The History of Political Parties in the U.S. Part 2

Picking up where I left off in Part 1, the year was 1865 and, although the newly established Republican Party had amassed a great deal of power in the Northern States, there were still pockets where the other factions still held a great deal of sway amongst the voters. So, until they could consolidate their power they needed a cause celebre to rally behind; which for them was what was happening in the Kansas Territory between Exclusionists and Free State Southerners.

I need to divert from that for a moment to discuss the concept of Popular Sovereignty. Popular Sovereignty refers to the belief that the people of a State, or territory be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to permit slavery within their borders.

In the earliest years of our young nation slavery had existed as an institution throughout most of the Colonies, and it wasn’t until after the Constitution was ratified that some of the Northern States undertook measures to ban it within their own borders. While there may have been abolitionists within those States who felt that slavery was a sin, the fact remains that the banning of that institution within those States was accomplished by the various State Legislations acting according to the popular will of the people; it was not an act by the federal government seeking to interpose upon the right of each State to decide for itself whether to permit or abolish slavery.

As I stated in Part 1, the Constitution only said this regarding the authority of Congress to legislate upon the issue of slavery, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight…”

The wording of that passage is important, so I’m going to take a minute to dissect it. That passage in no way gives Congress the authority to abolish slavery, it only states that prior to 1808 Congress could take no steps to halt, or limit, the migration or importation of slaves; meaning those who were already within the states, in a state of bondage, were beyond the scope of power delegated to Congress. That fact will become key when it comes to understanding certain things that Abraham Lincoln would later say, so keep it in the back of your minds when we begin discussing his presidency.

Getting back to Kansas now, towards the end of Franklin Pierce’s presidency, I suppose he’d finally had enough of the violence in Kansas, and the attempts by the illegitimate Exclusionist leaders attempting to install their own territory government, for he finally decided to send federal troops into Lawrence, Kansas to prevent their legislature from convening.

Colonel Edwin Sumner, (no relation to Charles as far as I know) led a company of 200 federal dragoons into Lawrence. The day their legislature was scheduled to convene was on Independence Day, so when Sumner arrived a band was outside playing celebratory music, when Sumner proudly rode up, dismounted, tethered his horse and strode into the building where the legislature was in the process of convening.

Sumner then spoke the following words, “Gentlemen, I am called upon this day to perform the most painful duty of my whole life … Under the authority of the President’s proclamation, I am here to disperse this legislature.” Then he strode out and left them alone. Oh, the legislature never did convene that day.

Of course Exclusionist newspapers in the North went wild with that story. Something New York Times reporter Wendell Phillips said though is of great importance, as it goes to straight to the hypocrisy of the fledgling young Republican Party. Here are Mr. Phillips words “It is a grave fact that must never be forgotten by the American people: military power is and must ever be [hostile] to popular institutions.”

By popular institutions he means institutions such as government established by the consent of the governed; a vital principle dating back to the Declaration of Independence; so keep that quote in mind as well when thinking how Lincoln ordered troops into the Confederacy to destroy the popular institution erected by the Southern States.

As the Republican Party was still in its formative stages it needed some kind of scandal, or perceived threat to rally support for it among those who still clung to old Whig policies, or were members of the other various factions that had branched off from the Whigs. One of those was the caning of Charles Sumner; which is why he remained in seclusion – to keep the outrage over his attack at a fever pitch. The other was the events going on in Kansas.

The sending of Colonel Sumner to Lawrence was just what the doctor ordered for Northern Republicans; who already had control of the House of Representatives – which if you know your Constitution is the body responsible for initiating all funding bills. So in retaliation for President Pierce sending Colonel Sumner into Lawrence, the House defunded the military by refusing to pass a military funding appropriations bill.

This little tactic could only be played out for a short while though, for if those from the North serving in the military stopped getting paid, it might backlash and reduce support for the Republicans. Yet they did get President Pierce to reassign Colonels Sumner out of Kansas Territory, along with a reprimand on his record. Once they’d achieved that minor victory they passed the appropriations bill and the military was once again funded. Spiteful little bastards, weren’t they?

While the ongoing violence may have suited the wants and needs of the Exclusionist Republicans, it greatly distressed those living in the South; for it was their settlers to the Kansas Territory that were suffering it at the hands of men like John Brown. Around the same time this was happening, Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia introduced a bill to admit Kansas as a State; hoping to end the violence going on there.

The bill was introduced and then sent to the Committee on Territories, of which Stephen Douglas was chairman. This bill greatly worried Republicans, for if Kansas were to become a State it would take away one of their biggest issues against the Southern Democrats, thereby weakening their power to attract new members.

Douglas’s Committee quickly drafted a report on the bill and submitted it back to the Senate Floor for approval. In part the document said that it would, “ensure a fair and impartial decision of the questions at issue in Kansas [and here’s the key part] in accordance with the wishes of the bona fide inhabitants of the Territory, without fraud, violence, or any other improper unlawful influence.”

