This letter is taken from The Selected Letters of Bernard DeVoto and Katharine Sterne, edited and annotated by Mark DeVoto and published in 2012 by the University of Utah Press. Sterne (1907-1944), an honors graduate of Wellesley College and an assistant arts critic on the New York Times, wrote a letter to Bernard DeVoto in 1933 from a tuberculosis sanitarium where she was a patient. DeVoto replied, and they continued to write to each other until Sterne’s death in 1944, exchanging more than 800 letters and memoirs, but they never met in person. In 1943, DeVoto dedicated The Year of Decision: 1846 to Sterne, “a very gallant lady.” The published volume contains about one-quarter of the total correspondence; the remainder is published on the website of the Marriott Library of the University of Utah: http://content.lib.utah.edu/cdm/ref/collection/UP-Bryson/id/922
May 2, 1940
[a letter from KS to BDeV just prior to this is apparently missing]
32 Coolidge Hill Road
Jesus, I don’t know how you summarize political parties in the Republic, short of a million words…
Well, there are continuities… of a kind. Don’t ask too much of them. In general, there has always been a simple dichotomy (a more fundamental one, I mean than the ins and the outs), and for the most part it has always taken about the same expression it has now. There has usually been a party which stood for debtor class and another one which stood for the propertied class — in the rough. Each has always been badly confused and impeded by the discordant elements which, the American equilibrium being so unstable, it has had to incorporate or form alliances with in order to get, or retain, power. It is, however, a fundamental mistake to think of the dichotomy as analogous to the English one, since not even the Southern Democracy had any function as a landholding class. (You will be much nearer the truth if you will think about them as, in the typical American way, exploiters of new land — by means, as it importantly happened, of human machines.) Nor is there any division similar to the beautifully neat (and altogether unrealistic) one that French analysts believe in, the rentiers vs. the spéculateurs. Neither landholders nor rentiers as such or per function have ever had any but the mildest importance. What we have had from the beginning is a party which stood for the inflation of currency and one that stood for the contraction of currency. A party for the relief of debtors and a party for the sanctity of mortgages. A party for the support of agrarian and laboring interests, and a party for the assistance of trade, manufacture, and banking. Less consistently but in the main, a party which aimed to develop the home market by assisting the producers, and a party which aimed to develop it by assisting the manufacturers. Even less consistently but in the main till recently, a party which stood for less national and centralized authority, and a party which stood for more of it. The confusion introduced by this last consideration is paralleled in all the others to a lesser degree, but by and large all the parties named first in the above oppositions have been one and the same party, and all those named second have been the other party.
There is also a kind of continuity in pattern — at least in growth and senescence. Take Jefferson’s Republicans, who torturously and tenuously survive in Franklin’s New Deal. The party began to coalesce round him during Washington’s first term, in part because of the activity of Jefferson, the intellectuals he was allied with, and groups and interests that had been most crimped by the compromises that went into the Constitution, but in greater part because of the plain bearing of Hamilton’s fiscal policies and the groups and interest they plainly served.
Everything in this period is so fluid that all lines are blurred and no statements hold absolutely. But in general it is true that the Republicans were what Jefferson’s ideas held them to be, small landowners, small merchants, mechanics, free laborers. Sure, but also they were the Southern planters (in the main, not always) and they were the western pioneers. The link between the last two classes is obvious. Until the new lands in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi were opened up, there was no such thing as a solvent planter. They had been in debt to English factors from the beginning, and as that debt receded after the Revolution it merely found its way increasingly northward. (In fact, it is arguable that there never was, in all American history, a solvent Southern planter. DeBow said as much for twenty years before the Civil War and Helper proved it, or nearly proved it, just on the eve of hostilities. But during the last quarter century before the war there was in the Deep South such an illusion of solvency as we can remember from H. Hoover’s time.) The planters were, in actual fact, a debtor class, albeit a garnished one. And the rockbottom fact of American history is that all frontier communities are debtor communities. These were the interests principally served by the Jeffersonian party… Let us be clear: by and large men belong to parties because they think their interests are served by those parties, and by and large parties think they are serving the interests they actually do serve… But also there were other elements, whose relationships to these others could be indicated only by long parentheses. Notably there were the immigrants and the internationalists. Tammany began on the immigrant vote. And there rallied to the Republican party all those whom the blatant Anglomania of Hamilton’s Federalists had annoyed, angered, or cost money. And all those who felt that the torch lighted in America must be handed on to Europe, by way of France. And finally, the reformers. In a sense, down to Jackson, reform was properly only clarification and extension in areas where nothing had been shaped or provided for. But the battle cry and the effect was the same… This has been the make-up of the Democratic party, fairly steadily, ever since.
