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AMERICA’S THREE REGIMES (PART TWO)

130511

AMERICA’S  THREE   REGIMES  (PART  TWO)

1830-1930,  MASS  DEMOCRACY

Histories of Futures

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DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS                                                           DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Sectors: All                                                                                   Importance: *****

Level: National                                                                              Scope: USA only

Period: Long run                                                                          Process: Power politics

MAIN TOPIC: AMERICAN POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT                    Treatment: Background

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1830-1930, MASS  DEMOCRACY

SUPRANATIONAL

NATIONAL

SUBNATIONAL

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SERIES

This Post is one in a Series sketching HISTORIES OF FUTURES of American politics. The Series tries to identify processes that have run through most of American political history, continue today, and may well continue into the future.

This Post is the second of three on REGIMES in American history. The first (030427) introduced the concept and America’s first regime, an Elite Republic (1730-1830). This post continues the story with Mass Democracy (1830-1930). The third will treat Populist Technocracy (1930-2030).

Earlier Posts in this Series outlined American political GENERATIONS (030316, 100323), tensions in American IDEOLOGY (130330, 130406), subnational REGIONS (130413) and LOCALITIES (130420), and TEMPORAL PATTERNS in American Political Development.

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SOURCES

Like the previous Post, this one draws heavily on historian Morton Keller 2007America’s three regimes. New York NY: Oxford University Press, 336 pages. There are many other fine histories of American politics, but Keller’s is particularly analytical in dividing American political development into three different “regimes”: Three different sets of relationships between state and society. Keller is at pains to refute economic-determinist and radically critical interpretations of American political history, emphasizing instead the autonomous role of political culture and the self-correcting nature of American politics. 

The Post also draws heavily on research – both qualitative and quantitative – from the relatively new political science subfield of American Political Development.  We particularly emphasize the pathbreaking quantitative work of Keith Poole and his associates. Many of their analyses of congressional rollcall votes are available on Poole’s website www.voteview.com. Poole is certainly neither an economic determinist nor a political radical, but he does emphasize the interaction between economics and politics and he does note economic excesses and political breakdowns.

Scholars of American Political Development are beginning to integrate qualitative historical narrative and quantitative empirical analysis. Such a synthesis promises to bring unprecedented interest and depth, clarity and and precision to the analysis of American political development.  

See Keith T. Poole 2008 “The roots of the polarization of modern U.S. politics.”  Also Eversen-Valelly-Wiseman “NOMINATE and American political history: A primer.” Both are unpublished PDFs on Poole’s site under Research: Working papers.   

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1830-1930, MASS DEMOCRACY

“1830" stands for the democratizing JACKSONIAN REVOLUTION, foreshadowed in the 1824 presidential election and finally achieved in 1828. This regime subperiodizes at about 1880, the end of post-Civil War North occupation of the South and the beginning of acceleration in northern INDUSTRIAL development.

Keller distinguishes between a FLUID and AGRARIAN party-democratic polity before about 1880 and an increasingly ORGANIZED and INDUSTRIAL party-democratic polity thereafter. Keller concedes that, in principle, post-Civil War amendments to the 1787 Constitution significantly altered the USA’s constitutional system. However, he considers that in practice those amendments did not really become operative until the 1930s, so did not constitute a regime shift in the 1860s.

“1930" stands for the 1932 election – and other elections in the mid-1930s – that began the construction of a stronger national government and a new “Populist Technocratic” regime. 

SUPRANATIONAL ENVIRONMENT   1

A key characteristic of America’s second political regime was that, politically, it faced not outward but inward: no longer toward the global rivalries of maritime European great powers, but instead toward the vast North American continent that America was conquering and settling. Though much of that continental economic development was generated internally, much of it depended on incoming transfers of British capital and technology. Meanwhile, the USA was washed by repeated waves of immigration, bringing diverse cultures and conflicts.

Geopolitically, the final victory of Britain over France (1815) finally left the USA relatively safe in its new  independence. The global geopolitical shift toward British global hegemony around 1815 allowed a USA shift from the maritime-commercial orientation of the colonial period (1600-1800) to the continental-industrial orientation of the next century (1800-1900). Unexpectedly rapid expansion of territory and population toward the interior strained and democratized the Elite Republic. Frontiersmen settling Indian lands west of the Appalachians propelled the rapid development of MASS DEMOCRACY. At the other end of that regime’s trajectory, the incipient decline of British global hegemony precipitated Word War I, helping to draw the USA out of Mass Democracy and toward Populist Technocracy. Mobilization for WWI strengthened both “technocratic” bureaucracy and “populist” mass media campaigns (Shefter 120).    

