Friday, December 10, 2010

Early politics

After taking a break from history, I'm back reading Alan Tylor's "The Civil War of 1812." It didn't take long to find an analog to the deeply divided politics of today.

It was clear that by declaring and then winning the war, Republicans hoped to finally do in the Federalists. But for many, the passions of the day didn't want to wait that long. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, for instance, suggested that mobs armed with tar and feathers would intimidate Federalists in the South. In the North, where Federalists were more numerous, he implied the leaders should be hanged and their property confiscated.

Passions peaked in Baltimore, where shortly after the declaration of war a mob of hundreds attacked the office of a Federalist newspaper. The Federalists inside surrendered to city officials, who put them in jail for their safety. No luck. The next day a mob shouting "kill the tories" broke into the jail and attacked and tortured those who had been defending the newspaper. One died of a stab wound to the chest, 11 others suffered crippling injuries while the authorities refused to intervene. Rioters sang, "We'll feather and tar ev're d(amne)d British tory/And that is the way for American glory."

This sort of thing was the nightmare of the founders, who had especially feared political parties, or "factions," as a basic threat to the new republic. In their own way, Republicans agreed. Said Jefferson, "I will not say our party, the term is false and degrading, but our nation will be undone. For the Republican are the nation."

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