America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink

By Kenneth M. Stampp | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 9
Northern Politics: The Parties in Equipoise

By mid-November, affairs in Kansas had become so critical that the highly political national press was devoting an increasing amount of attention to territorial news and less space to news of the economic recession. In contrast, before the renewal of the Kansas controversy, a series of important autumn gubernatorial and legislative campaigns in the northern states had met with considerable public apathy. George Templeton Strong, who had filled his diary with political commentary the previous year, ignored the New York campaign until a terse entry on November 2: "State election comes off tomorrow. Nobody cares. Twelve months and a [business] crisis have toned down people's interest in politics wonderfully." The voter turnout in off-year elections normally declines, of course, but the decline in 1857, especially among Republican voters, was unusually steep. In Massachusetts, for example, the participation of eligible voters dropped from 82 to 62 percent; in New York from 89 to 64 percent; in Wisconsin from 81 to 55 percent. 1

Even so, these northern elections were significant indicators of the direction the party system was taking after the presidential campaign of 1856 and before the reopening of the conflict over Kansas. The results greatly encouraged northern Democrats, because, in spite of the Dred Scott case, they polled an increased percentage of the popular vote in every state which held an election. Especially gratifying was their victory in New York, where the Republicans had defeated them decisively in 1856. Significantly, the northern Democratic press attributed these party gains to Buchanan's and Governor Walker's commitment to honest elections in Kansas. The President had redeemed his pledge, claimed the Detroit Free Press, and to his "unyielding firmness and steadiness" free-state Democrats owed their brightening prospects. His policy, predicted the PhiladelphiaPress,

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