"Any Changes, Eh?": Party Defection, Party Switching, and Shifting Allegiances in Antebellum America, 1830-1860
Author ORCID Identifier
Year of Publication
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Arts and Sciences
Dr. Mark Wahlgren Summers
Political party ties hardened during the Second Party System period, most noticeably in the transition from the Federalist and Democratic-Republicans to the Democratic and Whig parties. “Any Changes, Eh?” argues that politically-minded Americans still found ways to leave their political parties and support another, even in the face of social and political ostracism. As party ties grew stronger, party defection shifted from direct to indirect methods to challenge political system. Sometimes these movements were permanent conversions, other times they were a protest vote only to make a point to their home party. Party defection took a variety of forms beyond just announcing a leave of party; forming coalitions, fusion tickets, and double agents. These strategies formed the basis of partisan strategies as well as contributed to final election results.
Combining newspaper sources, print media, and the personal writings of political insiders, this dissertation complicates the story of antebellum politics to show the direct and indirect ways Americans challenged the party conventions of their age. “Any Changes, Eh?” also shows the limits to such movement between parties. Even after their new party identity, those defectors reckoned with the lingering remnants of the old party ties, even as the parties themselves disappeared and became replaced.
At the start of the antebellum era in the 1820s, parties were formed by strong personalities and local allegiances allowing individuals greater ease in supporting opposing factions. For the next three decades the stain of apostasy could be mitigated through a careful process of engaging in the political culture of honor. One could take performative steps to demonstrate the sincerity of their conviction to change political parties, often in the public eye for community approbation. Surrounding the 1844 election parties of personality declined, replaced with loyalty to issues and the party itself. As discreet issues overtook personal loyalty, the increased focus on slavery infected the Whig and Democratic parties as they attempted to wrestle with internal factions demanding that the only way to organize a national party was in accepting sectional demands as the party line. The collision of sectional, local, and decades-long loyalties to party meant that the new Republican Party had to navigate creative methods to encourage defection, such as fusing with dissident Know-Nothings at the local level or encouraging defectors to use their old party allegiances to fight their rivals from within the old battle lines
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Bryan Dissertation Fellowship, University of Kentucky History Department, Spring 2023.
Lance Banning Fellowship in Early American History, University of Kentucky History Department, Summer 2021.
Charles Roland Fellowship in American History, University of Kentucky History Department, Summer 2021.
Wood, Jacob, ""Any Changes, Eh?": Party Defection, Party Switching, and Shifting Allegiances in Antebellum America, 1830-1860" (2023). Theses and Dissertations--History. 77.