The last time a major Political Party broke apart was in the early 1850s when the Whig Party collapsed because of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was an effort by Party leaders to settle the various controversies between North and South with a classic set of tradeoffs. The Compromise was made possible by the death of President Zachary Taylor on 9 July 1850.
The Compromise of 1850 was consisted of five separate bills. The first was to organize the Territory of New Mexico which was part of the Mexican Cession of 1848 that Mexico ceded to the U.S. in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Texas claimed most of what is now New Mexico so the bill to organize the New Mexico Territory consisted of a payment to Texas for the land east of the Rio Grande River up to the modern border of Texas (this was approved by the Texas State Legislature). The Federal Government also assumed Texas’ debt resulting from its War of Independence from Mexico. In addition, slavery would be decided by the people of the Territory by Popular Sovereignty. This was a rejection of the Wilmot Proviso that would have banned slavery in any territory acquired from Mexico in the Mexican War. It was proposed by David Wilmot (D-PA) in August of 1846. It passed in the House in 1846 and 1847 but was defeated in the Senate so it never became law. Although it was never passed by Congress it was very important to the Northern Anti-Slavery forces.
Below is the House vote on organizing the New Mexico Territory. The roll call split Southerners with many Southern Democrats opposing the bill. They opposed the reduction in the size of the slave state of Texas. However, most Southerners voted for the bill because they felt the tradeoff of reducing Texas was worth being rid of the Wilmot Proviso and the chance of organizing New Mexico as a Slave state.
In Contrast to the Southerners, most Northerners voted against the bill but enough Northerners voted with the Southerners to squeeze the bill through the House.
Second up was the admission of California as a Free state. This was an easy bill to pass simply because of the massive amount of gold flowing into the economy from California. The opposition was mainly from Southern Democrats.
The Utah Territory was organized on the same terms of New Mexico.
The most controversial part of the Compromise for Northerners was the Fugitive Slave Law. However, as shown below, it passed by a comfortable margin largely along sectional lines with significant Northern Democratic support but with substantial Northern Whig opposition.
Finally, the Slave Trade but not Slavery itself was abolished in the District of Columbia.
The Fugitive Slave Law roiled the Northern Whigs during 1851-52 and that marked the beginning of the unraveling of the Whig Party. The Party structure of the 32nd Congress (1851-52) simply collapsed as documented by Joel Silbey’s
The Shrine of Party: Congressional Voting Behavior, 1841-1852 and Poole and Rosenthal (1997) chapters 3 and 5. This is shown in the roll call vote below which reaffirmed the support of the House for the Fugitive Slave Law. Contrast this vote with those above. The spatial structure of the parties has begun to collapse. The absence of a “channel” between the two parties shows a lack of party line voting. Indeed, only 75% of the voting is accounted for by two dimensions in the 32nd.
What finally delivered the decisive blow to the Whig Party and set the course for bloody conflict until the Civil War itself broke out in April of 1861 was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The main dimension of conflict is now South (on the left of the first dimension) vs. North (on the right of the first dimension).
Finally, echoing the analysis in Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting (chapter 5) by 1858 the Whigs were gone and the Republican Party had emerged as the unquestioned second major party to oppose the Democrats. The roll call below was on a proposal by the Democratic majority to postpone President Buchanan’s message on the admission of Kansas to the Union. The infamous Lecompton Constitution which was pro-slavery had lost in a referendum on 4 January 1858. The Kansas Constitution was accepted by the Senate but voted down in the House later in the year.
In the roll call below the Republican Party is on the anti-slavery (right side) of the first dimension and the pro-slavery forces are on the left side of the first dimension. The Whig Party was gone.
As we argued in our last post the Republican Party in the House seems very likely to split into two factions as the result of the 2016 elections. Many Republican voters (enough to make Donald Trump the nominee) are angry at the Republican “Establishment” for not stopping President Obama on a variety of issues. The various charges that Paul Ryan is some sort of secret agent of “The Establishment” echo craziness from the days of None Dare Call it Treason (1964) and A Choice Not an Echo (1964) with their conspiracy theories about Communists and New York Bankers.
Unlike in the 1850s there is no second dimension of Congressional voting. Almost all issues — including lifestyle and affective — have been drawn into the first dimension. The split in the Republican Party will occur on this strange dimension that mixes economic and the classic “social” issues. Below is a figure we used in an earlier post showing a smoothed histogram of the 114th House:
Suppose the split occurs somewhere to the right of Gowdy. Not everyone to the right of Gowdy listens to “talk radio from Area 51”. So some sorting out will occur between the two factions — traditional Republican Conservatives vs. “Conspiracy Republicans”. Assuming that Hillary Clinton wins the 2016 Presidential election, it is difficult to see how the Republican Party could ever again win the Presidency given the alienation of Hispanics, Blacks, and Social Liberals from the Republican Party. In addition, the traditional Internationalist Conservative Republicans will be willing to make deals with President Hillary Clinton to increase Defense Spending which will mean the end of the sequester. This will further divide the Republicans.
But what might finally trigger a realignment of the New Deal Party System are the obvious divisions in the Democratic Party that to this point have been papered over by their solid opposition to the Republicans. Income inequality has rapidly increased. The bottom 40% of the income distribution has not moved since the mid 1970s.
Where has the money gone? To the mega-rich, especially the denizens of Wall Street who looted the economy leading up the the Great Recession. The graph below shows the spectacular run-up in wages in the Financial Sector (including insurance) relative to other sectors of the economy. No wonder all of the smart mathematics graduates from the Ivy League were lured to Wall Street!
Finally, the runup in the share of income of the top 1% continues.
What does this rapid rise in inequality mean for a President Hillary Clinton? Well, like Willie Sutton, she will have to go where the money is if she is going to fund all of her promises. That means she will have to steeply raise taxes on her supporters on Wall Street and the socially liberal rich. Good Luck!