn’t getting resolved. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was published that year. It became an best-seller to an unprecedented degree and inflamed popular feeling against slavery. The Democratic-Republican Party was so divided over the slavery issue that they couldn’t agree on a candidate, so they nominated an inoffensive nebbish for President. He defeated the Whig candidate.

    After the election the Whig party evaporated. In those days a party was not at all a democracy. It was owned by a few, and others could join or leave. People volunteered for campaigns because if the party won they would be appointed to government jobs. The ordinary members got fed up with the party leadership’s failure to deal with the slavery issue. The Whigs all quit. Many also quit the Democratic-Republicans. The secretive Native American Party arose, their platform being putting a stop to immigration and hostility towards Catholics. It was fueled by fear and loathing of the massive influx of Irish refugees from the potato famine and German refugees from their failed liberal revolution. There also came to be the brand new Republican Party, formed as a single issue party that opposed slavery. Many sitting Congressmen and Senators changed their allegiance to the Native American and Republican parties.

    Things continued to grow worse. In Kansas Territory there were two competing Governors and governments. The anti-slavery government was centered in the town of Lawrence. The sheriff tried to interfere so the townspeople shot him then drove him out of town. Sheriff Jones collected a posse of 800 Southerners and got permission from a grand jury to wreck the town's anti-slavery presses and destroy the Free State Hotel, which was declared a fortification. They succeeded, then for good measure burned down the anti-slavery Governor’s home. The next day in Washington, DC, a Southern Carolina Democratic Senator entered the Senate cloakroom and there beat up a Massachusetts Republican Senator with a walking cane, causing head wounds. Abundant blood spattered the room and soaked clothing. Those who overheard this violence -- it must have been a terrible sound -- and rushed to the rescue were stymied by a South Carolina Congressman who stood in the cloak room doorway and held them off with a pistol. Senator Sumner suffered brain damage and a long convalescence.

    In the 1956 election the three parties divided the legislature and the first gay Democratic president was elected. Things kept getting worse. John Brown decided to export violence from Kansas to his native state of Virginia. Fueled by abolitionist money he trained and heavily armed a force that included both his sons and some former slaves. Harriet Tubman was invited to the coming raid, but fell ill and couldn't go. The band invaded the estate of Colonel Washington, a descendant of President George Washington, and took him hostage. The men stopped a train to spread news of rebellion, then seized an arms depot that contained one hundred thousand muskets, rifles, and ammunition. The slave rebellion did not arise. John Brown suffered a saber wound to the head, was captured, tried, and hanged for treason against the State of Virginia. Henry David Thoreau wrote in favor of the Brown rebellion,

    I think that for once the Sharp's rifles and the revolvers were employed in a righteous cause.

    Henry David Thoreau's taking of the side of deadly violence was a very bad sign.

    The Native American Party held anti-Catholic riots which so appalled the nation that the party disintegrated. The Democratic Party split into two parts over slavery, each which lay claim to the title of Democratic Party. A compromise Constitutional Union Party sprang up in the wilds of Tennessee and Kentucky, so there was a total of four parties. The South swore they would secede if the Republicans won the 1860 election. Win they did.

    · Republicans 40%
    · Democratic (southern) 30%
    · Constitutional Union Party 20%
    · Democratic (northern) 10%

    President Buchanan allowed rebels to seize Federal armories which contained guns, cannon, and ammunition. He believed that white Southerners would need the weapons to protect themselves from rebel slaves. Historians usually award this the booby prize for the single presidential decision most harmful to the nation. Everything went to hell.

    After the war only the Democratic and Republican parties remained, and so they do to this day. The newer of the two parties sometimes refers to itself as the Grand Old Party.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2013
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  3. May 17, 2013 #2


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    Interesting read
  4. Jun 6, 2013 #3
    It's pretty interesting that over hundred years that the political party of Democrats and Republics are close to 50/50. I would think it way sway more to one side after awhile.
  5. Aug 8, 2013 #4


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  6. Aug 8, 2013 #5
    One of my concerns with the us government is that the constitution we have with a chief executive has been implemented in other parts of the world and it often leads to military coups as the executive becomes stronger and stronger and begins overstepping its power.
  7. Aug 9, 2013 #6


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    Could you give an example, because as far as I'm aware that has never happened to a government modeled after ours. And most countries have chief executives of some sort.
  8. Aug 9, 2013 #7
    Here is a snippet from an interview that had an effect on some of my views regarding the topic:

    The link will take you to the entire interview in audio form as well if you're interested. Most of the new constitutions are being modeled after South Africa's.
  9. Sep 24, 2013 #8
    The collapse of a party I don't think is an argument against Duverger's Law.

    In fact, the US has followed that law for just about all of its history. Some historians of politics have identified 5 or 6 party systems that the US has had, but all have been of two parties. The different systems were of their constituencies and platforms.

    Some of the Founders had wanted no political parties, notably George Washington. But that was not to be.

    #1: 1796 - 1824

    The Federalist Party faded away, and the Democratic-Republican Party split in two.

    #2: 1828 - 1854
    National Republican, then Whig

    The Whig Party collapsed, the event that ImaLooser discussed in the OP.

    #3: 1854 - 1896
    #4: 1896 - 1932
    #5: 1932 -

    There's a lot of argument about whether the US now has a 6th party system. But if so, then it's been a gradual transition over the last half-city, as the Republican Party changed from being the party of Abraham Lincoln to the party of Jefferson Davis.

    There was a previous party disappearance, that of the Federalist Party, but it died with a whimper instead of with a bang.
  10. Sep 24, 2013 #9
    That is what I thought, but no. The UK has a first past the post system, but has had three parties for the past one hundred years or so: Tories, Labor, and Liberals. The Liberals are the descendants of the Whigs, and are now called Liberal Democrats. The Liberals went down to only 4 seats but survived and now have about 50.

    I looked into it a bit and the Liberals have a grass roots organization, electing mayors and city councilmen and so forth. If they do a good job they move up and may eventually become MPs. The Liberal Democrats are strongest in remote parts of the UK such as Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.

    So that proves 3 parties can be stable in a first-past-the-post system. If three can exist, I don't see why there can't be more. There could be any number of regional parties.
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2013
  11. Sep 25, 2013 #10
    Yes, regional parties can and do exist in FPTP systems. But in their strongholds, are elections still effectively two-party? Regional party + one national party, with the other national party effectively being a minor party.
  12. Sep 25, 2013 #11


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    The liberal democrats do have MPs you realise? It's just that they haven't been in ruling government as anything other than a coalition. Indeed for the past century it's only been labour or conservative (or coalition in extreme cases like the war). So I'd say that Durvergers law still holds in the UK pretty well (but it's not an absolute law anyway it's a trend) even though a smattering of smaller parties can win local elections.

    Look at the breakdown of the current parliament as an example, it's not been as diverse as this for a long time (thanks for a huge loss in popularity in the two main parties) but still the labour and conservative parties hold 561 seats between them, the liberal democrats 55 seats and nine other parties combined hold 32 seats. It is a constant debate as to whether or not the UK counts as a two party system but when >85% of the seats are taken by two parties at times when those parties are historically unpopular I'd hardly call that a multi-party system.

    Also FYI you really don't want to be calling Wales, Scotland and Cornwall "remote parts of the UK" :wink:
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2013
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