tv Political Partisanship in the U.S. CSPAN March 29, 2016 8:00pm-9:11pm EDT
coming up on american history tv in prime time, programs about the history and politics of congress. first a look at the history of political parties. then lectures in history on the culture of the antebellum congress. after that, 19th century african-american senator blanche k. bruce. that's followed by the joint committee on taxation. it's argued our current political parties are the most devie svi receive in history. up next on american history tv,
they talk about the evolution of political parties and partisanship from the founding era to the 21 century. this was hosted by the national history center. in a few weeks, a united states senator will rise in the senate chamber to read through the entire text of george washington's farewell address. this is a tradition the senate has been performing annually since 1896. other than the senator who is speaking, the only other people who will be in the chamber will be the senator who is the presiding officer, a handful of clerks and a few visiting tourists in the gallery. but the rest of the public can watch this on c-span. if you do watch it, you will hear our first president warn in the most solemn manner against the baneful affects of the spirit of party generally. he goes on to say, this spirit unfortunately is inseparable
from our nature. having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. it existed under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled order repressed. but in those of the popular form, it's seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy. so i think it's a little comforting when we consider 20th century -- 21st century partisanship to know that partisanship vexed george washington as it continued to very much every one of his successors. since we often hear questions about whether or not this time period is the single most polarized partisan era in american history, the national history center today has invited two prominent political historians to discuss the historical evolution of parti n partisanship and help us measure our current times against the past. harkining back to the 19th century, joanne freeman is a
professor of studies at yale where she specialized in politics and political culture. she is also the author of a livery prize winning book that i highly recommend called "affairs of honor, national politics and the new republic." she's at work with the title "the field of blood, congressional violence in the n antebellum era." brian balogh is a professor at the university of virginia and the miller center. he is the author of of a number of works including "a government out of site, the mystery of national authority in 19th century" and another one between the cycles, esshe i essays on t
republican gifford pinchot. you may also have heard brian on the nationally cindy indicated radio. we have two american history guys. >> will be an honorary guy. thank you, for the introduction. this morning, i would like to discuss a period of extreme partisanship and polarization in congress. a period of us against them. a period of do or die politics. a period filled with talk of doom and destruction and even some physical violence. a period in which new technologies broadcast some of those extreme claims to a national audience with ever increasing speed. the polarization, the emotion, the extremes, in many ways i have described our current political sdiet gieft but in
fact, i'm talking about the late 1850s. a period when the struggle for the soul of the union, a struggle grounded on the problem of slavery, ultimately ripped the nation in two. what i would like do this morning is briefly discuss that political crisis of the 1850s with an even briefer glance at an earlier and equally polarized crisis to explore patterns. i will add as don suggested in talking about the 1850s, i will draw on a book that i have literally just completed in manuscript form. right now, the working title has migrated. the field of blood will always be there, because it's too juicy. that's the field of blood congressional violence and the coming of the civil war. and it's a book that reveals a striking thread of fphysical violence on the floor of the house and senate between roughly 1830 and 1860. involving not only the infamous
caning of charles sumner but including roughly 100 physical clashes in the house and senate, including fist fights, knives and revolvers and the occasional brawl with dozens of congressmen rumbling, in essence, usually in the house. i'm going to come back to that rather dramatic assertion in a moment. for now, i'm going to leave you hanging and give you context. i will start by saying that obviously, part of what i'm implying here is that today we're hardly experiencing the first or most polarized moment in our political history. over the last few years, a number of press outlets have wanted me to state for the record things have never been worse. and i can't say that. as a historian, i cannot say that. in many ways the 1850s was worse. and indeed, intense partisanship dates back to the dawning of the republic. one might argue the first crisis
of intense partisanship took place during the government's first decade in existence. the 1790s and the late 1790s was a period of extreme partisanship culminating in the election of 1800, a do or die battle between federalists and republicans that ultimately elected thomas jefferson president. the crisis of the late 1790s had much in common with the present. there was rampant fear at least among the federalists of a foreign threat. federalists feared the social upset of revolutionary france would corrupt or destroy the infant american republic. and given that the republicans who were french friendly seemed to be risking the life of the republic, the federalists in power on the national stage, dedicated them services to destroying the republicans as a matter of national survival and, of course, also partisan advantage. republicans in turn believed the federalists were destroying the
republic by trying to convert and corrupt it into an aristocratic monarchy and the federalist attempts to use the power of the state to crush their republic opposition drove that point home. republicans also dedicated themselves to federalists. when i say destroying, i actually mean that quite literally. because in the 1790s, there was no assumption that a working two party system was at the core of a working democratic politics. quite the opposite, organized national political parties were seen as dangerous, self-interested, factional and hopefully a temporary problem that would fade away. although federalist republicans sometimes referred to each other as parties, they were hardly parties in the sense that we understand a party today. in fact, sometimes people referred to the federalist as mr. hamilton and his particular friends. and the republicans as mr. jefferson and his particular friends.
