Political Parties of Indiana County

Indiana County has traditionally been a Republican stronghold, even voting against the state’s Democratic native son, James Buchanan, in the 1856 election. However, there has been a wide assortment of parties have challenged its dominance. These contenders have included groups such as the Greenbacks, Fair Play, and Militant Workers in addition to the loyal opposition Democratic Party.

The Contrary Countians

An Act of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth crated Indiana County from parts of Westmoreland and Lycoming Counties in 1803. The Assembly directed the Governor to appoint a committee of three commissioners to supervise the infant county until a census could be taken and a new county government could be formed. It was further directed that Westmoreland County be granted temporary jurisdiction over the inhabitants until their new government would achieve separate representation at Lancaster, the capital of Pennsylvania.

Early in Indiana County’s history, their politics tended to oppose the trends of the times. From 1804 to 1816, when the Democratic party was solidly in power, Indiana County consistently voted for the Federalists in state and national elections.

In 1817, under the leadership of Joseph Heister, the Federalists in Pennsylvania almost succeeded in capturing the governorship, but in that year the voters of Indiana County had completely reversed their politics and gave the Democrat Findlay a 718 to 274 vote margin. In 1820, when Heister succeeded in his second bid for election, Indiana County was again in the Democratic camp, where it stayed all during the Federalist’s remaining years as a powerful party. For the ten years from 1817 to 1827, the Democratic party was dominant in Indiana County, but not without opposition.

The Wayward Whig

In 1821, John McCrea began a newspaper in Indiana called the Indiana and Jefferson Whig, and began to be the exponent of the Whig party. This is notable, because the influence of the Whig party was negligible in Pennsylvania politics until fourteen years later.

The Whigs stood for a tariff, a well-regulated currency, a single-term Presidency as a check on executive power, and the protection of domestic labor. The party was not very successful in its early years, and in 1826 McCrea joined the new Anti-Mason movement.

The First McCarthyites

James Moorehead, whose Indiana American newspaper later merged into the “Whig” was an early innovator, along with McCrea, of the Anti-Masonic party. The Anti-Masonic political movement began in western New York in 1826 and rapidly spread to Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Anti-Masonic politics first began in Lancaster County in 1828 with the publication of the Antimasonic Herald. However, it seems that James Moorehead’s American began speaking of the Anti-Masonic movement a year earlier, in 1827, and that the Anti-Masonic party was formed here in the same year. There were many power names listed among the Anti-Masons such as: John Quincy Adams, Horace Greeley, Francis Granger, and Thaddeus Stevens, with Stevens providing the voice of the party and the power behind the throne. Membership was chiefly derived from the Germans and the Quakers who were opposed to oath-taking rituals, the Scotch-Irish who disliked the masonic titles and rituals because it sounded too much like English aristocracy, the foreigners, the Democratic radicals, and the Whigs. Growth of the Anti-Masons in Indiana County was so rapid that by 1829 the Anti-Masonic candidate for governor, Joseph Ritner, though he was defeated statewide, was able to carry the county by an overwhelming majority (1,044 to 456) in the campaign of 1829.

In 1832, when all neighboring counties voted Democratic, Indiana County again threw its support to Ritner. In 1835 the county helped carry Ritner to the Governor’s mansion, and the Anti-Masonic party remained dominant in Indiana County until after Ritner’s defeat for re-election by David Rittenhouse Porter in 1838 when the party began to be taken over by the Whigs. But not every Indiana County Anti-Mason was destined to be made a Whig so rapidly.

Carry Me Over Jordan

In 1840, James Moorehead, the old Anti-Masonic leader, began to publish another newspaper called the Clarion of Freedom, which agitated against slavery and started the Indiana County movement of the Abolitionist party.

The Abolitionist movement began in Boston in 1831 with the founding of the Liberator, a newspaper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. Two years later, Garrison founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in Philadelphia which became the most radical faction of the Abolitionist movement, and included such notables as John Brown, Lucretia Mott, and Wendell Phillips.

Indiana County was a late-comer to the Abolitionist movement, but played an active part in it. The leadership here tended to lean toward the radical side, and the movement remained quite strong in the county for a number of years, but began to diminish with the decline of the national movement following the Christiana riots of 1851. A slave owner and a United States marshal had arrived in Christiana, Lancaster County, and demanded the return of three fugitive slaves who were hidden on a nearby farm. Instead of turning over the slaves, a mob of whites and Negro freeman attacked the authorities, killed the slave owner, and chased off the marshal. By 1854 most of the Abolitionists had become Whigs. Although they had exercised a strong voice in the county’s politics, the Abolitionists were never in control, and Indiana County remained a Whig stronghold, voting consistently for Whig Presidential candidates from 1840 to the founding of the Republican party in 1856.

