Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horsing Around: Some Thoughts on the Democratic Party Before the 1864 Election

With the 150th anniversary of the historic 1864 Presidential election approaching quickly, I have recently discovered some information I did not know before, and also confirmed some understanding of the Democratic Part issues that I had not thought about lately.

One tidbit that especially intrigued me was that the chairman of the 1864 Democratic Convention was August Belmont, who owned successful horse breeding farms in New York and Kentucky. Horse racing fans know that the third race of the sport's "Triple Crown" is the Belmont Stakes, now held at Belmont Park in New York. This race was named for August Belmont. Those interested in his career in the horse industry and the vast influence he wielded in it should read How Kentucky Became Southern by MaryJean Wall. It is a fine book about Kentucky history and memory, and frequently discusses Belmont's horse breeding business, which shifted between Kentucky and New York.

More information on the history of Belmont Stakes, though not with a lot of details of its namesake can also be found right here as well as on other links on that page. A longer, more detailed article, including information on his financial career and actions during the war years is at this link.

In the political arena, Belmont favored prosecuting the war before any reunion with the Confederate states, while the most vocal, and perhaps best-known, Democrat, Clement Vallandigham, preferred to end the war and reunite the nation immediately. This was the "peace without victory" philosophy that Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate George Pendleton also shared.

The party's Presidential nominee, General George B. McClellan, opposed this concept and his letter accepting the party's nomination repudiated the party's "peace plank" that was a key part of the party's platform. This led Vallindigham to refuse to campaign for McClellan.  This fissure was not as severe as the one the party faced in 1860 when it divided into two factions that each nominated its own candidate, but it does show that 4 years of time had only shifted the internal argument from one between Northern and Southern Democrats to one between War and Peace Democrats, and from how government should or could handle slavery to whether or not to continue the war effort.

August Belmont, courtesy newyorksocialdiary.com

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