From 1830-1930, the USA’s external security environment remained quite stable, but its own foreign policy behavior did not, ranging from accommodative to expansionist (Trubowitz 2011). Sometime national leaders found it expedient to placate foreign powers: Lincoln in the 1860s (55-64). Sometimes leaders “under-reached,” underplaying such external power as they had: Jackson and Van Buren in the 1830s (108-114), Hoover in the 1920s (114-120). Sometimes national leaders took an aggressively expansionist stance: McKinley in the 1890s (90-97). Indeed, despite its military weakness, the USA started repeated border wars as it expanded across the North American continent and  projected its limited power into Central America and the Caribbean sea. Such expansion was domestically popular and, for partisan purposes, sometimes served to offset economic setbacks or regional conflicts. For both parties, a similar function was performed by another external issue, efforts to restrict immigration of foreign-born Catholics and persons of other races (in the West, particularly Chinese) while emphasizing the prerogatives of native-born white Protestant males (of northern European extraction, preferably British).

Despite these occasional foreign forays, from 1815 to 1914 and beyond, ostensibly, American politics was mostly about domestic issues. Even after the USA became the world’s greatest industrial power (by about World War I), Americans chose to continue to focus their energies mostly at home. Nevertheless, ostensibly domestic politics were strongly shaped by the USA’s supranational involvements. As explained below, this was most obvious in the perennial issue of tariffs: should they be high to protect northern manufactures or low to promote southern and western agricultural exports? However, as Shefter ingeniously argues, it was true also of the relationship between domestic party organization and domestic military organization. De facto British protection meant that the USA did not require a strong military, so the USA could afford to allow parties to run the military. Supranational involvements were certainly central also to periodic flip-flops between encouraging and discouraging immigration.         

Geopolitically, during this period the USA was safe, not because of its own Monroe Doctrine, but mostly because it was in effect protected by the navy of now globally-hegemonic Britain. Economically, as the emerging dominant global manufacturer of textiles, Britain wanted to buy Southern cotton through New York City and to sell back British manufactures. That laid the economic basis for the political alliance between New York City and the South: party organizer Martin van Buren of New York engineered the election of frontiersman Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, overwhelmingly with southern votes. That alliance was soon joined by mid-western farmers – midway not only between east and west but also between north and south – who also had farm commodities to export to Britain. That alliance was later institutionalized as the Democratic party. (Shefter 115-116).

The core of the opposing alliance was New England manufacturers threatened by the import of cheap British manufactures. Throughout 1830-1930, first the Whigs and later the Republicans represented manufacturers, originally in the Northeast, later also in the northern mid-West. Until about 1900 that meant using high tariffs to protect “infant” American industries from British competition. After about 1900 –  by when American industry had become more than competitive –  it meant lowering tariffs both at home and abroad to promote free trade in order to facilitate exports of American manufactures. Presidents from both parties began negotiations in which the USA would lower tariffs if others lowered them too. Shefter notes that World War I greatly strengthened American firms able to operate on a global scale, pitting “internationalists” against the “isolationists” who temporarily prevailed. The resulting congressional refusal to join the League of Nations and congressional enactment of restrictions on trade sent shocks from the USA into the supranational environment that aggravated 1930s political and economic problems. (Shefter 121)     

The incontestable and benevolent military primacy of Britain allowed USA parties preoccupied with patronage to control even the USA military. That preserved civilian control but prevented the emergence of military professionalism. Local political entrepreneurs used the same local channels to mobilize citizen participation in both elections and military. The military channels were either the standing militias that were the coercive backbone of community politics or local regiments episodically formed for special purposes such as fighting the Civil War. (Shefter 117-118). As Keller explains, by around 1900, Progressives attempted to replace “corrupt” party governance with more “scientific” bureaucracy. The high point of that attempt was president Woodrow Wilson’s attempt to transfer mobilization for the First World War from party amateurs to military professionals. Keller underlines the resilience of the party regime by noting that, although Wilson succeeded in wresting military matters away from the parties, he did not succeed in handing them over to a military bureaucracy – only, on a temporary basis, to nonbureaucratic private business leaders. (Keller 190-192, Shefter 119-120)   

NATIONAL ORGANIZATION   2

Under Mass Democracy, the main supplementary extra-constitutional institutions were local PARTIES (and COURTS). Both of these institutions had well-established procedures that successfully handled most issues informally. Usually legislatures did not have to formally intervene much, executives even less so. (Skowronek 1982)  Still, the national government played important roles, not least conquering territory from Native Americans and distributing it to European settlers – later also to big corporations building national infrastructure and industry. (See Brian Balogh 2009A government out of sight: The mystery of national authority in nineteenth-century America. New York NY: Cambridge University Press, 414 pages.)

