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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

Comments of New York newspapers will give some idea of its trend.

Greeley began his editorial in the New Yorker with, "The message toes the mark."

"There are no two ways about it."

The Courier, a leading Whig paper, said that it "embodied in specious phrase and thin-veiled sophistry the most pernicious doctrines of Loco Focoism", and declared that the President "has gone the full length with the Plain Dealer, the Evening Post, the Washington Globe, Blair, Kendall and General Jackson ".

Of special interest is the opinion of the Times, the representative of the conservatives, which was as follows:

Our readers will have perceived, before this sheet reaches them, that the sentiments of Mr. Van Buren in relation to the establishment of Subtreasuries are in direct opposition to what we have conceived to be the views of a large majority of his political friends. While we admit that his arguments are ingenuous [ingenious] they have failed to remove the serious objections which have hitherto been urged against the system. 62

Marcy judged that the message "made mighty men of the leaders of the locofoco faction". 63

The message to the special session of the Twenty-fifth Congress, in truth, is a classical expression of the general democratic movement which so profoundly affected the political destinies of the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War.

The fundamental postulate of the message was that the real duty of government - "that duty the performance of which makes a good government the most precious of human blessings - is to enact and enforce a system of general laws commensurate with, but not exceeding, the objects of its establishment, and to leave every citizen and every interest to reap under its benign protection the rewards of virtue, industry, and prudence".

The main danger to fundamental equality of citizens arose from the activities of men intent on individual enterprises in manipulating public finance for the aggrandizement of their own projects - a danger to be apprehended both in the federal and the state governments.

The danger centred in the control of currency by corporations whose powers were of doubtful constitutionality and whose propensities were to "stimulate extravagance of enterprise by improvidence of credit".

To such improvidence the disasters of the time were traced.

Distinct sympathy was shown for the "great laboring classes who are thrown suddenly out of employment, and by the failure of magnificent schemes never intended to enrich them are deprived in a moment of their only resource"; and reliance for recovery from disaster was placed upon the agricultural interest; but the commercial classes received more criticism than solace.

The financial principle mainly to be relied upon for alleviation of the prevailing distress was to limit wherever possible the use of paper money and to foster the use of "legal" currency.

At any rate, the credit of the federal government was no longer to be used as the basis of private issues of notes nor exposed to the vicissitudes of bank deposits, and a treasury system for the reception, safe-keeping, and disbursement of public funds was the leading specific recommendation.

The message expressed in moderate but decided tone the main tenets of the Equal Rights party, though lacking some of their extravagances; and it may be looked upon as the primary manifesto of the larger Locofocoism to which the administration Democrats were henceforth committed. 64

62 Quotations from a number of journals were given in the Plain Dealer, September 9, 1837.

63 Marcy to Van Buren, December 8, 1837. Van Buren Pap., vol. XXX.

64 Richardson, Messages and Papers of the Presidents, III. 324-346.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

The decision of the President resulted, presently, in the ascendancy of the radicals in the Democratic organization of the city of New York.

The Locofocos promptly approved the special message, saying that it "awakens the admiration, and deserves the applause of every friend of Equal Rights, and will elicit the approbation of the whole genuine Democracy of the Union. 65

On the other hand, the General Committee and its adherents fought resolutely against "the radical and revolutionary doctrines which have swept over the land like a pestilence". 66

But the older order was gradually set aside by the younger element in Tammany; a coalition of candidates for the fall election was made with the Locofocos; and the organization was at last "purified" of monopolists.

Gideon Lee joined the Whigs, and it is to be presumed that many of his associates did likewise. 67

The Locofocos came back to the Wigwam.

Within the limited sphere of their direct political activities they had effected a revolution, and their work marked the close of an era in the history of Tammany.

To the watchful and apprehensive governor at Albany this change in the complexion of Tammany was very repugnant, and his letters written while it was in progress are full of caustic remarks about the Locofocos.

