A literal doughface in the 1850s was a mask made of dough or papier-mâché. These were sometimes worn as a practical joke to frighten people. Political doughfaces were northern congressmen so spooked by the threat of civil war-“scared at their own doughfaces” as one critic put it-that they were willing to compromise with the South on the slavery issue. Southern politicians later adopted the term with the opposite meaning-colleagues from the South who didn’t defend slavery staunchly enough. Both sides despised doughfaces. Eventually, “doughface” became a general nickname for a politician whose principles were flexible on any issue-especially if money formed part of the equation.

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