This chapter focuses on the the political system that prevailed in throughout most of the Gilded Age in the United States. During this time period, there existed extremely tight races, high voter turnout, and a profound loyalness to the party. In particular, it pays close attention to extremely opposing forces that preoccupied the two major parties.
The Democrats were historically the party of individual liberty and laissez-faire. From Jefferson to Van Buren & Benton to Cleveland, there emerged a mostly consistent platform that advocated for personal and economic freedom (the issues of slavery and the indigenous tribes of America being the sole exceptions). The Whigs, and later the Republicans, by contrast were statists who believed firmly in a nation bound by the morals of the Puritans and the economic nationalism of Hamilton. They were also opposed to Masonry, Catholicism, and immigration due to the fact that they wanted to preserve their aristocratic WASP status. The only issue that gave the Republicans a foot in the pro-liberty camp was their anti-slavery position that attracted many abolitionists and Free Soil Democrats. However, after the passage of the Reconstruction amendments and the attempt at establishing civil rights for African-Americans, the Republican Party had a massive decline throughout the nation. This was primarily due to strong support for decentralization as well as the disgust at the widespread corruption present with Big Businesses.
The rest of the chapter takes a look at the ethnic makeup of the two major parties, and answers the question of why certain groups tended towards one party over the other. Throughout the Third Party System, there existed a sharp religious divide between the Pietists and the Liturgicals. The Piestists, who were primarily made up of Yankee Postmillenial Christians and Scandinavian Immigrants, believed that it was the state who was responsible for lifting up the “weaker” brethren from vice and sin. Their primary complaint was against alcohol, which many believed was the root of all the evil in the world, and so many latched onto the Temperance Movement which wanted the state to step in and forcibly prevent people from drinking or going to taverns. By contrast, the Liturgicals, Dutch/Irish Catholics and conservative Lutherans, believed that each church rather than the state was responsible for salvation, thereby leading to a support for decentralization. Economic issues were often framed in both parties as a religious and cultural issue rather than a purely intellectual one, leading many voters to remain engaged and informed. The chart below shows the complete visual breakdown of the Democratic voting base and support by ethnic group (no similar chart exists for the Republicans, but it’s not too hard to tell which groups tended towards them).
The one area that Rothbard touches on but doesn’t go into much detail about is the massive support for the Democrats in the South. This is a hugely important deviation from his theme of religion as the primary motivation of party loyalty. While there were Bourbon Democrats and Mugwump Republicans who supported civil rights, both parties, but especially the Dixiecrat faction of the Democrats, were the architects of Jim Crow and supported white terrorist groups like the KKK and the Knights of the White Camille. The racist South allowed for the marginalization of these communities, and prevented the Democrats from becoming a truly libertarian party in this era. This is not to say that the Republicans were better. Quite the contrary, they were extremely nativist and racist and had tried in the past to prevent blacks from migrating to Northern States like Illinois. It’s no surprise that this period is also known as the Nadir of American Race Relations. While there will probably be more to say about race in subsequent chapters, I suspect that it is not focused on as much.