Voting, class and demography in antebellum Mississippi
This thesis is a quantitative analysis of the social and economic factors which influenced voting in pre-Civil War Mississippi. Focusing on three crisis periods and drawing data from the United States Census and published election returns, it seeks to determine which, groups in Mississippi were voting for which parties at which times and what issues or factors may have influenced changes in voting patterns. The paper finds that the two major parties in Mississippi differed greatly in election rhetoric and political organization. The Democrats emphasized class-conflict and attacked the "aristocracy" through a relatively well-organized political party. The Whigs preached the dangers of radicalism and emphasized class harmony and deference to the men of quality and property. Their party was poorly organized and crisis oriented. The paper examines similar quantitative studies of the North, studies by Lee Benson, Ronald Formisano and William Shade, and finds that the major determinants of voting were economic and the secondary determinants, religious. The Democrats received the bulk of their support from the poorer half of Mississippi’s white population, and the Whigs, the bulk of theirs from the wealthier half. Methodists tended to vote Whig, and Baptists, Democratic. Antebellum Mississippi was a rapidly growing state and had great need for capital. This led to a rapid expansion of banking facilities in the state in the mid-l830s. There followed a period of intense partisan debate and political struggle over the role banks should play in Mississippi society. The paper concludes that the alternating successes of the soft money Whig party and the hard money Democratic party were tied to the economic ups and downs which followed the Panic of 1837 and which turned into a depression after 1841. The Whigs did better when the economic prospects were good and the hard money Democrats, when times were hard or the prospects bleak. The result was an eventual Democratic triumph and a period of Democratic hegemony in the state. The next crisis period surrounded the Compromise of 1850. The Democratic party was headed by a group of secessionists and resisters. The Whigs and a splinter group of Union Democrats united to form the Union party which triumphed over the fire eaters in 1851. This period saw some significant shifts in voting patterns as old party loyalties and economic factors lost force as determinants of voting and as religion gained strength as a determinant. Once the crisis had died down, the period saw a gradual but incomplete return to the old voting patterns. The election of 1860 is examined briefly and the conclusion is that the election continued the return to the traditional voting patterns begun in 1851, but that the Democratic cause was aided by a huge outpouring of poor Democrats.