Although it generally disappears from the narratives of American history once the seat of national government departs Philadelphia in 1800, Pennsylvania was quite simply the ground floor of American democracy. The Keystone State produced no Jeffersons or Adamses, and its only president (James Buchanan) ranks comfortably in the bottom three, but this was the state where democratic politics, American-style, was invented. Given that Pennsylvania had early America's least stratified, most ethnically diverse electorate and most consistently liberal suffrage requirements, it should come as no surprise that such long-term features of American democracy as the political party, the presidential campaign, the nominating convention, and the partisan newspaper all started here.
Pennsylvania's fractious political history begins with the conflict over the state's ultraradical constitution of 1776. Written under the direct influence of Thomas Paine and the plebeian and middle-class militiamen who spearheaded Pennsylvania's belated independence movement, the 1776 constitution dispensed with the classical republican ideal of "mixed government" and vested nearly all power in a unicameral assembly elected under conditions of almost universal white manhood suffrage. That is, all "freemen" aged twenty-one or older who paid taxes or whose father paid taxes could vote and hold office. The legislature was constitutionally required to meet with its doors open to the public at all times. There was no upper house to check the people's annually elected representatives, and a chief executive called the president was elected by the legislature and had no veto power. The constitution would be enforced not by unelected judges but, rather, by a popularly elected Council of Censors that would convene to revise the constitution every seven years.
Bitter divisions over the constitution of 1776 and its radically democratic ideals defined the first party battle in Pennsylvania state politics and formed the backdrop for all further developments, as Philadelphia radicals and their rural allies tried to keep the state's uniquely democratic and egalitarian revolutionary legacy alive and others tried to curb or squelch it. No one dared to attack democracy or equality in principle, but many of Philadelphia's most prominent and erudite men, including Dr. Benjamin Rush, Judge James Wilson, and Chief Justice Thomas McKean, became harsh detractors of the 1776 constitution, pushing for a more conservative and conventional government with a bicameral legislature, a stronger executive, and a more independent judiciary. After more than a decade of opposition, these so-called Republicans finally succeeded in getting the new state constitution they wanted in 1790; many were also strong supporters of the new, less democratic federal Constitution that was written in Philadelphia. The radicals who defended the original document were known as Constitutionalists, a confusing appellation because many Pennsylvania Constitutionalists leaned against the generally antidemocratic federal Constitution.
The 1790 constitution created an assembly with annual terms and a state Senate whose members were elected to four-year terms. The old state "presidency" was replaced with a governor who was elected by the people every three years and had both the authority to veto legislation and the power to appoint an extensive array of state and county officials, right down to local recorders of deeds and justices of the peace. Judges in the expanded state court system were appointed by the governor and served for life ("during good behavior"). Although many Constitutionalists continued to prefer the old system, conflicts over the state government died down during the nine-year governorship of Thomas Mifflin, a popular war hero generally supported by all factions. Increasingly, over Mifflin's term, the real power accumulated in the hands of his right-hand man, Secretary of the Commonwealth Alexander J. Dallas, an ambitious lawyer recently emigrated from Jamaica.
Dallas was deeply involved in the emergence of the new political division that emerged in the 1790s, this time stemming from Philadelphia's status as the seat of national government. The "national" political controversies that broke out in the Cabinet and the Congress between Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and their followers were also local ones in Philadelphia as they spilled out into the streets and the press. The nascent national political parties (the Federalists who supported Hamilton's policies and thought of themselves more as friends of the government than as a party per se, and the Jeffersonian opposition who usually referred to themselves as Republicans but were often referred to by their enemies as "democrats or "Jacobins") battled over Philadelphia's Bank of the United States and fought for public approbation through Philadelphia newspapers that circulated nationally. When Citizen Edmond Genêt arrived and sparked the formation of the Democratic-Republican Societies, Philadelphia had the largest and most active ones.
As the epicenter of national political conflict, Philadelphia, followed by the rest of the state, led the nation in the development of party politics. Republican John Swanwick won one of the first clearly party-contested congressional elections in 1794, and a coterie of Philadelphians led by Clerk of the House of Representatives John Beckley and the Aurora newspaper mounted the first serious popular presidential campaign, for Thomas Jefferson, in 1796, carrying the state and almost the election for the opposition leader.
