Read from Common Sense American History:
American politics in the late 19th century reflected strong religious and ethnic, as well as regional, divisions. Americans remained an intensely religious people. Loyalty to one’s religion and church affected how many Americans voted. Much like the early 19th century, Americans experienced waves of religious revivals that swept urban and rural areas.
The Republicans were the party of the North, big business and reform-minded Protestants including Methodists, Lutherans and Episcopalians. Republicans supported protective tariffs, or a tax on imported goods, for both revenue and protection of American industry. Revenues from tariffs were the largest source of federal revenue before the creation of the income tax in the early 20th century.
Republicans were the party of economic development, providing land grants for railroads and promoting the gold standard as a stable currency for business. Its main constituents were northern businessmen, Protestants, African-Americans and union members. Many Midwestern farmers also voted Republican due to divisions over ethnocultural matters—immigration and drinking were especially contentious issues. They waved the bloody shirt, reminding voters in the North of the Civil War, inducing loyalty to the Republican cause.
The Democrat Party was southern dominated, rural and states-rights oriented, much like the party had been since its formation in the 1820s. Democrats drew strength in the northern cities. As the pro-slavery party before the Civil War, the Democrats continued to enforce white man’s democracy in the South. They rolled back the Reconstruction-era gains of blacks by imposing segregation, restricting the black vote and forcing black farmers into a tenant relationship with white landowners. The Ku Klux Klan was the military arm of the Democrat Party in the South, enforcing the racial separation which grew in intensity in the region in the late 19th century.
- In the 19th century, many people’s political affiliation followed their economic interest, or one or another group affiliation. Has that changed? If not, how have these affiliations changed over time?
- There was a lot of corruption in 19th century politics. Do you think that has changed? If not, why? If you knew in advance that a certain level of political corruption would be present (such as not allowing African-Americans’ votes to count), how would you change the system?
- How would you react if someone told you that you couldn’t vote because of the color of your hair or eyes?
This reading is an excerpt from Certell’s Common Sense American History Common Sense eBook. Certell offers curriculum materials and eBooks free of charge for students and teachers. Click Here to download the Common Sense American History materials.
Harper’s Weekly. 1867, Nov. 16, The First Vote [digital image].