|THE ELECTION OF 1856: POLITICAL CULTURE IN THE ERA OF JACKSONIAN DEMOCRACY
Political analysts in the 21st century frequently lament the problem of low voter turnout in state and national elections. Observers at the beginning of the 19th century would probably have agreed with them. In the presidential election of 1824, voter turnout was a paltry 28%. However, in the decades between that election and the Civil War, something remarkable happened to American politics. Americans—at least white, male Americans—were drawn into the electorate and then into political partisanship in enormous numbers. In the election of 1840, voter turnout soared to 78% even as the electorate itself expanded. These changes were part of a transformation of American political culture that historians call “Jacksonian Democracy.” This packet uses documents from the 1856 presidential election to help you explore the culture of politics in the antebellum era.
Historians have referred to the 1810s as the “Era of Good Feelings.” During this period, the partisanship that characterized the administrations of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson seemed to fade, and the Federalist party virtually disappeared. Some Americans celebrated the disappearance of “factions,” as they called early political parties. But events in 1819 showed that political conflict was not dead in the United States. Both the Panic of 1819 and the fight over the admission of Missouri in 1819 and 1820 revealed deep divisions among Americans over questions of economic policy and the politics of slavery. Martin Van Buren, among others, argued that America needed political parties—organized, disciplined, focused political parties—to offer Americans a controlled way to express their political differences. Otherwise, Van Buren feared that these conflicts, especially conflicts over the power of slave states, would irrevocably split the nation.
Van Buren and others organized the Democratic Party in 1820s, helping to elect Andrew Jackson as president in 1828. Americans who opposed the central policies of the Democratic party soon organized a second political party—the Whigs. The Whigs elected their first presidential candidate, William Henry Harrison, in 1840, and the presidency seesawed back and forth between the parties in the 1840s and early 1850s. The period when the Whigs and Democrats were the two major national parties is often called the “Second Party System.”
The Whigs and the Democrats drew support from all sections of the nation—North, South, and West. They were truly national parties, as Van Buren hoped they would be. Van Buren argued that national parties, focused on issues of federal power, the economy, internal improvements, etc., would prevent sectional differences between the North and South from flaring into hot political issues.
At the same time that the Second Party System was developing, the American electorate was changing. In the years immediately after the American Revolution, voting in most states had been limited to free adult citizens (virtually always men) who owned a certain amount of property. However, artisans—who owned their tools but not necessarily land—and other men who were excluded from voting by the property restrictions began to clamor for the right to vote. Gradually states began to change their voting laws to permit adult men without property to vote. These same states simultaneously began to limit voting to white men only. By 1840, the United States had nearly universal white male suffrage.
The new political parties wanted to tap into this growing pool of voters. Thus at the same time that they articulated their positions on the issues, the parties also created a political culture intended to appeal not to elite voters but to the “common man.” Political candidates, who continued to be wealthy men, played up the characteristics that would appeal to a wide range of voters. Andrew Jackson, nicknamed “Old Hickory,” was touted as an Indian fighter and hero of the War of 1812. He was a westerner, a man who had fought and won duels and whose marriage had a hint of scandal about it. When the Whigs chose their first presidential candidate, they followed suit: William Henry Harrison was portrayed as a western war hero, Indian fighter, hard drinker, and folksy man. (His campaign was called the “Log Cabin” campaign.)
Moreover, the parties organized locally and appealed to local interests. They used a variety of tactics to mobilize voters in support of a particular party, playing on antebellum Americans’ propensity to join clubs and associations. Party rallies brought men together, entertained them, and appealed to their patriotism and their party loyalty. Elections became serious competitions—battles—in which partisans sometimes literally fought with each other in support of party and candidate. Newspapers were a central element of this new political culture. During the 19th century, newspapers proliferated (San Francisco, for example, had 6 major newspapers and perhaps 20 minor newspapers in 1856). These newspapers were usually openly partisan. They printed the party ticket on the masthead every day. They ran editorials glorifying their own party and vilifying their opponents. They rallied readers to support their parties and thus became a crucial tool for party organization.
The process of voting in the antebellum era contributed to this sense of elections as contests or battles. Voting in most states was either viva voce (out loud) or done by dropping a colored or decorated slip of paper (a ballot, or ticket) into a voting box in front of others. Voting commonly took place in the local saloon where men gathered to drink, support their party, and brawl with opponents. Voters had to be sure they had the right ticket and sometimes had to fight their way to the ballot box. Voter fraud also occurred. Sometimes parties printed bogus ballots and tried to trick voters into depositing the wrong ballot in the box. Some precincts reported false-bottomed ballot boxes, ballot-box stuffing, the theft of ballot boxes, multiple voting, and a host of other problems. While members of both parties had an interest in cheating to make sure their candidates won, they also had an interest in keeping a close watch on the voting process to make sure the other side played fair.
