This series of blogposts will be my paraphrased notes on a lecture given by Murray Rothbard called “The American Economy and the End of Laissez Faire“. This means the post will contain some word for word transcriptions of Rothbard’s words and some editorializing and rephrasing of my own. I will not distinguish between the two.
Ethnic-Religious Voting Trends
The voting mass of the historical US population did not start off with a unquenchable interest in the question of economics. Rather, they started off with an interest in local religious political issues. Because economics (human action) is downstream of any and all other matters (particularly local religious political issues), this meant the 19th century American voter was, by proxy, interested in matters of economics.
Around 1830, something crucial happened to American religion. Protestantism was transformed (in systems, rather than in names) to something totally different than what it had once been. Prior to the American protestant reformation, most Americans were essentially Calvanist in doctrine.
One would join a church, obey Calvanist creeds & laws (typically these were the doctrines derived from the biblical “God’s law”) and this codification of behaviors would (hopefully) lead to salvation. Each individual was responsible for the decision to adhere to these principles of conduct and thus ultimately responsible for his own salvation.
With the protestant revival movement of the 1820s and 1830s, this ethos shifted away from Calvanist doctrines and towards a more radical evangelical “born again” form of Christian Pietism. From this, emerged a new religion and codification of behaviors that diminished the importance of the Church and it’s religious creeds.
The modern American pays little attention to the various sects of religious ideology in the Christian faith, and indeed there is little theological difference between the modern protestant Baptist and Methodist and Lutheran and Presbyterian…but this was not the case in the 19th century. From the 1830s on the diminished importance of doctrines led to a unifying system of Protestantism.
The attitude of the reformed protestant doctrine was that questions of theology were of little importance “We are all Christian, therefore our creeds and theologies make little difference in the grand scheme of things.”
Protestants believed that in order to be saved, man needed more than just joining a church and being baptized. One must be “born again” or baptized by the holy spirit through an emotional and mystical conversion experience. Each person has the theological free will to be saved and must choose God, else they will choose to reject him. Each individual is alone with God and the church is of little importance beyond providing a place for people to seek out this mystical conversion experience.
This doctrine stands in stark contrast to the earlier Calvanist doctrines of the day (which have been making a modern revival in the 21st century in the form of “reformed” denominations). Calvanists believe that man does not posses theological free will, and that a sovereign and omnipotent God must choose who he will and will not reveal his spirit too.
Protestants expanded upon this doctrine of free will with the notion that it is difficult for man to save himself in this manner because his free will makes him weak. Therefore, the protestant concluded, it was the state’s responsible to intercede on behalf of man and police his morality in such a way that it steered him towards salvation and away from temptations of the flesh. By stamping out temptation and sin through regulation of behavior, more people could arrive at their mystical conversion experience and find God.
These new protestants believed most forms of enjoyment in life were sinful. Drinking is sinful, gambling is sinful, tobacco is sinful, and these things should be outlawed because each individual is weak when faced with these temptations.
Where this is most apparent was in the form of alcohol prohibition (which is quite a strange tradition considering Jesus himself drank wine). The protestant revival was actually the birth of the modern American tradition of drinking grape juice at communion in lieu of the wine served at the last supper. The protestant believed that in order for man to exercise his free will to choose God, his mind must be free from the influence of liquor (which strips a man of his theological free will and desire to choose God).
Additionally, this is why protestants tended to be anti slavery. Not because they were facing the moral and ethical dilemmas of slavery, but rather anti slavery tendencies during this period were born out of a concern for an interference with the free will of a slave’s mind (and their ability to choose God).
Protestants believed the demon rum (liquor) must be outlawed in order to save America’s soul, and beyond that, they must do battle with the Anti Christ (the pope of the Catholic church) and stamp out Catholic influence in the west.
In the earliest days of the protestant movement, these issues were matters of local and state politics rather than issues addressed at the federal level.
