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Locofocos

Locofocos (lōˌkōfōˈkōz) [key], name given in derision to the members of a faction that split off from the Democratic party in New York in 1835. Tension had been growing between radical Democrats, who believed that Andrew Jackson's war against the national bank should be extended to state banks and other monopolies, and the regular Tammany Democrats in New York City. When the Tammany leaders expelled (Sept., 1835) William Leggett, the radical editor of the New York Evening Post, from the party, the radicals decided to act. At a Tammany Hall meeting held on Oct. 29, 1835, to ratify the Tammany nominations, the revolt began. The antibank men voted down the chairman selected by the organization; before the meeting could be reorganized, the gas was turned off and the hall plunged in darkness. The reformers, however, continued their work by the light of candles and of self-igniting "locofoco" matches, from which their nickname derived. In Jan., 1836, this group organized a new party, called the Friends of Equal Rights or the Equal Rights party. They opposed the chartering of state banks and other forms of monopoly as well as exclusive privilege, as antidemocratic and advocated the suspension of paper money and of legal protection for labor unions. By nominating fusion candidates with the Whigs, the Locofocos defeated (Apr., 1836) Tammany men for city office and elected (Nov., 1836) two of their members to the state assembly. However, their intention was not to build a permanent new party, but to convert the regular Democrats to their platform. After Martin Van Buren and his administration adopted a large part of their program, especially its financial policies, Tammany also accepted much of their platform, and by 1838 most of the Locofocos had been reabsorbed into the Democratic party.

See F. Byrdsall, The History of the Loco-Foco or Equal Rights Party (1842, repr. 1967).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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