By the mid-1850s, the political scene was changing. The political culture was the same, but the political players were different. The Whig party collapsed in the early 1850s. In its place, two new parties arose—the American party and the Republican party. Three candidates ran for president in 1856: John C. Fremont for the Republicans, James Buchanan for the Democrats, and Millard Fillmore for the American party. You will be reading documents from the 1856 election in this packet.
Since political parties sought to appeal to voters in terms of local, as well as national, interests, it is important to know a little about San Francisco in 1856. When gold was discovered in California, in January 1848, San Francisco was a hamlet of about 1000 people. By 1856, about 36,000 people lived in the city, making it the ninth largest city in the United States. Most of the initial immigrants were men, but by 1855 a growing number of middle-class women were arriving from the northeastern United States to settle in San Francisco with their merchant husbands. San Francisco was tremendously diverse, with settlers from the northern and southern United States, from Chile, Mexico, Hawaii, China, Ireland, Germany, England, France, and many other nations. In some cases, San Franciscans simply marveled at the diversity, but there were violent conflicts over immigration as well. The city’s economy was quite volatile, driven by the boom and bust of the gold economy and by the difficulty of getting goods to California. A series of spectacular bank failures in 1854 and 1855 had merchants on edge. Finally, political corruption—including bribery, voter fraud, bought juries, and incompetent judges—drove some San Franciscans to organize a Vigilance Committee in the summer of 1856. The vigilantes claimed that the courts were too corrupt to do their job, and they kidnapped four murderers from the city jail, “tried” them, and hanged them from the windows of vigilante headquarters. In addition, the vigilantes exiled two dozen men from the city, charging that they had engaged in voter fraud and threatening to kill them if they ever returned. Six thousand San Francisco men joined the Vigilance Committee, including several city militia units. The Vigilance Committee disbanded in August 1856, and several of its members promptly organized a political party, named the People’s Party, to reform city government. The brand new San Francisco Republican Party endorsed the People’s Party candidate for local office, but the Democrats supported their own candidates for local office.
In today’s packet, you will be looking at documents drawn from two San Francisco newspapers in the fall of 1856: the California Daily Chronicle, which was a Republican paper, and the San Francisco Daily Herald, which was Democratic. Keep in mind that these are partisan newspapers. Thus we can use them to explore both what political parties were doing in San Francisco in 1856 and also what newspapers, in particular, did to help mobilize support for political parties. As you read, be aware of the propaganda function of the newspapers, and be cautious about taking their descriptions of events and people at face value.
San Francisco Daily Herald, August 28, 1856.
GOOD REASONS FOR SUPPORTING MR. BUCHANAN.—The Lancaster (Pa.) American Press, recently Know Nothing, has raised the Buchanan flag, and gives sundry good reasons for doing so—among which we particularly commend the fourth, which is all-important at this crisis. They are—
Because he is our neighbor and friend, and because he has done more for the poor of this city than all his traducers put together.
Because he is a statesman of the first order of intellect, and is vastly the superior in every respect of his competitors.
Because he is an honest man, and will administer the government honestly and faithfully.
Because he will be the President, not of a faction, or a section of the Union, but of the whole American people—and will know no South, no North, no East, no West, but treat all alike, fairly and impartially, in the true spirit of the Constitution.
Because we know him, and can truly say that he is one of the purest, as he is among the ablest, statesmen now living.
For these and other reasons, which we might give had we the room, we prefer James Buchanan for the Presidency, and shall do what we can to promote his election.
Californians may add another:
Because under a national administration, only, can the Pacific Railroad be commenced or completed.
San Francisco Daily Herald, September 6, 1856
THE FREMONT PLATFORM.
“I look forward to the day when there shall be a servile insurrection in the South; when the black man, armed with British bayonets and led on by British officers, shall assert his freedom and wage a war of extermination against his master; when the torch of the incendiary shall light up the towns and cities of the South and blot out the last vestige of slavery; and though I may not mock at their calamity, nor laugh when their fear cometh, yet I will hail it as the dawning of a political millennium.—[Joshua R. Giddings,
“There is a higher law than the Constitution which regulates our authority over the domain*** It (slavery) can be and must be abolished, and you and I must do it.***You will soon bring the parties of the country into an effective aggression upon slavery.”—[William II. Seward.
“The Whig party is not only dead, but stinks.” –[Benjamin F. Wade.
“I am willing in a certain state of circumstances TO LET THE UNION SLIDE.”—[N. P. Banks.