The "infusion of Slam-bangism" into the party ticket made it indeed a "precious morsel". 68

"The insolence of the locofocos who pretend they have (and for aught that appears they certainly have) a full endorsement of all their doctrines by the President is almost insufferable." 69

"We shall bye and bye have to ask these locofoco gentry where we shall go to church." 70

The banks, it would appear, are to be "surrendered to the Hideous Monster of locofocism". 71

It was unreasonable to expect, the governor thought, "that the democrats of the state will range themselves under the banners of Ming, Leggett, Slam, Jaques and others of better repute at Washington". 72

Marcy's opinion of the message needs careful consideration.

The statement in the Calendar of the Van Buren Papers that he approved it appears erroneous. 73

The best source for arriving at his real sentiments concerning it is a long letter which he wrote to Congressman Albert Gallup.

"I have tried very hard", Marcy wrote to Gallup, "to like the measures of the Message but I must confess to you that I have not succeeded."

"My high personal regard for Mr. V. B. and my great admiration of his talents, wisdom, and discretion ought to induce me to defer to his better judgment - but still my mind will not submit."

On the President's theory all of the financial transactions of the state would need to be made in specie, and "none but a mad locofoco would think of such folly".

The sub-treasury project was dangerous; "the state banks have not had a fair trial and it savours of rashness to give them up".

The party should not rely for success upon the destructive doctrines of the day.

"Indeed the doctrines of the message", the governor sagaciously observes, "seemed to me on its first perusal to involve the reconstruction of the political parties of the country if an attempt be made to carry them out."

"Every thing that has since taken place has confirmed that impression." 74

65 Byrdsall, op. cit., pp. 16I-162.

66 The quotation is from an address which was sent to Van Buren by the Committee, September 27, 1837. Van Buren Pap., vol. XXIX.

67 See Gustavus Myers, History of Tammany Hall (New York, 1917), pp. 112-116. TaIlmadge also a little later became a Whig, or at least was re-elected to the Senate by Whigs. Hammond, Hist. of Political Parties, II. 523. In 1844 he was appointed governor of Wisconsin territory by President Tyler, serving two years.

68 Marcy to Wetmore, October 25, 1837. Marcy Pap., vol. III.

69 Marcy to Gallup, September 23, 1837. Ibid.

70 Marcy to Wetmore, September 26, 1837. Ibid.

71 Marcy to Gallup, doc. cit. supra, note 69.

72 Ibid.

73 Marcy to Van Buren, September 18, 1837. Van Buren Pap., vol. XXIX. The letter is really non-committal. The portion referring to the message is as follows: "I have this morning received a copy of the Message under your frank for which I tender you my thanks. No one can have admired more than myself the very great ability it displays. You were doubtless prepared for some diversity of opinion among your political friends as to the policy of the measures therein recommended and I sincerely hope it will not be greater than you have anticipated."

74 Marcy to Gallup, September 23, 1837. Marcy Pap., vol. III. To any one who wishes to get at the deeper currents of the time in New York Democracy, this letter is important.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

The forebodings of the governor were confirmed by the startling success of the Whigs in the November elections in New York - a success precursory to subsequent victories in both the state and the nation which were the result in no small degree of the cleavages which were appearing in the Democratic party.

At this time a Van Buren majority of eighty-two on joint ballot in the legislature was transformed into a Whig majority of sixty-four, a net gain of 144 members. 75

Van Buren's lieutenants attributed this reverse largely to the defection of conservative democrats to the Whigs. 76

Van Buren himself, though astounded by this political tornado, judged it but a temporary matter. 77

Not so the astute Marcy.

"This blow", he wrote Wetmore, "will resound far and wide."

"I think it will startle the wise men at Washington. . . ."

"You think next year will restore all."

"Don't be too sure of that."

"We have taken a mischievous partner, into our concern."

"I mean the younger member, Locofocoism."

"The capital he brought in will not help us as much as his bad character will worsen our condition." 78

When, a year later, a yet more bitter defeat retired Marcy from the governorship, the Democratic Review (which, it will be recalled, was the intimate organ of Van Buren) criticized the leadership of the former, on the one hand, for not meeting squarely the question of the divorce of government from banking and, on the other, for catering to the conservatives.

And, subsequently, it complained that the state leaders had not boldly avowed democratic principles nor overcome "their ancient timid reverence for their banks, and their credit system, and their paper money."

