1794 Swanwick vs. Fitzsimons In the year 1794 John Swanwick won a stunning upset victory over Thomas Fitzsimons. This victory was for the 1794 Philadelphia congressional election. There were a large number of different economic as well as cultural issues that swayed the way in which voters made their selection. This essay intends to explore and exploit these crucial factors. In order to understand who voted for each candidate we must first understand some background information about each candidate. Thomas Fitzsimons was an Irish immigrant.
He was a clerk who eventually worked his way to the top of his firm.
Fitzsimons was a member of the Federalist Party and he was a supporter of Alexander Hamilton’s policies. Fitzsimons was also a “strong” supporter of the excise tax. He was also one of the original founders and directors of the Bank of the United States. And finally, he was a Roman Catholic (Wheeler/Becker 101). John Swanwick, on the other hand, was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church.
He was born in England, and feverishly supported the Patriot cause. The man was also fluent in both French and German. John Swanwick was a supporter of the early financial policies of Hamilton, as well as the federal Constitution.
But by 1793, he left Federalism behind and became a supporter of the Democratic – Republican Party. In 1794, Swanwick was an officer in the Pennsylvania Democratic Society and also an officer in a society which aided immigrants. Swanwick was an opponent of the excise tax, yet thought the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania was the wrong way to handle things (Wheeler/Becker 101-102). Swanwick’s upset victory can be concluded to have been caused by a large number of middle class people simply leaving the Federalist party in support of the Democratic – Republican Party.
These middle class people, primarily the artisans, maintained the most occupations within 1794 Philadelphia. According to the 1794 Philadelphia Directory and Register, a sampling of occupations by ward concluded that there were near 1,757 artisans total within the various wards of Philadelphia. If calculated this turns out to be nearly 42 percent of the sample occupations being artisans. Now if you were to factor the laborers into this equation, since they as well would be considered middle class, you would end up with a percentage of about 53 percent of the sample occupations being in the social family deemed as middle class. 3 percent is more than enough to win a Democratic – Republican Party victory. But since the laborers contained a large percentage of men who could not vote, their probable Swanwick votes were made up for by the rest of the middle class Joes whose jobs included that of shopkeepers, inn and tavern keepers, and things of this nature (Wheeler/Becker 106). In order to gain supporting evidence to this claim, one could view “A Sample of Occupations by Ward (Males Only), Philadelphia, 1794” and compare it to “Congressional Election, Philadelphia, 1794” (Wheeler/Becker 106 & 112).
While comparing the two pieces of information it is easy to discern that in the areas (North Mulberry, South Mulberry, North) containing many middle class jobs, (artisans, laborers, shopkeepers, etc) Swanwick won landslide victories. The reasons for the victories are obvious, but to understand why he lost in certain wards we will examine each loss individually. Swanwick’s losses or Fitzsimon’s wins rather, were generally in the smallest wards of Philadelphia. Swanwick’s loss in the High ward is a bit confusing at first.
The chart on page 106 reports that there were 333 artisans within this ward, thus dominating the rest of the occupations giving Swanwick a simple victory. But after doing some calculations one can figure that the chart incorrectly reports the number of artisans by 300, bringing the total number down to 33. Now we can see why Swanwick lost the election within this ward. The number of middle class voters is outnumbered by the upper class merchants, doctors, and clerks. Swanwick’s loss of the Chestnut ward was caused by the high number of merchants and the fact that not all the middle class men were allowed to vote.
The loss of the South ward for Swanwick can be explained by the same concept of the Chestnut ward loss. There were more upper class voters, especially lawyers, who were allowed to vote in the election than the middle class voters. The Swanwick loss in the Walnut district can possibly be best explained by the demographic variable that “similar people tend to respond similarly to certain stimuli” (Wheeler/Becker 99). The residents of Walnut may have seen their neighbors of South and Chestnut wards supporting Fitzsimons, and thus they simply followed suit and did the same. Swanwick’s devastating loss of the Dock ward can easily be explained.
The number of males with wealthy professions is high within the Dock ward. There are a large number of gentlemen, merchants, doctors, grocers, lawyers, and clerks in this ward; so many so that they outnumber the middle class voting men of this ward. There you have it. Now you know who voted for which candidate, now it is time to figure out why. As mentioned before, Swanwick was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Being that most of Philadelphia’s voters were Protestant, you would think that if religion were a crucial factor to a voter then Swanwick would have won an unrivaled victory (Wheeler/Becker 114).
Yet I would go as far as to say that religion did not play much of a crucial role within the election at all. I would support my conclusion with the fact that out of the 2,010 voters, 888 voted for Fitzsimons (Wheeler/Becker 112). This means that 44 percent of the voters voted for Fitzsimons, even though he was a Roman Catholic. The same can be said about the men’s ethnic background; that is simply did not matter other than Swanwick’s fluency in both French and German, which may have made it easier for some voters to identify with him.