“In the case of the alternative being presented of the continuance of slavery or a dissolution of the Union, I am for dissolution, and I care not how quick it comes.”—[Rufus P. Spalding.
“On the action of this Convention depends the fate of the country: if the “Republicans” fail at the ballot-box, we will be FORCED TO DRIVE BACK THE SLAVEOCRACY WITH FIRE AND SWORD.”—[James Watson Webb.
“The times demand and we must have an Anti-Slavery Constitution, an Anti-Slavery Bible, and an Anti-Slavery God.”—[Anson Burlingame.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco), October 22, 1856
Who are the Secessionists?
The slave-extension, anti-Railroad party, endeavors to elude investigation into its anti-National attitude by crying out that the Republicans are secessionists, and to prove their assertions they quote the wild ravings of a few such men as Wm. Lloyd Garrison—frantic abolitionists, who have neither power nor influence, and who favor the election of Buchanan and oppose Fremont, because, as they declare, they will not be able to make any progress in sectional agitation if the Republican party is successful. But, while our enemies revile us, their own papers teem with the rankest treason, and boldly avow secession and dissolution as part of the religion of the party, in case they are not permitted to triumph with their pro-slavery principles. The South never had an object to accomplish that they did not raise this cry, and the free States have invariably yielded, to avoid even the possibility of a result which they never have believed, and do not believe can be accomplished. It is only now, when the North is driven to the wall; when further concession is destruction to every constitutional right, and to that sacred instrument itself, that it says to the fanatical, sectional, and secession masters of the Democratic party, “So far shalt thou go, but no farther.”
South Carolina, headed by John C. Calhoun, was going to dissolve the Union in 1832, because the tariff was not adjusted to please the great Nullifier, and in 1844 the Union was again to be dissolved if the North did not incontinently consent to the annexation of Texas.
San Francisco Daily Herald, September 8, 1856
THE TUOLUMNE DEMOCRACY.—Intelligence from every part of the County, says the Union Democrat, is received of the most encouraging character to the Democracy. Clubs are now formed in nearly every precinct, and members are enrolling their names by hundreds nightly. The Democrats, to a man, are awake to the importance of the coming issue, and our friends abroad can rest assured that Tuolumne will, next November, wheel again into the Democratic column, backed and sustained by at least five hundred majority.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco), September 2, 1856
Organization is indispensable to efficient action. In calling upon our Republican friends throughout the State to effect organizations, however small in numbers, we do so for the double purpose of rendering them our aid by furnishing them with documents and speakers, through the Central Committee, and that they may aid each other by an interchange between their respective clubs, of speakers and other means of support.
The New York Tribune publishes the following sensible hints in regard to campaign meetings, which we commend to general attention:
Unless some method and forecast be observed, one-half the meetings may be failures.
1st, then: Do not engage too many speakers. Two good, reliable ones, fixed and secured for the occasion, with a contingent reserve of local aid are quite enough for any one meeting.
The calls are very great and no supernumeraries should be engaged.
2nd. Secure your speakers first, and let them fix the time; otherwise you will involve them in confusion and yourselves in disappointment.
3rd. If your speakers are from abroad, see that provision is made for compensation, at least for expenses. Remember, it is a sacrifice to leave family, home, business, and travel night and day, pay fare and hotel bills. “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn.” Remember, there are many of you, and your sacrifice for one meeting. Your speakers are in the daily sacrifice of time, business, lungs and constitution.
4th. If your gatherings are too large for in-doors, then select a grove or woods. Always erect a speakers’ stand, and see that it is covered with boards (not canvas.) It saves the speakers’ voices and helps the audience to hear. Let your covering-boards project three or four feet beyond the platform on which the speaker stands; then you will be sure to protect his voice. This arrangement may seem of small moment to you, but it is of immense moment to the speaker.
5th. If possible, in every gathering, arrange for some good, soul-stirring GLEE SONGS. Let your Glee Clubs be mad eup of male and female singers. Take care that the songs sung are not buffoonery and trash. Let them be such as have soul in them.
6th. Never fail of inviting your wives, daughters and sisters. Their presence and refining influence are everywhere being felt in our meetings. The wrongs of Kansas stir woman’s heart to its centre.
7th. Don’t waste too much money on banners, powder and processions, but rather save it for documents and papers.
8th. Don’t fritter away half your day or evening in preliminaries, as to who shall be chairman, committee, &c. Remember nine o’clock comes very soon after dark. Get right to work, else your audience will tire before you begin.
