Maine: An Encyclopedia
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Political Parties

in Maine followed national trends and identities from the very beginning of statehood.

Party alignments of national consequence began to form before the end of Washington’s first term. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was the master politician of the Federalists. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, in cooperation with his fellow Virginian, James Madison, led what came to be the first loyal opposition in national affairs–the Democratic-Republican party, also known as the Jeffersonians.

Both the Democratic and Republican parties in Maine may be considered “moderate” as compared to their more liberal or conservative colleagues in some other states. However, in each case the more ideological members (liberal for the Democrats, conservative for the Republicans) have more influence at party conventions and often in party State Committees, the governing bodies.

As a result, the party platforms are frequently more at odds with each other than are the programs of the legislative members of each party who need to compromise to solve problems and pass legislation.

Enrollment in the parties, and their relative strength among voters, has varied substantially over our history, as has the balance of party strength in the legislature.

Democratic Party

From about 1792 to 1800 the Democratic-Republican party was the beneficiary of the rise of numerous patriotic societies throughout the states. At first interested in the public issues of the day, these societies soon campaigned for Democratic-Republican candidates.

Party organization also advanced in Congress in which the caucus became a principal instrument of Jeffersonian power. It nominated Jefferson, Madison, and James Monroe for the presidency, nominations that were tantamount to election.

The administrations (1817-1825) of James Monroe were designated the Era of Good Feelings, meaning that there were no real party divisions; in fact, the period was one of one-party politics dominated by the Jeffersonians. It was in this atmosphere that Maine became a state and that William King, a Democratic-Republican, became its first governor.

The national Democratic-Republican convention of 1832 was significant in that it renominated an incumbent President, Jackson; chose his preferred candidate, Van Buren, for Vice-President; and institutionalized the Democratic Party. The party was effectively established by Jackson’s election in 1828 and traces its roots to the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans of the 1790’s.

The Maine Democratic Party tends to support increases in the minimum wage, state regulated environmental protection programs, and additional state funding for local education. While supporting reductions in the sales tax, it believes that the fairest tax is the income tax, which is based on the ability to pay.

Republican Party

Maine’s Republican Party was founded in the town of Strong on August 7, 1854 by a coalition of anti-slavery Democrats, other Democrats, and Whigs.

The Party quickly came to dominate politics in the state. With the election of Hannibal Hamlin as governor in 1857, Republicans supplied 33 of the 38 governors until Edmund S. Muskie’s election as a Democrat in 1954.

The GOP (Grand Old Party) also supplied the vast majority of members of Congress and the State Legislature during the period.

The Maine Republican Party tends to oppose increases in the minimum wage, feeling it is too much of a burden on business, and supports voluntary measures to encourage environmental protection. It generally opposes tax increases, arguing that shortfalls in State budgets should first be made by cutting programs or funding for certain activities.

Greens

Since 1984 a liberal, environmental party has emerged to challenge the two-party consensus. The Maine Green Independent party includes many who are disenchanted with the Democratic Party’s more moderate positions.

In 1994 the party gained ballot status as a recognized political party and in 1996 nominated Ralph Nader as their presidential candidate. By 2002 the party’s nominee for governor, Jonathan Carter, qualified for “clean election” funds, providing a significant financial boost to the insurgent movement. With 46,950 Carter registered 9.3% of the popular vote.

Whigs

As opposition to the populist programs of Democrat Andrew Jackson grew in the 1830’s, so did the Whig Party. The business interests once represented by the National Republican Party joined with others in the new political organization.

Maine had a substantial number of members of Congress elected as Whigs during the 1830’s and 1840’s including Elisha H. Allen, David Bronson, Jeremiah Bailey, Hiram Belcher, and William Pitt Fessenden, among others.

Led by Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, National Republicans advocated an active federal role in the nation’s economic development, calling for federally sponsored roads and canals, a high tariff to protect American manufacturers, a powerful national bank, and a go-slow policy on the sale and settlement of public lands.

But Jackson defeated Adams in 1828, rejected federal aid for roads in 1830, vetoed the recharter of a National Bank in 1832, and later that year decisively won reelection against Clay. The repeated defeats led to the formation in 1834 of the Whigs, initially united on little but hostility to Jackson’s bold use of executive power. They took their name from the American Whigs of 1776 and earlier English Whigs who had opposed the power of the British crown.

The wide diversity within the party made it difficult to unify around a common program or leader. They lost the 1836 presidential contest, but in 1840 the Whigs backed a single candidate, Harrison, but he died in office, and his successor, former state-rights Democrat John Tyler, vetoed the Whig program and was expelled from the party.

The slavery issue destroyed the Whigs. Whig Senate leaders Clay and Webster fearing disunion over slavery, played key roles in securing the Compromise of 1850, which include a stronger Fugitive Slave Law that offended many northern Whigs. Sectional controversy over the Kansas-Nebraska Act led the party’s remaining members in 1856 to join the nativist Know Nothing party or the rising Republican party, especially in the north.

Free Soilers

The Free Soil Party was organized in 1848 in opposition to the extension of slavery into the western territories or to any new states entering the Union. By 1856 the party had faded, with many of its members joining the new Republican Party.

Greenbacks

The Greenback Party essentially advocated the printing of money to help farmers get through the hard times following the prosperity of the Civil War. In 1873 a financial panic led to declining farm prices and the emergence of the Greenbacks in 1874.

In Maine, Alonzo Garcelon was elected governor with their support in 1878. In 1879 the Greenbacker inspired “Counting Out” scandal erupted when the party and its Governor Garcelon refused to count the votes for several Republican legislative candidates alleging irregularities in their elections. A three-month stand off and near civil war was finally ended peacefully.

Though they later broadened their platform to include reforms such as an income tax and women’s suffrage, by 1888 they lacked the strength to field a candidate for President.

Additional resources

Nathans, Sydney. “Whig Party.” Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia (2000).

Carroll, E. Malcolm. Origins of the Whig Party. Gloucester, Mass.  Peter Smith, 1964. [Reprint. Duke, c1925]

Cooper, William J., Jr. The South and the Politics of Slavery. 1828-56. Baton Rouge, LA. : Louisiana State University Press. c1978.

Poage, G. R. Henry Clay and the Whig Party. Gloucester, Mass. P. Smith. 1965. [Reprint. c1936]

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