The Jeffersonian Republicans finally took power in the state in 1799, when Chief Justice McKean beat Federalist James Ross of Pittsburgh in the race to succeed Mifflin. A key factor in McKean's victory was the swing of many German Lutheran voters away from the Federalists in the wake of the offensive Direct Tax of 1798 (called the "Window Tax" for the one of the methods that assessors used to determine a taxpayer's wealth) and the overzealous, xenophobic suppression of Fries's Rebellion in the German areas of eastern Pennsylvania.
The Federalists remained competitive in certain areas of the state (especially the southeast) through the 1820s, but after 1799 they were reduced to playing spoiler or kingmaker in statewide elections. In 1800, Federalists in the state Senate prevented Pennsylvania from holding a popular presidential election at all, so certain were they of losing again. Luckily for the Federalists, the majority Republicans (increasingly either adding "Democratic" to their name after 1800 or switching to "Democrat") were plagued by factionalism. The old divide between Constitutionalists and Republicans reemerged with a vengeance after 1802, as radicals led by Aurora editor and Irish political refugee William Duane and Congressman Michael Leib clashed with McKean over impeachments and reforms of the court system and constitution designed to help more litigants avoid the need to hire lawyers, make judges more democratically accountable, and reduce the governor's appointment powers. McKean's vetoes of the reform legislation and his widely reported remarks about the "clodpoles and ignoramuses" who supported the reforms led to an 1805 reelection challenge by Speaker of the House Simon Snyder, a German of rural working-class roots who became the state's most popular political figure in the early nineteenth century. McKean barely won the 1805 election, but only by gaining support from Federalists and a breakaway faction of so-called "Constitutional Republicans." They were led by Alexander Dallas and consisted mostly of wealthier men, attorneys, and officeholders grown conservative in power and restive under the "tyranny of printers" such as Duane. The Aurora labeled the schismatics Quids, meaning "a hermaphrodite thing, partaking of two characters, and yet having neither!"
In 1808, all the Republicans united behind Snyder, who trounced James Ross in a campaign managed by Snyder's friend, editor John Binns of the Democratic Press, an immigrant radical like Duane but much more ideologically flexible. Relations cooled quickly between Duane's Philadelphia radicals and the more rural Snyderites, amid disagreements over the Republican establishment's increasing enthusiasm for banks and other economic development schemes that "Old School" Democrats such as Duane considered corrupt unless tightly controlled. The "New School" of Binns's Snyderites, allied with Dallas's Quids, dominated the state during most of the War of 1812 era and won recognition from the James Madison administration as the regular Democratic-Republican organization in Pennsylvania. The Old School men even cooperated with certain Federalists for a time in efforts to replace Madison with De Witt Clinton in the presidential election of 1812. Trying to break the New School's stranglehold on offices and patronage, Duane's Old School repeatedly challenged the prevailing legislative caucus system of nominating candidates for high office. The caucus was especially aberrant in Pennsylvania, where local public meetings had been the major form of party nominations since the 1790s.
The Old School Democrats' anti-caucus campaign finally met with some success after the War of 1812 during the misnamed Era of Good Feeling. A group of Old School men and disaffected Federalists meeting as "Independent Republicans" held Pennsylvania's first two-party conventions at Carlisle in 1816 and 1817 and nominated Joseph Hiester, who narrowly lost to the New School's man William Findlay, state treasurer under Snyder but a creature of the state's burgeoning business interests. Financial scandals in Findlay's administration, together with the Panic of 1819, enabled the Old School to run Hiester successfully in 1820. Thanks to a generational turnover in leadership, the regular, New School Democrats were increasingly known as the "Family" party after the three Philadelphia brothers-in-law who were its leaders: Postmaster Richard Bache, leading attorney Thomas Sergeant, and Alexander Dallas's son, future Vice President George Mifflin Dallas.
Left leaderless by Hiester's distaste for party politicking and Duane's financial collapse, the remnants of the Old School (including Duane's son and other Aurora veterans) could not prevent the Family's return to power in 1823. Yet that same year, they were crucial to the surprise launch of Andrew Jackson's presidential candidacy by a political convention in Harrisburg that upset the Family's plan to throw the state behind John C. Calhoun. The next decade saw a vicious factional battle for the mantle of Pennsylvania Jacksonianism that the Family, or "Eleventh-Hour Men," eventually won.
- Baumann, Roland M.
"John Swanwick: Spokesman for 'Merchant Republicanism' in Philadelphia, 1790–98."Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 97 (April 1973): 131–182.
- Brunhouse, Robert L.
The Counter-Revolution in Pennsylvania, 1776–1790.Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1971.
- Ferguson, Robert J.
Early Western Pennsylvania Politics.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1938.
- Higginbotham, Sanford W.