Jefferson’s Republicans did not completely establish or fill out the pattern — there are gaps in it. This was due not only to the fluidity of everything but also to the fact that they had no real Opposition. The Federalists were a genuine party but they could not survive an Adams, a foreign war, and the death of Hamilton. They are one of the two major parties in American history that have been blown up in toto. It is interesting that the death blow was an act of usurpation that happened to run counter to a sentiment. For what killed the Federalists was primarily the Alien and Sedition Acts — and the ammunition they gave the Jeffersonians. (There were, of course, many intricately related things but let them go.) Without those Acts, the undeclared war with France would certainly have lost them 1800 anyway, and might very well have destroyed them — because things were so fluid. Finally, nobody could fill Hamilton’s shoes and the organization was not yet rigorous enough to go on without someone who could. (Note that the Republicans did not perish because of Jefferson’s Embargo Acts, which did far more damage than the A and S but did not offend a sentiment.) By 1800 it was clear that the Federalists were done for, nationally. They declined into a sectional party, dwindled, and committed suicide with the Hartford Convention.
Now as outlined above, there are obvious contradictions in the Republicans, of the kind that always make any party course a zigzag and produce the continual frictions and cleavages that impair American party government — and, I think, not only establish the movement of our history but provide the necessary freedom of movement that permits our economic and social system to function. And there is implicit in them a major paradox. It is the major paradox not only of the Jeffersonians but of our entire political structure, and in one form or another it has raised hell with every party in our history. It is this: that whereas the interests of the debtor classes, and especially of the frontier, require the central government to be as limited and diffuse as possible (emphasizing “states’ rights” or the federal republic), those same interests also necessitate a centralizing tendency which must constantly invade the rights of the federated states and accrete power. Jefferson had been in office just two years when he faced this rockbottom fact. (His was, genuinely, a “reform” administration to begin with, though Gallatin’s reforms look a hell of a lot like Hamiltonianism.) If the Mississippi were closed, then trans-Allegheny America would simply fall off from the seaboard. He had to get at least lower Louisiana. He got Louisiana. He had no power to do so and it violated all his principles and beliefs — except self-preservation, Anglophobia, and the voice of the people. In effect, he set the whole mould of the future… The strongest nationalizing, which is to say centralizing, force in our history is the expanding frontier. In its own interest the debtor class has always been forced to forge the instruments which exploited it. The party in power has always accelerated the tendency, no matter how vehemently it has denied doing so. Louisiana was one form. “Internal improvements” was another. So was “the American system.” So was “free land.” So was the tariff.
Yet the outline was neither clear nor complete down to what the texts still call the Jacksonian revolution, by which time everything we know today was established. The Whig party had grown up to inherit, roughly, the interests served by Federalism and to add to them the interests of the expanding mercantile class and the embryo manufacturing class together with the rudimentary financial system growing out of both. Yet nothing is ever so simple as the textbooks make out. Notably, the strong Whig interest in the South is a paradox and the stronger one on the frontier is a greater paradox. Furthermore, though the central onslaught of the Jacksonian Democracy, which was Jefferson’s Republicans in modern dress, was directly at the financial system which had now learned to use its teeth in protection of its interests, still it is astonishing how much support the Democrats drew from financial interests either excluded from or at war with the system. Many financial interests are always served by inflation and many others have exactly the same interests as the debtors they have mortgages on. It is right here, with the rise of the Jacksonian party, that the modern complexities of our politics begin.
The national lands were the biggest single determining force, together with the speculation in them by financial interests, the need for debtor relief, and the development of wildcat banking which, effectively if not by design, provided it. There was also growing up the manufacturing system that was to become dominant after the Civil War. The financial system that was implementing that system was, effectively, what the Democrats were aiming to destroy. Yet (a) it was essential to much of their own functioning, so that (b) they could not muster enough strength to overthrow it, and (c) though they compromised, they sufficiently damaged it to weaken their own organization internally.
