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Archival Report from Alexander Page, BAAS John D. Lees Award recipient 2015


Archival Report from Alexander Page, BAAS John D. Lees Award recipient 2015

[vc_row margin_bottom=”15″][vc_column][dt_banner image_id=”9194″ min_height=”300″][/dt_banner][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][dt_quote]The large Samuel L. M. Barlow collection at the Huntington Library has helped my research to show that by 1865, the Democratic party was more fractured than has been previously suggested by scholars, says Alexander Page, recipient of the BAAS John D. Lees Award 2015.[/dt_quote][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]The generous research grant I received through the John D. Lees Award for my doctoral project, ‘Reconstructing the Democracy: U.S. Political Culture and the Reformation of the Democratic Party during the Civil War and Reconstruction, 1860–1884’ allowed me to visit the Huntington Library in San Marino throughout August and September 2015. The project traces the reconciliation of northern and southern Democrats following the American[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Civil War, and the return of the Democratic party to the White House by 1884. The thesis investigates how, at a time when many Americans believed that the country was facing a major political realignment, the Democratic party was not only able to survive, but reassert itself as a truly national party.

While at the Huntington Library, I was able to examine the personal papers of leading Democratic politicians and strategists of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. The large Samuel L. M. Barlow collection at the Huntington Library provided indispensable insights into the actions of one of the leading Democratic strategists of the era. Barlow, one of the wealthiest lawyers of the mid-nineteenth century, was a central figure in the national Democratic leadership. As a regular correspondent of other leading Democrats, such as August Belmont, Montgomery Blair, George H. Pendleton, Samuel J. Tilden, and James A. Bayard, Barlow was at the centre of the formulation of postbellum Democratic political strategy. Barlow’s influence in the Democratic party was at its highest point between 1860 and 1872, after which he began to lose faith in the party, and the collection at the Huntington highlights this. The lawyer’s wartime correspondence has provided insights into the fractured state of the Democracy; Barlow received letters from Democrats who held polarised views on the war, and as a result, has helped my research to show that by 1865, the party was more fractured than has been previously suggested by scholars. In Barlow’s postwar correspondence, the focus of Democrats on the reconciliation of northern and southern Democrats comes to the fore, as the central aim of the party. Barlow’s renewed correspondence with leading Confederates, such as Judah P. Benjamin, and Democrats who advocated the creation of a new party, has shown partisanship to be a more malleable, flexible concept than scholars have asserted. Moreover, Barlow’s role in presidential politics, and party strategy up to 1872, has revealed that the Democratic party was held together through the failure to create a viable alternative, and by active attempts to engender genuine reconciliation between the northern and southern wings of the party.

In addition to the Barlow collection, research at the Huntington Library provided me access to the smaller collection of Gideon Welles papers. Welles’ papers have helped to provide insight into the experience of, and the reasoning behind, the decision to change party affiliation. In the case of Welles, the Reconstruction policies of radical Republicans pushed Welles into the Democracy during the postwar years. Further to the Welles and Barlow papers, the John D. Lees Award allowed me to examine political ephemera held at the Huntington, including the speeches of leading Democrats such as Samuel J. Randall, and campaign pamphlets that have provided insights into party rhetoric and campaign strategy. My visit to the Huntington Library has provided my research with important insights into the inner workings of the Democratic national leadership during and following the Civil War, and has contributed significantly to my understanding of the Democratic party’s survival, and return to power in the postbellum United States.

Alexander Page is a third year Ph.D Candidate at the University of Sussex. His dissertation addresses the fracture and return to power of the Democratic party between 1860 and 1884. The thesis focuses particularly on issues of reconciliation, the role of civil war memory in the party’s struggle to regain political ascendancy, and the malleability of partisanship in nineteenth century America.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]