Republican Principles, Opposition Revolutions, and Southern Whigs: Nathaniel Macon, Willie Mangum, and the Course of North Carolina Politics, 1800-1853

Benjamin Huggins

Major Professor: Jane Censer

Committee Members: Rosemarie Zagarri, Stephen West

Research Hall, 162
August 19, 2008, 08:00 PM to 07:00 PM

Abstract:

The political careers of Nathaniel Macon and Willie P. Mangum, United States senators in successive generations, offer a focal point for analyzing the ideology and politics of North Carolina’s Southern Whigs, from their origins to their fall. From 1800 to 1852 Macon and Mangum were at the epicenter of both national and state politics. Both Macon and Mangum emerged as leaders of political opposition parties – Macon among the state’s Jeffersonian Republicans and Mangum among the Jacksonians and, later, the Whigs. These two southern parties, understudied by scholars, were linked by a shared opposition ideology. This dissertation traces the emergence of Macon’s “Old” Republican opposition faction professing loyalty to the “pure republicanism” of the “Principles of ’98” and the Revolution of 1800, the change of that ideology to an ideology of opposition, and its adoption by Mangum and a new generation of North  Carolina Old Republicans, who, along with other opponents of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren, made that Old Republican ideology the foundation of the Whig Party in the state. The opposition ideology of the North Carolina Whigs and older, but popular, Republican political ideas allowed the party to organize rapidly and capture the state from the Jackson Democrats. The Whigs' opposition to executive power was the most important aspect of their ideology, emphasized in all their campaigns from 1836 to 1844. Most important, the North Carolina Whigs evolved from a primarily Old Republican states’ rights party to a party combining Old republicanism with Whig nationalism. This evolution was critical to sustaining the ascendancy of such an opposition-oriented party. At both the national and state levels of politics, though, success raised expectations of governance, increased regional and personal rivalries, and revealed ideological conflicts within the Whig party. Conflicts over President John Tyler’s strict constructionism and President Zachary Taylor’s anti-party appeal emerge as key episodes in the state’s political development. A political culture of opposition could not remain ascendant under such tensions. This dissertation, then, seeks to account for political continuities between the decades of the early republic and the antebellum decades that most historians have ignored, particularly the links between Old Republican ideology and Southern Whig ideology. It also complicates traditional interpretations of antebellum Southern politics by showing that North Carolina’s politics did not simply reflect a parochial regionalism but was the result of a clash between state and national political ideals.

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