It was new MASS PARTIES that incorporated and organized new populations, so Keller calls this the “party-democratic” regime: newly party in organization and newly democratic in ideology. Although serving society, this regime was organized by party politicians and operated by them for their own power and profit. Their competition with each other impelled them to greatly expand the range of citizens who participated in politics and the range of issues that politics addressed. The anti-statist Democratic party emerged in the 1820s, a difficult coalition of poor southern subsistence farmers (fervently Protestant) and poor northern urban immigrants (particularly Catholic Irish). Before the Civil War, the Democrats were the usual majority party. Nevertheless, the Whig party responded quickly, using the same mass-organizational format, and winning the presidency by 1840. The pro-statist Whigs represented urban commerce, prosperous agriculture, and evangelical Protestants. 

Party organization and competition remained robust in the 1840s. Trying to recruit nation-wide coalitions of voters, mass parties probably helped damp down divisive issues such as slavery. However, Keller argues that by around 1850 the USA’s new mass parties had pushed the experiment with highly democratic, highly individualistic, and highly self-interested politics about as far as it could go – perhaps a little further. Governance deteriorated and corruption rose. Decay of the two old major parties allowed the emergence of new ones, adding to the range of issues that politics confronted. The result in the 1850s was breakdown of both the party system and the constitutional compromises that it supplemented. The Mass Democratic regime probably helped postpone the Civil War, but ultimately could not prevent it. (Keller 113-122)

After the Civil War, the Mass Democratic regime reemerged, now with the Republicans, victorious in the Civil War, as the normal majority party. For seventy years, until 1930!  Unfortunately, Mass Democracy continued its rather lackluster record of “under-governance”: more attention to party patronage than to public policy. Given the Civil War experience, the parties avoided divisive issues of race, religion, and class. Presidents were weak, congress strong – but self-interested. (Keller 151-153) Meanwhile, the judiciary made its own bid for power. On the one hand, the Supreme Court discouraged legislative activism by striking down many legislative attempts to regulate the USA’s emerging industrial economy. On the other hand, the Supreme Court institutionalized its own extraordinarily pro-business constitutional order, according to which government could not regulate private property or private contracts (such as between employer and employee). (Keller 158-161) The USA’s governing apparatus remained static while the USA’s economy and society became ever more dynamic. “Under-governance” again allowed chaotic development and invited corruption. (Keller 153-156)

By the 1890s, Industrial party democracy faced a challenge of internal POLITICAL dissension comparable to that faced by Agrarian party democracy in the 1850s. Unlike the pre-Civil War party system, the post-Civil War party system survived the challenge. Both parties adapted. The Democrats coopted both rural-agrarian Populist revolt and emerging urban-industrial labor. The Republicans coopted Big Business and pioneered modern media campaigning. By the 1890s Industrial party democracy also faced internal POLICY challenges: The USA had expanded and industrialized and needed stronger governance than local “courts and parties.” The ruling Republicans, oriented to Big Business, responded with only token regulation. (Keller 168-173)

By the late 1800s, PROGRESSIVE new urban-industrial professional elites rejected national congressional dominance, corrupt urban mass parties, and reactionary local courts. Instead, Progressives favored stronger executive leadership, “good government” by professional bureaucrats, and “direct democracy” by “the people.” But they faced an uphill battled against the existing party-democratic regime.  (Keller 174-186)  Moreover, given past history, stronger new national institutions could not be rationally designed by starting over again from nothing. Instead they had to emerge from within the already existing regime of parties and courts. Often that left the new would-be national institutions marred by compromise and inconsistency. (Skowronek 1982)

In the 1900s and 1910s, Progressive presidents did take some stronger measures to regulate Big Business and Big Finance. Not least, progressives finally managed to establish something approximating the national bank that the USA had long lacked for steering the economy. During the World War I, Progressives also took control of the military away from the parties. However, Progressives could not fully bureaucratize that control, relying instead on leaders from the private economy. These various Progressive initiatives were certainly precursors of the stronger national government role starting under the New Deal in the 1930s. But progress did not proceed in a straight line. In Keller’s narrative, in the 1920s, party-dominated patronage-oriented Mass Democracy once again reasserted itself over more activist and purposive Progressive government.  By the 1930s, governance failures had accumulated that Mass Democracy could no longer surmount. (Keller 186-200)