I have tried to make clear this gradual drawing apart of these two leaders of the Democratic party, based on fundamental predilections, because it seems to me to afford a clue to the right understanding of the course of New York politics for the next decade or more.

Whether the question was concerning banks or canals or slavery, two groups habitually align themselves, according to their opposing views of fundamental democracy. 80

The one, inclining to the philosophy of enterprise, defended the state banks, championed the extension of the canal system, and affiliated itself with the expansionists of the South; the other, holding fast the principle of distributive justice, agitated the restriction of banks, tried to restrain canal promotion, and progressed toward "free soil, free speech, free labor and free men." 81

The one was the "Hunkers"; the other the "Barnburners ". 82

Personal ambitions and resentments, to be sure, entered into the political manoeuvres of these factions, but there was nevertheless between them an abiding distinction.

Marcy became the most prominent leader of the former, along with Crosswell, Beardsley, Horatio Seymour, and Dickinson; while Wright, Dix, Flagg, and Cambreleng continued under the captaincy of Van Buren. 83

The later political career of Van Buren gains in consistency if we consider it from the point of view of the course which he chose in 1837.

At bottom a Jeffersonian Democrat before that time, he then naturally and decisively affiliated himself with the renewed Jeffersonism of the Locofocos, and to this type of democracy he subsequently gave faithful adherence. 84

75 Niles, LIII. 193.

76 Flagg to Van Buren, November 9, 17, 1837; Cambreleng to Van Buren, November 9, 1837. Van Buren Pap., vol. XXX.

77 Van Buren to Parker, November 16?, and to Jackson, November 18. Van Buren Pap., vol. XXX.

78 Marcy to Wetmore, November 9, 1837. Marcy Pap., vol. III.

79 Democratic Rev., V. 6, 7; VI. 506.

80 One catches recurring glimpses of this alignment in the engaging pages of Hammond's Hist. of Political Parties; and there is a succinct and suggestive statement concerning it by Alexander Johnston in Lalor's Cyclopedia of Political Science, II. 476.

81 Contrast the address of the "regular" state convention of 1847 with the speech of John Van Buren at the Herkimer meeting. Niles, LXXIII. 390-392, 174-175.

82 The term "Hunker" appears to have been used by radicals of Tammany as an opprobrious designation of conservatives at least as early as 1835. Byrdsall, op. cit., pp. 16, 17. Schouler, History of the United States, IV. 462, connects "Barnburner" with radicalism by a possible derivation from charges of incendiarism brought against the reformers in the Dorr Rebellion in Rhode Island.

83 Lalor, Cyclopedia, II. 476; Schouler, V. 98.

84 "He was the same Van Buren in 1848 that he had always been; not one of the distinctly 'Locofoco' doctrines had he abjured, except, perhaps, that of the unconstitutionality of internal improvements. He had not made a single concession." T.C. Smith, Liberty and Free Soil Parties in the Northwest, p. 146. An estimate of Van Buren which was made by Leggett is perhaps suggestive of his real character: "We consider Mr. Van Buren an exceedingly cautious man in forming his conclusions; but we look upon him as equally firm in adhering to them when once fully and carefully formed, after a careful consideration of a subject in all its aspects and bearings." The Plain Dealer, April 22, 1837.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

Moreover, during the period which lay between Van Buren's message of the autumn of 1837 and the Democratic convention of the summer of 1844 when the Democracy of expansion sprang into the saddle with the nomination of Polk - a period in which Van Buren, abetted by Wright and Benton and blessed by the old hero of the Hermitage, was something more than titular leader of his party - Locofoco principles were in the ascendant in the Democracy of the nation.

During this period, indeed, the Democratic party was quite generally called the Locofoco party by its opponents, and the appellation was no longer disavowed by faithful adherents.

It was not without significance, as Professor Dodd has observed, that in the Democratic platform of 1840, "For the last time in the history of ante-bellum Democracy the Declaration of Independence was declared to be an item of the party faith". 85

Leggett during this period became to the national progressive Democracy a sort of political saint, who was regarded as having been martyred to the cause now so generally espoused.

