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How the First Republican Got Elected

 
 
au1929
 
Reply Tue 31 Aug, 2004 08:40 am
The first Republican president,
elected 7 score and 4 years ago


The Republican National Convention begins today in New York. As Sinatra sang it, maybe if the GOP can make it there (a traditionally Democratic place), it can make it anywhere.

The key factor this year may be party discipline--preventing dissention in the ranks and turning out the vote. But Republicans ought to know a thing or two about party discipline. That's how they elected the first-ever Republican president, a gangly Illinois lawyer named Abe.

How the First Republican Got Elected

Americans remember Abraham Lincoln as one of the most influential presidents in U.S. history. Most forget that he hadn't won an election for more than ten years when the Republicans nominated him for president.

Whig History

Like many early Republicans, Lincoln liked Whigs. He was elected to the Illinois state legislature from the Whig Party four times from 1834 to 1840. He also served as a Whig in the U.S. Congress for one term, from 1847 to 1849. That was basically the extent of his government experience.

So why did the Republicans nominate him in 1860? Other aspirants at the convention were better known, but Lincoln and his friends came well prepared to capture the nomination. Just as important, Honest Abe had a nationwide reputation on the key issue of his day: slavery.

The Brand New Party

The Republican Party was born through meetings in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and Michigan in 1853 and 1854. Its founders were linked by their opposition to slavery and to 1854's slavery-extending Kansas-Nebraska Act. Sponsored by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, the act allowed for the possibility of slavery as far north as Nebraska, overriding the Missouri Compromise of 1820.

Arguments over the spread of slavery to the territories were a major source of tension between "free states" (in the North) and "slave states" (in the South). A precarious political balance existed between the two sides, and neither wanted to end up outnumbered when western territories--"slave" or "free"--became states in the Union.

Douglas hoped the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which gave the territories' residents the right to decide the slavery question, would help release tension. It had the opposite effect. Pro- and anti-slavery forces rushed to "Bleeding Kansas" and fought a mini civil war for control of the territory.

The Great Debates

Back in Illinois, Lincoln (running as a Republican) tried to unseat the incumbent Douglas in the 1858 Senate race. Douglas won the election, but Lincoln gained acclaim through a series of seven debates--the "Lincoln-Douglas debates"--that focused largely on slavery in the territories. (The debates actually began after Lincoln said, famously, that "a house divided against itself cannot stand.")

Douglas repeatedly tried to label Lincoln a proponent of racial equality--a radical notion then, even in free states. But Lincoln denied it: "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." Nor did Lincoln advocate abolishing slavery. He merely argued for containing it.

The Election of 1860

When the presidential election of 1860 rolled around, Lincoln was a recent Senate race loser, but a shrewd politician. The Republican Party, meanwhile, had become a major contender. In 1856, its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, won 11 states and 33 percent of the popular vote (nearly all of it in the North). Knowing that the nation was divided, Lincoln summed up his campaign strategy in seven words: "hedge against divisions in the Republican ranks."

The strategy worked, largely because the Democrats couldn't come up with a consensus candidate of their own. Northern Democrats convened and nominated Stephen Douglas, who wasn't sufficiently pro-slavery for the Southern Democrats. They convened separately and nominated John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky. A third party, the Constitutional Union Party, nominated John Bell of Tennessee.

On Election Day, Lincoln took the North, along with California and Oregon, the two West Coast states. Breckinridge took the South, while Bell took Texas and a few border states. Douglas managed only Missouri, though he finished second to Lincoln in the popular vote. Less than 3 percent of Southerners supported the tall Republican, but he grabbed a decisive majority in the Electoral College nonetheless. Before inauguration, seven Southern states seceded from the Union. Shots were fired in April, and America's Civil War began.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 05:40 am
In another sense, though, the first Republican who was elected was John Adams, the 2nd president. He was a Federalist, and the Federalists are the ancestors of the Republican's, whereas Jefferson's ant-Federalist or Democratic-Republican party became today's Democratic party.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 06:07 am
Nonsense . . . you need to know a little more about the political history of the United States before you make such statements, Brandon . . . At a stretch, John Quincy Adams could be said to have been the first Republican, who ran against Andrew Jackson, the first Democratic President--as it is also incorrect to suggest that Jefferson's Republican party was the ancestor of the modern Democratic party.
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joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 08:21 am
Setanta: Quite right. It is altogether too simplistic to say that the Republican party was the successor to the Whig party, which, in turn, was the successor to the Federalist party. The Federalists were, in effect, absorbed into the Jeffersonian Republican party (the so-called Democratic-Republicans) during the Monroe administration (the "Era of Good Feelings"). Some of the former Federalists, no doubt, gravitated toward J.Q. Adams's faction of the Republican party (the "National Republicans"), and many of them, in turn, went into the Whig Party. But there was certainly no common identity among any of these groups.

Likewise, the Whigs didn't all magically turn into Republicans in 1856. Some joined the Republicans, some (especially in the South) joined the Democrats. If anything, the Republicans had more in common with the Free Soil party than with the Whigs.

