Democracy in Action

By the early 1820s, the first two-party system in America had collapsed. The Federalist and Jeffersonian-Republican Parties had fractured under the weight of divisive issues. In Vermont, political parties were divided over the issues of slavery, tariffs, and monetary systems, as well as temperance, women’s rights, Masonic membership, imprisonment for debt, Sabbath laws, and education. The Whigs were the dominant party in Vermont from the late 1830s to the early 1850s. But they held such a narrow majority that eight gubernatorial elections during that period were decided by the legislature when no candidate won a majority vote as required by the constitution. These hotly debated issues brought more Vermonters than ever before into the political process, although women still could not vote.

Vermont’s Whig and Democratic parties of the 1850s both supported the Free Soil Movement to limit the expansion of slavery into new states but disagreed over the issue of temperance.

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