It was a hell of a lot less simple a party than Jefferson’s. And it was a hell of a lot like Franklin D.’s. It had to swallow the alliance that has always since then partly paralyzed it, the marriage between the agrarians of the first part and the mechanics and city proletariat of the second part. This, the second great paradox of our political history, proves something or other about America, for what God hath put asunder the Democracy has, on the whole, kept together. When the Democracy has been out of power, it has been because this shotgun marriage has been broken. The fundamental interests of the two groups are both relatively and absolutely at odds, and the party has looked a hell of a lot less looney whenever the farmers have been detached… Jacksonism did not come to power by a mass uprising of the common man, especially the frontiersman, as the texts usually say. It was, besides that marriage, pretty exactly the New Deal. It had an energetic nucleus of intellectuals who worked well with the first full crew of professional politicians, as distinct from paid politicians, ever developed here. It had also the best organized press up to that time. Jackson was really a front for the politicians and especially the intellectuals. They have been curiously underestimated and even ignored by the historians and my pupil (who may go West with me, by the way), Arthur Schlesinger Jr., is going to make a reputation very easily because of them. We hear about Jackson’s Kitchen Cabinet: what we do not hear is that its effectives were the intellectuals of whom Amos Kendall was the bright star. Blatantly during both of Jackson’s administrations and less openly for another twenty years, Kendall was both the Charlie Michelson and the Tommy Corcoran of the time. Beyond and behind Kendall were a good many others, notably the young George Bancroft and the older Orestes Brownson (the first real advocate of the class struggle in America if not in the world, a pre-Marxian, and the author of more platforms and presidential messages than has been acknowledged). To these were added the discouraged but not disenchanted reformers (as time went on), like George Ripley. And to these, the lunatic fringe — for a while, till the rising Republican party drained them off.
(I wonder if Kendall shows the future of Corcoran. He declined into a kind of lobbyist — for many years the Man To See in Washington. I suspect — no one has proved, few have ever studied him — that he got a large cut in a good many projects he put across. Yet he remained, also, as much a giant as there was in those parts. The Diary of a Public Man which Sandburg quotes so extensively and so effectively was almost certainly written by Kendall.)
It was the intellectuals, really, who grappled with the one firm reality that Jacksonism ever came to grips with, the developing corporation. It was the corporation, a good deal more than the factory itself, that implemented the industrial revolution and, in doing so, changed the financial system forever. The boys had a pretty good idea of what it was and was becoming, and what they wrote about it might just as well have been written by A. A. Berle. They never had a clear idea what they wanted to do about it, and of what they wanted to do they were able to do only a part, which on the whole was worse than nothing at all.
They were always impeded, sometimes nullified, and frequently made idiotic by the discordances within, which as time went on produced the strains that culminated in the schism of 1860, though by that time senescence was so far advanced that the same break-up could have occurred from half a dozen other tensions. With two interregnums they governed the country for thirty years, and fairly well, considering, during the first twenty of them. Like all government, theirs was a resultant of partially tangential forces, not a program, not a party government. What threw them when they tried to control the developing corporations was what threw them throughout, the conflicts between the divergent interests of their own components. You cannot incorporate in a party the frontier, the plantation system, the mechanics and proletariat, and the metropolitan machines — without considerable friction. Thus the protective tariff, which the Democracy always swore they were opposed to, was a subsidy to manufacture paid for by the farmers, yet the West had to have internal improvements, which only the tariff could pay for. Furthermore, manufacturing was thus subsidized at the expense of the planters, yet the planters had to take it because the Democracy would lose the city machines if they didn’t — and had to keep the city machines in line if they want to go on governing. So, in actual fact, the tariff was never seriously lowered (except once) during the Democratic administrations and was sometimes increased. Polk, who was honest, blind, and a promise-keeper did, as I shall show in my book, raise hell by forcing a tariff for revenue only through Congress — and, since he had elected to fight a foreign war simultaneously brought the national treasury the closest it had yet been to bankruptcy. Only the famines in Europe saved him — and won the war… The tariff was only one of several dilemmas but it would take a lot of space to specify the others. The point is, government is always by guess and by God, issues seldom correspond to interests, and the young John Chamberlain has finally got it through his head that there are a multiplicity of functioning systems in America, several of which combine in precarious equilibrium to produce a party — and partially hamstring it.
