GOP vs. DEM: Full Circle on the Square

The Richland County Republican Party is presently engaged in establishing a base of operations on North Park Street with a new party headquarters. This is almost directly across the Square from the Democratic Party headquarters on South Park Street. In this ‘new’ arrangement, the Square in between these opposing forces becomes no-man’s land in the field of battle with the line of scrimmage on Park Avenue.

While some people in Richland County have jokingly made reference to a 21st century civil war—North versus South—what is happening today is actually only a very uncanny reversion to the 19th century on the Square, when the two opposing political parties of Richland County faced off from almost the identical sites.

History Repeats

The longer you study history—be it World, American or Local—the more you recognize patterns in the story: the way that history repeats. It never comes back exactly the same, there are always interesting subtle or not-so-subtle variations in the way the story is told the next time around.

What’s really interesting is when everyone involved in the unfolding present is acting their role pragmatically, unsentimentally, and doing so in earnest without any awareness of the past that is being re-created through their efforts.

The only way to really see the recycling of our story is to step way back and take a look at the long view. In this case the panoramic scope of the view is more than 150 years.

The First Time Around

In the 1800s there were no ‘party headquarters’ in Mansfield, the home base and focal ground zero of each political wing was located at the offices of the newspaper that represented their party. For the greatest part of Mansfield’s history there were always at least two newspapers in town, the most prominent pair of them duking it out in the public newsprint forum representing the two principle national parties.

In the 1850s when the weary old Whig Party died away and the new Republican Party rose in its place, a new newspaper was established for the purpose of pronouncing, enunciating, and promoting their political point of view and agenda. This was the Mansfield Herald. They established their editorial and printing offices on South Park Street, not far from Main Street.

The Democratic Party, at that same time in history before the Civil War, was represented in town by their own newspaper: the Richland Shield and Banner.  For many years the Democratically-inspired Shield & Banner had their offices on North Park Street—almost directly across the Square from their Republican enemies.

In our time we have always known the Republicans and Democrats to be represented by the polical icons of elephant and donkey.

But in the 1840s the Whigs were coons (because of that old scroungy animal Andrew Jackson,) and the Democrats were represented by a rooster called Old Chapman.

And of course depending on which paper you were reading those coons and roosters looked more or less dignified.

New Battle Line

In time, the field of battle for Richland County politics shifted away from the Square, and hostilities resumed on Fourth Street for a few generations. The Herald evolved into the News, and ultimately the Shield was reborn as the Journal. After a pitched battle that ended with an actual bomb blowing up in a publisher’s house, the two merged into the News-Journal.

Here’s What’s Interesting:

Some time in the 1990s when the Richland County Democratic Party decided to locate on the Square, they acquired the old Goetz Hardware building on South Park Street. This location is only a few steps down the sidewalk from the site where the Mansfield Herald had its office in the 1850s.

The young Republican Party didn’t have a party headquarters as such in the 1850s, they had a newspaper called the Mansfield Herald. Offices for the Herald were on South Park Street.

The site where the Herald once stood is just a few feet from the building where the Democratic Party headquarters is today.

In the 2010s when the Richland County Republican Party elected to move onto the Square, the building they chose is the exact same space once occupied by the Shield & Banner.

The Democratic Party in Mansfield had their own newspaper, called the Richland Shield and Banner, that was their defacto party headquarters. (There is a small caucus of Democrats pictured to the right, where the photographer caught them directly underneath the Shield sign.)

Offices for the Shield once stood on North Park Street, in the very same exact space where the Republican Party is establishing their headquarters today.

So the Dems got the old 1800s Republican stronghold, and the GOP took possession of the former bastion of the 1800s Democrats.

That’s really intriguing, but here’s what’s truly fascinating: in the 1850s when the Republicans were on South Park Street their party was, without a doubt, the liberal wing of American politics—as is the Democratic Party today. The Democratic Shield & Banner at that same time represented the conservative voice in America—the same as the Republicans do today.

So there you have it: we have come full circle on the Square.  Everybody is back where they belong. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, but other than that it is—once again—business as usual.

Of course Richland County’s electorate has never in its history been entirely numbered among political parties of any persuasion, be they Republican, Whig or Democratic.

A considerable constituency belong to another political bloc known as the Fence Sitters.

Two young members of this unallied voter population were captured in this photograph taken on the Square during a presidential rally in 1880.

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