The Locofocos were a radical faction of the Democratic Party that existed from 1835 until the mid-1840s.
The faction was originally named 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. They were vigorous advocates of laissez-faire and opponents of monopoly. Their leading intellectual was editorial writer William Leggett.
The term "Locofoco" comes from Spanish for matches, or "loco focos" ("crazy lights"), a new invention. It originated when a group of New York Jacksonians used these matches and candles when a conservative group tried to break up a meeting by turning off the gaslights.
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 Cullen Bryant, Alexander Ming, Jr., John Commerford, Levi D. Slamm, Isaac S. Smith, Moses Jacques, and Walt Whitman.
- Schlesinger, Arthur M., Jr. The Age of Jackson. Boston : Little, Brown, 1953 . For a description of where the Locofocos got their name, see Chapter XV.
- Carl Degler, "The Locofocos: Urban ‘Agrarians’" Journal of Economic History 16 (1956): 322–33. online at JSTOR
- Wilentz, Sean. The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln (2005)
- Garraty, John A. The American Nation. New York: Longman (1998).
- John Stilwell Jenkins: History of the Political Parties in the State of New-York (Alden & Markham, Auburn NY, 1846)