These hints—especially that relating to engaging speakers and preparing the speakers’ stand—will be of incalculable advantage. We ask our brethren of the press to insert, if they agree with us in these suggestions, or, in the other case, offer better.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco), November 3, 1856
Grand Torch-Light Procession
The REPUBLICANS OF THIS City and County of San
Francisco are cordially invited to participate in a
Grand Torch-Light Procession,
TO BE FORMED ON MARKET STREET,
THIS EVENING, NOVEMBER 3
at half-past six o’clock.
Come one, come all! As this will be the GRANDEST POLITICAL DEMONSTRATION EVERY MADE ON THE PACIFIC COAST.
ORDER OF PROCESSION
Right Resting on First street.
FIRST GRAND DIVISION.
Grand Marshal and Aids.
Fremont Bear Flag Club,
Fremont and Dayton Club,
Young Men’s Pacific Railroad Club,
Twelfth District Republicans Club,
SECOND GRAND DIVISION.
American Brass Band,
Independent Fremont Club,
Fremont Jessie Club,
Independent Bear Flag Club,
French Republican Club.
THIRD GRAND DIVISION.
Eighth District Republican Club,
Tenth District Republican Club,
Citizens Generally, (not members of Clubs,)
Draymen’s Club, (mounted,)
Teamsters’ Club, (mounted,)
Citizens Generally, (mounted)
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco), October 15, 1856
ANOTHER GREAT REPUBLICAN MEETING!
CALIFORNIAN’S GREETING TO MAINE.
CALIFORIA FOR FREMONT!
The largest and most enthusiastic meeting ever held in the city of San Francisco assembled last night at Music Hall, to echo back the shouts of rejoicing of the Republican freemen of Maine. We say largest meeting, notwithstanding hundreds, and we might say thousands, were compelled to go away, being absolutely unable to get near enough to the door even to hear the speakers. Amidst the booming o cannon and the glare of rockets, which were constantly being fired, that joyous, triumphant crowd met, to show their appreciation of the onward progress of Fremont and of liberty. Such concentrated enthusiasm, such bursts of heartfelt, soul-stirring applause as shook the spacious Hall to its very foundation, during the progress of the meeting, we have never before witnessed at any political gathering. We were wrong to say political—the ladies and gentlemen who assembled there did not come as politicians but as American freemen and free women, determined to show that even the gallant sons and daughters of the “Star in the East” could not surpass them in their love of freedom and of right. San Franciscans may well be proud; they have reason to be so, for they have come nobly forward, almost as a unit, and shown the Union where their hearts and feelings are. Those who had been most sanguine in their expectations were perfectly astonished at the tremendous demonstration of last night.
But still it was natural, for the sturdy yeomanry and noble women of New England were well represented in that meeting. Many a freeman there could imagine, when he was lustily cheering for the cause he loved, that the voice of a father or brother was echoing and re-echoing amid the hills and valleys of his native State.
The meeting was called to order, and Judge Bennett was unanimously elected chairman. The San Francisco Republican Glee Club then sang one of their choicest songs in their best style, and the first speech was delivered by J.A. Nunes, Esq., of this city. He spoke well and effectively—alluded to the tremendous victory achieved in Maine, and the unanimous spirit which was actuating the freemen of the Union. His language was glowing and appropriate, and his address was received with tremendous bursts of applause. One excellent feature in the speech of Mr. Nunes, as well as those of all the speakers last night, was that it was not spun out to too great a length, but was judiciously abbreviated so as not to tax too much the patience of the audience.
After Mr. Nunes sat down, the Glee Club sang another piece, and T.W. Park, Esq., was introduced by the Chairman. His speech was one of the best of the campaign==argumentative, eloquent and practical. He showed that the vituperations heaped upon the head of Fremont had brought thousands of votes to the Republican side. The enthusiasm with which Mr. Park was received was immense.
After Mr. Park had concluded, the Glee Club sang the far-famed Dromedary song. It ws received with shouts of laughter.
A. H. Myers, Esq., of Alameda, was then loudly called for, but before he commenced to speak, the Chairman read a telegraphic dispatch dated—“Folsom, twenty-five minutes past nine. The largest and most enthusiastic meeting ever held in the State of California is now rending the air with cheers for MAINE and Liberty. Judge Tracy has been trying to out-thunder the cannon.”
The enthusiasm with which this announcement was received surpasses description, and it was, if possible, augmented by the almost instantaneous reception of another dispatch from Stockton, which stated that thirty-one guns had just been fired at that place in honor of the Maine victory. One gun for every State in the Union; think of that ye libelers, who talk about a flag with sixteen stars.