What happened to the Democrats during the Fifties was a result of the inconceivable stupidity of the Southern planters and the accelerating energies of the industrial revolution. Beyond question, the planters were the biggest fools in our history, which is a weighty superlative. They never learned how to farm land, they never had intelligence enough to analyze their interests, and they never learned any skill either in politics or in economics. They are most readily understood not as agrarians but as exploiters of natural resources — who used up land (by means of expendable human machines) precisely as lumbermen used up forests or the miners used up lodes and veins — and as exploiters who, nevertheless, committed themselves to an agrarian economy, and a one-crop agrarian economy at that. The spread of cotton culture southwest created the illusion of prosperity, the flush times. With incredible folly, they thought they could perpetuate the phantom by political means — and for political control of Congress they paid the price of economic subjection. Which is exactly half of the Civil War. It was, furthermore, a subjection by anarchy. The manufacturing system and the financial system developed on strict Darwinian principles, without effective control of any kind. Which is half of the remaining half of the Civil War… For political control of Congress, conceived as protection of slave property in protection of cotton, they delivered themselves up hogtied into the keeping of the financiers. The intelligent thing to do would have been to make an alliance with the developing system, rather than fight it head-on, taking what they could get, keeping a share in what they had to give up. But sublime ignorance of economics (“Cotton is king” was gospel at a time when, as Helper pointed out, the hay crop of the North alone was worth more than the entire cotton crop), plus the delusion of secession, which was really a delusion that southern cotton was necessary to French and British economy, made them mad.
Defence of the status quo invariably and inevitably becomes petrifaction. During the Fifties the Democracy hardened into an intense reaction, concerned about only one thing, the constitutional defence of slavery, and armed with only one weapon and that terroristic, the threat of secession. They yowled about the tariff, but they voted for it, buying votes for the protection of slavery thereby. They became a mere orthodoxy, with their heels dug in. Efficiency departed from their bureaucracy, not courage only but intelligence departed from their leadership — the descent from, say, Calhoun, to, say, Jeff Davis or Rhett or Yancey (from the tidewater aristocracy to the Deep South parvenus) is approximately the descent of Niagara. Planless, leaderless, unintelligent, ignorant, opposed to the main currents of political and economic development, they contracted arteriosclerosis as a party and were dead before they were defeated. They kept power during the Fifties by place and momentum — the accident of history that gave them a respite because the Whigs were annihilated and the Republicans merely being born.
They unconsciously developed the major public policy which the Republicans were to apply consciously: that of, as I have said somewhere, buying the farmer in order to sell him out. They did it inadvertently, but they did it and it has been the major domestic policy of American politics for something like ninety years.
The Civil War destroyed the Democracy. It came back after the war to rest one-half of its paradox on the Solid South, to slowly regain the city machines, and to slowly come into national power again by the time-honored process by which the minority party incorporates all the parties of dissent, protest, agitations, and political and economic lunacy. From the Greenbackers of 1870 down to the LaFollette twins of today, by way of the Granger movement, Populism, Free Silverites, Mugwumps, and anti-imperialists, they have all been gathered to Democracy’s bosom. (It is to be said of third-party movements that, though their program is usually adopted, as Wilson put into effect practically everything Bryan campaigned for in 1896, their energy usually comes to little in the end and they make the interior stresses and contradictions so great that they hasten the ultimate break-up and defeat.) But there was one outstanding and overwhelming difference — they had lost their historic alliance with the Middle West. And this is the third great paradox of our political history and one of the basic facts about America — and it also says something or other, I don’t know what, about the power of sentiments. So far as there has been an American agrarian party, actually and historically, it has been the Democracy. The strongest southern interest is and always has been agrarian. The Midwest and Western agrarian interest is its natural ally against the exploitation of the East — which is to say, of industry and finance. The Republicans, because they had the leadership and because the Democrats were blind and crazy, succeeded in detaching the Midwest from this alliance during the Fifties. They did so by realistically serving the Midwest interests, at a time when (as a minority party) they could afford to and when the Democracy didn’t have brains enough to serve any interest, even its own. The Civil War, converting the Republicans to the party of power, industry, and finance, also handed them the Midwest in apparent perpetuity. And this was mere sentiment — the Union forever, down with the traitors, vote the way you shot. Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, the rest of them might start to stampede off in favor of the Grange, the Populists, or anyone else who seemed likely to readjust, even a little bit, the terrible economic inequalities created by the protective system, the Republican financial system, and the concentration of economic power. But all the GOP had to do for thirty years was to wave the bloody shirt and all it had to do for nearly twenty more was to draw on its war chest. This is a stupefying fact. It enabled the system to change the economic set-up of the world. It delivered the Midwest into the pockets of Wall Street and it made the whole story of the West that of what I have called a plundered province. And this in defiance of plain interest. The spectacle of an Ohio wool-grower, in 1870-80 or -90 voting for a tariff on wool because there was a picture of Honest Abe in the postoffice is not only stupefying, it’s inconceivable. But there you have it, and that was American history 1865-1912, and for a hell of a lot longer than that. The one overwhelming service of the New Deal was to readjust that tremendous dislocation — for how long? Those whom the GOP had put asunder were joined together in 1932 and 1936 but they probably won’t stay joined next November.
