Bring Back the Whigs!

The Whig Party was active in the United States from the 1830s until 1860. It was formed in opposition to the policies of President Andrew Jackson, and for the next twenty years it was the major opposition to the Democratic Party.  Two of its candidates, William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor, were elected President.

In general, Whigs supported Congressional powers over those of the President and favored a program of modernization, banking and economic protectionism to stimulate manufacturing. It appealed to entrepreneurs, planters, reformers and the emerging urban middle class. It included many active Protestants and voiced a moralistic opposition to the Jacksonian Indian removal programs. Whereas Democrats advocated ‘sovereignty of the people’ as expressed in majority rule as a general principle of governing, Whigs championed the rule of law, written and unchanging constitutions, and protections for minority interests against majority tyranny.

It was not a bad platform, but the American Whig Party is a relic of our past.  It was destroyed in the great North-South controversy that eventually split our nation in 1860.

The last fully successful new party movement took place in 1854-6 with the creation of the Republican Party.  Four years later, facing a politically divided opposition, the Republicans elected President Lincoln.

From time to time since 1856 there have been other attempts to create a new political party in the United States.  Although it is relatively easy to establish a new party, it is very difficult for that party to attain the strength needed to elect representatives to Congress or conduct a serious campaign for the Presidency.  As a result, voters who wish their vote to really count in an election are more or less bound to vote for a Democrat or a Republican, and each of these parties represents a very broad spectrum of political opinions.  At the center they tend to overlap.  Democrats on their party’s right are often referred to as Blue Dogs, and Republicans on their party’s left are pejoratively called RINOS (Republicans in Name Only).

One reason for the difficulty in creating a new political party is the single member/plurality winner take all rule that is universally applied in Congressional districts (Indeed, it is the general practice in almost all countries that follow British political traditions.)  Only one person is elected from a district, and that person is the one who receives a plurality of the total vote.  This election method usually causes the several fractious elements within each major party to bury their differences and unite for victory in the general election, and it is very hard for an outsider candidate or party to break the circle.  Thus, in most districts there are only two viable political candidates.  Voters are frequently frustrated by this limited choice.  Neither party may reflect one’s political opinion.  In other instances, a person may live in a district so completely dominated by the opposition party that he/she feels that their ballot is worthless.  Nevertheless, most citizens continue to vote and hope for the best.  And every elected representative is supposed to respect the interests of all his/her constituents, regardless of party.

Other countries have adopted other methods of electing members of their national legislature.  One such method is proportional representation.  There are many variations, but in one such system you might have ten representatives being chosen from an electoral district.  The contending parties would each submit an ordered list of ten candidates, and persons from these lists would be sent to the legislature based on each party’s percentage of the total vote.

Proportional representation seems quite democratic, but it has serious problems.  Voters are actually voting for a party and its platform, not on individual candidates.  The party determines the pecking order.  There is often an even greater problem when the chosen representatives actually take office. Such legislatures may have members representing every political view under the sun – from monarchists to raving anarchists. Shaky party coalitions must be formed to get anything done, and the government is often unstable.  France under the Fourth Republic is a good example of how things can go terribly wrong.

Forger proportional representation.

Bring back the Whigs!


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