There were two divisions of “new protestants”…Firstly, the Southern Protestants who tended to be salvationists (the belief that everybody should be saved, minus the puritanical zeal to stamp out sin using the state), and secondly, the Yankee Protestants (or Evangelical Pietists) who dogmatically opposed any form of fleshly gratifications. Furthermore, the evangelical pietists believed their own salvation was at risk unless they did everything in their power to limit the sins of others (and help clarify their free will). Thus there was a tremendous evangelical pressure to create systems of law which would stamp out the possibilities of sin across society.
In short, what they believed was this…
“We must achieve the kingdom of God on earth through the stamping out of sin. Make America holy. Make the world holy.”
Here we can plainly see that new Protestantism was a messianic creed.
However, protestants had a difficult situation to contend with in this mission. First of all, they could not easily just kick out and/or erase the presence of Catholicism in the west, and secondly they were hard pressed to limit immigration of new Catholics to the west (and thus a growth in Catholic influences).
A strategy was developed to “Christianize” and convert these Catholics (heathens, followers of the anti christ) during childhood. From this, we can trace back the birth of America’s public school system…The public school system in the 19th century was not secular, it was (and very particularly by design) protestant. Students read the Protestant bible and in most jurisdictions one had to be a member of the protestant church in order to be a public school teacher. All of this had to be done, else the evangelical pietist was putting his own salvation at risk.
So to summarize, from 1830 onwards, the Evangelical Pietists sought to stamp out Catholic influences by “Christianizing” with public school, outlaw liquor, and stamp out any kind of enjoyment or activity on Sundays (with sabbath laws). Up until world war 2, it was illegal to even play baseball on a Sunday in many places in the American south.
Pietists believed that the sabbath must be kept holy, and to the largest degree possible, people should be kept from being able to do anything on the sabbath except attend church, anything else is sinful and monstrous.
Pietists believed that drinking on Sunday was the worst possible sin, as it combines two of the most dangerous evils (drinking and doing anything on Sunday aside from attending church).
The group that took to this fanatical zeal most easily were the “Yankees” (who in many respects were already regarded as cultural imperialists). In this context, the term Yankee does not just mean “northerners” (or Americans in general if you are foreign), but rather specifically refers to the ethnic cultural group of English descent in rural New England, Massachusetts, and Connecticut (who eventually populated the majority of the North Eastern US).
This “Yankee” ethnic group also included all of upstate and western New York, northern Ohio, northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. Essentially everything west of rural all the way to around Chicago (but not so much the cities mostly just the rural areas).
Additionally, as far west as California, wherever there were local and state battles over public schools taking place in this time period, it almost always turns out it was Yankees who were the driving force (in their fanatical quest to save and convert the nation).
The political parties of this puritanical ethno religious group (practically to a man) were first the Federalists, then the Whigs, and then the Republicans. From here on out I will refer to this ethno religious group and their respective politician factions as WASPs (or White Anglo Saxon Pietists). There were some exceptions, as is always the case in history, however these ethno religious tendencies were tied remarkably closely to political factions, and in fact these political parties were born out of a zeal for political representation from the WASPs.
Before ending, I should mention here the other side of the American political spectrum through these periods were the Democratic-republicans and then the democrats (up until about the end of the 3rd party system covered in part 1). These were mostly of the Dutch, Irish, German ethno influences.
The two other major religious influences of the day (other than the WASPs) were the Roman Catholics and the German Lutherans (Scandinavian Lutherans had their own pietist faction very similar to the WASPs) who both tended towards the Democratic-Republican and Democrat political parties. These groups believed man achieved salvation through the church, and that state was not a necessary component of man’s faith (and thus not required to stamp out sin).
This ethno religious influence was the heart of the Libertarian political tendencies in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd party American political systems. In contrast to the WASPs, these groups believed that to be drunk was sinful, but there was nothing inherently sinful or evil about drinking in moderation.