SUBNATIONAL CLEAVAGES   3

In the early 1800s, a main subnational geographic development was the opening of the Erie Canal, which breached the mountain barrier between coast and interior, allowing settlers to flow in and their agricultural products to flow out. In a rapid series of transport revolutions (first roads, then canals, then railroads), the Erie Canal was soon paralleled by railroads providing even better access back and forth to the mid-West. A string of industrial centers emerged along the way (Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland). New York State quickly became the most populous and prosperous state, making it a good base for party organizations with national ambitions. By the second half of the 1800s other centers of population and prosperity emerged further west. Ohio, for example, produced six presidents!

“Parties and courts” were initially LOCAL. Parties built up from localities to the state level, and then allied across state lines to compete for national power. The prototype was Martin Van Buren’s 1820s party organization around Albany, the capital of New York State. It was from there that Van Buren masterminded the winning 1828 campaign of Andrew Jackson for president, and later his own. The same was true for Thurlow Weed’s masterminding of the emergence of the rival Whigs. Thus parties and courts were the main channels linking not only state and society but also local, state, and national governance.

As the Constitution prescribed, most regulation of economic and social affairs remained at the state and local level, Yet “under-governance” extended to the subnational level too. States even revised their constitutions to limit what state governments could do! Under-governance affected large cities particularly acutely, since the need for governance was greatest there, particularly on matters of economy and infrastructure. Yet cities were only “municipal corporations,” chartered by states, which meant, according to the Supreme Court, that states could limit what city governments could do! Cities struggled to assert “home rule.”  Old party machines and new urban reformers then struggled over who should exercise that rule. (Keller 178-182)

Localities did regulate some economic matters of direct public concern, such as medicines, liquor, and foodstuffs. The Supreme Court upheld the “police power” of localities to regulate local affairs, particularly in social and cultural matters.. Like national parties, local machines remained preoccupied with distributing resources and opportunities through such mechanisms as licensing. Localities also became active in regulating social status (of blacks, women, immigrants) and in controlling personal behavior (marriage, divorce, “vices”). (Keller 163-167)  

Turning to subnational policy cleavages, Poole’s graphics (in his “Roots” paper) of the evolving party system during the 1830-1930 period show the considerable obstacles that the Mass Democratic regime overcame to persist over this long and turbulent period. Poole and Rosenthal (2007) argue that, in terms of party system, from the emergence of mass parties in the 1820s all the way up through the present, there have been only two eras in American politics: before and after the Civil War. The pre-Civil War Whig-Democrat system broke down and was replaced by the Republican-Democratic system, which has persisted to this day. So Poole and Rosenthal place the main divide in American political history at the Civil War, exactly the divide that Keller argues that party-based Mass Democracy managed to surmount! These two accounts are not really contradictory, since Poole and Rosenthal are talking about the particular parties involved, while Keller is talking about the fact that it was PARTIES that still – on both sides of the Civil War divide – provided the main institution linking state and society.

READER’S  IMPATIENT  WITH  CHARTS  OF  DATA  ARE  WELCOME  TO  SKIP  THESE  LAST THREE  PARAGRAPHS

In a separate more recent paper (2008, “Roots) Poole has taken a more relaxed view of the history of American party systems, allowing for several of them. He reminds us that not only the parties but also the issues between them changed drastically across the 1800s. Poole provides three illustrations of the evolving party systems during the 1830-1930 period. Figure 2 in the “Roots” paper (page 22, not shown here – please see the original on Voteview.com) displays the average “ideal” positions of Senators during the 1847-1848 session of congress. At that time the Whigs (successors to the Federalists) had fully emerged as an equal competitor with the Democrats (successors to the Jeffersonians). At that time, the main dimension remained ECONOMIC (HORIZONTAL, with statists on the right and anti-statists on the left). However, with the rise of the issue of the extension of slavery into new interior states, a perceptible REGIONAL dimension had emerged as well (VERTICAL, with pro-slavery at the top and anti-slavery at the bottom). In the resulting BOX, the Whigs, mostly northern, are all toward the upper right (statist and somewhat pro-slavery), with a few southern Whigs toward the top of that group (particularly pro-slavery). The Democrats, also heavily northern, are all toward the lower-left (anti-statist and anti-slavery), with southern Democrats toward the top of THAT group (pro-slavery). The Whigs are more tightly clustered than the Democrats. The gap separating the two parties is virtually at a forty-five degree angle, indicating the high salience of BOTH the horizontal and the vertical dimensions.     

