06/19/2017 9:29 PM
1. Featured Article: Trump May Herald a New Political Order
Seldom does a presidential election mark a permanent shift. The last time it happened was 1932.
BY JOHN STEELE GORDON | THE WSJ | JAN 15, 2017
For all their noise and news dominance, presidential elections typically don’t change the country all that much. That isn’t a bad thing but a sign of how strong American democracy is. It rarely veers far from the center, where successful policy usually lies. But on rare occasions, deep historical currents and extraordinary political talents produce an entirely new order. It happened in the presidential elections of 1828, 1860, 1896, 1932—and, quite probably, 2016.
Denied the presidency in 1824 by what he called a “corrupt bargain” in the House of Representatives, Tennessee’s Andrew Jackson swept to a landslide four years later. He was the first president from west of the Appalachians—indeed, the first from anywhere other than Virginia or Massachusetts. Born dirt-poor, Jackson was also the first president to rise to affluence solely by his own effort.
It soon became clear that the country had entered a new political era. “Jacksonian democracy” moved the locus of power sharply down the socioeconomic scale. Soon most states repealed property requirements for voting, a first step toward universal suffrage.
Jackson created the modern Democratic Party, and the intense opposition to his policies coalesced into the Whig Party, establishing the two-party norm that prevails to this day. No wonder the great 19th-century American historian George Bancroft considered Jackson the last of the Founding Fathers.
The next great shift came with Abraham Lincoln. By the 1850s, slavery had become the dominant issue in American politics. The Republican Party, founded in 1854 as an expressly abolitionist party, grew rapidly as the Whigs collapsed. When Lincoln, the Republican nominee, won the presidency in 1860, the Union quickly came apart. South Carolina seceded barely a month after the election. Six more states were gone by Feb. 1, 1861, with a month still to go before Lincoln’s March 4 inauguration.
It would take the greatest war in American history to reunite the country. By the time the Civil War was over, the nation had been transformed. The South, impoverished and politically crippled, would be effectively a Third World country inside a First World one for 100 years. The North, with its rapidly expanding industry and growing population, was politically dominant. More than half the antebellum presidents had been Southern. In the century after the war ended, only two Southerners were elected to the White House: Woodrow Wilson, a Virginia native who made his career in New Jersey, and Texas’ Lyndon B. Johnson.
Presidential elections in the decades after the Civil War tended to be close. Grover Cleveland barely beat James G. Blaine in 1884. Four years later, Cleveland earned a popular-vote plurality while losing to Benjamin Harrison. In an 1892 rematch, Cleveland narrowly beat Harrison, becoming the only president to serve nonconsecutive terms. Read more . . .