the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

Flip your Whig

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Today’s offering is largely a history lesson.  However, under the warning that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, you’re urged to follow this one through to the end.

Not to long after the American Revolution, and somewhat to the surprise of the Founders, political thought coalesced around two major political parties.  One, following Jefferson and a number of the more ardent Patriots, became known as the Democrat Republicans.  The name was deliberate; they recognized that this nation is a Constitutional Republic – as Jefferson noted, “The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind,” – that elected its representatives through democratic processes.  It was the form of government they thought most likely to protect their safety and happiness.

The other, a more moderate association, was called the Whigs.  The source of this odd name is found in British politics of the day.  During the Revolution, the Tories were in power, and so it became common to call those Colonials loyal to the Crown “Tory” in a spirit of bitterness and anger.  The major party on the outs at that time was, as you may have guessed, the Whigs.  If you checked a British General’s political leanings against whether they actively tried to quell the rebellion you’d make some interesting discoveries, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Now, we fast forward from the days of the Founders some seventy years to the late 1850’s.  The question of slavery is tearing the country apart, and the political parties have to deal with it.  The Democrats – they’d dropped the “Republican” from their name some time earlier – argued fiercely for the protection of slavery on a number of grounds, some valid and legitimate and others (remember, this is political discourse after all) not so much.  As for the Whigs; well, they kind of wanted everyone to just get along.  Being sensible, moderate and compassionate, they chose to avoid the controversy.

Into this one-sided political discourse came a third party, the Republicans.  They took a strong position against slavery, primarily on moral grounds, and started winning elections at the state and federal levels.  Their first Presidential candidate didn’t quite have what it took to win, but their second – a gangly lawyer from Illinois– caught the people’s minds and hearts with his clear logic and self-deprecating manner.  Even in this day of poorly-taught history, you probably know the rest of the story.

So, why the brief review of history?  Because today’s Republican Party has tended over the past generation or so to fall into the patterns of the Whig Party.  With notable exceptions in the early 1980’s and mid-1990’s, the word from our counselors and leaders has been to not take controversial positions and, at all costs, avoid taking a stand on moral ground.  The result – we’re in danger of going the way of the Whigs.

Leadership – true leadership – requires strength of conviction and a clear message of the right, as God gives you to see the right.  It most certainly isn’t seeking to avoid difficult questions or being vague about who you are and what you want to do.  If the GOP doesn’t shake off the ghost of the Whigs and rediscover its galvanizing roots, instead of taking advantage of the emotional outburst driven by Democrat over-reaching we could find ourselves watching a new party take the place that used to be ours.

Kind of like the Whigs a century and a half ago…


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

16 January 2010 at 8:30 am

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