Politics and Statesmanship: Essays on the American Whig Party

By Thomas Brown | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER 2
The Whig Party in the North: The Rhetoric of Party Formation

THE GREAT PROFUSION of studies on northern politics in the Jacksonian Era has created confusion rather than dispelled it. The more we seem to know about the Democratic and Whig parties in the free states, the more difficult it becomes to understand how, if at all, they linked the concerns of politicians with those of voters. Several historians have gone so far as to suggest that the main interests of the leaders of both organizations in the North had little to do with the concerns of their constituents. The former were preoccupied with economic policy, while the latter were mostly interested in ethnic and cultural issues. 1 Yet we know that both parties had the support of massive and intensely loyal followings in the North, as in the rest of the country. 2 It is therefore difficult to accept that they were as irrelevant to the concerns of the northern voting public as some of the literature might lead one to believe.

There was, of course, an obvious link between Jacksonian party leaders and followers--political rhetoric. But historians have recently shied away from the analysis of rhetoric, in part because of glaring errors by scholars who accepted partisan propaganda at face value. Some proponents of an ethnocultural interpretation of Jacksonian voting behavior have declared that the pronouncements of the Democrats and Whigs are not worthy of close consideration because they did not express the "real" views of the northern public. 3 Neither the naïveté of the past nor the cynicism of the present is acceptable, however. Partisan rhetoric may not perfectly reflect the opinions of voters, but it does provide clues as to what politicians believed would be comprehensible and appealing

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