The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800–1816.Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1952.
- Kehl, James A.
Ill Feeling in the Era of Good Feeling: Western Pennsylvania Political Battles, 1815–1825.Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1956.
- Keller, Kenneth W.
"Cultural Conflict in Early Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania Politics."Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 110 (1986): 509–530.
- Klein, Philip Shriver.
Pennsylvania Politics, 1817–1832: A Game Without Rules.Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1940.
- Koschnik, Albrecht.
"The Democratic Societies of Philadelphia and the Limits of the American Public Sphere, Circa 1793–1795."William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd series 58(3) (July 2001): 615–636.
- Miller, Randall M. and William Pencak, eds.
Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth.University Park and Harrisburg: Pennsylvania State University Press and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 2002. (Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1941-44).
- Newman, Paul Douglas.
Fries's Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle for the American Revolution.Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
- Pasley, Jeffrey L.
"'A Journeyman, Either in Law or Politics': John Beckley and the Social Origins of Political Campaigning."Journal of the Early Republic, 16(4) (Winter 1996): 531–569.
- Pasley, Jeffrey L.
"The Tyranny of Printers": Newspaper Politics in the Early American Republic.Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2001.
- Phillips, Kim T.
"Democrats of the Old School in the Era of Good Feelings."Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 95 (July 1971): 363–382.
"The Pennsylvania Origins of the Jackson Movement."Political Science Quarterly, 91(3) (Fall 1976): 489–508.
"William Duane, Philadelphia's Democratic Republicans, and the Origins of Modern Politics."Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 101 (1977): 365–387.
- Phillips, Kim Tousley.
"William Duane, Revolutionary Editor."Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley, 1968.
- Sapio, Victor A.
Pennsylvania and the War of 1812.Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970.
- Shankman, Andrew.
Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania.Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004.
- Slaughter, Thomas P.
The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution.New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
- Tagg, James D.
Benjamin Franklin Bache and the Philadelphia "Aurora."Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991.
- Tinkcom, Harry Marlin.
The Republicans and the Federalists in Pennsylvania, 1790–1801: A Study in National Stimulus and Local Response.Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, 1950.
In Pennsylvania, the Quids, known first as "Constitutionalists", arose out of a split among the Republicans in local Philadelphia politics.
The various Republican splinter movements in New York [Burrites, Lewisites and Clintonians] although most had underlying economic and reform issues, they often instead rallied around a central personality. As did most Republican splinter movements in Pennsylvania with exception of the Constitutional Republicans, a movement formed to prevent proposed judicial changes to the Pennsylvania Constitution. In addition to these, there were within Congress a group of individuals who were often classified as Quids. Among this group were congressmen from Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, New Jersey and North Carolina. Mainly elected in 1804 and 1806 as Republicans, they began to question some actions and direction of their party. When reaction to the Embargo revitalized the Federalist; New York and Pennsylvania dissident Republican movements moved back into the main party. On the Congressional level, a few remained in opposition, some declined to run for re-election, and others were not re-nominated.
"The first evidence of this appeared in reports of a dinner of the 'Democratic Constitutional Republicans' held at the White Horse Tavern in Philadelphia on March 4, 1805, to celebrate Jefferson's second inauguration. A few days later the Freeman's Journal printed a proposal, dated March 14, for forming 'The Society of Constitutional Republicans.' This document recognized the sovereignity of the people, the principle of majority rule, and the right of the people, to alter and abolish their government as they saw fit. However, it described the Pennsylvania Constitution, along with the Federal Constitution, as 'the noblest invention of human wisdom, for the self-government of man' and avowed that it should be changed only when the motives and causes were 'obvious, cogent, general and conclusive.' Great political blessings were enjoyed under the Constitution, and it required no alteration. The list of the society's principles closed with an assertion of loyalty to the existing State and Federal administrations." (The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952. p 82-83)
"Continuing the practice of the preceding year, the Aurora referred to the Constitutional Republicans as Quids. The latter professed to find the title an honorable one. A writer on the Freeman's Journal asserted that a 'tertium quid' was a substance used in pharmacy to transform a poison into a medicine and avowed that there was a great need for such an element in politics. A third party would determine whether there would be 'liberty of despotism.'" (Higginbotham, p 91)