After this pleasant little interlude, Mr. Myers proceeded to address the meeting in a speech full of wit, logic and good humor. He paid a glowing and graceful compliment to the large representation of ladies present. The ladies, the women of America, are always to be found on the side of truth and justice, animating the sterner sex by their words of encouragement and smiles of approbation.
During Mr. Myers’ speech considerable work was laid out for the cobbler by the wearing out of shoe-leather.
The Glee Club sang another patriotic song, and after repeated calls, Judge Bennett arose and made a short, pithy and effective speech. He was remarkably well received.
The Glee Club again sang, and the meeting adjourned with cheers, three times three, for Fremont and Dayton—the Railroad—Maine—Vermont—and Iowa.
Thus ended the largest demonstration ever witnessed in San Francisco, by a party which two months ago was scarcely in its inception in this State, and which assuredly could not have then organized an ordinary club meeting. From the extreme West, on the shores of the blue Pacific, a joyous shout has ascended which will echo and re-echo amid the canons and hills of the Sierra, in favor of “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable.” These patriotic words of the “Sage of Marshfield” are adopted by every freeman from New Hampshire to California, and the 4th day of November shall see California give an overwhelming majority in favor of those principles, and for her noble discoverer, as we may say—the “Pioneer of progress”—Fremont.
San Francisco Daily Herald, October 26, 1856
GRAND DEMOCRATIC RALLY
An Immense Torchlight Procession.
RATIFICATION MEETING IN THE PLAZA.
5000 Democrats in Council.
If any proof be wanted to establish the fact that this is a Democratic city, we need only point to the ratification meeting of last night. We think that even the most bitter opponents of the Democratic party will admit that the demonstration was one of the largest and most imposing ever witnessed in this city. The whole town was alive with Democrats, and such a general outpouring was never before witnessed in this city. Below we give an account of the proceedings:
SCENE ON THE PLAZA.
Early in the evening, long before the great body of the Democracy had assembled in their various Club Rooms throughout the city, the Plaza was made one splendid blaze of light. The scene was magnificent beyond description. In every direction bonfires were kindled of old tar barrels, dry goods boxes and pitch-pine knots, which sent their lurid flame high up in the surrounding darkness, and lighting up the neighborhood with a brilliancy almost equaling the light of day.
As soon as night had fairly set in , rockets, Roman candles and other kinds of fireworks were to be seen blazing forth from all sections of the city. On the City Hall and from the balcony of the Society of California Pioneers on Washington street, and also on the south and west sides of the Plaza, a grand pyrotechnic display took place about seven o’clock, which attracted hundreds of people to the vicinity to witness the scene. Cheer followed cheer as each ascending rocket described its parabola in the air and fell in innumerable dazzling jets upon the adjoining housetops. The illumination and display of fireworks surpassed anything of the kind that has heretofore been witnessed in California, and was indeed befitting such an occasion as that which called the Democracy together.
About half-past seven o’clock, the several District Clubs, the Buchanan and Breckinridge Club, and the Young Men’s Democratic Club, fell into line on Montgomery street amidst the booming of cannon from Telegraph Hill. The right of the line rested on Market street, and the extreme left wound around through Pacific street to Kearny, the rear of the immense column facing on the Plaza. Mr. H.A. Cobb acted as Grand Marshal on the occasion, assisted by Messrs. P.W. Van Winkle, M. Hayes, and Col. West as Special Aids. Besides these gentlemen, each District Club had its own Marshal and Aids, who materially assisted in the movements of the procession, and prevented any confusion in forming the different divisions, which otherwise might have occurred. Throughout the entire length of the line, hundreds of brilliantly lighted transparencies, bearing various devices, were carried by those in the ranks. Several of the Clubs were prededed by full bands of music, and nearly all of them by drums and fifes.
The First District Club took up the line of march at the head of the column, bearing a large transparency, painted on one side—
BUCHANAN AND BRECKINRIDGE:
FOR PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT OF THE
On the reverse side was—
DISUNION IS A WORD
THAT SHOULD NOT BE BREATHED EVEN IN A
Then came a transparency with—
THE PRINCIPLES AND
PROSPECTS OF FREMONT—DARK AND GLOOMY.
This Club was preceded by Kohler’s celebrated brass band who enlivened the march by playing many beautiful airs.
The Second and Third District Clubs followed next in order with their Marshal and Aids also mounted on caparisoned horses. Both of these Clubs attracted a great deal of attention. They marched four abreast and extended over two squares in length. They bore a number of beautiful transparencies, among which we noticed the following: “The Pacific Railroad;” “The Ashes of Columbus must repose beneath our Flag;” “Our Platform—it covers the whole Country;” “State Rights and State Sovereignty.”
Besides these transparencies each Club carried a number with the names of the State and Municipal candidates inscribed thereon.