there were certainly two distinct world views, federalist and republican. but not really party discipline in any sense that certainly we would understand it today. there was no national party structure again in the sense that we understand it today. the republicans and federalists were alliances more than parties. and in the absence of structured political fighting teams of the sort that would come later, conflict in this national election to come in 1800 ran wild. the lack of faith in the nation's new political system to contain the partisan strife made matters worse. fractured or weak parties and a lack of faith in the political system. these two things have an enormous shaping of partisans p partisanship. i will come back to that. in the 1790s, as i suggested, matters came to a head in the presidential election of 1800.
in the lead-up to that election, fire and brimstone claims filled the press. i'm going to share with you my favorite election trick. it's from the federalists. i think it's ingenius. it could only be carried out at a time when the roads were poor and communication across long distances war difficult. basically in the middle of the campaign of 1800 with jefferson running for president, some federalists claimed in the press that jefferson had died. so you can see in newspapers some vague panic. what? tragedy. jefferson is gone. i think really whoever thought of that was very savvy. as far as the election itself was concerned, things only got worse when republicans thomas jefferson and aaron burr tied for the president presidency. for six days, the house voted again and again unable to break the tie.
here we see the impact of a lack of faith in the political system. joined with a lack of party structure. because in the midst of the deadlock, jeffersonian republican governors in virginia and pennsylvania put their state militias on alert, prepared to cease the government for jefferson if burr should win in the house. which i think is pretty remarkable. i think that gets overlooked in this election. of course, in the end, jefferson won fully convinced that former federalists, apart from a few leading diehards, would join with him after his victory. party crisis seemingly over. but there was no telling if national two party strife would rise again particularly in the wake of another presidential election. to prevent it, connecticut federalist james hill-house came up with what he believed a brilliant solution. he explained it in a letter to john marshall. as he reasoned it, presidential
elections were the only national political contest virtually guaranteed to tear the nation apart. congressional are local. presidential are national in a way other elections weren't. he came up with what he believed to be a brilliant idea. presidents should not be elected by the american people. instead, there should be a box in the senate with a lot of white balls and one black ball. each senator would pick a ball out of the box and whoever got the black ball would be president. problem solved. when i first strumible estumble, i thought it was a joke. but it wasn't. i searched and found marshall's response. they actually debated this. interesting idea, mr. hill-house. it really does give you a sense about how these national political contests and particularly the run for
president really was causing extreme partisanship of a kind that panicked people. the solution that he came up with, then no more national political contests of that kind. 50 years later, a similar political crisis didn't end as well. this later crisis as in 1800 was infused with a do or die ethos and at sum gs that northern anti slavery republicans and southern pro slavery democrats were fighting for the soul of the republican. this later crisis as in 1800 called forth extreme rhetoric and a hovering threat of very real large scale organized violence. also as in 1800, during this crisis political parties were in flux. in the 1850s, the wig party was collapsing. the democratic party was splintering across sectional lines with northerners defecting. some of the northerners were becoming republicans, a new northern anti-slavery party. unlike 1800, in the 1850s, the
crisis was centered on congress. the representative meeting place of north and south. as i suggested at the outset, the 1850s is hardly the first time congressmen were violent towards one another. during the 1830s and 1840s, there was a hum of violence in congress, largely falling along party lines in which someone from one party would strong arm someone from the other party into doing or not doing what he wanted him to do. essentially promoting policies by silencing opposition with threats, violence and dual challenges. people who played that rough kind of political game were known as -- this is the word they used at the time, bullies. congressional bullies. and most of the bullies were southerners or southern born westerne westerners. people who did not enjoy playing that rough political game were known as -- this is the term from the time -- non-combatants.
most non-combatants tended -- they were northerners or northern born westerners. in the house in 1842, massachusetts representative john quincy adams was giving an anti-slavery speech. when a southern democrat tried to cut adams off, someone objected that adams had a right to speak. within minutes, a southern democrat wearing a very visible knife walked over to the person who had objected and said, i'm going to paraphrase a little bit here, do that again and i will cut your throat from ear to ear. the part that is a direct quote is, will cut your throat from ear to ear. that became kind of a congressional word for a while in which a debate could get heated -- john quincy adams would say, what are you going to, cut his throat from ear to ear? that was a mono a mono clash. as the crisis was coming to a head, the fighting escalated
breaking down entirely along sectional lines. you really did have massive group brawls in the house north against south. you also had the telegraph, something new. technological innovation spreading the sectional passions from within congress nationwide with ever increasing urgency and speed. here i think is an interesting link with the present. you had a new technology boosting political communication and complicating political debate by spreading political passions from the national stage with great efficiency and then echoing back to the national stage the equally impassioned response from the american public. the end result in 1850 was extreme rhetoric, extreme feelings and far less ability for national politicians to wiggle their way out of extreme language or conduct. they couldn't take extreme words back as easily. news spread too quickly. a new hampshire senator pinpointed this problem in 1850 after one senator pulled a gun on another senator during
debate. not surprisingly, there was a burst of confusion and people in the visitors gallery ran out screaming. there's a wonderful political cartoon of women throwing umbrellas. it's dramatic. people settled down and the senate prepared to go back to work. this one senator rose to his feet to point something out. the moment of crisis had seemingly passed, he said, but within an hour, the nation would be learning through the telegraph that senators were wallowing in gore in the senate slaughtering each other with pistols. he essentially was right. when you read the comments, when you read about this discussion and you see sort of get a sense of what was going on in the room, you can feel virtually the pause in the room when the reality of that point became clear. huh. i guess that's true. now think about the combination of factors that i have described here. the extreme rhetoric and threats of politicians, the polarization, the do or die
mentality, the fundamental belief that the soul of the republican was up for debate. the media spreading the heightened emotion and political excess throughout the nation. the public responding to the media with political passions of their own. this combination of stimuli created a cycle of strie densy in the 1850s that was hard to contain, particularly given the instability of national political parties. the cycle did nothing to boost public faith in the government to contain the growing crisis. in fact, increasingly, the public wanted their congressmen to fight for their rights and for their vision of what america should be. again, when i say fight, i actually mean quite literally fight. a great example of this, massachusetts constituents who came to see their representative off as he was heading -- getting on a train to washington, they gave him a gift to take back to washington with him.
