It’s My Party…

Leslie Gore’s hip song of the 60s has nothing to do with politics, but its opening words are strangely appropro today. The complete line is, “It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to,” which many Americans are feeling when it comes to Republicans and Democrats.

Political Animals: Republican Elephants and Democratic Donkeys | Arts &  Culture | Smithsonian Magazine
1874 cartoon by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly (Smithsonian Magazine)

Perplexed at who to vote for because we don’t agree with all of anybody’s platform, what are we supposed to do? Not vote at all?

Would you be surprised to know that our founding fathers were opposed to political parties? “Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally,” George Washington said in his 1797 farewell address.

The next president, John Adams, dreaded nothing so much as a “division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.”

Then came Thomas Jefferson, who pretty much caused the big split as he disagreed with Alexander Hamilton on how much power the federal government should have. “A man under the tyranny of party spirit is the greatest slave upon the earth, for none but himself can deprive him of the freedom of thought.” Of course, he was speaking of the party he opposed.

James Madison, our fourth president and Father of the Constitution, warned of “mischiefs of factions” and believed that the government could prosper without parties. “I have always considered their existence as the curse of the country,” he stated.

George Washington chose Hamilton for Secretary of the Treasury and Jefferson for Secretary of State, hoping he could get the opposing leaders to work together in the country’s interest. Hamilton wanted a national bank, and more federal power, which he got. Jefferson, the Virginian, who wanted more power for the states, believed New England would benefit financially at the expense of farmers.

The first two political parties were the Federalists and Anti-Federalists, which soon were known as the Whigs and the Democratic-Republicans.

In 1828 the Democratic-Republicans became the Democrats. Andrew Jackson won on their ticket. In 1834 the Whigs became the National Republicans, and by Abraham Lincoln’s election in 1860 we were in our current two-party system, the Democrats and the Republicans. The big issue then was, of course, slavery. Other issues, including entering the first world war, the Great Depression, and abortion, have headlined the liberal and conservative divide since then.

Third party experiments have been compared to bees: “They sting, then they die after one or both parties restructure in response.” An example is Theodore Roosevelt’s Progressive (Bull Moose) Party, second in 1912 to the Democrats and Woodrow Wilson. Businessman Ross Perot took 20 million votes away from Bill Clinton and George Bush Sr. in 1992.

Party bosses such as the Daleys of Chicago and the Tweeds of New York fulfilled some John Adams’ fears.

A topical list of the roles of a political party includes: running candidates for office, checking the other party, informing the public, and organizing the government. One source states that what they agree on are liberty, equality and individualism, maintaining the Constitution, and the election process. After the last election, who is sure of any of that?

Yuval Levin, a director at the American Enterprise Institute, stated in March of this year: “Trust in our highest institutions is broken..a lot of elite journalists now step out on their own onto a platform like Twitter…building their own following.” I remember concluding in a paper I wrote in college that the biggest thing affecting mass media in the future would be the public’s relationship with them. I wasn’t far off.

Remember the absence of civility in the 2016 presidential debates? Civility is, as defined by Martin Luther King Jr.: “If you want to persuade your enemy, you must redeem your enemy.” Other advice includes these statements: The people you disagree with will still be there tomorrow, so don’t cut every tie. We shouldn’t disagree less, we should disagree better.

“We can only do good by not trying to do the impossible good,” Theodore Roosevelt said, under the theme of Practical Politics.

Voters have traditionally changed their thinking as they age. When young they leaned toward the Democrats, but turned towards the right as they experienced home ownership, marriage and children. In 2020 many red states turned blue, possibly showing a switch in attitudes of Generation Xers and Milleniums.

Maybe in the mess, someone who was never elected to anything had the best idea: “In truth, I care little about any party’s politics — the man behind it is the important thing.” –Mark Twain

May better men step up to leadership of our country. We can still hope.

(Sources:, notable,,,,,

More Also-Rans

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Does anyone recognize this guy?  Rufus King, the final Federalist nominee for President.  Anyone remember what the Federalist Party was?  A big group of Alexander Hamilton’s followers who were for a strong central government and a national bank.  From Massachusetts, King was a representative to the Constitutional Convention in 1787; his hometown soon became part of the new state of Maine.

