aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Democrats, Republicans, and Wall Street -- some history, part I

A lot of ignorant blather about Republicans and Big Business has been thrown up in recent years, by self-interested "progressives" as well as ignorant Occupiers of Wall Street. They fail to see that Big Business's current choice of political leadership is one, B.H.Obama. In his unprecedented spendiferousness [both puns fully intentional], Obama returns the favor. This is nothing new. The Democrats have been playing games with the nation's financial sector and blaming the other side for it since the beginnings of their party.

Andrew Jackson, the co-founder of the modern Democratic Party (with Martin Van Buren), hated banks but needed somebody to fund his schemes. He managed to kill off the Second Bank of the United States (and thus bring on the Panic of 1837, just in time to doom Van Buren's presidency). He preferred what were called at the time "pet banks" -- local institutions whose proprietors were on his side. He loved him some sweetheart deals. Nothing new there.

Jackson also wanted loose standards on currency and loans. He was the original champion of "The West" (meaning, in that day, everything beyond the Appalachians). In order to settle the country, he wanted to make it easy to borrow money to buy land. This was portrayed as a boon to the settlers, who voted for him in droves; in fact, the settlers were hardest hit when the shaky banks they got their loose money from failed, as they did all too frequently. The real winners in Jackson's soft money economics were the rich (or intending to make it rich) speculators, who bought and sold land with dizzying speed. Without the need to show a truly solid bottom line, the speculators made huge fortunes, whether the settlers succeeded or failed.

The speculators in Western lands turned out to be the same people who bankrolled the expansion of slavery, too. The "Slave Interest" was inextricably tangled up with populist politics. The hardscrabble white settlers were co-opted to support a system they at first (and often consistently) found repugnant; like today's stooges, they couldn't see how supporting Jacksonian Democracy wound up supporting ever-more stringent restrictions on freeing slaves, ever-harsher laws to recapture fugitive slaves, and the ever-louder chatter about nullification and secession.

My point here is, the Democratic Party was born demagoguing economic issues. Some things never change. The Republicans, of course, didn't come on the scene until 1856, so their views on these early 19th Century issues can only be guessed at. Their predecessors, the Whigs, were appalled by the Jacksonians' ways, but they never found a coherent set of issues beyond their opposition to Jackson himself. In the end, their inability to finesse the slavery issue broke the Whigs apart and left the field to the new Republican Party, of which more in my next.

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