Digital History

The Gilded Age

Tweedledum and Tweedledee Previous Next
Digital History ID 3116



During the 1870s and 1880s, the Democratic and Republican Parties were of almost exactly equal strength. In the elections between 1876 and 1892, no more than 3.1 percentage points separated the two parties. The two parties differed enormously in their principles, programs, and ethno-cultural composition.

In the late 19th century, it was sometimes said that there wasn't a dime's difference between the two parties, that the difference between the two parties was the difference between tweedledum and tweedledee. This wasn't true.

The Republican Party tended to emphasize national unity, economic modernization, and moral reform. Regarding the Democrats as the party of treason for opposing the Civil War, the Republicans ran Union veterans in eight of nine presidential elections between 1868 and 1900. The sole exception, James G. Blaine, lost in 1884. The party urged the faithful to "vote as you shot." They portrayed Democrats as "the old slave-owner and slave driver, the saloon-keeper, the ballot-box-stuffer, the Kuklux [Klan member], the criminal class of the great cities, the men who cannot read or write."

The Republicans were committed to rapidly modernizing the economy through such measures as protective tariffs to assist industry and land grants to encourage railroad construction. The Republican Party was also committed to using the 14th Amendment to protect corporations' ability to operate free from excessive state regulation.

The Democrats were split on this program of economic modernization. Grover Cleveland supported big business and the gold standard but in 1887 came out strongly against the tariff, which he viewed as a tax on consumers for the benefit of rich industrialists.

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