a gun inscribed with the words free speech. which i think is remarkable. i -- whenever i come to the hair goes up on the back of my neck. i think that's remarkable. by the late 1850s, with the arrival of the anti-slavery northern republican party in congress, even non-combatant northerners were fighting with a cheering home audience looking on. when republicans publically dedicated them services to fighting the slave power, they meant it literally in congress where they were sitting and dealing head on with this so-called slave power. i have to add that amidst this, some people did see humor in the general congressional mayhem of the period. once again, i can't resist offering you a favorite example of this. this happens to be from the "new york times" of the period. it's written by a washington car spond enter. so this is actually i think from the late 1850s. judge kellogg of michigan, arrived in the city on saturday
evening. it was his first visit to the federal capitol. when the train car stopped, he was a little uncertain where he was. as he entered the main hall of the train depot, he saw a man engaged in caning another all over the room. when i saw this, said the judge, i knew i was in washington. so where does this leave us? i'm going to conclude by pointing out one or two things that strike me about the partisanship i have been describing. first, i think it's striking in both of the crises i was talking about how interconnected congress and the press were in the creation of that crisis and i think sometimes we have a tendency to want to point a finger at -- of blame at the cause of a crisis and certainly in these crises you cannot point to one factor that is leading to this. second, i think the events of the 1850s joined with our current political climate really do raise interesting questions about whether or not fractured
or splintering political parties reduce people's faith in the political process and the ability of government to contain and resolve problems. in the late 1850s, americans generally trusted their congressmen but they did not trust congress as an institution, nor did congressmen trust each other. by 1860, many congressmen were routinely armed, not because they were eager to kill their opponents but out of fear their opponents might kill them. they, too, had lost faith in the political process and in congress as an institution. thank you very much. [ applause ]
>> i don't know he is adjusting the mike. thank you, joanne. i want to thank don for that lovely introduction. thank the national history center and thank congress for holding this briefing. in 1950, the american political science association published a report called tour the more responsible two party system. it began with the premise that something was terribly wrong with the american party system. quote, its weakness is a very serious matter, for it affects very heartbeat of american democracy. what was wrong with the party system? we got rid of dueling. we got rid of caning. as far as i know, representatives and senators were not packing. and they shared attitude s toes
towards the major issues of the day that were similar in many, many instances. that was exactly the problem. the parties were too similar to each other, too unwilling to duke it out at least metaphorically. parties needed to be reformed to present clear ideological distinctions. they needed clear agendas that corresponded to these distinction. listen to what the apsa report had to say in 1950. i was telling joanne, i was editing my comments this morning and i kept editing this quotation. i can't edit a quotation. political scientists, it turns out, really love run-on
sentences. bear with me. the fundamental requirement of account built is a two-party system in which the opposition party acts as the critic of the party in power developing, defining and presenting the policy alternatives which are necessary for a true choice in reaching public decisions. the opposition most conducive to responsible government is an organized party opposition. end quote. the political scientists were not worried about gridlock or ideological rigidity. quote, needed clarification of party policy will not cause the parties to differ more fundamentally or more sharply than they have in the past. nor is it to be assumed that increasing concern with their programs will cause the parties to ee reth between themselves an ideological wall. end quote. so much for forecasting the future. i support that we're all at this
briefing because partisan rancor and gridlock have become such a problem that we're yearning to tell those political scientists from 1950, be careful what you wish for. so how do we get here? how did we get here from apsa being so concerned that the parties had no differences between each other? i have sorted the contributing factors into six categories. they hardly cover everything. one, ideological sorting out of parties. two, the color line. three, all-time religion. four, you mean politics is not local? five, it's the machinery, stupid. and six, and last, certainly not least, it's the media, stupid. okay. the great sort out. for much of the nation's history, the democratic party had been geographically centered
in the south. with the emergence of the new deal coalition in the 1930s, the party combined a solid south with a growing northern wing made up of ethnic groups and african-americans. ideologically, this created an uneasy alliance between northern liberals and southern conservatives. this was not just any party, this democratic party, this coalition. it was a party that held overwhelming congressional majorities for 50 years with very few interruptions. republicans could only get something done by adding their voice to the compromises handed out within -- to the compromises hammered out within the democratic party or by joining one faction or another for this civil rights or that effort to stop universal healthcare, for instance. between 1960 and 1990, there was a great sorting out of the two
