The Political Parties of the 1820s and 1830s

Posting in a Pennsylvania Newspaper from the Working Men’s Political Parties.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Working Men’s political parties emerged, changing the discourse of the two major political parties, the Democrats and Whigs. From Philadelphia outward, “Working Men’s political parties sprang up in various places . . . , fed by the discontents of journeymen under the impact of industrialization.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 539 citing Sean Wilentz, Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class (New York, 1984), 109.

The Working Men’s parties advocated for causes such as “free public schools, mechanics’ lien laws (helping workers recover wages if their employer went bankrupt), reform of compulsory militia service, abolition of imprisonment for debt, and laws requiring wages to be paid in hard currency and defining a day’s work as ten hours’ labor unless otherwise contracted.” Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 539.

The Whigs and the Democrats heard these issues enter the American political discourse and took them for their own, implementing many of them into their platforms and effectuating them. See id. at 540.

While many of the Working Men’s parties emerged as a result of artisans not being able to adapt to a dynamic, quickly changing industrial economy, they began to adapt not long after the Working Men’s parties formed. See id. at 541.

Meanwhile, throughout this time period, new occupations emerged, “including plumber, machinist, telegrapher, and locomotive engineer.” Id. at 542 citing Thomas Cochran, Frontiers of Change: Early American Industrialization (New York, 1981).

Nonetheless, the Working Men’s parties faded away nearly as quickly as they emerged. See Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: Transformation of America, 1815-1848, 540. The ideas that the Working Men’s parties advocated had permeated in American society, and the Democrats and Whigs had adopted the most favorable of those ideas, to the benefit of Americans.

The fact that American political discourse is open, constantly changing, and having new political parties come in and out of that discourse all serves as a benefit to American society. This creates a marketplace of ideas. Whenever American political discourse is open such that new parties can move into the spotlight and disseminate their ideas, Americans are given the benefit of improving their lives.

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