Was it not he, exclaimed the Democratic Review, who had raised the flag inscribed with the "motto of hostility to chartered monopoly" to which the Democracy of the country was now rallying?

Was not he "the leader and master-spirit of that gallant crusade of reform", now honored in all parts of the Union as Locofocoism?

Truly, "the vast success of that purity and sternness of principle which he had espoused in advance was infusing new strength and power into the great army of American Democracy". 86

Nor were the original Locofocos held ignoble in the eyes of the Van Buren Democracy.

In truth it was considered fortunate for freedom that some ardent spirits dared to "carry their ideas to the verge of extravagance", for thus there was furnished a counterbalance to the drag of anti-liberalism.

The Locofoco doctrines were generally sound, and their practice would make the world happier.

Essentially, these doctrines were those of Jefferson, Taylor, and Madison - a simple emphasis on equal rights, "a clear field and no favors".

The Locofocos, in fine, insisted upon "all the consequences which can fairly be educed from the principles which are at the foundation of democratic liberty".87

They were to be honored, indeed, for having prepared "by a long process of deep agitation on fundamental principles . . . the incipient fermentation of the purifying leaven of 'Locofocoism' which is now fast leavening the whole lump". 88

85 W. E. Dodd, Expansion and Conflict, p. 11O.

86 Democratic Rev., VI. 17-28.

87 Article on "Radicalism", ibid., III. 99-111.

88 "New York City vs. New York State", ibid., VI. 499-517.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

The national Locofocoism identified itself with its local prototype in New York, moreover, in regarding the banking interests as then constituted in this country as a bulwark of privilege similar to that of the feudal nobility in Europe.

The pith of the progressive Democracy's opposition to the credit system was the issuance by the banks of a currency not strictly redeemable in specie.

The great evil was the want of a fixed measure of value, and the prime remedy was the "separation of the two distinct functions of creating and lending the currency". 89

The idealism, also, of the early protagonists of equal rights was not wanting in their national successors.

Though this idealism may to some extent have been an affectation for party purposes of the hour, though its rhetoric may have been at times strained, there can be no denying its reality nor its deep-lying power of appeal to the American people.

The Locofocos earnestly felt themselves charged with a mission for the future of democracy.

For Democracy is the cause of Humanity. It has faith in human nature. It believes in its essential equality and fundamental goodness. . . .Its object is to emancipate the mind of the mass of men from the degrading and disheartening fetters of social distinctions and advantages . . . by striking at their root to reform all the infinitely varied human misery which has grown out of the old and false ideas by which the world has been so long misgoverned; to dismiss the hireling soldier; to spike the cannon, and bury the bayonet; to burn the gibbet, and open the debtor's dungeon; to substitute harmony and mutual respect for the jealousies and discord now subsisting between different classes of society, as the consequence of their artificial classification. It is essentially involved in Christianity, of which it has been well said that its pervading spirit of democratic equality among men is its highest fact. . . 90

The idealistic democracy which the Locofocos represented and propagated was an important element in that crystallization of political sentiment and experience into constitutional forms, which was going on within the various states between 1830 and 1860, but which progressed with most rapidity after 1844.

During these thirty years the constitutions of practically all of the older states were recast, and those of ten new ones were formed. 91

The progress of this development was surveyed from time to time by the Democratic Review in a series of thoughtful and optimistic articles, which affords one of the best sources for its study. 92

89 Democratic Rev., VI. 449-462; I. 260-262.

90 Ibid., I. I-15.

91 The movement has been sketched by McMaster in History of the United States, VII. 162-189, and by J.Q. Dealey under the caption of "The Period of Developing Democracy" in The Growth of American State Constitutions, pp. 47-55. There are informing articles by F.L. Paxson, "The Constitution of Texas, 1845 ", in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XVIII. 386-398, and "A Constitution of Democracy - Wisconsin,
1847", in the Mississippi Valley Historical Review, II. 3-24.

