Before I continue my narrative I want to make a brief statement. I know it may seem like the majority of my discussion has focused on the evolution of Northern political parties that eventually produced the Republican Party. That is due to the fact that, for the most part, the Southern States had remained pretty much united together without the divisive factions that had plagued the Northern States up to this point. That is why, aside from Washington and Adams, the Democrats had been able to secure the presidency with the only exceptions being William Henry Harrison, (who died in office and was succeeded by John Tyler), and Zachary Taylor, (who also died in office and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore). So, out of the 71 years since the Constitution was ratified, Democrats had held the presidency for 50 of them. The tables would turn in the election of 1860, with the Republicans uniting together, while factions within the Democrats would lead to the sectional election of Abraham Lincoln.
There is one final comment I need to make which will tie in to the policy, or platform, of the new Republican Party that had emerged out of the consolidation of the factions which had divided Northern politics for years. After the Republican candidate for President, John Fremont, lost to James Buchanan, a political activist wrote the following in a letter to William Seward, (who would become Lincoln’s Secretary of State), “I have never before seen anything at all like the present state of deep, determined and desperate feelings of hatred and hostility to [permitting bonded African Americans in another new State] and [to the] political power [that would derive from that State.]”
There is a lot to be gleaned from that statement if one would just examine it carefully. Ever since the early days of the Federalists vs. Anti-Federalists, (or Jeffersonian Democrats), the real issue had been which policy would control politics in America; a strict interpretation of the powers delegated government by the Constitution, or a loose interpretation which would allow government to be used to help, (i.e. provide benefits, subsidies, tax breaks) the party faithful.
The issue of slavery was just that, an issue which was used by both parties to rally the faithful behind them; but the true battle was being waged over the original two ideologies; limited government or a powerful one capable of doing things the Constitution did not specifically authorize it to do. The anti-slavery Northerners effectively used anti-slavery sentiments to cement their power in the years preceding the election of 1860, and although they lost the election of 1856 to Buchanan, they were on sound footing going into the election of 1860; especially since the events in Kansas were still being used to rally support for their newly established Republican Party.
To understand this division between Northern and Southern ideologies requires that you have a certain understanding of the economies of the two regions of the country; and the issue of slavery plays a key role in that understanding.
From the very earliest years the Southern States were primarily agrarian; meaning they valued land ownership and were predominantly agricultural. This was due, in part, to the fact that they had longer growing seasons, and the fact that the soil was better suited to agriculture than the land up North.
The North, although there were small family owned farms, was predominantly mercantile, or business, banking and later, industrial oriented. As a new country these fledgling young business interests would be competing on a world stage against well established competition in Europe, and to give them a fighting chance against those competitors the Northern political interests sought to gain control of government so that it could implement tariffs upon certain imported goods which would balance the playing field, so to speak, for them.
The Northern economy did not require slave labor; although many of the workers did work in, what we might call today, sweatshops. What they really needed was protection from foreign competition; which they got in the form of subsidies and tariffs upon imported goods to the U.S. So, since slavery was not an essential component of their economy, it became a moral issue in the North, even though the majority of slaves brought into the U.S. came via ships owned and operated by Northerners.
The South, however, was were slavery was used extensively to fuel their economy; which put them right in the crosshairs of Northern abolitionists who professed to hold the moral high ground; even though some of the Northern States, such as Lincoln’s home State of Illinois had enacted strict laws regarding the emigration of blacks, (both bonded and free) into their State.
During the politics of the time there were two predominant ideologies in the North, abolition and exclusion; and they sometimes existed hand in hand with each other. Pure abolitionists believed in the principle that all men are created equal, and therefore slavery was a rejection of that fundamental principle. Their only belief was that slavery denied the principle of equality by placing one race of men in bondage to another; yet prejudice among them for the blacks was just as strong, if not stronger than it was in the States were slavery was a part of life.
