“A major thesis of the study is that there have been two party systems in Wisconsin. The First Wisconsin Party System was based on ethnocultural cleavages,primarily between Yankee and Teuton and Protestant and Catholic. The host and dominant culture of Wisconsin was comprised of New England and New York Protestant Yankees who organized a coalition of Protestant immigrants from England, Norway, and Sweden that became the hegemonic Republican party. The counter culture of early Wisconsin was basically organized by Germans, especially German Catholics in alliance with Irish Cathlics and secondarily French,Polish, Austrian, and Italian Catholics. A remarkable level of partisan stability from 1850 through World War I will be illustrated. The top Democratic counties of the 1850s remained the Democratic bastions all the way to World War I, when “Wilson’s War” dislodged Wisconsin Germans decisively from their traditional party allegiance. Those counties which were the backbone of the Whig and Liberty parties in the 1850s became and remained bedrock Republican counties right up to the Depression of the 1930s. Those counties heavily populated by prosperous New england Yankees in the 1850s which were not transformed by the arrival of Catholic or African American immigrants remained Republican from 1850 through 1970!

The Second Wisconsin Party System has been structured around a class based cleavage, pitting labor against capital, public employee against the private sector, lower-class minorities against the middle and upper class majority. While most Protestant Yankees have tended to remain loyal to their ancestral parties, there have been signifcant defections among the Norwegians and probably Swedish working class and poorer rural groups in the northwest section of the state. The Scandinavian counties abandoned the Republcians for the LaFollete dynasty’s Progressive Party in the 1930s, and gradually shifted to a modernizing, ideologically liberal Democratic party in the 1950s and 1960s. In industrial and Germanic Milwaukee, and to a lesser extent, in Sheboygan and Manitowoc, a social democratic party evolved form the activities of German and Jewish intellectuals and skilled German, and some Polish, factory workers. Milwaukee’s Socialsits were, next to New York city’s, the most powerful in the nation, electing mayors, state representatives, and a congressman. In the 1930s the socialists, greatly weakened during the 1920s, merged with the progressives. Both parties were essentially drained of critical leadership, especially labor, by the New Deal. Equally important in defining the Second Wisconsin Party system was the defection of the rural and small town Germans from the Democratic Party, startaing from their outrage over “Wilson’s War” and their domestic persecution at that time, and culminating in their reaction to the high taxes, regulaton, and urban or southern biases of the New deal coalition.”

Last edited by g.   Page last modified on January 17, 2005

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