Thus, Republicans who look upon George Washington or John Adams as the ur-founders of the party (through the evolution from Federalist-to-Whig-to-Republican) are simply fooling themselves.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 08:34 am
In fact, Joe, i would contend that political parties as we know them did not exist until Jackson created a party machine in Tennessee, and then extended it on a national basis by gathering up the disaffected members of the former Jeffersonian Republican party, and so created the modern Democratic Party.

The reasons why partisan motivation would lead people to make such contentions about the origins of their respective parties should be obvious.
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Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 09:28 am
My motive is simply that history books I've read seem to say this. I'm a fan of Founding Fathers who were Federalists and Founding Fathers who were anti-Federalists. The motive you ascribe to me was not in my mind at all.
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 09:37 am
From: http://ap.grolier.com/article?assetid=1003670-h&templatename=/article/article.html

Quote:
Thomas Jefferson founded the Democratic Republican Party to oppose the Federalists. The party emphasized individual rights and limitations on governmental power. Jefferson was elected president in 1800, and the party would control the White House for the next forty years. Although philosophically opposed to a strong central government, under the Democratic Republicans there was a gradual expansion of federal power.

Following the War of 1812 the nation entered a period dominated by personal politics. Jefferson's party split into factions, the National Republicans and the Democrats. The National Republicans were the more conservative faction and were led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay. The rival Democratic faction developed under the leadership of Andrew Jackson. These two blocs ultimately developed into distinct parties. The Adams-Clay group became the Whig Party and the Jacksonians became known simply as the Democratic Party, the oldest continuous political party in the world.

Although the Whigs were able to capture the White House twice, in 1840 with William Henry Harrison and in 1848 with Zachary Taylor, they became divided over the issue of slavery. The party's unity was tied more to opposition to the Democrats than to any common ideological base, and by the 1850s the Whigs began to break apart as a national party.

The demise of the Whigs led to the formation of a new party that was initially formed in opposition to slavery. The new Republican Party, or Grand Old Party (GOP), was established in 1854 and held its first national convention in 1856. With the formation of the GOP the modern two-party system in the United States was born.

Based on this, it looks like both the modern Democratic and Republican parties trace their origin to the anti-Federalist or Democratic-Republican party of Jefferson.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 10:21 am
That "derivation" is not an unreasonable statement. I refer again, however, to my remark about political parties as we know them. What we would recognize as a political party did not exist until the creation of the Democratic Party by Andrew Jackson. The attempt by Adams to form the National Republicans as a political party, however, failed, and it is by no means certain that those who met at Ripon, Wisconsin can be said to be the political descendants of the National Republicans. I am, in fact, willing to go out on a limb, and state that the people who met at Ripon were concerned with opposing the spread of slavery, and had no common agenda with Adams' National Republicans (this last sentence added by editing).
0 Replies
 
Brandon9000
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 11:37 am
Well, you certainly know more about this kind of thing than I do. My knowledge of American history is primarily about (1) the period from perhaps 1740-1805 and (2) the history of science and mathematics. I would like to learn more about the origins of the two party system and other aspects of our government. I think that the origin of the American political parties is not something that most Americans have any familiarity at all with, and apparently I don't know as much about it as I thought I did.
0 Replies
 
Asherman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 01:13 pm
Like Setanta said above, modern political parties in the United States date from the time of Andrew Jackson and Van Buren. Jackson was the first "true" southern Democrat, and the political machinery developed by the Wizard of Kinderhook delivered New York. Philosophically, Jackson's Democrats were the heirs of Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans. With the demise of the Federalists, the Democrats were faced with the relatively ineffective Whigs. Jackson Democrats argued that they represented the "little guy" against the wealthy and powerful. They were against central banks, and wanted decentralized government. National projects were seldom undertaken, and the power of State governments was accentuated. The Democratic Party came to dominate the Southern States, and equated political power with the continued legality of slavery and the plantation system.

The Whig opposition were also descended from the Jeffersonians, but in many ways were more philosophically akin to Federalist principles. They favored central government that protected and encouraged commerce. Whigs wanted the Federal government to improve and extend roads, and navigatable waterways. The Whigs powerbase was with the wealthier industrialists of New England, and the more progressive pioneers out on the frontier of the "Free States".

The Republican Party got Lincoln elected when the Democratic Party split, primarily around the Mason-Dixon Line, and over the question of slavery. There were three Democratic candidates, each with its own fervent followers, whereas the little Republican Party was solid behind Lincoln.

After the Late Unpleasantness, the Radical Republicans enforced Reconstruction as a means of perpetuating their hold on government. The Democratic Party was on the ropes in the North, but in the South it dug in and remained almost unchallenged. It did that by passing Jim Crow laws and enforcing White supremacy by terror. The result was that the Republican Party retained control of the Presidency for the remainder of the 19th century. True to the Jeffersonian philosophy, that Republican Party firmly believed that "who govern least, governs best". They interpreted the Constitution to restrict Federal involvement in State affairs, and private business. Both Republicans and Democrats believed as an article of faith that the Federal government should assist business, not control it. That certainly would have offended Hamilton and other Federalists. The result was the Gilded Age. Powerful Rail and Steel Barons engaged in business practices that killed competition, and favored the few over the national interest.

