The great political divide

Do you track the political affiliations of your ancestors? I don’t but plan to start! From obituaries and other items in newspapers, I have seen both Democrats and Republicans in my family tree. I believe that many family trees show similar differences.  In this post, I report one set of brothers with differing political views and briefly outline the beginnings of our current system.

First, the brothers.  I found this newspaper item while researching my maternal ancestors. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Maurer.  I’m not sure if we are related to these men. Political divisiveness is, and has been, common.

Newspaper item from 1 June 1891 issue of Times Union newspaper, Brooklyn, New York[1]:

Death of Michael Maurer. Michael Maurer, a brother of Alderman Theodore Maurer, died to-day from kidney disease at his home, 92 Moore street.  The deceased was 41 years of age. He had been ailing for some time.  Unlike the Alderman, who is a Democrat, the deceased was an ardent Republican, and was a member of the delegation of his ward to the Republican Committee. The arrangements for his funeral have not yet been made.

I wonder who wrote this and why it was so important to note the brothers’ political differences.  I found this article as I searched for information about Theodore Maurer, brother of my ancestor Valentine Maurer. I haven’t found any records indicating another brother named Michael. So, I added a search for the parents of this Theodore Maurer and his brother, Michael Maurer, to my BSO list.

How did political parties begin? According to Jill Lepore in her book, These Truths,  “. . . a party system- a stable pair of parties —  has characterized American politics since the [Constitutional] ratification debate.” [2]  There were many precursors to our current parties:

  • 1790s: Federalists supported ratification of the constitution and Anti-Federalists opposed it.
  • 1830s: Democratic party formed. Whig party formed.
  • 1848:  Free-Soil Party formed. They believed in “free labor (the producing classes)” rather than  “slave power (American aristocrats).” [3]   Received support from free Blacks and women.
  • Late 1840s: Know-nothing Party, also known as American Party, formed.  They wanted to extend the naturalization process to 21 years and strongly believed in nativism, which “refers to a policy or belief that protects or favors the interest of the native population of a country over the interests of immigrants. [Source: “Nativism in America and Europe”, Scholastic, Teachers, Grade 9- 12, ( https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/nativism-america-and-europe) ].
  • 1854: Republican party formed; joined by Whigs, Free-soilers, Know-nothings and northern Democrats, all of whom opposed slavery.  “ If the Democratic Party had become the party of slavery, the Republican Party would be the party of reform.”[4]
  • 1800s:  Democratic party has roots in populism, with its belief in a broken system of government. [5]  Populism eventually yielded to progressivism.[6]
  • The Democratic Party
    • “By the mid-20th century, [the Democratic Party] had undergone a dramatic ideological realignment and reinvented itself as a party supporting organized labour, the civil rights of minorities, and progressive reform . . . . the party has also tended to favor greater government intervention in the economy and to oppose  government intervention in the private noneconomic affairs of citizens. ” (Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Democratic-Party: accessed 13 Feb 2021 ).
  • The Republican Party
  • Historically, women supported the Republican party. However, Eleanor Roosevelt’s influence changed that dynamic as more women chose the Democratic party instead of the Republican party . [7]
  • Today, many associate the Democratic Party with liberal, progressive views  and the Republican Party with moderate, conservative views.  Platforms of both parties appear to reflect the influence of earlier parties. (my opinion).

In summary, the divide between political parties often extends to a divide between family members.

Reflection

Today, the people of the United States seem more divided than united with little common ground between the two predominant political parties – Democrats and Republicans.  I wonder how my early American ancestors would view our current discord. I live in a country where I can disagree publicly with others. Some seek to silence those with a different opinion.  As Americans, we should protect our right to freedom of speech, even when political views differ.  

I tried to present a balanced picture of our American political parties. I will not debate political ideologies in this forum.  In each post, I do a bit of teaching, carryover from 25+ years as a teacher.  Another genealogist recommended Jill Lepore’s book which has an interesting perspective on American history. This post is less than 1000 words!

I met two goals last week – completed project for distant Smetts-Maurer cousin and a writing course. Started writing an article.

What I learned: Another Maurer family in Brooklyn, New York. History of our two-party political system and how they evolved. Definition of nativism.  

What helped: online access to newspapers; purchase of Jill Lepore’s book.  

What didn’t help: Temptation to search for parents of this Theodore and Michael Maurer instead of working on current projects. My own political views, knowing that I should present a balanced approach.

To -do: Add to BSO list- Discover parents of Michael and Theodore Maurer.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots blog, 2021


SOURCES:

[1] “Death of Michael Maurer,” death notice, Times Union (Brooklyn, New York), 1 June 1891, “Michael Maurer, a brother of Alderman Theodore Maurer, died to-day . . . “; Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com  : accessed and downloaded 10 February 2021).

[2] Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2018), 211.

[3] Lepore, These Truths, p. 255.

