Tuesday, April 22, 2014

John McCain=James Buchanan? Mitt Romney=Stephen A. Douglas?

The lament that the extremist party in American politics failed not because of its extremism, but because it wasn't extreme enough, is an old one. The classic statement of it comes from Charles Chauncey Burr, editor of the rabid Copperhead organ The Old Guard, reviewing "How the Democratic Party Fell to Pieces" in August, 1866:

     "Like the old Whig party, the Democratic party split and went to pieces upon the negro. It was held together by the cohesive power of official plunder for one or two presidential terms, after it had ceased to be a great national party united upon the basis of common principles, although its principles were not so various as its policy. The southern section of the party, under the masterly leadership of Mr. Calhoun, was firmly and tenaciously grounded upon the principles of Jefferson and the Revolutionary fathers, in relation tot he vital principles of State sovereignty and self-government. In theory the northern Democracy adhered to these sacred principles, but practically, it abandoned them in almost every campaign. While its public profession of principle was adverse to the Free-soil and every other type of Abolition heresy, its policy was directed in a manner that was intended to catch Free-soil and Abolition votes. Its campaigns were no longer conducted to vindicate a great principle, but to palliate a growing Abolition sedition. Instead of meeting this sedition boldly and refuting its monstrous delusions, it set about to wheedle and to cheat it. The Democratic stump speakers of the North, were almost invariably in the habit of beginning their harrangues by assuring the crowd, that they 'were as much opposed to slavery as any man.' And in this way the Democratic party itself, gradually became rotten with the sin of Abolitionism. There was occasionally a Democratic speaker, who had the wisdom to foresee that this cowardly and lying policy would, in the end, destroy the Democratic party. But his voice was less than one crying in the wilderness. Thus gradually the Democratic organization of the North ceased to be a great defense of the vital principles of a free government, and became a mere machine to catch votes, by going half-way over to the abominations of Abolitionism itself. And thus while the shallow leaders of the Democracy imagined that they were cunningly absorbing the Abolitionists, the Abolitionists were all the time absorbing them. And in this way a heresy, which was at first despised by every body, except a handful of such wretches as Garrison and Phillips, was gradually made great and powerful, even by the connivance of the northern Democracy itself. Instead of honestly standing up to battle for the truth, it went meanly about fishing for Abolition votes. Those of hte party who had the intelligence and virtue to fall out against the invidious Abolitinizing process, were denounced as 'impractical' and 'indiscreet.' Knavery alone was 'practical,' and cheatery and falsehood 'discretion.'"--The Old Guard, August, 1866, pp. 449-450.


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