The core beliefs of both Republican and Democratic Parties can be traced back to Jefferson, but the emphasis varies from time-to-time depending upon the mood of the public and expediency. Both are equally guilty of opportunism, and neither is above sailing close to illegality to win an election. Both depend upon a core of relatively radical activists to "get things done", by which I mean influence and gain the support of the great middle of our political spectrum.

At this time, the Republican Party is closer to the ideals of the Federalists than is the Democratic Party. I am a Federalist, and so support the Republican Party in this election year. Neither Bush nor Kerry is likely to become Federalist enough for me. The public persona of the two has less to do with their inner convictions than it has with the mechanics of getting elected. Both must woo the middle, and to do that they have to keep their radicals motivated to get out the vote. I doubt that either is the best, or worst, candidate for President that the country has seen. I expect that both will make a sincere effort to uphold the oath to protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. They are both human and they will make mistakes, but they will probably be honest mistakes.

I suspect that the current policies will continue no matter who is elected. The price of oil won't radically change, and the economy will continue to be driven by complex forces beyond the ability of anyone to control. The radical Islamic movement will not go away, and attacks on American interests will continue even if Kerry is President. U.S. Military involvement around the world will still be critical, even if the Democrats get into office. We need to tone down the rhetoric, because in the aftermath of November '04 whoever is President is going to need the support of the whole nation. If we are to be victorious over our enemies, we must present a united front. Personal attacks, whether by candidates or by 527 organizations, are ultimately counter-productive.
0 Replies
 
joefromchicago
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 10:34 pm
Asherman mentions both Jackson and Van Buren as the progenitors of the "modern" Democratic party, and I believe this is the current received historical wisdom, courtesy of Robert Remini and others. The Schlesinger model of the "New Deal" Jacksonian Democratic party has been largely refuted by subsequent statistical analyses. Van Buren, in particular, is credited with transforming the Jacksonian faction of the Jeffersonian Republican party and making it into a genuine political party, as was demonstrated in the 1836 election. Whereas the Whigs, incapable of fielding a single national presidential candidate, were reduced to running regional candidates, the Democrats were able to mount a national campaign behind Van Buren and win without a military hero or a Virginia aristocrat at the top of the ticket.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 10:38 pm
In fairness to Ash, i mentioned that first, at least in crediting Jackson. I would suggest that when Jackson became disillusioned with Clay and his percieved betrayal (which i consider sound perception), Van Buren hurried to fill the gap, and become Jackson's closest political "friend." I agree entirely that Van Buren created the necessary national organization, but i believe that it was Jackson who first created a political "machine" from the ground up in the counties in Tennessee, and that Van Buren had the wit and energy to transform that into a national organization.

Edit: I would like to add that when i read this: "The Democratic Party came to dominate the Southern States, and equated political power with the continued legality of slavery and the plantation system.", i considered that to be either a naive oversimplification or an intentional partisan slur. The Democrats suffered from political schizophrenia when it came to the slavery issue, and nothing more clearly demonstrates that than Lincoln's canny tactics against Douglas in the famous debates at the time of Lincoln's failed bid for the Senate. By forcing Douglas into a corner on the slavery issue, Lincoln assured that Douglas would have to alienate the Democratic political base in the South in order not to alienate the electorate in Illinois, which Douglas needed to win the Senate race. At the Democratic convention in South Carolina in 1860, Douglas forced the party to adopt a "nonintervention" plank in their platform, which resulted in his failure to lock up the nomination. When the Democrats reconvened in Baltimore, Douglas was only able to secure the nomination because more Southerners withdrew from the convention. While it is true that John C. Breckenridge, the "proto-Dixiecrat" helped to split the vote and Lincoln was able to squeak through, the electoral votes don't tell the real story. Douglas had sufficient support among Democrats who were not supporters of slavery that he polled more votes than any other candidate except Lincoln.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Thu 2 Sep, 2004 10:59 pm
From the Britannica on-line edition, the election results in 1860:

Abraham Lincoln, Republican, 1,865,908 votes, 180 electoral votes
Stephen A. Douglas, Democratic, 1,380,202 votes, 12 electoral votes
John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democratic, 848,019 votes, 72 electoral votes
John Bell, Constitutional Union, 590,901 votes, 39 electoral votes

With Douglas polling more than a half-million votes more than Breckenridge, it should be obvious that the Democrats did not "equate political power with the continued legality of slavery and the plantation system." Slavery was the ugly step child of the American constitution, the nation buried its collective head in the sand, politically speaking, and until the organization of the Republican Party at Ripon, Wisconsin, there was simply no political organization in the country which actively opposed slavery.
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