92 "Constitutional Reform", XIII. 563-576; "The Progress of Constitutional Reform in the United States", XVIII. 243-256; "History of Constitutional Reform in the United States", ibid., 403-420; "The New-York Constitutional Convention ", XIX. 339-348; "Constitutional Governments: the Constitution of Wisconsin ", XX. 195-204. The author of most, if not all, of these articles was John Bigelow. Bigelow, Retrospections of an Active Life (New York, 1909), I. 70; cited by Paxson, Miss. Valley Hist. Rev., II. 13.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

In one of these the significance of the movement in general was sought to be interpreted.

During the eighteenth century, it was asserted, some of the liberal statesmen of Europe had acknowledged that the people should have some influence in government; yet they were far from trusting the people with government.

Likewise, in the beginnings of our own constitutional governments (notably in the Federal Convention of 1787) there had been on the part of many able men marked distrust of government by the people.

Now, however, the great experiment in self-government was being moulded into abiding form by a new political science, and reform was receiving "a direction which will secure the enactment and administration of laws for the benefit of the whole people". 93

The reconstitution of popular government in this period, indeed, forms a chapter in the general history of democracy which perhaps has not been sufficiently appreciated by thoughtful Americans.

Chevalier, surveying our democracy in the earlier part of the period and noting the significant initiation of our populace into the things which make for a full democratic civilization, burst out with, "This is the first time since the origin of society, that the people have fairly enjoyed the fruits of their labours, and have shown themselves worthy of the prerogatives of manhood." 94

To attempt to delineate the extent to which the divergences in the New York Democracy, which we have been studying, were reproduced in the national politics of the time and, in particular, to trace the influence of the radical element through the Van Buren Democracy upon the great movement which has just been referred to, would take us far afield and necessitate a survey for which the author's studies are immature; but some clear indications of the "leavening" process may be set forth briefly.

The influence of Locofocoism is discernible upon the constitutional convention which was held in New York in 1846.

The Locofocos had begun to agitate for a reform convention as early as 1837 when they had framed an interesting model constitution. 95

"The career of the [Equal Rights] party was ephemeral", Dougherty remarks, "but its animosity against special legislation and special privileges had its influence upon the new constitution". 96

This effect was the more direct, perhaps, because ex-Congressman Churchill C. Cambreleng was chairman of the committee on banking.

This committee recommended that there should be no special bank charters and no legal suspension of specie payments, and these recommendations were embodied in the new constitution. 97

The noteworthy reform of the judiciary, which was effected, was likewise a matter which had been very earnestly pressed by the early Locofocos. 98

In general, the convention of 1846, if we may accept the opinion of Alexander, ushered in a new era in New York in government by the people - an era when property no longer "measured a man's capacity and influence". 99

93 Democratic Rev., XX. 195.

94 Michel Chevalier, Society, Manners and Politics in the United States (Boston, 1839), pp. 428-437.

95 Byrdsall, pp. 163-167.

96 J.H. Dougherty, Legal and Judicial History of New York, ed. Alden Chester (New York, I911), II. 152.

97 Charles Z. Lincoln, The Constitutional History of New York (1906), II. 195-198.

98 Byrdsall, op. cit., pp. 164-165.

99 DeA. S. Alexander, A Political History of the State of New York (1906), II. 105-107.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, continued ...

Author(s): William Trimble

The Wisconsin conventions of 1846 and 1847 show strong influences from New York.

The factions and nomenclature of the New York Democracy were reproduced to a very considerable extent both within the convention halls and in political discussions in the state at large.

The New York constitution of I846 was taken as a model. 100

In the first convention forty-two out of 124 members were from that state; in the second, twenty-five out of sixty-nine. 101

Locofocoism was rampant in the former.

Extremely radical provisions on banking were introduced and championed by Edward G. Ryan, chairman of the committee on banking, an Irishman by birth who had come to New York City in 1830 and had been admitted to the bar there in 1836. 102

Another New Yorker, a small merchant by the name of Gibson, tried to tone these down by offering a resolution allowing banks under restrictions.

An old Locofoco doctrine appeared in a motion by Mr. Crawford (a native of Vermont who had long resided in St. Lawrence County, New York) that "all laws for the collection of debts shall forever be prohibited within this state." 103

This motion failed; but so radical in general were the features of the constitution as finally reported, that it was rejected by popular vote.