[marginal note in pencil, next to the foregoing paragraph:] The next great paradox — disregarding the War — is already a-borning, the Southern industrialists turning Republican
The Whigs were, by a hair, a more contradictory collection than the Democrats. Always far stronger locally than nationally, it was an effective Opposition by fits and starts but too greatly strained within to elect more than two Presidents, both War Heroes, or to hold power once it got it. It had an extraordinary number of able leaders but had too many for its own good — their personal rivalries, quite as much as the divergent interests they served, weakened the party. It grew by the process of incorporation through the Thirties and Forties, and the incorporated material was so indigestible that it died. But Clay and Webster were tremendous powers, though they were never able to fuse an effective organization. They stood for the emergent mercantilism, manufacture, and finance, but it grew too fast for them, was too little aware of what its own interests were, and, in short, they never caught up with it. But they did save the nation at the most critical crisis before the War, 1850, and by saving it then, saved it in 1860… They are my favorite party and I could go on at length, but there’s no point.
The Republican party made the most astonishing growth in our history. It was approximately six years old when it won in 1860. It was even more a union of warring antitheses than the Whigs. Abolitionists and Cotton Whigs voted for Lincoln, which is to say, Communists and Liberty Leaguers voting for Franklin D. Its Free Soil inheritance, by which it first began to drain off the prairies, was at violent war with its New England, New York and Pennsylvania high-tariff, pro-factory inheritance from Whiggery. It attracted all the reformers, suffragists and labor reformers as well as abolitionists, and in its earlier phases is an index to all the crank notions of the time. Yet the nucleus round which all these elements coalesced was the Free Soil and “smart business man” coalition. In any given small town the local banker stayed Whig as long as he could, then turned Republican in the hope that mortgages would stay sound. The fires of war really are the fires of war and the party of A. Lincoln, which kept its Free Soil promise by passing the Homestead Act (which was either an irreparable damage to the nation or the most powerful assistance ever given the poor man, or both, and you can take your choice for I don’t know) came out of the war the perfected instrument of entrenched financial interests — interests which it had entrenched. Another war measure, the Pacific Railway Act, was the beginning of a long line. So was the National Bank Act. From both the interknit effects ray out till they blind you… But as a matter of fact, all subsequent history of the U. S. is the history of the Civil War and you had best not get me started on that. And there is no need to characterize the post-1890 Republican Party down to, shall we say, 1940.
This should be glossed by a treatise on issues. But that would merely show that each party has in its turn used both sides of every prominent issue — and I’ve got to go to bed… If this isn’t the sort of thing you want, put in another call card. But make it fast, for I think I’m leaving for the West in about ten days.