parties along ideological lines. republicans became solidly conservative. democrats became solidly progressive. that sorting corresponded to a geographic sorting as well. republicans were centered in sun dealt in the sage brush west. democrats held the northeast coast and the west coast. states like ohio and a few others remained up for grabs. none of this would have mattered if the electoral balance had not become to competitive. for the first time since the new deal coalition, conservative republicans could at least aspire to capturing the white house as ronald reagan finally did in 1980. conservative republicans in congress did garner majorities on a regular basis. with more ideologically pure candidates in both parties poised for victory, there was no longer any incentive for the
minority party to xrcompromise. the ideological sorting out in and of itself is not what contributed to the kind of partisan gridlock that we face today. rather, it was the combination of more ideologically consistent parties and the relatively equal appeal of these ideologies that has framed the fierce partisanship of the last 30 years. the color line. there are lots of reasons for this great sorting out. there's the civil war within the democratic party over vietnam. there was -- another insurrection within the democratic party, in essence between new left pushing the party to the left and older line liberals in the democratic party. it was the ability of the right to fund and articulate legitimate critiques of liberal thought and programs. if i had to choose just one from
the menu of items that contributed to the great sorting out, i would pick the color line. lyndon johnson understood what his quest for racial equality would mean for the solid democratic south. upon signing the civil rights act of 1964, johnson's reputed to have said, quote, i think we just delivered the south to the represent party for a long time to come. end quote. of course, the civil rights act and the voting rights act that followed would bring millions of african-americans living in the south, african-americans who had been denied the right to vote up to that point, into the democratic party. even as it drove white voters out of the democratic party. as johnson no doubt anticipated, those african-americans exercised their right vigorously. which pushed the democratic party farther to the left. 83% of african-americans voted
for clinton in '92. 90 90% of african-americans voted for gore. incredible to me, 96% of african-americans voted for barak obama in predictor of who going to vote democratic is race. african-americans have been an immovable cornerstone of today's democratic party. religion. the immovable foundation of the current republican party is made up of white voters who attend church regularly. before 1980, there were almost no differences in party identification between religious and non-religious whites as measures by regular church attendance. today the most faithful core of the republican party are the white evangelicals born again
and fundamentalist christians. it's not just these groups that vote republican. the real dividing line is regular church attendance. whatever the denomination or faith. regular attendance is highly correlated with political attitudes. 54% of red state voters attend church weekly. this compares to 34% aattendanc for blue state voters. 71% of weekly white church attenders voted for george bush in 2004. 46% of whites who seldom or never go to church voted for bush. i should say those data are all for white voters. what these data about african-americans and regular church goers show is that each party can rely upon a clearly identifiable constituency that
maps on to an equally identifiable ideological agenda. these are not voters who are going to be satisfied merely through pork barrel poll tlitic. these are voters who respond to powerful ideological cues. that ideology is not easily compromised. it's not easily just parcelled out. that ideology in today's political culture tends to be as political science call it a zero sum game. you mean all politics isn't local? i can't believe i'm going to assert it might not be here in the cannon building. at the very moment that democratic speaker of the house tip o'neill was popularizing his approach to politics with the phrase, all politics is local in
the 1980s, a young republican by the name of newt gingrich proved that the nationalization of politics could really be quite effective, especially for a minority party. nationalizing an abstract anti-government politics offered a path to majority control in the house. and here i'm relying on the work of a terrific young scholar by the name of brett seiple. gingrich set out to short-circuit the localist material and pragmatic support that had advantaged democrats for decades. vin weber, an early congressional ally of gingrich, believed -- said gingrich believed the path to the majority necessitated replacing, quote, what existed with something new, end quote. that thing that was new for
gingrich was offering sharp contrast, wedge issues that really separated the democratic majority from the public that had been voting for them. it was one of the deepest ironies of the partisan wars of the last 50 years that very party that had come to stand for states' rights was also the party that nationalized debate about that issue. what matters for our purposes and partisanship is that the localized material benefits that majorities could deliver were increasingly challenged by a more abstract set of ideas about conceptions of governance, especially about what size that government should be. it's the machinery, stupid. virtually every writes about the current state of partisan affairs cites jerry mandering.