He was elected to serve in the United States Senate, and in 1812 was an “informal” candidate for the Presidency.  He got two percent of the vote.  James Monroe and Daniel D. Tompkins won that year (same guy from the psychiatrist’s quiz in the movie Miracle on 34th Street).  The Federalist Party’s last hurrah was in 1816, in which he upped his percentage to 30.  But one-third of the popular vote was not enough to win.  Senator King was reported to have a massive library of 3,500 volumes.  Another respected American who just didn’t quite make it to the top of Executive Branch.

Related imageThe name Henry Clay causes a flash of recognition in memories of most former history students.  But the details?  Clay was a charming orator from Kentucky who ran for President several times.  He gave his votes in one election to John Quincy Adams so that Andrew Jackson would not win, and subsequently was named U.S. Secretary of State, which caused a stir.   Some called him a hothead, while to colleagues in the Senate he was “The Dictator.”

He said, “I would rather be right than be President,” almost defeating James Polk in 1844.  His last accomplishment was to write The Great Compromise of 1850 with Daniel Webster, which delayed the start of the Civil War by ten years.  After he died, he was the first to lie in state in the rotunda of the United States Capitol.

Photograph of Winfield Scott Hancock

Winfield Scott Hancock narrowly lost to James A. Garfield in the election of 1880, even though he carried all the southern states.  Responsible for stopping  “Pickett’s Charge” in the Battle of Gettysburg, the prolific general also led troops into battle at Antietam and Fredericksburg.  He presided over the execution of conspirators of Lincoln’s assassination.

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Horace Greeley is known to most journalism majors as the eccentric publisher of the New York Tribune, an anti-slavery weekly newspaper during the Civil War.  From a poor family in New Hampshire, his schooling had ended when he was 14.  He became the editor of the Log Cabin, a publication which helped William Henry Harrison get elected.  He himself ran unsuccessfully against Ulysses S. Grant in 1872, dying just three weeks after election day due to the shock of losing his wife, control of the Tribune, and the nation’s highest office.

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And lastly, for this time, a fast forward to the Twentieth Century and a witty man named Adlai Stevenson.  He was the grandson of Grover Cleveland’s vice president, and son of a publisher and Secretary of State of Illinois.  Admired by intellectuals, he was elected Governor of Illinois, once quoted as saying he would rather not be President.   As the Democratic candidate in 1952 and 1956, he lost both times to Dwight Eisenhower.

Later Stevenson was a delegate to the United Nations who helped ban above ground nuclear testing.

“When demagoguery and deceit become a national political movement,” he asserted, “we Americans are in trouble; not just Democrats, but all of us.”


What Happened to the Losers?

In American history, the most notable winners and losers have been presidents and their opponents.  Some elections were landslides; some were so close that a few votes made the difference, and in one the winner who was announced in bold headlines had his fortunes reversed the next morning.

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Thomas E. Dewey was the governor of New York before, during and after his failed 1944 and 1948 bids for the presidency, causing Alice Roosevelt Longworth to quip, “A soufflé doesn’t rise twice.”  The second campaign is the more remembered because the Chicago Tribune ran a story before the polls closed that he had beat Harry Truman.  Eventually Truman got 49.5 percent of the popular vote, and had his picture taken with the infamous front page.

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Dewey, who in his younger years couldn’t decide between a career in professional music or politics, served as district attorney and prosecutor for New York.  Known for his efforts to rid the state of organized crime, he was elected to one more term as governor after 1948, and then returned to private law practice.  He was instrumental in Dwight D. Eisenhower’s campaign in 1952 and the choice of Richard M. Nixon as his running mate.  Dewey was offered the nomination of Supreme Court Justice twice, but turned it down.

DeWitt Clinton

Does this man look like he’s got a headache?  DeWitt Clinton had plenty of things on his mind during his lifetime.  His first job was working for his Uncle George, New York’s longtime governor and twice the vice president of the United States.

The younger Clinton worked his way up through the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate and the United States Senate.  He ran for president in 1812 but James Madison had the edge.  The loss did not deter DeWitt Clinton from working to get the Erie Canal built in upstate New York, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  He eventually accomplished his goal while serving as governor.  Had he been elected president in 1812, would the canal have been built so soon?  Our railway systems and subsequent economic progress depended on the trail blazed by the Erie Canal.

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Not many Americans live to their hundredth birthday.  Alfred Landon, the Republican candidate for president in 1936, did; the photo above shows President Ronald Reagan’s visit to him in 1987. Landon was a popular governor from Kansas whose party thought had the best chance against Franklin D. Roosevelt.   He carried just two states in the biggest defeat in 116 years.

Portrait of Alfred M. Landon, 1936

Alf Landon.  Kansas Historical Society.