NOTES by Mark DeVoto:
rentiers: (French) stockholders, investors; persons of private means. Jefferson’s Republicans: Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, headed the party freely called Democratic Republican by historians; its main political opposition was the Whig Party, which collapsed in the 1840’s and was reborn in the 1854 as the Republican Party. Washington: George Washington (1732-1799), first president of the United States, served his first term from 1789 to 1793. De Bow: James D. B. De Bow (1820-1867), author and editor, professor of political economy, founded Commercial Review of the South and Southwest, 1846-47. Helper: Hinton Rowan Helper (1829-1909), author, attorney, and diplomat; The Impending Crisis, 1857. Tammany: the Tammany Society, or Tammany Hall, founded 1789, became in the nineteenth century a principal instrument of New York City politics and remained powerful well into the 1960’s, but hardly exists today. Hamilton’s Federalists: Alexander Hamilton (1757-1804), the first Secretary of the Treasury, was co-author (with James Madison and possibly others) of The Federalist; Washington and John Adams, second U. S. president, were the only presidents from the short-lived Federalist Party. Alien and Sedition Acts: enacted in reaction to the French Revolution then engulfing Europe and enforced between 1798 and 1801, these gave the president power to deport aliens, and to prosecute critics of the national government. The Acts were clearly contrary to the First Amendment to the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press and were soon repealed; persons convicted under the Acts were pardoned by President Jefferson. Jefferson’s Embargo Acts: Jefferson was president from 1801 to 1809. The Non-Importation Act of 1806, the Embargo Act of 1807, and the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809 severely restricted foreign trade and effectively ruined the shipping industry for several years, but failed to keep the United States from being drawn into war with England in 1812-1814. Hartford Convention: Federalist representatives from the New England states met secretly at Hartford, December 1814 to January 1815, to consider formal opposition to “Mr. Madison’s War,” with some extremists recommending secession from the United States. The Convention approved several more moderate resolutions but these were mooted after the Treaty of Ghent was signed on 24 December 1814, ending the war. Gallatin: Albert Gallatin (1761-1849), Swiss-born Secretary of the Treasury after Hamilton; diplomat at Ghent; later president of the City College of New York. Arthur Schlesinger Jr.: (1917-2007), Harvard ’38, professor of history at Harvard, later at CUNY; The Age of Jackson, 1946, Pulitzer Prize in history; The Age of Roosevelt, 3 vols., 1957-1960; A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House, 1966, Pulitzer Prize in biography; memoir, A Life in the 20th Century: Innocent Beginnings, 1917-1950, 2000. Kendall: (1789-1869), attorney and journalist; Postmaster General of the United States, 1837-1840. Bancroft: (1800-1891), author and historian, known as the “Father of American History”; minister to England, 1846-49; History of the United States, 10 vols., 1834-1874. Brownson: (1803-1876), “educator and philosopher” (ANB); Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Orestes Brownson: A Pilgrim’s Progress, 1939. Ripley: (1802-1880), clergyman, writer, critic, co-founder of the Brook Farm Community. Diary of a Public Man: this was published anonymously in North American Review, 1879. Berle: Adolf A. Berle (1895-1971), Harvard ’13; author, attorney, braintruster in the Roosevelt administration; assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Affairs, 1938; The Modern Corporation and Private Property, 1932. Calhoun: John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), congressman, Secretary of War, 1817-25, Vice President of the United States, 1825-32, resigned in 1832 to become Senator from South Carolina; Secretary of State, 1843-45. Rhett: Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876), southern statesman, architect of secession. Yancey: William Lowndes Yancey (1814-63), southern politican, Confederate commissioner and senator. Greenbackers: the Greenback Party of 1874-76 sought to erase farm debts by inflating the currency; nominated Peter Cooper for president in 1876. Free Silverites: after the panic of 1873, the Free Silver movement supported fluctuation of the price of silver; eventually arrived at a ratio of 16 to 1 in valuation of silver versus gold (Bland-Allison Act, 1878). Mugwumps: epithet for Republicans who supported the Democrat Grover Cleveland for president over the Republican James G. Blaine in the election of 1884. a plundered province: “The West: A Plundered Province,” Harper’s 179/3 (August 1934), reprinted in Forays and Rebuttals, 1936. two Presidents, both War Heroes: William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), ninth president, known as “Tippecanoe” for his victory in an Indian battle (7 November 1810), died only a month after his inauguration; Zachary Taylor (1784-1850, known as “Old Rough and Ready”), twelfth president, 1849-50. when it won in 1860: Abraham Lincoln, sixteenth president, was the first Republican president. Liberty Leaguers: the Liberty League was a short-lived organization of anti-Roosevelt conservatives, 1934-40. Free Soil: the Free Soil party of 1847 opposed the institution of slavery in former Mexican territory; in 1848 it supported Martin Van Buren for president. Homestead Act: 1862, granting 160 acres, a quarter section, of national land to homesteaders. Pacific Railway Act: the Pacific Railroads Act of 1862 chartered the Union Pacific Railroad the same year. National Bank Act: 1864; superseded by the Federal Reserve Act, 1913.