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Cartoon celebrating 1840 defeat of Locofocoism

The Locofocos (also Loco Focos or Loco-focos) were a faction of the United States Democratic Party that existed from 1835 until the mid-1840s.


The faction was originally named the Equal Rights Party, and was created in New York City as a protest against that city's regular Democratic organization ("Tammany Hall"). It contained a mixture of anti-Tammany Democrats and labor union veterans of the Working Men's Party, the latter of which had existed from 1828 to 1830.[1] They were vigorous advocates of laissez-faire and opponents of monopoly. Their leading intellectual was editorial writer William Leggett.

The name "Locofoco" derives from "locofoco, a kind of friction match". It originated when a group of New York Jacksonians used such matches to light candles to continue a political meeting after Tammany men tried to break up the meeting by turning off the gaslights.[2]

The Locofocos were involved in the Flour Riot of 1837.

"Never a national party, the Locofocos reached their peak in 1840, when President Martin Van Buren and Congress passed the Independent Treasury Act, which fulfilled a primary Locofoco aim: complete separation of the federal government from banking."[3] In the 1840 election, the term "Locofoco" was applied to the entire Democratic Party by its Whig opponents, both because Democratic President Martin Van Buren had incorporated many Locofoco ideas into his economic policy, and because Whigs considered the term to be derogatory.

In general, Locofocos supported Andrew Jackson and Van Buren, and were for free trade, greater circulation of specie, legal protections for labor unions and against paper money, financial speculation, and state banks. Among the prominent members of the faction were William Leggett, William Cullen Bryant, Alexander Ming Jr., John Commerford, Levi D. Slamm, Abram D. Smith, Henry K. Smith, Isaac S. Smith, Moses Jacques, Gorham Parks, and Walt Whitman (then a newspaper editor).

Ralph Waldo Emerson said of the Locofocos: "The new race is stiff, heady, and rebellious; they are fanatics in freedom; they hate tolls, taxes, turnpikes, banks, hierarchies, governors, yea, almost all laws."[4]

Origin of name[edit]

The name Loco-foco was originally used by John Marck for a self-igniting cigar, which he had patented in April 1834.[5][6] Marck, an immigrant, invented his name from a combination of the Latin prefix loco-, which as part of the word "locomotive" had recently entered general public use, and was usually misinterpreted to mean "self", and a misspelling of the Italian word fuoco for "fire".[6] Therefore, Marck's name for his product was originally meant in the sense of "self-firing". It appears that Marck's term was quickly genericized to mean any self-igniting match, and it was this usage from which the faction derived its name.

The Whigs quickly seized upon the name, applying an alternate derivation of "Loco Foco", from the combination of the Spanish word loco, meaning mad or crack-brained, and "foco", from focus or fuego 'fire'.[7] Their meaning then was that the faction and later the entire Democratic party, was the "focus of folly".[8] The use of "Locofoco" as a derogatory name for the Democratic party continued well into the 1850s, even following the dissolution of the Whig Party and the formation of the Republican Party by former urban Workingmen Locofocos, anti-slavery Know Nothings, Free Soilers, Conscience Whigs, and Temperance Whigs.[9][10][11]

In popular culture[edit]

  " ... Here's all the New York papers! Here's full particulars of the patriotic locofoco movement yesterday, in which the whigs was so chawed up; ..." [Chapter 16]
  "'I shot him down, sir,' pursued Chollop, 'for asserting in the Spartan Portico, a tri-weekly journal, that the ancient Athenians went a-head of the present Locofoco Ticket.'" [Chapter 33]
  • Fleshies recorded on Kill The Dreamer's Dream (2001) "Locofoco Motherfucker" which, according to vocalist Johnny NoMoniker, "Locofocos were a 19th Century. reactionary labor movement. They were basically a reactionary wing of the Democratic Party right post-Civil War ... and the idea of that song is basically contrasting .... the idea of reactionary movements before labor organized really into the unions we have today reactionary movements of the 19th Century with today..."[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Byrdsall, Fitzwilliam (1842). The History of the Loco-Foco or Equal Rights Party. New York: Clement & Packard. pp. 13–14. Loco Foco.
  2. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica History & Society: Locofoco Party
  3. ^ "Locofoco Party". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved March 14, 2017.
  4. ^ Kauffman, Bill (20 April 2009). "The Republic Strikes Back". The American Conservative. Retrieved 26 August 2015.
  5. ^ Jones, Thomas P, ed. (November 1834). "American Patents". Journal of the Franklin Institute. Pennsylvania. XIV (5): 329.
  6. ^ a b Bartlett, John Russell (1859). A Dictionary of Americanisms (2nd ed.). Boston: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 252–3. John Marck self igniting cigar.
  7. ^ "loco-foco". Etymonline. Retrieved 2018-03-29.
  8. ^ "Loco Foco". Caroll Free Press. Carrollton, Ohio. 22 April 1836. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  9. ^ Howe, Daniel Walker (2007). What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Oxford University Press. pp. 545-546. ISBN 9780195392432.
  10. ^ Gienapp, William E (1987). The Origins of the Republican Party, 1852-1856. Oxford University Press. pp. 16–66, 93–109, 435–439. ISBN 0-19-504100-3.
  11. ^ Maisel, L. Sandy; Brewer, Mark D. (2008). Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (5th ed.). Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 37–39. ISBN 0742547647.
  12. ^ Dickens, Charles (1844). Martin Chuzzlewit. London: Chapman and Hall. pp. 193. Loco Foco.
  13. ^ "Johnny NoMoniker on Outsight Radio Hours". archive.org. Retrieved 9 September 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Degler, Carl (1956). "The Locofocos: Urban 'Agrarians'". Journal of Economic History. 16: 322–33. doi:10.1017/s0022050700059222. JSTOR 2114593.
  • Greenberg, Joshua R. Advocating The Man: Masculinity, Organized Labor, and the Household in New York, 1800–1840 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), 190–205.
  • Hofstadter, Richard (1943). "William Leggett, Spokesman of Jacksonian Democracy". Political Science Quarterly. 58 (4): 581–594. JSTOR 2144949.
  • Jenkins, John Stilwell. History of the Political Parties in the State of New-York (Suburn, NY: Alden & Markham, 1846)
  • Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Jackson. (Boston: Little, Brown, 1953 [1945]) For a description of where the Locofocos got their name, see Chapter XV.
  • Trimble, William (1921). "The social philosophy of the Loco-Foco democracy". American Journal of Sociology. 26 (6): 705–715. doi:10.1086/213247. JSTOR 2764332.
  • White, Lawrence H (1986). "William Leggett: Jacksonian editorialist as classical liberal political economist". History of Political Economy. 18 (2): 307–324. doi:10.1215/00182702-18-2-307.
  • Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005).

External links[edit]