but i would point out that jerry and back me up on this joanne, has been with us for a very long time. the piece of machinery that did change dramatically in the period we have discussed today is the primary. primaries have proliferated as a means of choosing candidates. this means that an activated super minority can upset the apple cart. the smaller the electoral grows, the more powerful a passionate group of voters motivated by a single issue becomes. since it is generally voters at the outer edges of the ideological spectrum who bother to show up for primaries, legislators have to be cautious about compromising with, quote, the enemy as these true believers see it. i observed this process play out firsthand in my own rural
virginia district, a district that used to be represented by eric cantor. but he proved simply too liberal for my district. too much of ofa compromiser. too much concerned about governing rather than being primaried which was thought to be impossible. finally, it's the media, stupid. we could spend the whole -- we could spend the day on this. very quickly, first off by the media, i include the way parties get information about voters, not just the way they disseminate information to voters. too often we forget about technology like public opinion polling, for instance, and big data crunching. that's included under media as well as i see it. the first shot of the media revolution was fired by richard
vigory with his direct mail techniques. the standard in those days, the '50s and early '60s was to aim for the middle. with public opinion polling in its infancy when it came to identifying the preferences of voters, and your basic three broadcast networks, the only way to reach those people, there were very few ways to target minority or outlying perspectives. even if you could identify the people with those perspectives. the firm credited with creating the profession of campaign consulting noted that a campaign's theme, quote, must be simple and have a strong human interest appeal. it must have more corn than cavi caviar, end quote. he used lists of donations to barry goldwater to create a
direct mail empire. the targeting methods that he used identified an appeal to a segment of the population that the mainstream media and politicians had largely ignored. this targeting, which was soon super charged or put on steroids, as i like to think, by the digital revolution, allowed candidates to reach smaller segments of the population. by the 1980s, cable television fuelled the rise of the 24-hour news cycle. more importantly, for our topic, the proliferation of cable news stations and ultimately websites and blogs allowed outlets to be su successful even if they only reached a very small portion of the electorate. if you are one of three broadcast television stations and you are reaching less than 30%, you are out of business.
you really have to hug that middle when there are three of you. when you have hundreds of outlets, you can be quite successful with 3%, 4%. just as the humble postal letter used by vigory properly -- the postal letter properly targeted could raise millions of dollars and activate almost as many people, talk radio hosts like rush limbaugh targeted people. they argue conservative talk radio hosts created a template that led to commercial success by stimulating controversy and seeking out provocative topics. mimicked by cable television shows and blogs today, this formula can mobilize true believers and is effective in
low turnout primaries. talk radio was a huge factor in cantor's defeat. as the republican party, especially john boehner learned the hard way, the potential veto power that an activated base provides makes governing all the more difficult. to conclude, before condemning the current system universally, i think we might want to go back to that apsa report of 1950 and consider why those political scientists -- they are a smart bunch of people. why they were eager to create parties that put forward clear ideological positions that mapped on to effective programmatic agendas. they in the 1950s had witnessed a precipitous decline in the number of americans voting over
the course of the 20th century. that was very much on their mind. they understood that competition and clear choices had made for a far more participasy pa tory wi higher rates of voting. over 100% in chicago sometimes. they also understood that politics was more than pluralist division of material spoilz. politics was also about the clash of ideas. they urged politicians to delineate and articulate those ideas more vigorously. we all yearn for a day when both parties can work more effectively to resolve their differences. if the congress truly is the most representative branch of the government -- and i believe it to be that -- then we just might have to wait until the nation is less divided ideologically to see that
cooperation re-emerge in congress. looking back at history, we have often arrived at such majorities by excluding large segments of the population or in response to economic disasters and war. presumably something that none of us want. the risk here, of course, is that parties that fail to govern may well hasten just such an economic disaster or devastating war, even as they carry out the will of the people. thank you. [ applause ] >> i want to thank both of our speakers. really, a wonderful survey of american politics. it's reassuring to know our senators and representatives do not go around armed these days. the bullies beat each other up
with tweets now rather than with fists. it's also fascinating to know that there was a time when in our lifetime when there was bipartisanship and when the parties were not as polarized. i joined the staff of the senate historical office in 1976 at a time when the single most conservative senator was a democrat that was james eastland of mississippi. one of the most liberal senators was a republican that was jacob javitz of new york. the two parties were internally divided. there was never a party line vote. if there had been a party line vote, it would have made the front page of the "washington post." the conservatives in both parties voted against the liberals in both parties. that was the way things operated. no one expected that barry go t goldwater and jacob javitz would vote the same way. what's happened since then is our parties have been cohesive.
they agree with each other within their party conferences. there isn't very much middle ground in the process. parties have changed very dramatically. they are an external force. the people who get elected are decided by the voters. the nation changed the partisanship that exists. today if there's a party line vote, nobody pays any attention to it. if there's a bipartisan vote, it makes the front page of the newspaper. in fact, if two members of one party vote with the rest of the other party, it's declared to be a bipartisan vote. they are so desperate to get any kind of a swing support. i think we have gotten a good foundation now of what brought us to the era that we are in today. i would like now to open the floor to you to raise some questions of our speakers. yes. could you identify yourself? >> i'm a senior fellow at the government affairs institute at georgetown university. my question is for dr. freeman.
i very much enjoyed your presentation. one of your themes was how a lack of party structure was a factor in polarization. i would argue that that's also very true today. whether we're talking the caucus, the freedom caucus on the republican side, less time in office before leadership, less average time in congress, a decline of the seniority system, the decline of the regular order and use of the committee system. there's a list. it looks like the reverse -- >> i would add a media that's not controlled. >> absolutely. >> there are a number of different ways that you can look at that. i'm wondering from your historical background, are there some of those aspects that are more destabilizing than others? what seems like a reasonable fix to them to the extent there is one?