That is key because a good number of the Exclusionists living in Kansas at the time were not true settlers, they were men who have migrated to the Territory, bearing arms, to tilt the balance of power towards the Exclusionists, while terrorizing those who sought for Kansas to become a state free to decide amongst the voters whether to permit slavery or not.

The bill for Kansas statehood overwhelmingly passed the Senate, and was then submitted to the House; where it’s fate was less than certain. The Republicans had recently won a key victory in having Nathan Banks, an Exclusionist, placed as Speaker of the House. When the Senate bill arrived, he scrapped it, and then the House, which was predominantly Republican, wrote their own bill saying that Kansas would be admitted as a state under the revolutionary constitution written by the extremist Exclusionists. That bill was then submitted back to the Senate, which then re-passed the original Toombs bill. So the issue of whether or not Kansas should become a State was deadlocked; allowing the Republicans to continue to use the events going on in Kansas as propaganda material.

I won’t harp any further on Kansas, as I fear I would bore you. I do have one final thing to say though before moving on. During 1856 both parties held their convention to select nominations for the upcoming presidential election. As the Republicans were maneuvering to get their choices on the ballot the remnant of the Whig Party chose ex president Millard Fillmore to be their candidate.

Although Fillmore didn’t stand a snowballs chance in hell of winning, (and he probably knew that), he did make a keen observation as to what was going on in American politics, “We see a political party presenting candidates for [President and Vice President], selected for the first time from the [northern] States alone, with the avowed purpose of electing these candidates by the [votes] of one part of the [Federation] only, to rule over [all of the States]. Can it be possible that those who are engaged in such a measure can have seriously reflected upon the consequences that must inevitably follow in case of ]their] success? Can they have the madness or the folly to believe that our [Southern States] brethren would submit to governed by such a [Sectional Party?]…[What if Southern States had a majority of electoral votes, and declared that they would have only [owners of bonded African Americans] for President and Vice President? … Do you think we would submit to it? No, not for one moment! And do you believe that your [southern States] brethren are any less sensitive on this subject than you are, or less jealous of their rights? If you do, let me tell you that you are mistaken. And, therefore, you must see that, if this Sectional Party succeeds, it leads inevitable to the destruction of this beautiful fabric, reared by our forefathers, cemented by their blood, and bequeathed to us as a precious inheritance.”

The Republicans would lose the presidential election of 1856, with James Buchanan winning, but over the course of the next four years they would consolidate their power and control in the North, leading to the fulfillment of Millard Fillmore’s prediction of, “We see a political party presenting candidates for [President and Vice President], selected for the first time from the [northern] States alone, with the avowed purpose of electing these candidates by the [votes] of one part of the [Federation] only, to rule over [all of the States]”

The election of completely sectional presidential candidate, (Abraham Lincoln), would be enough to cause the Democratic Southern States to secede from the Union; ushering in the Civil War.

I don’t wish to make this an essay in defense of the South in seceding, although I am firm in my convictions that they were justified in doing so. However, I must address certain key remarks made during the period known as the Civil War to show the latent hostility this new Republican Party had towards the Southern Democrats.

The first of these comments comes from Abraham Lincoln prior to his ascension as the Republicans chosen one in the 1860 presidential election. Lincoln was chosen to deliver a speech in Bloomington, Illinois as a newborn Republican. Prior to this speech Lincoln had remained on the sidelines, a hesitant Whig testing the political winds to see if this new upstart of a party would take wings and fly. His speech at this convention in Bloomington shows that he had joined the ranks of radicals who sought to oppress the Southern Democrats and deny States Rights over whether or not they should be free to choose for themselves whether or not slavery shall be permitted within their borders.

The full text of Lincoln’s speech that day is lost to history, but the Alton Weekly Courier published a brief analysis of it in their paper, stating, “Lincoln urged a union of all who opposed the expansion of [lands upon which bonded African Americans could live], and again he pledged that he was ‘ready to fuse with anyone who would unite with him to oppose [the political power of Southern States politicians].’ If the united opposition of the [northern states] caused [the people in the Southern States] to raise the bugbear of [State secession], they should be told bluntly. the [Federation] must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as in the integrity of its territorial parts.”

While he did not come right out and say it specifically, Lincoln was hinting at the fact that the Northern Republicans would be justified in using whatever means possible, including force, should the Southern States choose to secede rather than be governed by a completely sectional political party. Lincoln would make his meaning brutally clear on April 15, 1861 when he called for the States to provide volunteers to form a 75,000 man strong army to invade the seceded Southern States.

Now would be a good time to take another break. I got a bit carried away with part 1 of this series, and I apologize for that. However, 5 pages is enough for now; so I’ll let this sink in and I’ll see you when I release Part 3.

About Br'er Rabbit

I'm just one person out of millions of others. The only thing different about me is that I don't walk around with my head up my ass.
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