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.