The Fourth District Club cam next with a large banner with the words—
DEMOCRACY, THE CHAMPION OF AMERICAN GREATNESS!
This was followed by
NO MOULDING OF STATES BY CONGRESS.
Bringing up the rear was a carriage with four persons seated in it, who kept up a continual fusillade with rockets and Roman candles along the entire route. The Fifth and Sixth District Clubs turned out in large numbers. They also carried a great many transparencies, which were very appropriate to the occasion. Among the most noticeable was
THE AMERICAN FLAG THE INVIOLABLE PANOPLY OF AMERICAN RIGHTS.—Pierce
A number of variegated lanterns were carried by the above Clubs, bearing comic devices, which added great effect to the scene.
Band of Music.
THE YOUNG MEN’S DEMOCRATIC CLUB OF
Numbering over one thousand members in procession, followed next with their mammoth transparency in the van. Next a band of music, after which was borne the American flag, surrounded by a color guard carrying flaming torches. Then a large transparency bearing the motto—
WE MOVE BENEATH IT—WE REST UPON IT--
AND FALL ONLY UNDER ITS RUINS.
On the reverse side__
YOUNG MEN’S DEMOCRATIC CLUB. THE
RIGHT IS ALWAYS EXPEDIENT.
The beautiful silk banner of the Club, presented by the ladies of San Francisco, occupied a prominent position in the ranks.
Nearly all the members of this Club also carried variegated lanterns.
Occupying a prominent position in the ranks was a transparency bearing the following beautiful sentiment: “The Union of the States—Divided as the Billows, one as the Sea.” On the reverse side was “An Ocean-bound and Earth-commanding Republic.”
The balance of the District Clubs took up the line of march after the Young Men’s Democratic Club. They all carried transparencies with such inscriptions as “The Pacific Railroad—the Democracy alone are chartered to build it;” “The Fathers of Democracy—Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.”
Among the most prominent features of the procession was a large cavalcade of horsemen in the ranks of the Tenth District Club, and a number of carriages from the Twelfth District. The Eighth District Club carried a transparency bearing the words
ABOLITIONISM THE OFFSPRING OF BRITISH PROPAGANDISM.
And another with
NO SECRET POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL SOCIETIES.
It would be impossible for us to name all the transparencies which were carried in the procession. They were all appropriate, pointed, and illustrative of the cardinal principles of the Democracy. The entire route was one brilliant blaze and challenged the admiration of all. It was emphatically the greatest political demonstration every made in California.
San Francisco Daily Herald, November 1, 1856
TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION AND PARADE
Young Men’s Democratic Club.
6000 Democrats on the Plaza.
In accordance with previous announcement, the Young Men’s Democratic Club turned out last evening, and made the most imposing Torchlight Procession that has ever taken place in California. It is seldom a demonstration so large in number and brillianT in effect occurs, and it is only when the Democracy are thoroughly aroused to action, so magnificent a display is to be witnessed. The occasion will be long remembered, and will give additional confidence to the unterrified in the success of sound Democratic and Union principles. It is only when danger threatens the country, or great principles have to be carried out, that our people make like expressions of their views. Last night will demonstrate the strong patriotic feelings of our citizens, and give a quietus to the insinuations and assertions so industriously circulated, that the firm and consistent supporters of the Democratic party ever intended deserting its standards. We are content with the demonstration, and can now rest satisfied our city will on Tuesday give a vote second to none in our State in favor of Buchanan and the permanence of the Union. We never before witnessed a display so numerous and enthusiastic, and we may say in addition, good order and harmony prevailed during the entire evening.
[Transparencies at this procession included:]
THE BLESSINGS OF GOVERNMENT
SHOULD FALL LIKE THE DEWS OF HEAVEN
EQUALLY UPON ALL.
THE UNION—THE WHOLE UNION
AND NOTHING BUT THE UNION.
ONE DESTINY—ONE COUNTRY.
“FROM MY SOUL
I RESPECT THE LABORING MAN.”
RELIGIOUS LIBERTY AND LIBERAL NATURALIZATION LAWS.
AFRICA FOR THE AFRICANS
AND THEIR SYMPATHIZERS
FREMONT—FREE NEGROES AND FRIJOLES
Headlines from the California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco)
September 22, 1856
GREAT REPUBLICAN RALLY
LARGE AND ENTHUSIASTIC MEETING!
Speaking in German and English.
PRESENCE OF LADIES.
October 22, 1856
REPUBLICAN MASS MEETING AT MUSIC HALL.
ANOTHER GLORIOUS DEMONSTRATION
October 23, 1856
GREAT REPUBLICAN BARBEQUE AT OAKLAND.
