The Third Electoral System 1853-1892: Parties, Voters, and Political Cultures

By Paul Kleppner | Go to book overview

3
From Equilibrium to Realignment: Shaping the Third Electoral System

A Yankee is a Yankee over the globe, and you might know him if you meet him on the mountains of the moon in five minutes by his nationality. We love and honor him for it, whenever it is not carried by a blinding prejudice.

Western Monthly Magazine ( Cincinnati, June 1828)

Few Yankees were loved by others. Their distinctive "nationality" typically was carried by a "blinding prejudice," for the Yankee was not only conscious of "being a New England man," he was also convinced that Yankees collectively "brought in themselves the germs of every quality essential to national greatness."1 And their "blinding prejudice" was fused with a nearly inexhaustible energy for minding the business of others. Yankees helped their neighbors, even when those neighbors resisted that assistance, for their determination to correct wrongs, to extirpate sin, to refashion others in the Yankee image, was fueled by moral imperatives. It was their divinely mandated task "to produce in the nation a more homogeneous character."2 Yankee behavior in pursuit of that goal, and the reactions to it, created the dual and intersecting fault lines of the third party system.


The Shaping of the Third Electoral System

If we conceive critical realignment as a systemic and durable change in the distribution of partisan loyalties, then on qualitative grounds alone the upheaval of the 1850s should qualify. The political events of that

____________________
1
Richard Lyle Power, Planting Corn Belt Culture, pp. 45-46.
2
The quotation is from Lyman Beecher, The Reformer 1 ( October 1820): 236-37, quoted in Power, Corn Belt Culture, p. 6.

-48-

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