Locofoco Party

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LOCOFOCO PARTY. In the decade before the panic of 1837, discontent among artisans in eastern cities found expression in the Working Men's movement. Disparities in wealth and a tendency toward centralized manufacturing threatened the artisan ideal of equality in a republic of independent producers. Particularly offensive to wage-earning journeymen were state-chartered banks, through which a wealthy elite manipulated a "paper system" of currency and credit. Antibank sentiments gained political support in the Democratic Party. The New York editor William Leggett argued that banks provided an "aristocracy" with exclusive privilege and transferred wealth "from the many to the few."

The bank issue and the Working Men's movement divided New York Democrats. Meeting in Tammany Hall in October 1835, conservatives pushed through the nomination of probank candidates and tried to end the meeting by turning out the gas lights. Forewarned, the anti-bank men illuminated the room with candles lit with new "locofoco," or scratch-ignited, matches. The Locofoco Party briefly agitated for antibank candidates in New York City. Like the Working Men's movement to which it appealed, the Locofoco Party did not survive the depression of the late 1830s. However, Whigs continued to use the term "locofoco" to describe Democrats across the country as enemies of economic stability.


Watson, Harry L. Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America. New York: Hill and Wang, 1990.

Wilentz, Sean. Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788–1850. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Louis S.Gerteis

See alsoDemocratic Party .