One thing that I admire about the nineteenth century political system was their creativity in naming their factions. Consider the following:
Fire-Eaters: These were Southern politicians from the 1850’s. They were the hard core pro-slavery advocates. They were the ones that were advocating early for succession. They were even proponents of reinstating the slave trade, outlawed in 1808.
Doughfaces: Southerners weren’t the only ones to come up with creative names. There was a collection of Northerners who favored appeasing the Southern slavery demands. These were Northerners who supported the fugitive slave law and opposed the Wilmot Proviso. They were considered by their fellow Northerners to be weak, half-baked men.
Know Nothings: This was a new party in the 1850’s. You’d think that with the country being torn apart on the issue of slavery during this time, that most people would kind of have their hands full deciding where they stand on that issue. Was slavery tearing our country apart or a essential component of the country’s fabric? But no, there was a subset of people that thought that pretty clearly the obvious issue was too many Irish and German immigrants. You think that banning immigration on religious grounds was a new thing for our country? You think that Muslims are tearing the fabric of our society? Welcome to the nineteenth century, where the Catholics were the radical sect du jour. These new immigrants refused to adjust to the American way of living, lived off the public dole, caused violent crime rates to soar, and blindly followed their religious leader (ie The Pope). Sound familiar to anyone?
Copperheads: These were the Democrats during the Civil War that violently opposed the Civil War and tried to make peace with the South. First used as an insult but later the term was embraced, they actively accused abolitionists of starting the war and advocated for peace at any cost. For decades after the Civil War, being labeled a Copperhead Democrat was pretty much a kiss of death.
Scalawags: After the Civil War, there were Southern politicians who clung to power by making peace and working with reconstruction Republicans and even (gasp) black freedmen. One of the most famous is James Longstreet, probably the most strategic and capable of the Confederacy generals (with all due apologies to Bobby Lee). In working with Republicans after the war, he was never forgiven by the Lost Cause Southerners.
Black-and-Tans vs Lily-Whites: You have to hand it to the Republican party. Sometimes they really do boil down the complex issues of America to very simple terms. The post Civil War Lily-White faction of the Republican party was composed of all white politicians and the Black-and-Tan faction of the Republican party was bi-racial. It’s pretty simple, right? The two sides fought it out at conventions and, spoiler alert!, the lily-whites ended up taking the title.
Stalwarts: At last we’ve now put the Civil War and Reconstruction behind us, but the Republican party (and let’s face it, they came out of the Civil War completely in power and the Democrats were in ruins, every single presidential election between 1860 and 1880 was won by Republicans) was starting to splinter. The Stalwarts were old school machine politicians that loved how you could reward your supporters through the patronage system of spoils.
Half-Breeds: Opposing the Stalwarts were the Half-Breeds. They were what passed for reformers in the late nineteenth century. Understanding the patronage system was unfair and inefficient, they pressed to reform it. They ultimately prevailed, setting up a civil service based upon merit and removed political tests as an application requirement. Interestingly enough, James Garfield was elected president, who was a compromise choice favored by the Half-Breeds. His vice president, Chester Arthur, was on the ticket for balance and was a strong Stalwart (he himself was a product of the patronage/spoils system). After Garfield was assassinated, it was the Stalwart Arthur who signed into law the reform act, shocking his fellow Stalwarts.
Mugwumps (my favorite and what inspired me to write this post!): In 1884, James G Blaine, a dedicated Half-Breed who was the force behind the patronage reform act, was running for president on the Republican ticket. The problem with Blaine was that he was pretty deeply involved in a financial scandal (check out the Credit Mobilier scandal). In disgust, a number of Republicans bolted the party and chose to support the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland (conveniently ignoring the fact that Cleveland fathered a child out of wedlock by date raping a woman, paying her off to put the baby in an orphanage, and committing her to an asylum when she came back for her child, ain’t politics grand?). The mugwumps might have made a significant enough difference in enough key states to have swung the election to Cleveland, the first Democrat elected since James Buchanan in 1856.
That’s a pretty awesome list of names and I feel that our current era of politicians need to up their game. Sure there’s the Tea Party on the Republican side. Not that long ago amongst Democrats there were yellow dogs and blue dogs, but with the death of the party in the South, there is not that many of them left. Now it’s all boring names like the Freedom Caucus, the Tuesday Group, and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Come on guys (and yes, you’re nearly all guys). You need to up your naming creativity!