From 1828-40, when Jacksonian Democrats controlled the White House,
the Springfield Armory became a prime place for the appointments
of politically favored individuals. The loss of the U.S. Presidency
in 1840 to the Whig Party under Harrison and Tyler impacted the
Armory by giving the Army control. This change in management transformed
musket production for the better. When the Democratic Party regained
control of the White House and Congress in 1853, they restored
civilian control of the armories.
On April 15, 1841, while the Whigs were in power, James W. Ripley,
Major of Ordnance in the Regular Army of the United States, arrived
at Springfield. On the following day he took command of the Armory.
This simple act led to two decades of incessant bitterness and
conflict within Springfield. The struggle symbolized the deep and
abiding place that the Armory had in the life of the town. Armorer
battled armorer and citizen battled citizen. The whole community
was split over the question of military versus civil control of
the Armory. Newspapers spouted their venom, the rule of law was
challenged, men were stoned on the streets and effigies burned.
The populace divided into two bitter and irreconcilable camps.
The principal figures representing each of the two sides in the
struggle for control of the Armory were James Ripley and Charles
Stearns. Major Ripley, War of 1812 and Seminole War veteran,
was the quintessence of military precision and discipline. Competent
and unyielding, he commanded respect. Charles Stearns, also a
New Englander, was a pillar of the community and political leader
who aimed to see that his town benefited in every way possible
from the emerging industrial world. Both men shared qualities,
including pride, which made it difficult for them to ever be
allies. Even though Ripley had left in 1853 and Stearns had died,
the tensions that they personified lasted until the outbreak
of the Civil War in 1861.