Poole’s second graphic from the 1830-1930 period (Figure 3, page 25) shows the ideal points of Representatives in 1857-1858. This is an exceptional, dramatic, and destabilizing Figure – a glimpse of American politics being torn apart by novel and multiple dimensions. The REGIONAL pro-slavery versus anti-slavery distinction has replaced economics as the major, horizontal left-right dimension. The minor, vertical dimension is not economics but division over NATIVISM, embodied in the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic “American” party (whose members appear toward the top). The nativist dimension was raised in salience, not only by the American party, but also by the strategy of the Democratic party of holding itself together by stressing the prerogatives of native-born Protestant white males. However, that heightened the tension within the Democratic party between its northern, urban, immigrant wing and the rest of the party. On the right (and slightly toward the “non-nativist” bottom), the Whigs have now been replaced by the anti-slavery Republicans, intermixed with a few outlying northern Democrats. On the left (and toward the “nativist” top), are most Democrats. Northern Democrats are slightly more statist and more tolerant of immigrants, Southern Democrats more anti-statist and anti-immigrant. Again the gap between the two parties is at virtually a forty-five degree angle, indicating the salience of two strong dimensions – even without any economic dimension at all!

Poole’s third graphic from the 1830-1930 period (Figure 4, page 28) shows the ideal positions of Representatives in 1893-1894. This is the height of rapid industrialization and resulting economic inequality and political polarization. POLITICAL-ECONOMY has returned as the major, horizontal dimension, with “Big Business” Republicans and “Populist” Democrats strongly polarized between right and left. “The Southern Democrats tend to be furthest to the left reflecting the strong support for populism in the agrarian South.” (28)  Poole labels a minor vertical dimension URBAN-RURAL, reflecting spatial differences in preferences about monetary policy. Rural farmers wanted the federal government to raise farm prices by inflating the money supply by “free coinage of silver,” a policy also favored by western states that mined the silver. Urban business, finance, (and labor?) preferred an anti-inflation policy of remaining on the “gold standard.” The gap between the two parties is quite large, indicating strong left-right polarization on economic issues. Indeed, until the 2000s, this “Gilded Age” economic confrontation was the strongest polarization in American political history during normal politics (that is, leaving aside the breakdown leading to the Civil War).

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THE SCHEME OF THIS BLOG

DIMENSIONS OF POSTS

Importance of Post: ***** Big development. **** Small development. *** Continuing trend.

Scope of  Post:  USA only. USA-PRC. USA-other.

Type of Process:  Elite power struggle. Elite policy politics. Mass participation.

Type of Treatment:  Current commentary. Comprehensive background. Academic analysis.

DIMENSIONS OF POLITICS

Policy  Sectors:  Security. Economy. Identity

Spatial  Levels:  Supranational. National. Subnational

Temporal  Periods:  Shortrun. Midrun. Longrun

STANDARD  TOPIC  TAGS (BIAOQIAN)

SECURITY

Defense

Diplomacy

Intelligence

Presidency (national security team)

Homeland security

State coercion: Police & Prisons

Citizen violence: Collective riots & Individual harm

ECONOMY

Climate change

Trade & Investment

Fiscal policy

Macroeconomy

Energy & Environment

Business

Employment & Income

IDENTITY

Propaganda

Immigration

Ideology

Race & Ethnicity

Gender & Age

Moral regulation

Alternative lifestyles

SUPRANATIONAL

Global

United Nations

International regimes

Subglobal regions

Major foreign powers

Neighboring countries

Cross-border regions

NATIONAL

Legislative

Executive

Judicial

Parties

Interest groups

Media

Public opinion

SUBNATIONAL

Subnational regions

States

Metropolitan regions

Cities

Counties

Communities & Associations

Citizen participation (elections, activism)

SHORTRUN (Current dynamics)

This week

Past few weeks

Next few weeks

Past few months

Next few months

Past few years

Next few years

MIDRUN (Foreseeable future)

Variables

Cycles

Generations

Regime shift

Transformations

Regime change

Parameters

LONGRUN (History, evolution)

American political development

Comparative political development

Longrun economic growth

Longrun social history

Longrun cultural change

Major civilizations

Human evolution

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