>> hopefully this is going to work. it's an interesting question. i mean, one of the -- one of the factors that shapes the period that i'm writing about is, of course, this is the period particularly when you get to jacksonian democrats, when they are figuring out what a two party system is going to look like. right? and so when i look over the long range of the period from the 1790s to the 1850s, part of what i'm seeing is no party, party structure and all -- actually the flip side of what you are talking about, a system that feels like a sfim aystem and feo the people engaged in it -- it's not that there's not party competition. but the people engaged in it, you get a sense that they feel that there's a structure. they feel there are things percolating in the way they should, no matter how fierce the partisan issues. then the collapse of that.
i don't know. when i was writing up my comments, the thing that i kept coming back to was distrust in the system, that the system is can a capable of containing what's going on. i wish -- i can't put my finger on the thing that i would say must be fixed more than anything else. but i certainly feel like that's one of the dramatic changes you see when you look at people engaged this politics over the long haul, is you see this growing distrust of the system and distrust of each other. because there's just no faith that there's an operational level ground. >> questions? yes. >> for people who would be coming up today and they would start to assume that -- i think if they look around, what's the
point of a party if it's not ideological. when i was in grad school, i had struggled with this idea that if you go back that the parties could be so internally incoherent. brian or joanne, if you could talk about, how did a party -- was it an accident of history that the parties existed under banners that contained so much disspirited views in any particular time? how could a party function if it was so ideologically disspirited? >> i think joanne put her finger on it for up until the invention of the telegraph, which is parties easily could ideological perspectives on what role government should play, let's say. yet adjust those on local level.
and get away with it. and other thing that i guess you might -- i know what a good historian you are. you don't need reminding. but it's worth saying that parties were built from the bottom up for much of american history. and today, one finds a much stronger structure -- party structure at the national level and all kinds of things at the local level. so by having such strong local roots, parties could pursue national platforms but wink, wink, nod, nod on the local level or take outright different positions. obviously, when harry truman desegregated the military off world war ii, that was something that southern democrats made very clear they weren't going along with. and we were still at a point where people expected parties to have differences at the local level. >> i will add to that a sort of
word for the structural component of parties, which i guess is always very immediate to me because when you look at 1798, 1799, 1800, what you see are people reaching desperately for that as a means, a mechanism of actually engaging in politics which also has to do with the bottom up-ness but also top down. so there's a fascinating letter, thomas jefferson letter i think in 1799 and he has a pamphlet and he wants people to be reading it. he wants to get it out. and in the letter, he's literally asking you know, there are these clubs where people talk about politics, do you think we could give these pamphlets to the clubs and then the clubs could -- he's reaching for party structure. so that's another part of the equation that i think it's easy to take for granted when you are not looking at people struggling to just figure out how do you get people who have something
they want to do together actually do that thing together. >> just to add my perspective of seeing how the senate used to operate, when the southern democrats chaired all the most important committees they were often out of step with the national party's agenda and they often blocked significant portions of it. but they didn't want to necessarily destroy their national party because the national party's majority kept them chairman of the committees. so there were lots of places where they gave in on issues and didn't feel they had to oppose on all accounts, and the senate historical office has done some oral histories with folks who worked in the background and talked about how james eastland, chairman of the judiciary committee, could work very well with ted kennedy or so many of the others who were chairmen of the subcommittees as long as it was behind the scenes and they could disagree with each other completely when it was out in public. today there is no particular advantage for the minority party to give any ground to the
majority party or the majority party to give anything to the minority party. there is not that sort of we need you, we need your support even if we disagree with you that once existed in the system. >> if i could just, one more thing. historically in the 19th century, party affiliation was less a choice and more an identity. you were of the party that your father was of and these identities were just passed down and there was no such thing as split votes. you literally voted the party ticket and so you know, you were of a party. you weren't sitting there thinking huh, democrat, republican, independent. no. that's why third party movements were so crucial. because people didn't go from the democratic party to the republican party. they went through a third party very much the way they went
through the republican party once the whigs collapsed. >> at some point, someone referred to one of those third parties as a screen. you hide behind the screen and kind of segue from one party to another. >> question here? would you identify yourself? >> [ inaudible ]. prior to that i spent a decade working at congressional research service here on the hill. you might be able to speak best to this. right after the political scientists were urging a strengthening of the party system, what we saw was voters stepping away from the parties, independents getting higher and higher percentage of the population. i suppose it's probably not a coincidence that in the last 30 years, we have seen more volatility between who controls the chambers starting in 1982 or '84 when reagan was around, when