FOUR THOUSAND REPUBLICANS IN THE FIELD.
Know Nothings and Democrats Annihilated.
October 29, 1856
REPUBLICAN MASS MEETING AT MUSIC HAL.
FIVE THOUSAND REPUBLICANS IN THE FIELD!
THREE CHEERS FOR San Francisco!
November 1, 1856
GREAT AND GLORIOUS RALLY!!
THE VOICE OF SIX THOUSAND REPUBLICANS!
California for the Pathfinder, Freedom and the Railroad.
COL. BAKER’S GREAT SPEECH!
November 3, 1856
ANOTHER GREAT DEMONSTRATION
AT MUSIC HALL.
REPUBLICANS IN THE FIELD.
Addresses by Judge Tracy and Col. E. D. Baker
November 4, 1856
FOUR THOUSAND REPUBLICANS IN PROCESSION
PROCESSION FOUR MILES IN LENGTH
California Daily Chronicle, September 13, 1856
THE GREAT DEMOCRATIC DEMONSTRATION!
The Entire Democracy in the Field!
452 MEN WITH TALLOW CANDLES!
The unterrified Democracy—the immaculate descendants of “Washington, Jefferson and Jackson”—the chivalrous representatives of the Union—tried to make a demonstration last night. For weeks they had been preparing themselves with the munitions of war, buying up powder, calico, red paint, etc., employing patent sewing machines, boys to make crackers, and “roughts” to fire them, and last night the combined energy, the long restrained enthusiasm of the Young Men’s Democratic Club burst forth in one tremendous roar that ended in—smoke. . . . .
The transparencies, or at least a number of them, were very appropriate. We would, however, have suggested, as an improvement, that at the head of the procession should have been a large banner with a device of a number of Bowie knives entwined into a wreath, and in the centre a Colt’s revolver and a club, with the inscription, “Chivalry and Slavery—Hurrah for the Union.” This would have been a better illustration of their principles; but as it was, they did pretty well.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco), November 2, 1856
DEMOCRATIC PROCESSION.—In the procession of the Young Men’s Democratic Club last night there were 861 persons. It, and the mass meeting of the Democrats which followed it, were so cold and spiritless—so void of enthusiasm and so deficient in numbers that it was absolutely chilly to look on either. The speaking was execrable and the entire thing a complete failure.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco) November 4, 1856
THE REPUBLICAN TICKET.
The Regular Ticket, containing the Republican Presidential and State Nominations and the People’s Candidates for the City, County and District, have on the back a
Over which, in large letters, is the name of
This is the only genuine REPUBLICAN PEOPLE’S TICKET. Let all friends look for the Vignette on the back of the Ticket.
No other is Genuine!
THIS DAY give to your COUNTRY. Leave your business and attend to the duties of a patriotic citizen. See that all your neighbors vote. WATCH THE POLLS. See that there is NO STUFFING, no fraudulent counting. Watch and Work—“It is the Sun of Austerlitz”—a great victory is this day to be achieved ere, the sun sets to-night beyond th broad Pacific. Then will the tyranny of the chivalry be broken, and on the morrow an era of better days will dawn. Be vigilant to-day, and in one month the glad news will break upon you, that all is well in California, and at once will she start afresh in the race to greatness and glory.
REPUBLICANS, VOTE THE STRAIGHT TICKET!
Vote the STRAIGHT TICKET, REPUBLICANS. Recollect that EVERY MAN on that ticket, from the PRESIDENT down, is PLEDGED TO REFORM. There is not a GAMBLER, a DRUNKARD or a DEBAUCHEE in our list of candidates. VOTE THE STRAIGHT TICKET—for GOOD MEN, PLEDGED to REFORM PRINCIPLES.
We desire to impress upon Republicans and all who vote the REFORM TICKET the necessity of VOTING EARLY IN THE DAY. There is an organized plan to FORCE ILLEGAL VOTERS to the Polls and have them sworn through, which will necessarily CONSUME TIME, and delay the PROGRESS OF VOTING. Every citizen who would MAKE SURE OF GETTING a CHANCE to VOTE, MUST be on hand early and STICK TO THE EARLIEST CHANCE and not GIVE BACK till he DEPOSITS HIS VOTE.
REPUBLICANS, EXAMINE YOUR TICKETS!
Republicans, OPEN YOUR TICKETS and examine them CAREFULLY before depositing them at the Polls. Hundreds of BOGUS TICKETS will be afloat with the names of the REPUBLICAN CANDIDATES at the head to DECEIVE THE EYE, and DEMOCRATIC NAMES slipped in below. BE CAREFUL; SCRUTINIZE your tickets CLOSELY before DEPOSITING THEM.
