Monday, October 12, 2009

The Quids

In American political history, the term “Tertium Quids” (Latin for “third somethings”, often abbreviated to “Quids”) is almost universally used to identify a group of radical Republicans whose “great object”, in the words of Russell Kirk, “was the restriction of power of [the federal] government to that sphere specifically assigned by constitution and precedent.” The term Quids came from the fact that its members were neither mainstream Jeffersonian Republicans nor Federalists, but “third somethings”.

The group dates from 1806, when John Randolph of Roanoke broke with Thomas Jefferson:
Randolph had denounced the Yazoo scandals in January 1805; he quarreled with Jefferson and Madison over the Florida scheme in December of that year [the so-called Two Million Dollar Act, passed in February 1806, the funds of which were intended to be used to purchase the Floridas from Spain]. On March 6, 1806, he spoke against [Andrew] Gregg's Resolution, which was intended to cut off commerce with Britain – here siding with the Federalists, though not joining them. By August 15, his alienation from Jefferson was complete; and he formed the faction of the Tertium Quids, which little band of Southerners he led most of the rest of his life.

Other Quids, or Old Republicans as they were sometimes called, included Nathanial Macon of North Carolina, Spencer Roane of Virginia, John Taylor of Caroline and Richard Stanford.

In Empire of Liberty, Gordon S. Wood points out, however, that Randolph's group of radicals was not the first to bear the name Quids. Ironically, the term appears to have first been used on the state level in Pennsylvania to identify a minority group of moderate Jeffersonian Republicans who were, at the time, engaged in a bitter fight with the radical majority.

The radical Republicans who gained ascendancy in Pennsylvania shortly after 1800 were headed by Dr. Michael Leib and William Duane. Leib, a member of the state legislature who later became a member of the House and the U.S. Senate, “was totally committed to turning the poor and the common laborers of Pennsylvania into political actors” “and the most extreme forms of majoritarian democracy.” Duane was the “irascible” editor of the Aurora whose acid pen had gotten him charged with sedition under the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1898 (among other things).

In 1803, the radicals had control of the state legislature and were able to engineer the impeachment and dismissal of a Federalist judge. By 1805, however, the radical coalition was showing signs of strain. The radicals were able to impeach but failed to convict three other Federalist judges who were members of the state supreme court.

Things came to a head later in 1805, when the radicals denied renomination to the moderate Jeffersonian Republican incumbent governor, Thomas McKean. With the support of other moderates such as Alexander J. Dallas, McKean “combined with the Federalists to create a coalition ticket” and “narrowly won the bitterly contested election for the governorship.”

Although Prof. Wood does not precisely specify, it was apparently during this campaign that Duane fashioned the term “Quids” as a contemptuous reference to the moderates – they were “third somethings,” neither Jeffersonian fish nor Federalist fowl.

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