The First Ku Kluxers

The real power of the Whigs ended in 1854 with the coming of the Know-Nothings. The Know-Nothings were an anti-foreign, anti-Catholic, secret political group which began in New York and Pennsylvania and spread throughout the nation. Their tenure was brief, but their influence was great. The party appealed to the popular fear of the increasing number of immigrants into the country (in the thirty years prior to 1855 over five million foreigners, mostly Roman Catholic Irish and Germans, came to the United States).

The Know-Nothing party had only been in existence since 1852, and by 1854, had swallowed up the Whigs of Indiana County as well as the rest of the state. The election of the Whig and American candidate, Pollock, to the governorship in 1854 was only technically a Whig victory. In reality it was a victory for the Know-Nothings who formed the larger part of the Whig and American alliance.

Strange Bedfellows

A strange coalition that formed the Indiana County Whig party in 1856; comprising a union of the Anti-Masons, who violently opposed secret societies, and of the Know-Nothings who were themselves members of a secret society. It was a union of the Abolitionists who demanded the immediate emancipation of the slaves and the Whigs who declined and eventually died out in large part because they were reluctant to take a stand against slavery. In 1856 that union was destined to melt into the newly-formed Republican party.

The New Order

The part of the Republican party that took control in Indiana County was the same radical faction that had seized control of the national movement and nominated John C. Fremont for President of the United State. Its platform had committed the party to the abolition of slavery, and it found support among the Whigs, Free Soilers, and some Northern businessmen and industrial interests who sought to establish economic advantages over the South. In the Presidential elections of 1856, Pennsylvania again went Democratic, but Indiana Countians voted for the Republican Fremont by more than a 2 to 1 margin over fellow-Pennsylvanian, James Buchanan. It was to be fifty-four years before the newly-formed Republican party would taste defeat in Indiana County.

A Matter of Taste

The Prohibitionist Party was formed in Indiana County in 1869, which corresponded with the formation of a national Prohibition Party in Chicago during the same year. The goal was to make it illegal to manufacture and to consume alcoholic beverages. The party never achieved widespread membership in the County. The movement reached its peak in the County during the Presidential elections of 1920 when it polled 974 votes.

Let’s Play Monopoly

In 1874, the Greenback party was established in Indiana County when Frank Smith, publisher of the Indiana National newspaper began to press for monetary reforms. The national party was started during the depression of the 1870s and consisted primarily of Midwestern and Southern farmers who wanted an inflationary money system based on silver as well as gold.

The Greenbacks consolidated with the various labor movements in 1878 to for the Greenback-Labor party. The party asked the Federal government for the same things that the Greenback party had been asking for, but also asked for labor reforms, such as the reduction of working hours and the curtailment of Chinese immigrant labor. Although the party began to die out in 1879-80 with improved economic conditions following the depression, it accounted for eighteen per cent of Indiana County’s popular vote in 1882, and in 1886 it was still the County’s fourth largest vote-getter.

Try and Try Again

The People’s, or Populist, party that was formed in 1891 was a rejuvenation of the old Greenback-Labor party of the two previous decades. The party represented disgruntled farmers and unionists who blamed the government’s tight money policies for their poor living conditions. Their platform called for the free coinage of silver and the wide issuance of paper money. Because of the high transportation costs of farm goods, the platform called also for the nationalization of the railroads, telegraph lines, and other transportation and communication facilities as well as a graduated income tax and the direct election of United States Senators. Many of the things for which the Populists fought are part of our American life today. The party didn’t take hold very well in Indiana County and during its peak in 1894 it was able to produce only 609 votes out of more than 8,000 votes cast Countywide.

“. . . From the Cradle . . .”

Another party which has never been an influencing factor in Indiana County politics is the Socialist party. It was founded at Indianapolis in 1901, it was a merger of the Social Democratic and Socialist Labor parties. The goal of the party was to achieve socialism by means of the ballot. The party vigorously opposed the entry of the United States into World War I, and declared “its unalterable opposition” to the war. As a result of the party’s anti-war campaigns, its leader, Eugene Debs, was sentenced to ten years in prison for violation of the Espionage Act.