"The incident [the Special election of State Senator for District 1 in December of 1805] highlighted one aspect of the dilemma which faced the Pennsylvania Quids so long as they existed - how to avoid becoming a tail to the Federalist kite when the Democratic leaders would not permit them to rejoin their old party." (Higginbotham, p 105)
"With McKean ineligible for another term in 1808 and with national issues making union with the Federalists less and less palatable, the great majority of Constitutional Republicans wished to return to the Republican ranks. However, they had no desire to submit to the leadership of Leib and Duane after the many indignities they had suffered at their hands. An alliance with the country Republicans, who were also seeking to rid the party of the domination of Leib and Duane, seemed a logical and natural arrangement." (Higginbotham, p 138)
"The election of 1808 was a significant demonstration of the depth and strength of Pennsylvania Republicanism. The Federalists had been favored by many circumstances - Republican disunity over presidential candidates; the Leib-Boileau quarrel among the Democrats; Quid cooperation with them in the three preceding elections; and, most important, the economic hardships of the embargo. Yet they had lost by an overwhelming majority. Republican unity reappeared under the stimulus of a revived Federalism campaigning on national issues. Internal divisions were suppressed, and the Republicans gave undivided support to Madison and Snyder. The stresses of the campaign destroyed the Constitutional Republicans as a third party, though there were vestiges in a few counties." (Higginbotham, p 176)
"The strength and nature of this factionalism varied, but it never entirely disappeared. The first stage lasted from 1800 to 1805. Personal and local differences appeared almost immediately as the Federalists virtually abandoned politics. The struggle between Governor McKean and the country Democrats in the legislature over judicial reform and the failure of the attack on the judiciary culminated in the movement for a constitutional convention. Duane and Leib, whose arbitrary control of the party in Philadelphia had produced a violent schism, took sides against the Governor. Aided by the Federalists, the Constitutional Republicans, generally called Quids, were able to defeat the project for a convention and to re-elect McKean." (Higginbotham, p 328)
"Adapted from tertium quid, a 'third something,' the name 'Quid' was first prominently used in a political sense in Pennsylvania in 1804, and it was soon affixed to a faction of the Republican party officially calling itself the Society of Constitutional Republicans. The Pennsylvania Quids attracted Federalist support and in 1805 re-elected Governor Thomas McKean, who had been the choice of a united Republican party in 1802 but was opposed by the majority wing of the party in 1805. (fn: Sanford W. Higginbotham. The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816, p. 69, 346.)." ("Who Were the Quids?" Noble E. Cunningham, Jr. The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 50, No. 2 (Sep. 1963), p. 254)
"The use of 'Quid' to refer to various third-party factions which plagued the Jeffersonian Republicans must not, however, be construed to mean that all Quids were part of the same third-party movement. When John Randolph referred to the third party, he was not being accurate. There was no such thing. The Quids in Pennsylvania and in New York - the only states where they represented organized factions - were neither in league with each other nor supporters of Randolph. In both states, the Republican divisions were the products of local controversies over men, offices, and state policies, and the Quid factions had not direct connection with the schism produced in national politics by Randolph's defection." (Cunningham, p 255)
"The opponents of the Philadelphia Democrats and their rural allies were called at various times the Rising Sun Party (after a tavern where they first met in 1802), the Third Party, the Tertium Quids (Third Whats), and more often simply the Quids. The Quids hoped to tame popular politics by discrediting the radicalism that they blamed on the Philadelphia Democrats. To do so, they emphasized the nation's future greatness and the prosperity each citizen would enjoy in a vibrant economy with a peaceful representative politics committed to promoting internal economic development. Accepting, even welcoming, democracy in Pennsylvania, the Quids attempted to redefine the term. Popular politics would remain the instrument the citizens used to create the conditions that produced material independence. But democracy would only provide such indepedence of circumstances when Pensylvanians realized that their power should not be used to disrupt or hindred private energies or the use of property." (Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004. p. 96)
- The Keystone in the Democratic Arch: Pennsylvania Politics, 1800-1816. Sanford W. Higginbotham. 1952.
- Crucible of American Democracy: The Struggle to Fuse Egalitarianism and Capitalism in Jeffersonian Pennsylvania. Andrew Shankman. University Press of Kansas. 2004.
Commissioner: A member of a permanently constituted commission or government board.
Oxford English Dictionary
In most states, the main political unit was the County, and Commissioners were responsible of maintaining the county roads, poor house, county buildings, collection of taxes and other related business.
1787 - 1824: Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania
Office Scope: County / Town(ship) / Hundred / District
Role Scope: County / Town(ship) / Hundred / District
Scope Note: In most of Pennyslvania, this is a County position, but due to the minor civil divisions around Philadelphia, it is also a position for the township of Northern Liberties and the District of Spring Garden.