the senate flipped barely to the republicans. that sort of dynamic of going back and forth, partisan control, when you think about it then from the perspective of a senator or representative, 1960, 1965, if you were republican you were just in the minority and it's not changing. >> wasn't going to happen. >> you had no reason to try to alter your behavior because you are never going to take up the chamber so you might as well go along to get along. once you realize, you're always playing for the next election. that's my own sense. i don't know if this is something that has happened prior to the last 50 years. it happened in the late 19th century, was there a disaffiliation away from party, the volatility of swinging back and forth and then a settling down? >> i mean, short answer is i do think it matters how obviously the chance or lack of a chance that the minority has as to how
they are going to deal with the majority. i also think in the period that i write about as don was just saying, it's also, it has something to do with how, what the press is or isn't seeing of how a minority is behaving. certainly in my, among my population, you see people taking very strong minority stands on the floor and then walking over to someone's desk and saying, you know, we can do this if you don't, you know, the actual political game. so i think that's part of it as well. i'm sure one could put one's finger on specific congresses where that would be very true. >> yeah. certainly from the mckinley-bryant election through 1930, it's not as powerful as the democratic hegemony starting in '32 but you do have a republican majority. what you get then, just as you got with the democratic majority, the new deal
coalition, are the power of factions within a party. so you have the bull moose party. you have two republicans running against each other in 1912. so we get woodrow wilson only because there were these factions within the republican party that split but if you take that out, you know, to generalize, you have a republican majority. and that really, i should have been more explicit. what i was really saying in the conclusion of my talk is when you have a populace, i actually think congress is representative of the people. i'm not one of those who thinks that par stisanship is just a battle among the elites. i think they know more. i think representatives and senators know more about their constituents than any elected official has ever known at any time in history. i think they know a lot about what their people want or at
least those people who are going to vote and those people who might vote in a primary want. that just happens not to translate into great governance. >> i would just add, you have to make a distinction between the house and the senate. the house is a majority-driven body. as long as the majority party sticks together they don't have to talk to the minority and they usually don't. minority party just gets shut out of a lot of what's -- the decision making. the rules of the senate are completely different. it gives huge muscle to the minority. we have had very powerful minorities in the days when the republicans had 35 senators under dirksen, they were the swing votes. they were the people that recorded and it was dirksen who got his picture on the cover of "time" magazine when the civil rights bill was passed because his vote was so essential to all of that. howard baker carried that on while he was minority leader and then transitioned very nicely in 1980 into becoming the majority leader. we had the senate had much less of a dramatic turnover when the republicans won after 26 years
of being in the minority than in the house when the republicans won after 40 years of being in the minority, it was like the french revolution. they changed -- just like changing the months of the year, they changed the names of all the committees, they changed everything. everybody went, the historian went t chaplain went. it was a dramatic difference at that stage of the game. i do think you have to look at the psych ches of the two institutions when you factor that in. question over here. >> looking at it, i'm fascinated [ inaudible ] and has been for 80 years since george norris made that happen. in 2015, a very red state increased gas tax, increased the minimum wage, gave dreamers the right to get drivers' licenses, did away with the death penalty, and they retained the secret vote which is how they elected
their speaker and their committee chairman so that you have democratic speakers sometimes and always democratic committee chairmen. is there any lesson in that for capitol hill? >> i think nebraska is a fantastic exception -- >> are you from nebraska? >> no, i'm not. i'm from indiana. but i think nebraska has something going on there that hasn't happened anywhere else and what can it tell us about our problems? >> i think that's -- i think you just presented a heck of a lot of evidence that's very persuasive. >> the committee chairman and the speaker, that's it, that's the structure. >> am i right that a lot of the colonial eras it was single body legislation? it wasn't the early period of a republic? >> a couple. a couple. >> it didn't work for the most part. what was the sense of it?
>> certainly, yeah, like pennsylvania was one that started out that way and switched it up. >> i would just ask you how has nebraska maintained at least a patina of nonpartisanship in a hyper partisan era? >> the parties tried over and over again since 1934 to reverse the nonpartisan aspect of the constitutional amendment and the people always say no, and after 1980, the parties gave up. they haven't tried to make it partisan again. but the fact that a republican senator, which they call their general members, can vote to end the death penalty when he himself is committed to the death penalty when he has no party telling him how to vote and has to learn about it himself and wasting tax payers' money, so when we spend money for all the appeals, we can't kill him anyway. it's big government waste is how they framed it. >> fascinating.
