Breitbart News is featuring an ongoing series highlighting the philosophical and policy outlooks of two great American leaders, Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845). This conversation is less of a debate between the modern left and right, than one based on competing sets of traditional American values. There are elements of both “Hamiltonianism” and “Jacksonianism” within modern conservatism. This is a debate between honest patriots that wish to preserve American exceptionalism.
According to leading intellectual progressives, the Republican Party may in fact be the old Confederacy returning to oppose America’s first black president. Daily Beast writer, Jamelle Bouis, wrote an article titled, “What Links the Neo-Confederate Virginia Flaggers, Barack Obama & Race,” in which he surmises:
Since we know white Southerners are heavily Republican and unusually hostile to Obama, it’s not a stretch to think they’ve experienced a large increase in anti-black prejudice as well. Or, put another way, in a region of the country where some whites continue to celebrate the Confederacy enthusiastically (see, again, the Virginia Flaggers), it’s reasonable to see a link between high opposition to the black president and racial prejudice.
Bouis postulates that a large shift in white voters away from Obama between the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections could be due to increasing “anti-black” sentiment. This goes along with the general liberal view that Republicans can only win with white voters and that the party is doomed to extinction.
But the current divide in national-level American politics is not driven by specific regional concerns or peculiarities. The South is not rising again in a racist crusade against Obama; the opposition is coming from typically non-urban elements of the electorate, whether they are in Alabama, Iowa, or even California.
For instance, Tony Lee of Breitbart News explained how white, Republican candidate Andy Vidak won a Hispanic, but mostly agricultural central California district by stressing that his Democratic opponent Leticia Perez “supported the state’s high-speed rail project that would have razed business, farms, and homes in the District.” Lee said, “Because she supported the agenda of coastal elites and Democrat interest groups, Perez was able to raise twice as much money as Vidak, but 16th District voters ultimately rejected her liberal policies.”
Central California is every bit as conservative as Alabama or Nebraska as demonstrated by political maps that go beyond measuring the state level.
Breitbart’s Mike Flynn also explained the deep cultural and worldview divide. Flynn said that establishment Republicans along with Democrats “championed greater federal control of local schools, a new health care entitlement and vastly increased the size of government. It cozied up to big banks and supported a bailout of Wall Street,” further alienating conservative, country party voters.
Americans are divided by a deep “country party” against “court party” split with origins that date back before the founding. Though elites in American power centers like Washington D.C. look down upon and fear “country party” voters, these Americans often provided course corrections to a country losing its soul. The “Jacksonians” carried on the country party spirit into the nineteenth century, a legacy carried on by early supporters of the Republican Party, and now modern conservatives.
Andrew Jackson of Tennessee was the first president elected from a state outside the original 13 colonies. He brought together a diverse, national coalition to win the 1828 presidential election, in large part on the strength of people voting for the first time. His popularity as a war hero of the Revolution and War of 1812, along with his reputation as a frontier political outsider, made Jackson a hero to many Americans who could identify with his life story.
Margaret Bayard Smith, a famous writer and a member of Washington D.C. “polite society” wrote of the inauguration with disdain, “Such a cortege as followed him! Country men, farmers, gentlemen, mounted and dismounted, boys, women and children, black and white.” Chief Justice Joseph Story said that the celebration contained the most “vulgar and gross” people in the nation, and that he was “happy to escape the scene.”
Though the elites in Washington looked upon the Jacksonians as nothing but a rabble and a mob, the political movement changed the balance of what was long-term, nearly one-party rule. Historian Robert Remini corrected the absurd notion that the era before Jackson was an “Era of Good Feelings” without political conflict; a country smoothly sailing along. Remini turned this fallacy on its head, calling the period the “Era of Corruption.”
The public treasury was frequently raided by corrupt politicians, many public workers were on the dole with little useful function, and there was no opposing party in Washington to challenge policy and ideological failures.
Jacksonians rode a wave of opposition to the permanent political class, crony capitalism, and abusive government waste, supporting reform initiatives like term-limits and decentralized economic policy.
Remini described the principles of the rising Jacksonian coalition that opposed the bipartisan DC corruption:
The single most important heritage from the Revolutionary age was freedom. Individual liberty. That was America’s most prized possession. That is what had to be preserved… There was really no other issue. Everything else–banking, internal improvements, tariffs, even slavery in a strange and peculiar way–was secondary. Individual liberty. That was the basic question.
Jackson believed that he was coming into office to restore the country’s founding principles, and in many ways he succeeded.
But Jackson was not the only “country party” leader to bring a new political movement to power based on holding the line on traditional American values and individual rights. Abraham Lincoln, a frontier lawyer from Kentucky brought together a coalition of mostly country voters to stand by principles based on the idea that individual liberty and fundamental equality are based on rights derived from nature and nature’s God.
The Compromise of 1850 brought this new country party to power with a new coalition. After thirty years of compromising, and facing a militantly pro-slavery opposition, Whigs and Democrats in free states felt that no party represented them. Among other things, the compromise contained a Fugitive Slave Act that allowed the forced rounding-up of escaped slaves and free black citizens, forcing them back into slavery, which had not taken place in some states in over 60 years.
But Whig statesmen, like Sens. Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, once known for at least holding the line on the slavery issue, supported compromise at any cost and many former supporters felt alienated from party leaders. After Webster made a speech supporting compromise, and blasting anti-slavery advocates, his base abandoned him.
Historian Thorton Kirkland Lothrop explained the birth of the Republican Party after Webster’s speech:
In the cities the merchants, manufactures, scholars and thoughtful persons acting with them, held large and enthusiastic Union meetings, and resolved their approval of Webster’s speech and Clay’s compromises. But the country folks — the rural districts held off, and Webster never regained his hold on them. The Whig party at the North split into two factions–the “Conscience Whigs” and the “Cotton Whigs”. There were in Congress an increased number of senators and representatives opposed to the doctrine of the 7th of March speech and to the measures of compromise. These members made the nucleus for the formation of the Republican Party.
Webster lost his Senate seat and supported a Democrat for president in the next election.
Today, the kinds of people that formed the heart of both Jackson and Lincoln’s coalitions oppose the policies of Obama, Democrats, and many Republicans that do not represent their values. These are the “middle Americans” that showed up to the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg to pay tribute to those who fought on both sides. They stand for individual liberty and against the principle of “you didn’t build that.”
The South is not, nor has it ever uniformly been, conservative. Woodrow Wilson, a true son of the Confederacy and the Old Dominion, was one of the fathers of Progressivism.
And many liberals, in decreasing numbers as the South falls under the control of conservatives and Republicans, have celebrated their Southern heritage as much as the Confederate flag supporters today.
Liberal Democrat Georgian Jimmy Carter, said of the antebellum Southern movie classic Gone With the Wind in 1977, “I think, perhaps, we saw a different version from what was seen in the rest of the country. One of my favorite scenes was the burning of Schenectady, New York just before Grant surrendered to Robert E. Lee. It was a great movie.”
This country versus court battle is not between North and South, Dixie against Yankees, but between those who uphold traditional American values and those that perpetuate the values that ran Detroit into the ground.