Ghosts of Elections Past
There is little doubt that the fall elections will have a major cultural and political impact in the American way of life. Perhaps only twice in American history has an election divided the country so strongly on moral and constitutional issues and produced such public awareness and passion.
These two past elections divided the nation with incompatible ideological views strong enough to fracture the existing political structures. The survivors formed new political parties with platforms that transformed the country as well as the political power centers. These presidents were rogues who bent the rules to achieve their goals. Each significantly increased the power of the presidency and violated the Constitution “for the good of the country” on several occasions.
Both presidents desired for the people to have more control over the government. Both reinforced the supremacy of the federal government over the states. Both were controversial and created bitter enemies. One remains controversial to this day, while the other has become an American icon of nobility. Assignation attempts were made on both men. One was successful.
Andrew Jackson formed a coalition of pro-slavery political leaders, including John C. Calhoun, Martin Van Buren and Thomas Ritchie. They revived the old Republican Party, renaming it as the Democratic Party that we know today, including the donkey logo – although detractors referred to it as a “jackass” originally, a slur on Jackson’s stubbornness.
Jackson easily beat John Quincy Adams for the presidency in 1928, breaking 30 years of Federalist domination. Jackson’s charismatic personality, his popular war record, and his promise to end political corruption and favoritism overcame his scant administrative experience and qualifications for the job.
The Jacksonian Democrats revived the Thomas Jefferson principles of a frugal, nonintrusive government supporting the rights of the working class in a laissez-faire economy. Jackson opposed government favoritism toward the privileged class and the banking industry in particular. Although Jackson supported states rights, in 1832 with a show of military force (no shots were fired) he squashed an attempt by South Carolina to nullify a federal tariff bill. This precedent was to have lasting repercussions. Only Jackson’s heinous treatment of the rights of American Indians clouds his exceptional presidency.
The vast accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln need little elaboration. For this discussion it is worth noting that Lincoln, like Jackson, felt that the preservation of the Union was supreme over states rights, regional economic interests or ideological differences. Lincoln also used military force to ensure compliance to federal law, fracturing the country with guns and cannons that still reverberate 150 years later.
His election to the presidency in 1860 established the Republican Party as a major national political force. The fledgling Republican Party was formed a few years earlier by disillusioned Whigs and Democrats on an antislavery platform that stressed the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the sanctity of the Constitution. It was the party of the high moral ground attracting a strong religious following. Since 1860, the Republican and Democratic Parties have dominated the American political scene.
The election this fall has the potential to create another major political realignment. The Democratic Party has, since formation of the Progressive Caucus in 1991, shifted its platform away from the original Democratic Party ideals to one espousing secular humanism. The Progressives de-emphasize God and promote a large, controlling government doling out “justice and fairness.” The Declaration of Independence bastions of the “individual right to pursue happiness” and the “inalienable rights granted to all citizens by their Creator” have been dissolved in a sea of collective rather than individual rights. Gone is the individual “liberty of conscience” replaced by “politically correct” morals.
It has shaken a considerable number of old-time Democrats sufficiently to greatly increase the ranks of independent voters, who will determine the winner. Depending on the outcome, the old Democratic Party may re-establish itself with a new platform more in line with the Constitution.
This election is unique in the sense that the outcome could be posted by the U.S. mint on our coins: either “In God we Trust” or “In Washington we Trust.”