justice brandeis used to call the states laboratories of democracy. perhaps this is one to follow. >> [ inaudible ]. >> time for one more question. yes. >> i'm very interested in the evolution of political opposition and not only in how party structures evolved but also how our perceptions and definitions have evolved over time. one of the things i've been looking into is the role of primaries in this, in the 20th century. i wonder if you have any thoughts on that. >> well, i think that as i was saying to dan, the attachment to party has changed dramatically. there was i guess the comment about the rise of independents is the last time i had checked the number of people who identify as independents is almost equal or equal to democrats and republicans. so i think there's broadly
speaking in the 20th century, much more willingness to change parties and basically disregard the party labels. i think that what has most worked against parties in the 20th century is the ability for people running for office to find out about voters in ways that don't rely on the parties. i think that's crucial. we rarely ask well, what do parties really do when it comes to informing. we talk about party discipline but there's another side of parties. that's to provide information to people running about what their voters want in a mass democracy. so for a good 40 or 50 or 60 years, interest groups began to challenge parties in terms of providing information about voters. i know i'm not supposed to say that. i know interest groups are supposed to be evil and it's all
about money. but for at least the first half of the 20th century, interest groups proved again and again that they could provide better information about a group of voters who would go to the polls than the parties themselves. that's why elected officials began to move away from party information. the interest groups in the second half of the 20th century and today were replaced by public opinion polling, daily public opinion polling and in the last 15 years by big data. if you tell me what gym you belong to, whether you play golf and you know, of course, what your income is, what your -- all these things that are easily accessible, i have a very good idea about the set of issues you're interested in and i certainly don't need an interest group to tell me and i don't need the political party to tell me. i think structurally, that's what has been creating this
erosion of the connection between political parties and the voters themselves. >> quick follow-up? >> [ inaudible ] generally they lean one way or the other and the actual independent people, because like you're saying, you can find the attributes of individuals and whether or not they call themselves independent you can figure out which way they lean so in some ways it's obvious, the detaching of the party identification even as that idealogical program, the leaning one way or the other so that actual independence -- >> this works really well for getting elected, all this information. reassembling that information to govern is a nonstarter. this is not what people talk about when they hammer out obamacare. that's the real disconnect as far as i see it.
>> well, i want to thank the national history center for providing a nonpartisan basis for us to discuss partisanship today. and i want to thank our speakers for taking us back over the survey from the 19th through the 20th century up to the 21st century so that we don't have to say that we're shocked to see partisanship existing in the halls of the u.s. congress. i really appreciate your effort today and i hope all of you learned as much as i did. this has been a terrific session. thank you very much for coming. c-span's "washington journal" live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up wednesday morning, the president of the plowshares fund and author of nuclear nightmares, securing the world before it's too late. he will join us to talk about this week's nuclear security summit taking place here in
washington. he will also detail u.s. and global efforts to secure nuclear material so it doesn't wind up in the hands of terrorists. then yahoo! news deputy editor will be on to discuss a new yahoo! news project which takes a closer look at the types of people supporting donald trump's candidacy for president. also, scott lincecum, contributor for national review and cato institute adjunct scholar will talk about his cover story in the national review titled truth about trade. it has revealed and not created problems in the american economy. be sure to watch "washington journal" beginning live at 7:00 a.m. eastern wednesday morning. join the discussion. wednesday, american history tv in prime time continues with programs on the life, career and legacy of president abraham lincoln. authors and historians took part in the event hosted by the abraham lincoln institute and fords theater society. the life of our nation's 16th president starting at 8:00 p.m.
eastern here on c-span 3. the heritage foundation hosted a day-long event on the role of intelligence in national security and counterterrorism. speakers include former cia director general michael hayden, former house intelligence committee chair mike rogers and other defense and intelligence officials from the george w. bush and obama administrations. that's live at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow here on c-span 3. our bus continues its travels throughout the country to visit our winners from this year's student cam video documentary competition. the bus made a stop at jenks high school in jenks, oklahoma to recognize their student cam winners including the grand prize winner, olivia herd, on her video about the national debt and deficit. students, family members, school administrators and local officials attended the ceremony.
the bus also visited owners in oklahoma and texas this week. during the week we have worked with our cable partners, cox, charter, time warner and cable one to coordinate these visits for the winners. please watch all the winning videos from this year and to get more information on c-span's community efforts and the bus schedule. every weekday during the month of april, watch one of the top 21 winning entries at 6:50 a.m. eastern before "washington journal." eastern connecticut state university professor thomas balcerski talks about the culture of congress in the antebellum era. he describes how members of congress in the early 1800s bonded across party lines through tobacco use, social clubs and living together in boardinghouses. however, leading up to the civil war these friendships and alliances disintegrated,
revealing the sectional divisions in national politics at the time. his class is about an hour. >> all right. welcome, everybody. it's me, your professor, thomas balcerski and i'm really excited to offer you a lecture today on the political culture of the antebellum congress. the outline for today's lecture is we are first going to start with a review of the first and second party systems. i'm going to introduce a concept, a new concept to you. and that's the idea of political culture and i will compare that concept to something we have encountered before, political parties. finally, the bulk of the lecture is going to be presenting evidence, new evidence, in fact, some drawn from my own research and from those of other scholars in the area, on the antebellum political culture and as you will see, i have three major areas of evidence to talk about today. one, tobacco culture. two, political friendships. and three, affairs of honor.
we will conclude there after getting through that evidence. all right. so like we often do in the class i'm going to start today with an image on the screen and i'm going to ask you to tell me what you see. this is lady washington's reception from 1861. take it in. who can point out something that you see right away that strikes you? there we go. yeah. >> lady washington is on a platform. >> yeah. like how high do you think she is, maybe, off the ground? >> like, i don't know. a foot? >> a good foot. yeah. that's a good one. that's a good piece there. what else do you see? another one down there. thank you. >> everyone's dressed up super-fancy. >> yeah. like you are today, right? everyone's just dressing up the same way. no