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The Religious and Occupational Roots of Party Identification: Illinois and Indiana in the 1870's

From: Civil War History
Volume 16, Number 4, December 1970
pp. 325-343 | 10.1353/cwh.1970.0044

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

THE RELIGIOUS AND OCCUPATIONAL ROOTS OF PARTY IDENTIFICATION: Illinois and Indiana in the 1870's Richard Jensen "Religion comes very little into the American party," declared James Bryce. "Roman Catholics are usually Democrats. . . . Congregationalists and Unitarians . . . are apt to be Republicans. Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians . . . have no special party affinities. They are mostly Republicans in the North, Democrats in the South."1 With these brief, tidy generalizations the foremost commentator on late-nineteenth-century American politics dismissed the relationship between religion and partisanship, and steered generations of scholars away from the topic.2 Bryce was wrong. One of the most accurate ways to determine a voter's choices in the late nineteenth century was to ascertain his religious preferences (except in the South, where one ascertained his race). Table 1, showing the partisanship of the inhabitants of the small northem Illinois town of Geneseo, indicates that over 90 per cent of the Congregationalists, Unitarians, Methodists, Baptists, Swedish Lutheraans and Swedish Methodists were Republican, and over 90 per cent of the Catholics were Democrats.3 Table 2, which cross-classifies the oldstock voters in Geneseo (i.e. those not identifiable as immigrants or sons of immigrants) according to church membership and occupation, indicates that quite apart from his religion, a man's occupation also was related to his party preference. These patterns, which held for a sample !James Bryce, The American Commonwealth (New York, 1894), II, 37; cf. Seymour M. Lipset, "Religion and Politics in American History," in Earl Raab (ed.), Religious Conflict in America (Garden City, 1964), p. 72. The author is indebted to George Shockey for coding the Illinois data analyzed in Tables 5-9. 2 Although Frederick Jackson Turner and several of his students were aware of the ethnic basis of partisanship, recent interest dates from Samuel Lubell, The Future of American Politics (New York, 1952), and Samuel P. Hays, "History as Human ^Behavior," Iowa Journal of History, LVIII (1960) 193-206. See Richard Jensen, "American Election Analysis: A Case History of Methodological Innovation and Diffusion," in Seymour Martin Lipset (ed.), Politics and the Social Sciences (New York, 1969), pp. 226-43. 3 OnIv men listed as Republicans or Democrats were tabulated in Tables 1, 2, 3 and 5, because the Illinois directories sometimes neglected to ask party identification . The nonpartisans are examined in detail later. Although Geneseo had a population of just 3000, only one-sixth of the inhabitants of Illinois and Indiana lived in larger cities. 325 326 CIVIL WAR HISTORY of other towns and rural areas in Illinois and Indiana in the 1870's, and probably for the Midwest as a whole, are too strong to be dismissed with Bryce's vague assertions. Religion, and to a lesser extent occupation , constituted the basic roots of party identification for the average citizen. TABLE 1 PARTY, BY ETHNIC-RELIGIOUS GROUPS, GENESEO CITY AND TOWNSHIP, 1877 EthnicDenomination Old Stock Congregationalist Unitarian Methodist Baptist Presbyterian Other No denomination given German Lutheran Other Protestant Roman Catholic IrishRoman Catholic OtherRoman Catholic Swedish Lutheran, Methodist, and other Total Actual Vote (Governor, 1876) % Republican ( of two-party total ) 96.5 96.0 91.4 90.9 72.5 80.0 69.0 66.7 52.2 25.0 0.0 7.7 96.3 70.1 68.1 N 74 25 70 22 29 20 400 60 67 16 52 13 72 920 827 TABLE 2 PARTY, BY OCCUPATIONAL AND RELIGIOUS STATUS, GENESEO OLD STOCK, 1877 ( Per cent Republican of two-party total ) ChurchNot Church AffiliatedAffiliatedAU % Rep.N % Rep.N % Rep. 95.415175.422186.4 Business & Professional Urban Labor72.71155.37457.6 Farmer84.678 67.610574.9 All90.8240 69.0400 77.2 N 372 85 183 640 The data for Geneseo, and all the other places tabulated, comes from recently discovered county directories published in the mid-1870's. The compilers attempted to ascertain the name, address, occupation, nationality , religious affiliation and party identification of every voter and POLITICAL PARTY IDENTIFICATION327 taxpayer. The value of many farm holdings in Illinois, and in Indiana information on age, birthplace and year of arrival, were also included. Each of the directories seems to have canvassed the population quite thoroughly. Probably unskilled workers and farm laborers...