[4] Lepore, These Truths, p. 264.

[5] Lepore, pp. 364-365, 431

[6] Lepore, p. 348.

[7] Lepore, These Truths, pp. 431-433.

A different standard for remembering Union and Confederate veterans?

“The ladies. . . decided to lay a few stems for those men, too, in recognition not of a fallen Confederate or a fallen Union soldier, but a fallen American.”  –

President Barack Obama, 2010 Memorial Day Address, relating an event in 1866 when women of Columbus, Mississippi, laid flowers on graves of both Union and Confederate soldiers.

“It is estimated that one in three Southern households lost at least one family member.”

“Civil War Casualties: The Cost of War: Killed, Wounded, Captured and Missing,” American Battlefield Trust : accessed 9 July 2020.

Yes, soldiers on both sides were Americans. Each side carried a different flag. So, why can’t we honor each one with the appropriate flag?  Our family tree has both Union and Confederate soldiers in it.  I feel that recent protestors want us to forget our Confederate ancestors. We can’t change our ancestry. We can’t change the choices they made. We can try to understand the societal and historical events that shaped their lives. I believe that history lessons should include both good and bad as well as divergent viewpoints.  This post is my reaction to current events.

The protests began as a reaction to the death of George Floyd and police brutality. Demands for removing statues of Confederate soldiers and slave holders increased. Protestors spray painted statues and physically removed others.  Even a statue of George Washington, our nation’s first President and a slave holder, was not exempt. Protestors seemed to ignore history as they defaced a statue of an abolitionist.

History typically relates the broad picture and tells about the people who influenced that history.  Stories of the common people ( i.e., those whose lives were directly and indirectly influenced by those in power) are less often told.  In my opinion, our job, as genealogists, is to tell the stories of those common people, our ancestors and their families.

Read this heartfelt article, published in 2017:  George Burrell, “Confederate and Union Flags of the Civil War,  Century City News (Los Angeles, California), 21 August 2017,  (http://centurycity.news/confederate-and-union-flags-of-the-civil-war-p971-211.htm

In response to someone else’s blog, one person noted that only a few of her 3X great-grandfathers actually fought for the Confederacy.  One of my 8 great-great grandfathers served in the Union Army.  For my husband, two of his 8 great-great grandfathers and one of his 16 great-great-great grandfathers served in the Confederate Army.  Many more in both family trees were of any age to fight. My sons carry genes from persons who supported both sides of the conflict.

According to the American Battlefield Trust  (https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/civil-war-casualties), there were 1,089,119 Confederate soldiers. Of those, 490,309 were reported as killed, wounded, captured or missing.  Millions of Americans are descended from these soldiers. Now, some people want to prevent the simple act of placing a flag on a veteran’s grave.  Denying this right sends the message that Confederate veterans are not worthy of being honored for their sacrifice.

Some demand the removal of statues, memorials and other reminders of the Confederacy as these are seen as symbols of slavery, racial segregation and white supremacy.  One example of this view is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s recent proposal. Read this press release. Posted 30 June 2020:  “Warren delivers floor speech on her amendment to rename all bases and other military assets honoring the Confederacy,” Elizabeth Warren website (https://www.warren.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/warren-delivers-floor-speech-on-her-amendment-to-rename-all-bases-and-other-military-assets-honoring-the-confederacy  :    accessed 2 July 2020).

An NBC journalist presented the opposite view: Sophia A. Nelson, “Don’t take down Confederate monuments. Here’s why.” Posted 1 june 2017, NBC News (https://www.nbcnews.com/think/news/opinion-why-i-feel-confederate-monuments-should-stay-ncna767221 : accessed 2 July 2020).

How will our descendants look at the current events a hundred years from now? Will we be lauded for our efforts? Will we be criticized? Will our descendants even know about the Civil War and its controversies? Will our descendants be aware of the multiple perspectives surrounding the current debate?

My hopes for the future?  I DON’T WANT my descendants to be ashamed of their Southern heritage. I DON’T WANT my descendants to judge their ancestors’ choices based on current values and belief systems. I DO WANT my descendants to have the freedom to acknowledge that they have ancestors who fought in the Confederacy. I DO WANT my descendants to relate circumstances that created the rift between Northern and Southern states. I DO WANT my descendants to recognize the values and beliefs that guided their ancestors’ choices.  I DO WANT my descendants to compare and contrast the various perspectives surrounding current 21st century issues. I DO WANT my descendants to have the freedom to honor their Confederate ancestors by placing a Confederate flag on the graves of those ancestors.  In short, I DO WANT my descendants to remember the history of the Civil War and that soldiers on both sides fought for a cause that they believed in.  In the same way, I DO WANT my descendants to recall that, in 2020, people held differing beliefs about how the United States should remember those who fought in the Confederacy and the Union.

© Susan Posten Ellerbee and Posting Family Roots Blog, 2020.