DID LINCOLN AND THE REPUBLICAN PARTY CREATE THE CIVIL WAR? AN ARGUMENT
ROBERT P. BROADWATER
MCFARLAND PUBLISHING, 2008
QUALITY SOFTCOVER, $45.00, 247 PAGES, PHOTOGRAPHS, NOTES, BIBLIOGRAPHY, INDEX
When our Founding Fathers were framing our Constitution, they hoped to fashion a political system without parties. On that count they failed; as early as George Washington's second term the Federalist and Deocratic/Republican Parties were beginning to coalesce. America's first party system lasted until the 1820s, when the Democratic/Republicans became known as the Democrats, and the Federalists faded from the scene, to be replaced by the Whig Party. This Whig Party was a factor on the national level for only about two decades, but in that time its membership included a diverse and distinguished group of political leaders, including Henery Clay, Alexander Stephens, and Abraham Lincoln. There was wide variance in the individual political philosophies of the men who made up the Whig Party, but they all believed in the importance of individual initiative and opportunity. To that end, most Whigs favored energetic government in the pursuit of progress and the promotion of economic growth. The unltimate expression of this agenda was Henry Clay's American System, a plan for government-sponsored construction of roads and canals. The Whig Party was a minority party, however, and was never especially successful on the national level, capturing the presidency only twice.
For most of their existence, the Whigs endeavored to minimize the slavery issue. They kept it off the agenda as much as possible, and when that wasn't possible, they compromised. By the late 1840s, however, their position was increasingly tenuous. The Liberty and Free Soil Parties, both dedicated to halting the advance of slavery, began to siphon off a part of the Whig vote. In response to increased immigration, the anti-foreign American or Know-Nothing Party came into being, and it also took votes away from the Whigs. By the 1850s, the slavery issue could be ignored no longer, as the Congress and the nation debated over whether the territories would have slave labor or free labor. Northern Whigs, who were in the numerical majority, focused on the party's central theme of opportunity, and insisted that the very survival of the Republic depended on the spread of free labor across the continent. This was unacceptable to Southern Whigs, who bolted the party. This was the final blow, and the Whig Party disappeared by the mid-1850s.
From the ashes of the Whig Party rose the Republicans. In order to compete with the Democrats, who were the still the majority party, the Republicans had to bring together all of the groups who opposed the Democrats: abolitionists, free soilers, former Whigs, anti-foreigners, and so forth. To do so, the Republicans staked out a fairly narrow agenda, focusing on the importance of free soil-limiting slavery to those states where it existed and preserving the territories exclusively for free labor. They also supported government assistance in this area, through grants of land and the construction of a transcontinental railroad. By shrewdly adjusting their message to suit the needs of local constituencies, the Republicans were quickly able to develop into a force on the national political scene.
The first meeting of members of the new party occurred in 1854, and by 1856, they were ready to field a presidential candidate. Mexican-American War hero John Fremont ran against Democrat James Buchanan, a Northerner well known for his record of public service and his tendency to sympathize with the Southern position on slavery. The Republican platform quoted both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, emphasizing the importance of free soil and outlining what Republicans viewed as Southern transgressions against the American people, including the events in "Bleeding Kansas," and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. Fremont was defeated fairly soundly, capturing 33% of the vote compared to Buchanan's 45%. Republican leaders were heartened, however, by their many victories in local contests, and by their realization that the party would be much better organized by the time of the next presidential election in 1860.
The Republican message in the election of 1856 had a strong anti-Southern strain in it, a theme that became increasingly dominant as the election of 1860 approached. As a counterpart to their arguments about the importance of free labor in the territories, the Republicans warned Americans about a national conspiracy, promulgated by "Slave Power." Each of the events that pushed America closer to civil war were part of this conspiracy, according to the Republicans. The notion that slavery presented a threat to the American way of life was crystallized in an 1858 speech by Republican William Seward, in which he said that there was an "irrepressible conflict between opposing and enduring forces" of slavery and free labor.
In this definitive political history of the early Republican Party, the author provides one of the clearest and most compelling arguments as to the reasons why Lincoln and the Republican Party created the Civil War. He skillfully challenges the long-held perceptions of the politics of this nation's most bloodiest conflict. He argues that the war was fought not to preserve the Union or free the slaves but rather to establish the political power of the Republican Party within the Federal government. He argues further that Lincoln and the Republican Party manipulated events to bring about the Civil War in the first place and used the war as a pretext for the establishment of our modern Federal government.
Lt. Colonel Robert A. Lynn, Florida Guard