Although these simple cultural based ideas did not matter, there were more complex cultural based ones that did. Social identification with the voters is a huge way to win their votes. Once the voters of the 1794 election had a preconceived image of each candidate it was quite hard to change it. This was because “neither candidate openly sought the office, and neither made appearances in his own behalf” (Wheeler/Becker 100). Thomas Fitzsimons had the image of an aristocrat. This could be due to the fact that he was, as stated before, one of the original founders and directors of the Bank of North America (Wheeler/Becker 101).
Also this could be due to his Pro-Federalist views, which supported every system of taxation (Wheeler/Becker 102). These, among other, attributes made Thomas Fitzsimons discernable as a wealthy man for the wealthy men. John Swanwick, on the other hand, identified with people as a more modest man. His stand on key issues and position within society was crucial to his victory. Swanwick “although wealthy, was never admitted to Philadelphia’s social elite circles, a fact that some of the voters probably knew” (Wheeler/Becker 114).
Swanwick’s association with providing aid to those affected by yellow fever, which will be discussed later, was a key element to keeping him in the eye of the common man. Also aiding in keeping him common, was his position within the Democratic Society, which drew its support from the middle class. There were a large variety of economic factors contributing to the Swanwick’s victory, such as Swanwick’s opposition of the excise tax. Although he opposed the excise tax, he thought the Whisky Rebellion was the wrong method of protest (Wheeler/Becker 102).
None the less Swanwick, as mentioned before, was a member of the Democratic Society of Pennsylvania, which “President Washington condemned in 1794, saying that he believed it and other similar societies were responsible for the Whisky Rebellion” (Wheeler/Becker 104). This means, in essence, that Swanwick unintentionally did support the Whiskey Rebellion. Supporting the Whiskey Rebellion was definitely something that the middle class wanted to see; being that there was over 450 working class men being directly affected by the excise tax (Wheeler/Becker 104).
Thomas Fitzsimons, being a Federalist, was a strong supporter of the excise tax. Being Pro-Federalist meant that Fitzsimons thought that “the Whiskey Rebellion was bringing the laws into contempt and persuading people to resist them” (Wheeler/Becker 102). Fitzsimons naturally was popular with the wealthy population of Philadelphia, as he was crucial in creating it. As inflation of costs of living went up, the middle class people were still barely earning enough money to survive.
For instance, a laborer was only making 90 percent of what he would have made in 1762 yet the cost of food had gone up to 161 percent of what it was in 1762 (Wheeler/Becker 107). This fact desperately illustrated the need for change within the government. The Federalist Party, having had the federal congressional seat since the formation of the new government, definitely needed a rest (Wheeler/Becker 98). The Democratic – Republican Party and its candidate, John Swanwick, supported the middle class people, and thus won their votes; the rising inflation being one of their determining factors.
The final factor pertaining to Swanwick’s victory was his parties association with providing aid to those affected by yellow fever. “Of the eighteen people cited for contributions to the Citizen’s Committee on the Fever, nine were definitely Democratic – Republicans. Of the remaining nine, only one was an avowed Federalist” (Wheeler/Becker 110). This astonishing fact illustrates the Democratic – Republican Party’s concern for its people, thus projecting the same form of care from their candidate John Swanwick. Supporting this claim even further is the courage of Dr.
Benjamin Rush. “By 1794, he had changed allegiances and was considered a Democratic – Republican. In 1794, most of the physicians were Federalists and the majority fled when the fever broke out” (Wheeler/Becker 109). Rush stayed behind, and in his September 10th, 1793 letter to Mrs. Rush he can be quoted as saying, “I do not forget the poor” (Wheeler/Becker 110). This statement, I do not forget the poor, made the fever issue a cultural election determining factor and can be said to be the motto of the entire Democratic – Republican Party.
Whereas, like the physicians, most Federalist Party members could afford to flee the city giving no help to the less fortunate proving that their cultural status stayed at the top. Thus, John Swanwick gained the respect of the yellow fever stricken middle and lower class citizens whereas; Thomas Fitzsimons and the Federalist Party maintained their allegiance with the rich aristocrats of Philadelphia. Based upon all of the preceding evidence, it can drawn that John Swanwick’s victory in the 1794 Philadelphia congressional election was due to both cultural and economic factors.
It did not only take a man supporting the middle class to win the election, it took a man with initiative to help the middle class. Even Thomas Fitzsimons could have said he opposed the excise tax, but it took John Swanwick’s involvement in passing a resolution opposing the excise tax that made him stand out to the average man. The rich people will always support a Federalist point of view, because it is they whom reap the benefits, but it took John Swanwick and the Democratic – Republican Party of 1794 to open the people’s eyes to the true way the forefathers intended the government to be.
With the help of John Swanwick’s win of this election the Democratic – Republican Party established itself as a dominant political force (Wheeler/Becker 116). To this day the Democratic – Republican Party remains a governing system for the average man, and it also portrays itself as a force for justice, just as John Swanwick did. Works Cited Wheeler, William, and Susan Becker. Discovering The American Past. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002.
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