Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"Our antipathy to the Pope and to Paddy is a pretty deep-seated feeling"

The Weed-Seward Whigs had been a highly competitive organization in New York for years. They consistently outmaneuvered their intra-party rivals, the Silver Greys, and they had regularly exploited divisions between Hards and Softs to best the Democrats. The new Republican party, augmented by Barnburner Democrats, some Softs and some KNs who feared the Slave Power more than the Pope, seemed ready to march to victory in 1855. The remaining Softs and the Hards continued to be divided. As for the Know Nothings – well, you know as well as I that the Republicans were destined to relegate them to the ash bin of history.

History, however, apparently forgot to vote in the 1855 elections in New York, and the Americans did not get the message that they were supposed to die. In the lead race for Secretary of State, for example, the Americans outpolled the Republicans by almost 12,000 votes:

Headley (American) 148,557 34.1%
King (Republican) 136,698 31.4%
Hatch (Soft) 91,336 21.0%
Ward (Hard) 59,353 13.6%

On the bright side for the Republicans, it was a good showing for a new party, formally organized only six weeks before the election. One potential rival, the old Whig party, had disappeared. The three parties that had included anti-slavery statements in their platforms (all but the Hards) had garnered 86% of the vote.

On the other hand, the negatives were large. The results suggested that, even after almost two years of agitation over the Nebraska bill and troubles in Kansas, antislavery, by itself, was simply not sufficiently attractive to marshal even a plurality of the vote. More voters were attracted by the Americans’ combination of anti-Catholicism, temperance and mild anti-slavery. The total vote in 1855 had decreased by 20,000 from 1854, and yet the American vote increased by 26,000. As diarist George Templeton Strong observed, New Yorkers’ “antipathy to the Pope and to Paddy is a pretty deep-seated feeling.”

In addition, the combined votes of the two Democratic factions were greater than the Republican total. If they could reconcile for the national election in 1856, they might well sweep to victory in the state.

In sum, the Republicans were competitive in New York in 1855, but in the end they were also-rans. A betting man, surveying the field in December 1855, would not have placed his chips on the Republicans as the party to challenge and defeat the Democrats in the state in 1856.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails