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With its conservative purity tests and purges, by "going rogue" is the Republican Party going the way of the Whigs?

In the Whig morality tale, the mortal wound to the party was dealt in the presidential election of 1852. The issues causing fault lines in the party were slavery, "Free Soil," "Free Trade," "Sewardism," etc. At the Whig nominating convention, factions within the party torpedoed their own incumbent president, Millard Fillmore--preventing his re-nomination on 53 separate ballots--ultimately settling in favor of war hero Gen. Winfield Scott.

This Whig cartoon shows Scott on his gamecock overtaking Democratic candidate Franklin Pierce on his goose. But under the bravado the party was badly damaged.

Whig leaders tried to put the best face on the situation. On Oct. 8, 1852, the NY Times reported one of the "largest political gatherings ever held in Brookyn," where "not less than five thousand good  and true Whigs were present." Hon. J. G. Sevier, (Whig-Louisiana) rallied the  troops behind Gen. Scott:

I am here to say that... there is not a right-thinking Whig in the country but what has said amen to this nomination. We cannot all be gratified in the selection of candidates; we have our likes and dislikes. No man may call himself a Whig who holds back adhesion to the nomination of Scott. The name is talismanic--Scott and victory... I am not sanguine without good reasons--but I tell you the Whig horizon is clearing up and brightening in every direction; the clouds that did arise are being cleared away by the brilliant name of Scott... So certain is the triumphant election of Scott and Graham on the 2d of November, there is no mistake about it, the people are rising...

As Nov. 2 actually played out, here's the 1852 electoral map:

The NY Times (a Whig newspaper) lamented the results, delivered for the first time with electronic speed even before people went to bed on election night:

NY Times, Nov. 4, 1852

Rapid Returns

Looking back eight years--for in 1848, the telegraph had reached but a small length of its present endlessness--we may recall the long and weary suspense of the public mind, awaiting the returns... We have changed all that. The lightning has flashed from all quarters at once, and the Whig party is annihilated. No respite, not a day's delay, was granted. The general curiousity was not piqued and aggravated by slow and dubious returns. There were no intermittent paroxysms of elation and depression. The guillotine fell; and the Whigs were no where. Such is the completeness of the telegraphic communication; and such, oh, melancholy truth! is the completeness of the rout.

Telegraph map, 1853:

The Albany Evening Journal wrestled victory from defeat:

A Waterloo Defeat

The Whig Party of this State and of the Nation now goes into a minority. Of some of the causes we may or may not have occasion to speak. For us there are no terrors in this change. Adversity teaches its lessons and hath its uses. Having helped to work the Whig Party out of worse positions than that to which it has now been brought, we can look even this defeat in the face without quailing. Jewels are extracted from things "ugly and venomous." This overthrow relieves us from many encumbrances; and though apparently "crushed to earth" the Whig Party will spring up in freshness and vigor and grow to the fullest dimensions of its former superiority.

The party was essentially gone by 1856.

One can only hope that the GOP defeat in the NY-23 trial run doesn't dissuade the party in its quest for ideological purity, freeing it from its encumbrances and allowing it to grow to the fullest dimensions of its former superiority.

Originally posted to jmknapp on Thu Nov 05, 2009 at 06:34 AM PST.

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