After the 1917 Russian Bolshevik revolution, the left wing of the party broke away to form the American Communist Party. As a national unit, the Socialist party reached its peak in 1920, but its life in Indiana County was much shorter, having begun to decline after the elections of 1912.

A Little Rain Must Fall

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial election of 1919 was of special interest because it marked the first time in fifty-four years that the Republicans did not constitute the majority party in Indiana County. Although the Republicans won statewide, Indiana County went to the Keystone Independent candidate, William Berry, by an 18 vote margin.

The Keystone party was a marriage of Republican and Democratic party elements who rebelled against the boss-picked candidates of both sides. What is especially significant is that, although the Keystone party was organized statewide in 1910, no organized leadership existed in Indiana County until 1911 – the year after the elections in which the party was successful. Without effective leadership, the people – on their own – had turned the bosses out!

“Walk Softly”

When Theodore Roosevelt bucked the Republican organization in 1912, a ready following awaited him among the ranks of the Keystoners.  Most of the Keystoners found a home in one of the Roosevelt-led tickets in 1912, the foremost of which, in Indiana County, was the Washington party rather than the Bullmoose party.  The Washington party ticket gave Roosevelt a 2 to 1 edge over Taft, and a 3 to 1 edge over Wilson.  The combined votes of all the Roosevelt-led tickets gave him more votes than the Republicans and Democrats together.  Th Republicans, however, carried the state and county offices, and were not to lose the County in another Presidential election for another fifty-two years.

You Again!

In the midst of widespread labor unrest in 1919, many labor unions began to form political parties of their own and soon the labor leaders of several states cooperated to form the National Labor party.  It consisted almost wholly of union members, and as such, did not, at that time, have widespread voter appeal.

Recognizing the necessity of gaining allies, the party, in 1920, became the Farmer-Labor party, demanding for labor a larger voice in the management of industry and the elimination of discrimination against Negroes.  In the elections of 1920 the party’s candidate garnered only 131 votes in Indiana County, but by 1924, with “Fighting Bob” La Folette heading the ticket, the Labor party compiled 1,989 votes – only 78 less than the Democratic candidate, John Davis.  Combined with the votes of the Socialist and other tickets which La Folette headed, he was by far the second highest vote-getter in Indiana County.  In the following year the party was dissolved, and although repeated attempts were made to revive it, they met with little success.  In the elections of 1948 the party backed the Progressive candidate, giving Henry Wallace 207 votes, but from 1924 on, it ceased to be an influential factor in the politics of Pennsylvania or Indiana County.

…And Then There Were Others

Many other parties have collected votes in Indiana County, but their life spans were too short and their influence too little to warrant special research in this particular publication.  Their names and the dates of their appearance on the ballots are shown on the accompanying list.

1848 – Free Soil            
Free Democrats
1851 – Native Americans
1912 – Bull Moose            
Roosevelt Progressive            
Progressive
1856 – American1916 – Industrialist
1860 – Constitutional Union1918 – Fair Play
1882 – Independent Republican             Temperance1922 – Single Tax 1928 – Workers
1888 – Union Labor1930 – Liberal
1892 – Social Labor            
Free Silver
1932 – Communist
1934 – Industrial Labor
1896 – Jeffersonian1936 – Royal Oak
1904 – Independence1940 – Independent Government
1906 – Lincoln            
Union Labor
1942 – United Pension
1948 – Militant Workers
1910 – Workers Labor1950 – G.I.s Against Communism
INDIANA COUNTY VOTER REGISTRATIONS
(Autumn Figures) 1924 – 1968
YearRepublicanDemocraticProhibitionNon-PartisanOther
192424,7803,913321*1,535
192626,1813,580367*1,317
192827,7064,108**1,045
193229,6934,290**667
193426,5837,799*240579
193818,81713,233*128281
194021,40712,687*172242
194219,25710,872*143186
194418.6299.020*125167
194618,2148,536*121191
194818,9239,30719311911
195220,88011,940169166*
195420,04911,921159145*
195619,83615,573130178*
195819,41015,855118209*
196020,23916,720104233*
196219,85317,82084235*
196420,21215,58355254*
196820,62313,156353783
*Non-party and Prohibition party registration figures are unavailable for certain years. Since 1952, minor party registration figures have not been listed.