“Hard heads make soft behinds,” my mother always told me. Translation: Lessons ignored or not learned well the first time would be revisited upon me, usually in more painful ways. This homily seems to fit the recently cold-cocked Republican Party.

If the constant tone and arrogance of many of the national spokespeople for the party can be taken as a true barometer of what the party hierarchy learned from the shellacking they just received then it seems “soft behinds” indeed are in the offing.

Here’s the historical context: One of America’s first official political parties was the Whig Party, begun in the 1820s, but legalized in 1833. The party’s platform included a belief in a strong, but limited central government, which focused on congressional rather than presidential authority.

The Whig Party was a political party of the United States during the era of the building of the Democratic Party under Andrew Jackson’s iron-handed leadership. It was operationally relevant from the 1830s to the mid-1850s, when it officially disintegrated over internal factionalism caused by the issue of slavery’s expansion in the American territories.

The Whig Party was formed in opposition to the policies of President Jackson and his leadership of the Democratic Party and advocated rapid industrialization and modernization of the USA. Whigs demanded government support for a modern, market-oriented economy, in which skill, expertise and bank credit would count for more than physical strength or land ownership. Whigs strongly advocated the expansion of the road and canal systems, and to modernize inner America, the Whigs helped create public schools nationwide, private colleges, charities, and cultural institutions.

The Whigs appealed to voters in every socioeconomic category, but were especially attractive to the professional and business classes: doctors, lawyers, merchants, ministers, bankers, storekeepers, factory owners, commercially oriented farmers and large-scale planters.

The Whig Party counted among its members such national political leaders as Daniel Webster, William Henry Harrison, newspaper publisher Horace Greely, educator Horace Mann, and the party’s preeminent leader and founder, Sen. Henry Clay of Kentucky. In addition to Harrison, the Whig Party also nominated war hero generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott to run for president. They got Taylor, William Henry Harrison, Millard Fillmore and John Tyler elected.

Abraham Lincoln was an early Whig leader in frontier Illinois. The 1850s in the USA was tumultuous, to say the least. The Fugitive Slave law was passed in 1850, the Abolitionist movement was it full force, and states’ rights and the expansion of slavery were relentless issues.

The Whigs were unable to deal with the slavery issue after 1850, given their members were diversified between the southern Whigs, nearly all of whom owned slaves, and the northeastern Whigs, representing businessmen who loved national unity and a national market but who cared little about slavery one way or another, and fervent anti-slavery activists.

The Wilmot Proviso to prohibit slavery’s expansion did not pass Congress.

It also became the signature event that tore apart the Whig Party, especially when associated with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened slavery up to all new states and territories. There was general chaos and confusion internally, and an inability to redefine the party or adapt to new realities.

Many of the Whig leaders, such as Abraham Lincoln, simply abandoned politics for several years.

As the Republicans did in 2012 with Mitt Romney, the Whigs nominated Gen. Winfield Scott, who the Whigs thought to be hugely popular, to run for president. They were wrong, and he lost decisively to the Democrats’ Franklin Pierce. The Democrats won the election by a large margin: Pierce won 27 of the 31 states, including Scott’s home state of Virginia.

A major Whig representative leader, Lewis D. Campbell of Ohio, was particularly distraught by the defeat, exclaiming publicly, “We are slain. The party is dead-dead-dead!” After the 1854 political debacle, it certainly was. It came to increasingly be seen as the party that could not win.

The successor to the defunct Whig Party was the birth of the anti-slavery Republican Party that brought Abraham Lincoln to prominence, and gave African Americans the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. It remains to be seen whether the 2012 Republicans will remember their own history, or are doomed to repeat it. In politics, you adapt or die. Let’s see which way the wheel turns for them–for whom the political bell tolls.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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