The major political parties in the United States both collapsed during the 1850s. The Whigs actually disappeared from American politics, though most of their members (such as Abraham Lincoln) soon reinvented themselves as Republicans. By contrast, the Democratic Party (claiming Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson as guiding spirits) endured but not without significant change. Democrats faced enormous internal upheaval during 1850s, sparked principally by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Students should be able to explain why this legislation created such a “hell of a storm” to borrow the words of its author, Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois. They should also be able to summarize how the partisan realignment and what was known as “Bleeding Kansas” altered the national political equation. The story is complicated because in addition to the surging anti-Nebraska movement (which ultimately became the Republican Party), there was yet another powerful grassroots organization that addressed an entirely different controversy. Students should be able to describe the rise and fall of the American or Know Nothing Party. What did these nativists care about and why? How powerful did they become? Why didn’t they become the majority party in the North? One way to answer these questions would be to consider how Dickinson graduate James Buchanan (Class of 1809) won the election of 1856 and how his subsequent feud with Senator Douglas over the so-called “Lecompton Constitution” completed the rupture of the Democratic Party.
Office: Denny 218
- Bruce on Election of 1876 and the Retreat from Reconstruction
- Colin Farrell on Election of 1876 and the Retreat from Reconstruction
- Weston Hayes on Was the Civil War a Total War?
- Weston Hayes on Election of 1876 and the Retreat from Reconstruction
- Lindsey Blais on Reconstruction Era Conflicts