Landon’s daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, served in the United States Senate from 1977 to 1997.  She was the first woman ever elected to a complete term in that office and now, at age 86, has been quoted as saying she couldn’t think of better coattails to have ridden on than her father’s.

The Library of Congress offers the list of presidential “Also Rans,” which I have copied below.  More than one ran again and was elected.   Which are new to you?  No telling what other stories are behind these determined men.   Well, wait a minute, there probably is.  And I will probably do it.

1796                                                                                                                            Thomas Jefferson

Aaron Burr
Charles C. Pinckney
Charles C. Pinckney

DeWitt Clinton
Rufus King
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Crawford
Andrew Jackson
John Quincy Adams
Henry Clay
William H. Harrison
Martin Van Buren
Henry Clay
Lewis Cass

Winfield Scott
John C. Fremont
John Bell
John C. Breckinridge
Stephen A. Douglas
George McClellan
Horatio Seymour
Horace Greeley
Samuel J. Tilden
Winfield S. Hancock
James G. Blaine
Grover Cleveland
Benjamin Harrison
James B. Weaver
William J. Bryan

William J. Bryan
Alton B. Parker
William J. Bryan
Theodore Roosevelt
William H. Taft
Charles E. Hughes
James M. Cox
Robert M. Lafollette
Alfred E. Smith
Herbert Hoover
Norman Thomas
Alfred M. Landon
Wendell L. Willkie
Thomas E. Dewey
J. Strom Thurmond
Henry A. Wallace

Adlai E. Stevenson
Adlai E. Stevenson
Richard M. Nixon
Barry M. Goldwater
Hubert H. Humphrey
George C. Wallace
George S. McGovern
Gerald R. Ford
John Anderson
Jimmy Carter
Walter F. Mondale
Michael Dukakis

George Bush
H. Ross Perot
Robert J. Dole
H. Ross Perot
Al Gore
Ralph Nader
John Kerry
Ralph Nader
John McCain
Ralph Nader
The Library of Congress needs to update!  Can you name the losers in presidential elections since 2008?







Alfred Snider,  a professor at the University of Vermont, created this chart for the students he took to compete in 45 countries over the last three decades.  He passed away recently.

One wonders if he would have been able to help moderators at our current “presidential” spectacles.  Perhaps he could have used it as a teaching tool for impressionable viewers.  Snider’s The Code of the Debater is actually a 127-page handbook with a table of contents which includes the subtitle, “Magic Words.”  He explains the vocabulary debaters must understand to be successful.

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This world can be nasty.  There is still an awful lot of good out there.  We need leaders that will bring us above the quagmire, not swirl around in it themselves.

We hold on to the hope that words of common sense and respect will magically or unmagically appear in a future debate between two people who posses those qualities.  If it’s not too late.

Presidential Arts

John Quincy Adams played the flute; Thomas Jefferson, the violin.  How many other of our country’s commanders-in-chief had more than a passing interest in fine arts?

Ulysses Grant displayed talent as early as age eighteen, when he painted the landscape below.  Other works show Indians and horses in great detail.
Painting by U. S. Grant

The banjo was Chester Arthur’s instrument of choice, while Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan liked to play the harmonica.  Harry Truman was recorded and shown on the new medium of television:

Dwight D. Eisenhower took up landscape painting, but gave a disclaimer as noted under the picture below. “They would have burned this ____ painting if I wasn’t President of the United States.” 

In addition to being an accordion player, Richard Nixon was accomplished in composing for and playing the piano.  These facts, as well as his breakthrough visit to China, have been obliterated by what happened at the end of his presidency.

Bill Clinton gave a popular performance on his saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992.

Former presidents Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush have benefited charities with the sale of their paintings.
Self-portrait painting by President George W. Bush. Photo by Grant Miller.

Our current chief executive doesn’t do a bad job singing about his hometown, either.  And while some have admitted they didn’t themselves possess the ability (Edith Roosevelt said dryly, “We play the Victrola”), she and Theodore, as well as John and Jaqueline Kennedy, invited legends to perform for musical soires at the White House.  Pablo Cassals played the cello for both first families sixty years apart.

Gerald Ford said, “The future of our nation depends on providing our children with a complete education that includes music.”   George Washington was first in noting the importance of the Arts and Sciences to “the prosperity of the State and to the ornament of human life…”

Legislators need to take a hint from our leaders, who know firsthand that art and music have been neither optional nor inconsequential for Americans, young and old.