Windham Life and Times January 6, 2023

The Battle for Speaker of the House – The 34th Congress 1855-57

The election of the Speaker of the House is normally a mundane affair, settled in back offices by party functionaries. The selection never seems to bring the best to power but instead places the person who can deliver the most pork and prerequisites to the  party members. All I have to do is to bring up the name of “Weeping” John Boehner to prove my point, and why was he always weeping anyway. Oh, maybe being a drunk is another prerequisite for the job.

     In many ways the Speakership election of 1855, resembles our own time. We have become a totally corrupt and divided nation. And whether you have a religious belief or not we are being judged for our own feckless deceit, and we’re just too vapid to see it. In 1855, the nation was also divided and being torn apart at the seams by the issue of slavery. The Whigs were very much like today’s Republicans. The Whigs eventually became irrelevant as voters chose to form new political alliances. Here is some background from Britannica:

     “The “Whig Party, in U.S. history, major political party active in the period 1834–54 that espoused a program of national development but foundered on the rising tide of sectional antagonism. The Whig Party was formally organized in 1834, bringing together a loose coalition of groups united in their opposition to what party members viewed as the executive tyranny of “King Andrew” Jackson. They borrowed the name Whig from the British party opposed to royal prerogatives. Jackson had shattered the National Republican Party (our current democrat party) with his victories in 1828 and 1832. His war against the Second Bank of the United States and his opposition to nullification in South Carolina, however, allowed Henry Clay to bring fiscal conservatives and southern states’ rights proponents together in a coalition with those who still believed in the National Republican program of a protective tariff and federally financed internal improvements. Members of the Anti-Masonic Movement merged with the Whigs after the demise of the Anti-Masonic Party in the mid-1830s. Allied almost exclusively by their common dislike of Jackson and his policies—and later by their hunger for office—the Whigs never developed a definitive party program. In 1836 they ran three presidential candidates (Daniel Webster, Hugh L. White, and William Henry Harrison) to appeal to the East, South, and West, respectively, attempting to throw the election into the House of Representatives. In 1840 they abandoned the sectional approach to nominate the military hero William Henry Harrison. The subsequent contest was devoid of issues, Harrison winning on the basis of incessant electioneering by his supporters in the “log cabin” campaign.”

    After capturing both the White House and Congress in 1840, the Whigs were poised to become the nation’s dominant party and to enact Henry Clay’s nationalistic program. Harrison died within a month of his inauguration, however, and his successor, John Tyler, proceeded to veto major Whig legislation—including re-creation of the Bank of the United States. Clay, the nominee in 1844, lost the election when he misgauged the popularity of expansionism and opposed the annexation of Texas. By the late 1840s the Whig coalition was beginning to unravel as factions of “Conscience” (antislavery) Whigs and “Cotton” (proslavery) Whigs emerged. In 1848 the party returned to its winning formula by running a military hero—this time Zachary Taylor—for president. But the Compromise of 1850, fashioned by Henry Clay and signed into law by Millard Fillmore (who succeeded to the presidency on Taylor’s death in 1850), fatally estranged the Conscience Whigs from their party. Again turning to a former general, the Whigs in 1852 nominated Gen. Winfield Scott. The North and South had become so polarized over the slavery issue that the Whigs were no longer able to make a broad national appeal on the basis of “unalterable attachment to the Constitution and the Union.” Scott collected just 42 electoral votes as many southern Whigs flocked to the banner of the states’ rights oriented Democratic Party. By 1854 most northern Whigs had joined the newly formed Republican Party…”

     The history of the Whig Party resembles the total divide in the Republican Party today. The conservative rank and file are sick and tired of electing candidates who promise smaller government and more freedom but whom upon election, and upon being shown the keys to the money pit, totally ignore the people who elected them. My prediction is 1.7 trillion, Pork Barrel, Mitch McConnell and other “main-stream” Republicans are causing the party to self-destruct. You can only be disrespected by a party for so long, before you as a supporter decide to change course.

   “Traditionally, each party’s caucus or conference selects a candidate for Speaker of the House. “In the 19th century, there was a 13-month lag between the election and swearing-in of a new Congress; consequently, the class of 1854 did not convene on Washington, D.C. until December 1855, leaving ample time for incoming members to jockey for support. “There are about thirty modest men who think the country needs their service in the Speaker’s chair,” quipped Ohio congressman Timothy Day, and “to get rid of this swarm of patriots will take time.” Out of this pack, two lead contenders emerged: Lewis Campbell, a former Whig from Ohio, and Nathaniel Banks, a former Democrat from Massachusetts. Both men left much to be desired: Campbell was a late-comer to the anti-slavery cause and, according even to his friends, “too impetuous and imperious” to unite the many factions that comprised the anti-Nebraska coalition. Banks, on the other hand, was a notorious flip-flopper who privately admitted to a close friend that he was “neither … pro slavery nor anti-slavery.” A colleague observed that Banks “is very ambitious & has always left the impression on my mind that he was not ‘nice’ as to how he ‘stayed himself up’—so [long as] he stood. I deem him cold-hearted and inclined to be scheming & sinister.” (And this, from one of his supporters.)…When House clerk John W. Forney initiated the first roll call on December 3, 17 anti-Nebraska candidates drew votes, depriving the frontrunner, Campbell, a majority. It ultimately took multiple ballots and two months—as well as the coordination and intercession of leading ex-Democrats like Galusha Grow, ex-Whigs like Edwin Morgan, and Know Nothings like Schuyler Colfax—to secure the requisite number of votes for the victorious Nathaniel Banks. While there was as yet no organized anti-slavery opposition, the delicate negotiations that placed Banks in the Speaker’s chair ultimately provided a foundation for the following summer, when the anti-Nebraska coalition formally branded itself the Republican Party and nominated John C. Fremont to carry its banner in the 1856 presidential election”

     “In the aftermath of the 1854 fall campaign, Abraham Lincoln, then a former one-term congressman from Illinois, grappled with the meaning of this confusing new political landscape. When a close friend inquired as to his political allegiance, he replied, “This is a disputed point. I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs.” Though a holdout, Lincoln—the first Republican president—ultimately switched his allegiance and, indeed, his political identity to the new Republican Party.”

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