The Irish Immigrants Preferred the Democratic Party

From early on, the Irish immigrants preferred the Democratic Party. For one thing, the Democrats actively courted the Irish vote. Coming from a country like Ireland, where the party in power, the Whig party, barely acknowledged their existence, this was significant. Too, the Democrats talked often about the value of the “common man.” The Democrat rhetoric appealed to the Irish immigrant.

Indeed, the Whig party in England had consciously and deliberately ignored the famine in Ireland. They were content to take little or no action, trusting in the powers of the free market to save the Irish from starvation.

In 1832, Andrew Jackson ran for office. Descended from an Irish immigrant, his campaign apparatus touted his Irish connections. His opponent, John Quincy Adams, was supported by newspapers that frequently described the Irish as “Hessian flies [and] cancer worms.” Those same newspapers attacked the rebels in the Irish 1798 rebellion. And, of course, Adams’ party was the Whig party. In the minds of many immigrants, it was the Whigs in England who “killed” them with the famine. Through the 1840’s the Whigs engaged in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Through the 1830’s and 1840’s in New Orleans, the Democrats reminded the Irish voters that “Whiggery” was the same as nativism. That is, the Whigs were the same as anti-immigration fervor. The Irish immigrants were often reviled in American newspapers.  It is not surprising they would prefer the Democrats throughout the South.

Today, we wonder why the Irish in the South served in the Confederate army and why some Irish immigrants in the North avoided the draft. One significant reason was the aversion and distrust of the Republican party. The Republicans were former Whigs and worse, former members of the American (Know Nothing) party.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 2001), p. 94-96.

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