It is interesting to notice that ex-Governor Nathaniel P. Tallmadge, erstwhile of New York, "was considered the commander-in-chief of the anti-constitutional forces ". 104

The second convention was more of Hunker persuasion (re-enforced by Whig influence); and the constitution as finally adopted, especially in its comparatively moderate articles on banking and exemption, reflected in the main Locofocoism as modified by Hunker sentiment, a sentiment which was becoming more pronounced because wheat-raisers on the eastern shore were feeling the need of closer business relations with New York. 105

100 Paxson in Miss. Valley Hist. Rev., II. 9.

101 Tenny and Atwood, Memorial Record of the Fathers of Wisconsin (Madison, 1880), pp. 20-22; Milwaukee Volksfreund, December 30, 1847.

102 Ryan afterwards became a prominent jurist, and an honored chief justice of the state. It is worth while noticing that a number of young men, afterwards notable, were in touch at the outset of their careers with the radical movement in New York City. Among these may be mentioned John Bigelow, Theodore Sedgwick, jr., Horace Greeley, and Samuel J. Tilden.

103 The Locofocos had urged that debts should be only debts of honor and that credit should rest merely upon individual morality. Byrdsall, p. I49. This contention was later related to legal exemption, which was one of the subjects registering democratic advance in this period.

104 Louise P. Kellogg, "The Admission of Wisconsin to Statehood ", in vol. I. of a Documentary Constitutional History of Wisconsin. [in press], edited by Milo M. Quaife and associates.

105 The data for this paragraph have been derived for the most part from a large collection of materials for the history referred to in the preceding note. Superintendent Quaife kindly allowed me to consult this collection.

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Post by thelivyjr »

Diverging Tendencies in New York Democracy in the Period of the Locofocos, concluded ...

Author(s): William Trimble

The Iowa conventions of the same period showed no such predominance of men from any one state as was the case in Wisconsin, though there was a considerable sprinkling of natives of New York.

Yet here also appears the usual threefold division of Whigs, moderate Democrats, and radical Democrats; here also, as usual, questions of banking and incorporation are foremost; and here also we find employed the shibboleths of the New York ultra-radicals. 106

The assignment of definite origins to widely held opinions involves too much risk of error to let us infer with finality, from the above indications, that the frontier democracy of the upper Mississippi Valley in making its constitutions drew some of its major conceptions from the apostles of ultraism in New York City; but, on the other hand, we may at least raise the question whether the conceptions put forth in these instruments were to so great an extent indigenous as has been maintained. 107

The frontier truly was a nursery of lusty and creative democracy; but of a democracy too busy, too individualistic, to be so well fitted for the slow and subtle processes of the formulation of social and political creeds as were older foci of population and opinion where life was more complex and mental contacts and collisions more frequent.

As Professor Shambaugh, of Iowa, expressed it recently in conversation with the author in comment upon the constitutional movement in Iowa: "The frontiersman preferred to take his formulas ready-made and to fight for them, rather than go to the trouble of making them himself."

It is certain, at any rate, that New York City in the early thirties was a centre where the impacts of transformations fundamental in modern life were being deeply felt; that these transformations were reflected in divergences which developed within the Democratic party in 1837 and thereafter, with wide-reaching effects; and that chief among these effects was the promulgation of the formulations and spirit of the Locofoco propagandists.

These voiced the ultra-idealism of the age 108 - an idealism which, permeating the North with a renewed aggressive doctrine of the equality of mankind at the time when to a large degree the South was yielding to the theory of social stratification, helped to make the United States (and therefore perhaps the world) "safe for democracy".


106 Note the views and expressions of John C. Hall, an attorney, whose native state was New York. Benjamin F. Shambaugh, Fragments of the Debates of the Iowa Constitutional Conventions, pp. 72-73, 102, 188-191; also remarks of other members concerning banking, pp. 74-80.

107 For example, by Professor Paxson in Miss. Valley Hist. Rev., II. 3, 4.

108 The expression is akin to one quoted ibid., p. 4.
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