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The Second Party System in Lincoln's Springfield Kenneth J. Winkle Before the presidential election of 1848, Democrats in Springfield, Illinois, drew on long experience to remind their supporters of the double face of Illinois Whiggery, warning that "where the whigs have a majority, they have nominated full tickets, and are urging their followers to their support, while in democratic districts, they preach the doctrine of no-party, and urge a splitting of tickets." This nation-wide Whig ambivalence toward organization served the party well in Springfield, winning them a majority within a traditionally Democratic state. Such a calculated ambivalence toward party was in fact fundamental to Whig organization there. As Democrats pointed out, 'This has ever been the practice of Illinois whigery—overbearing tyrants when in the majority, and cringing suppliants in the minority."1 If this judgement was correct, then most Illinois Whigs were indeed "cringing suppliants," while the Whigs of Abraham Lincoln's Springfield, including the future president himself, could afford to be "overbearing tyrants." Springfield was long regarded as an anomalous Whig stronghold, in Democratic eyes "the foul 'spot' upon the state" and to Whig thinking "a green spot in the great desert of Locofocoism." Springfield Whigs typically counted on majorities of 60 percent in presidential elections, while even the neighboring precincts in Sangamon County routinely went Democratic. Yet despite Springfield's—and Lincoln's—importance in keeping Whiggery alive in IlUnois, historians have never systematically asked why such an ordinary city became a Whig "spot" upon otherwise Democratic soil.2 1 Springfield, Illinois State Register, IuIy 21, 1848. Ronald P. Formisano, "Political Character, Antipartyism and the Second Party System," American Quarterly 21 (Winter 1969): 683-709, provides a classic examination of the sources and implications of Whig "antipartyism." 2 Springfield, Sangamo Journal, Iune 4, 1846; Illinois State Register, IuIy 28, 1848. As one Lincoln scholar put it, "Why central Illinois became Whig is a question that has long troubled historians. The subject invites investigation via modern techniques." G. S. Boritt, Lincoln and the Economics ofthe American Dream (Memphis: Memphis State Univ. Press, 1978), 314, n. 2. Civil War History, Vol. xliv No. 4 © 1998 by The Kent State University Press 268CIVIL war history An exploratory examination of party development in Lincoln's Springfield offers important clues to the community foundations of local politics during the mid-nineteenth century. Overall, the historiography of Illinois's Second Party System is a study in miniature of the controversy at the national level. The Progressive tradition, which dominated the first half of this century, emphasized the economic origins of Jacksonian party divisions. Embodied in Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s Age of Jackson, the Progressive interpretation posed class struggle and sectional conflict as the foundation of the Second Party System. Democrats, the popular party, championed the cause of the "common man" and therefore worked to extend political democracy and economic opportunity. Whigs were the established elite, who opposed suffrage reforms and defended entrenched monopolies such as the Bank of the United States against a swelling Jacksonian egaUtarian ethos. According to IlUnois historian Theodore Pease, Democrats championed "equal rights" and indeed "human rights," whileWhigs were "essentially a bourgeois party in their beUefs." The Whigs were a "business man's party," cynical and sentimental, murky in principle and philosophy. Pease considered the convention system, which Democrats introduced to Illinois , truly democratic: "It divested a candidate for office of the advantages his wealth and social position might give him." Whigs were, by contrast, "Men with great personal influence in their localities due to their abilities or to their wealth." 3 During the 1950s, "consensus" historians began to challenge this Progressive image of conflict, and especially economic conflict, at the heart ofJacksonian political debate.They pointed to ideological similarities between Democrats and Whigs, challenged notions of increasing democracy and opportunity during the Second Party Period, and emphasized the quest for office and division of spoils rather than the shaping ofpublic policy as a fundamental goal ofparty organization. Richard Hofstadter argued that mainstream Jacksonian leaders all shared a commitment to capitalism, Democrats and Whigs jointly imbibing an "entrepreneurial ethos" that committed them all to growth, opportunity, and economic expansion. Edward Pessen turned to collective biography to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 267-284
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
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