The object of this paper is to show that in the late election the two great parties antagonized each other along those lines which have divided the people from the foundation of our government, while, notwithstanding, the influences deciding choice of party were, for the masses, purely provincial in character, resulting in a blind partisanship.
The issue which for the hundred years of our national history has divided the Democratic party from the opposition is the proper extent and limitation of the national authority. The Democratic party has stood for restriction of this authority within narrow limits; the opposition, as Federalist, Whig, and Republican in succession, has favored its extension. For the forty years from 1820 to 1860 this issue was presented in two forms: (1) the right of each State to decide for itself the question of slavery; (2) the right of the general government to levy protective as well as revenue duties, regardless of the will of particular States. On the first question, state rights won a complete victory, but against violent opposition; on the second, government authority triumphed, and was exercised moderately and with tacit consent. It is worth noting, too, that the doctrine of state rights secured the indorsement of the Supreme Court where protection feared to face the issue. Nevertheless, the Democratic theory was supporting a burden which caused its downfall, and the war which ended slavery brought with it also a clear and universally accepted limitation to state rights. The Union is indissoluble. The cause of national authority, on the other hand, following the tremendous blow to its adversary, for the past twenty-five years has grown and extended itself as never before. In the maintenance for protection of the war tariff laid for revenue, in the increased scale and the widened field of national expenditure, in all which its opponents stigmatize as paternalism and its advocates applaud as nationalism, this is seen. This growth is the natural expansion of an idea which finds itself without opposition.
But though the old doctrine of state rights has its bounds set, and, as a sectional issue, is dead, in its place has been gradually crystallizing a new theory of state duties and individual responsibilities, opposed to the national policy of the Republican party. This idea was most clearly emphasized by President Cleveland’s opposition to bills giving government aid to local improvements, to soldiers as soldiers merely, or to local industries, as silver-mining and wool-growing. It is true that by no means all Democrats were squarely on their side of the line, for where money is to be obtained for his district or any one in it, the average congressman sees unusual merits in an appropriation bill. Still, whatever the inconsistency between individual action and public professions, in the last election the lines were clearly drawn by party leaders and the party press between the Democratic idea of limitation, and the Republican idea of extension, of national authority. This was the issue. What was the spirit in which the American people approached it?