The 2012 election results underscored a basic political fact: We live in a closely divided country.
Just over half the electorate voted to retain President Barack Obama. Nearly half voted against him. In the exit polls, a majority of respondents said they wanted government to get smaller, not larger, and a plurality of respondents said they wanted Obamacare repealed.
Down the ballot, Democrats picked up seats in the U.S. House and Senate, but not nearly enough to achieve a majority in the former or a filibuster-proof supermajority in the latter. Pat McCrory’s election in North Carolina widened the Republican majority of governorships to 30. The GOP also remains the majority party in state legislatures nationwide.
Given these facts, is there a chance for the president and Congress to take a major step towards fiscal sanity in 2013? Is there is a chance for Gov. Pat McCrory and a Republican legislature to craft pro-growth policies for the state that attract support from North Carolina independents and moderate Democrats? I would submit that the answer to these questions is yes. Similar things have happened before. Here are a couple of interesting examples from North Carolina history. Both happen to involve new communities arising out of political compromises.
When Mecklenburg County was created out of Anson County in 1762, it was much larger than it is now. There were two major population centers, one to the west that included the site of present-day Charlotte and one to the east that included Scotch-Irish settlers on Rocky River and German settlers on Dutch Buffalo Creek.
Thomas Polk was the leader of the western faction. Martin Phifer was the leader of the eastern faction. Both men represented Mecklenburg in the colonial legislature. Both wanted control of the new county. After years of machinations, Polk prevailed and co-founded the new county seat, originally called Charlotte Town. But after the Revolutionary War, the easterners convinced the state legislature to give them their own county. It was named after the speaker of the house, Stephen Cabarrus.
The political battle wasn’t over, however. Next, the Scotch-Irish and Germans fought for control of the new Cabarrus government. Finally, they worked out a compromise in 1796, and cooperated in the construction of a new county seat located between their two communities. They named it, appropriately enough, Concord.
Several decades later, the residents of southeastern Mecklenburg and western Anson demanded their own county. But while agreeing about the need for local control, these leaders were bitterly divided by national politics. Some were loyal Democrats who strongly supported Andrew Jackson and his protégés. Others were strong Whigs who strongly supported Jackson’s longtime foe Henry Clay.
At the 1842 convention to name the new county, partisan differences flared. Democrats insisted that it be named Jackson County, in part because “Old Hickory” had been born in nearby Waxhaw. Whigs insisted that it be named Clay County, honoring the creator of the Whig Party now in power. After a lengthy argument, a member named Aaron Little rose to speak. “Brethren,” he said, “let’s be united and call it Union,” since it had been fashioned from parts of Mecklenburg and Anson. “Amen,” responded the other commissioners. Union County was born.
Aaron Little was no stranger to politics. His father James Little had been a local politician. And Aaron’s wife Mary Polk was related to Charlotte founder Thomas Polk. In Aaron’s experience, there were certainly issues worth fighting over – but naming a new county wasn’t one of them.
Aaron, whose sister Polly Little was my great-great-great grandmother, also knew that while you should never compromise your fundamental principles, making deals is part of politics. If it’s a good deal, you get some of what you want in the short run while building relationships, credibility, and momentum for larger gains in the long run.
In other words, promoting concord and seeking a union of interests are consistent with the goal of enhancing freedom. New leaders, please take note.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and author of Our Best Foot Forward, a book on North Carolina’s economy. It is available at JohnLockeStore.com.