California Daily Chronicle (San Francisco) November 4, 1856
SUSPEND BUSINESS FOR TO-DAY!
To the merchants, laborers, and mechanics of the city, we would say, as far as possible, SUSPEND BUSINESS FOR TO-DAY. Recollect that this is the most MOMENTOUS election every held in the Union, and PARTICULARLY TO SAN FRANCISCO. Suspend business then, and WATCH THE POLLS. A WILY FOE is working against our REPUBLICAN REFORM TICKET. DO YOUR DUTY as citizens and WATCH THE POLLS.
WORK, REPUBLICANS, WORK!
Republicans, recollect that to-day it is NECESSARY TO WORK! Lay aside your business and devote yourselves as ONE MAN to the success of the REPUBLICAN REFORM TICKET. After voting yourselves, see that your neighbor is supplied with the GENUINE TICKET. Do your duty as citizens, and let NO CONSIDERATIONS hinder you from WORK!
WATCH THE POLLS, REPUBLICANS!
Republicans, WATCH THE POLLS to-day. Recollect your foes are INSIDIOUS AND TREACHEROUS. Do not be DECEIVED BY THEM. Every description of TRICKERY and CHICANERY will be resorted to, TO CHEAT you; attempts will be made to impose upon your HONESTY OF PURPOSE in every conceivable way. Again we say to you—BE VIGILANT and WARY.
TO-DAY the question is to be decided whether or no we shall have a RAILROAD from the Valley of the Mississippi to California. On the issue of this day it depends. From Maine to Texas, from Virginia to Iowa, it is well understood that the election of Fremont will be the voice of the people in favor of that measure, and that its fate will be sealed for four years at least by the election of James Buchanan. Is California in favor of the Road? Then there is but one course for her people to take. Let her vote for it, and she ill vote for it by casting her electoral vote for JOHN CHARLES FREMONT. He is the Railroad Candidate, and all who vote against him vote against the Road.
THE “SOLID MEN”
Let those who have got property in San Francisco bear in mind that if Fremont is elected, business will at once revive. The tide of emigration will immediately set towards California again, and the attention of the whole world will be directed towards this favored land as the spot which above all others is to receive the fostering care and attention of the federal government. Let them reflect that real estate will advance not less than fifty per cent, within the next twelve months after his election, and that every man in the State is to be directly benefited. Men of substance, arouse and work!
The Questions: Please use questions 1-6 to help you work through the documents. WRITE YOUR READING RESPONSE ON QUESTION 7.
Political parties in1856 differed on many issues. Partisan newspapers sought to articulate their own party’s political stance, but they also attacked their opponents by putting their own “spin” in the other party’s political positions. Look at the Documents 1a, 1b, and 1c. What were the issues, according to these articles? How would you characterize each party’s position on the issues? As you read through the other documents, what other issues can you add to your list?
Martin Van Buren argued that disciplined organization was crucial to developing modern, effective political parties. What do Documents 2a, 2b, and 2c tell you about political organization in San Francisco and California? In what ways did parties organize potential voters to keep them engaged?
Along with partisan newspapers, public rallies and meetings were important ways in which political parties motivated their members to get involved and stay involved. Read Documents 3a, 3b, and 3c. What happened at these meetings? Imagine what it would have been like to be there. What sights, sounds, smells would have filled the room or the plaza? What would it have felt like to be in the midst of the crowd? What do these documents tell you about how political parties motivated voters? What tactics did the parties use to galvanize their members?
Next, look at the ways in which these rallies and meetings were reported in the partisan press. What language or other techniques did the Chronicle and the Herald use to engage their readers, whether they attended the rally or not? Consider the headlines from the Chronicle in Document 4a. Even without the articles (which would have resembled the ones you read), how might this sequence of headlines have helped build political support among Republicans?
Newspapers built up their own parties, but they also attacked their opponents. How did the newspapers (Documents 1b, 1c, 4b) portray their opponents? What language or other techniques did these articles use to attack the other side?
The California Chronicle ran a series of articles in the days before the election and on Election Day itself like those in Document 5a and 5b. What do you think the function of these articles was? To whom did they appeal? What were the Republicans’ fears about what would happen on voting day? What were their hopes? How do these articles portray the election process in San Francisco?
Draw on the whole set of documents to answer these questions: How did Democrats and Republicans in San Francisco create an engaged electorate that participated in massive numbers in campaigns and elections? What was the role of the press in helping motivate voters in San Francisco? Finally, how does the election of 1856 in San Francisco help explain why voter participation skyrocketed in the United States during the antebellum period