the founding of the republican party -- 5/16/22

Today's selection -- from If We Can Keep It by Michael Tomasky. 1854 saw the establishment of a new party with an old name -- the Republican Party:
 
"On March 20, 1854, [in the wake of the passage of the divisive Kansas-Nebraska Act] …­ a group of Conscience Whigs, Northern Democrats, and men associated with the new Free Soil Party, an antislavery group led by Van Buren (the man had survival instincts!), met in Ripon, Wisconsin, to join forces under a new name, or an old but newly revived one: Republicans.

"The Whigs were now in tatters. The Northerners just couldn't abide their Southern counterparts' votes for the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Some left the party seeking alliances with antislavery Northern Democrats. Others joined the Know-Nothings; one of the not-so-admirable traits of the Whigs is that they had always been the anti-immigrant party, chiefly because the Democrats had welcomed them (the Democrats of the 1840s and '50s were thus something that could not exist today -- a party of the white frontiersman hoi polloi and the proimmigrant party, which one suspects may have been possible because at least those immigrants had white skin). In any case, writes Holt, '[B]y the end of 1854 the North­ern Whig Party itself was so decimated that neither Northern conserva­tives nor Southerners who had hoped to preserve the Whig organization for the 1856 presidential campaign believed it was any longer worth the effort.' American political parties may have been amalgams of warring factions, but the Whigs proved that there was, in fact, a breaking point. ...

"It sounds awfully strange today, but when the Third Party System -- the competition between Republicans and Democrats -- started in 1856, the Democrats were the conservative party, and the Republicans the liberals (actually it would be fair to call the Democrats the reactionary and racist party). I return us to the Martis atlas and its maps. The 35th Congress, which was seated in 1857 and was the first to feature mostly members of those two parties, had 132 Democrats and 60 Republicans. The South was completely Democratic, and it would stay that way for the better part of a century; also Democratic were California, Oregon, and Minne­sota. The Republicans controlled New England, upstate New York, the northern parts of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Illi­nois, and Indiana (the last three were important Underground Railroad states). They were a Yankee party all the way, at first.

"They were also the big government party. Lincoln, who had joined the party in 1856 and become a steadfast opponent of the Slavepower, believed that it was government that could best bring opportunity to the frontier, and most Republicans agreed. Consider this one interesting fact. In July 1862, just after the brutal Seven Days Battles in Richmond when both armies combined for some 35,000 casualties, Lincoln turned his attention away from the war and signed into law the Morrill Land­ Grant College Act and the Pacific Railroad Act -- on the same day, no less. The former created state universities, and the latter, a railway to the Pacific. The railway act was especially 'activist,' to use a word that's part of our vernacular today, because it allowed the federal government for the first time to charter a corporation. This was Lincoln's Republican Party."


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author:

Michael Tomasky

title:

If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved

publisher:

Liveright Publishing, a division of W.W. Norton & Company

date:

Copyright 2019 by Michael Tomasky

pages:

109-112
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