The Loco-Foco “War on Monopoly” in the History of Liberalism

Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:50 PM
Director's Row H (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Anthony Comegna, University of Pittsburgh
This paper will investigate the role of the New York “Loco-Foco Movement” (ca. 1830s-1870s) and its impact on the liberal tradition in the United States.  The Loco-Foco Movement began with the radical and Workingmen’s factions of the Democratic Party splitting from the Tammany Hall organization to pursue an anti-corporate, anti-privilege reform agenda.  Loco-Focos led three separate attempts at third-party agitation of the American party system (1835-7 and the Equal Rights Party; 1848-52 and the Free Soil Party; 1856-60 and the Republican Party), and a wide variety of cultural, intellectual, and political reform movements.  Locofocos and their radical liberal, revolutionary republican political philosophy inspired the Young American politico-literary movement, general incorporation, United States territorial expansion, and much of the antislavery movement.  Though historians have failed to produce a coherent history of the Loco-Foco movement, this essay will argue that their decades of operation constitute an important era in the history of classical liberalism, with the potential to renew emphasis on the tradition of radicalism within liberal thought and practice.  In conclusion, the essay will survey the trans-Atlantic scope and influence of American locofocoism in Canada and the British Manchester School.