In 1835 Alexis de Tocqueville published his book Democracy in America, reporting his findings after an extensive study of America, it’s political system and social conditions. In his book de Tocqueville writes, “I see that in a certain portion of the territory of the United States at the present day, the legal barrier which separated the two races is tending to fall away, but not that which exists in the manners of the country; slavery recedes, but the prejudice to which it has given birth remains stationary. Whosoever has inhabited the United States must have perceived that in those parts of the Union in which the negroes are no longer slaves, they have in no wise drawn nearer to the whites. On the contrary, the prejudice of the race appears to be stronger in the States which have abolished slavery, than in those where it still exists; and nowhere is it so intolerant as in those States where servitude has never been known.”
I’m not saying that there weren’t those in the North, or Republicans if you prefer, who did not feel that blacks were their equals and should be given the same chances for success as whites, but they were not the controlling faction in Northern politics, and therefore those who controlled the politics controlled the policies of government when they rose to power; and their policy was that slavery was evil, but the slaves themselves were not equal to the white man.
Thus they sought a policy of exclusion; meaning the two races should be kept apart, with slavery confined to the Southern States were it was needed to run their economy, and the remainder of the country, (including all new territories), being left for white settlers.
While I realize I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, that sentiment is best supported by something Lincoln said in his first Inaugural Address, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” The key words there are, “…where it exists.” Lincoln had no desire to end slavery in the South, he only sought to contain it there; keep it from spreading into new States, or the North for that matter.
Lincoln may have hated slavery, but he recognized that under the Constitution it was legal, and therefore he sought to contain it to the South; minimize its spread into other States. He also may have despised it based upon moral issues, but he did not feel that blacks were his equal either. In his fourth presidential debate against Stephen Douglas, Lincoln stated, “I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, [applause]—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Can you imagine the outrage had Donald Trump said something like that in a presidential debate? Yet that was the mindset of many Republicans in the North at the time.
Now if you will recall, in Part 1 of this series I mentioned that Thomas Jefferson had said, “It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”
I had asked that you remember that, and now is the time when I explain why; for it was a belief that Lincoln, (the Great Emancipator and liberator of the slaves), also held. In 1862, while serving as President during the Civil War, Lincoln held a meeting with predominant leaders in the black community in an effort to convince them to support his plans for the colonization of blacks outside of the United States.
Lincoln’s words to the delegates are strikingly similar to those spoke by Jefferson years prior, “You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffer very greatly, many of them by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated.”
One of Lincoln’s crowning achievement is his Emancipation Proclamation. Yet if you were to read Lincoln’s letter to editor Horace Greeley, you would understand it for what it was; a wartime maneuver designed to further his cause and force the South to submit to domination by a government controlled by Republicans. Lincoln states, “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.”
Again, paying close attention to what is said is crucial in understanding the meaning of certain passages found in historical documents. Everything that Lincoln did during his war against the South was done with one goal in mind, to restore the national authority. For all these years preceding the secession of the South and the Civil War, the North had fought amongst itself over control of the government, and now that they’d gained that absolute control with their sectional Republican Party, they saw that they had no one to govern but themselves; as the South had divorced itself from the Union.
I find it a bit ironic that the Northern Republicans spoke so often, and so harshly against chattel slavery as an institution, yet they sought to place the entire South in bondage to a government that they had no say in what laws, or taxes, would be imposed upon them.
All the years of political bickering up to this point led to the simple question of whether a people, or a portion of the people, must submit to a government that they, not only had no say in what laws it passed, but also whether those laws sought to subvert the principles governments are established among men to secure – the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The North had finally triumphed and coalesced its political power, only to find that the South had left the Union; leaving them with no one to dominate and control. They could not abide that; leaving Lincoln no choice but to wage an unjust war to force the South to accept a system of government they felt no longer represented them.
The South was merely exercising its prerogative as found in the Declaration of Independence, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Lincoln denied that they had that right, proving himself to be a hypocrite; for years earlier he had spoken the following words as a young Congressman, “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, most sacred right- a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to excercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own, of so much territory as the inhabit.” (Source: Lincoln’s War With Mexico Speech, January 12, 1848)
Well we all know the South lost the Civil War, but they lost more than the war itself; they lost the ability to self govern as well; as will be explained in Part 4 of this continuing series; when I discuss how the Republicans treated the South during the era known as Reconstruction.