Republican Party

Author:Paul Finkelman

Page 2216

The Republican party was organized in response to the KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACT (1854), which allowed SLAVERY in the Kansas and Nebraska territories. This was a repudiation of the MISSOURI COMPROMISE (1820), which had prohibited all SLAVERY IN THE TERRITORIES west and north of Missouri and for a generation had served as the basis of all sectional accommodation on slavery and territorial settlement. This new political organization was initially known as the Anti-Nebraska party.

As a coalition of former Whigs, antislavery Democrats, former Know-Nothings, and abolitionists who had been in the Liberty and Free-Soil parties, Republicans differed among themselves on such issues as currency, banking, and tariffs. But they all agreed on the need to stop the extension of slavery in the territories. In his "House Divided" speech of 1858 ABRAHAM LINCOLN expressed this view, noting that he wanted to "arrest the further spread of it [slavery], and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction." Republicans were also motivated by the fear that freedom was actually on the defensive and that a "slave-power conspiracy" threatened the liberty of all Americans.

Especially after the decision in DRED SCOTT V. SANDFORD (1857), Republicans feared a nationalization of slavery. Lincoln worried there might soon be "another Supreme Court decision, declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a state to exclude slavery from its limits.? We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri are on the verge of making their State free; and we shall awake to the reality, instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave state." The implications of Dred Scott were clear to Republican leaders. Lincoln argued that "the logical conclusion" from Chief Justice ROGER BROOKE TANEY'S opinion was "that what Dred Scott's master might lawfully do with Dred Scott, in the free State of Illinois, every other master might lawfully do with any other one, or one thousand slaves, in Illinois, or in any other free State." In 1856, Senator Henry Wilson, a future vice-president, stated that the party's "object is to overthrow the Slave Power of the country."

This battle with the slave-power conspiracy did not mean an all-out assault on slavery wherever it existed. Most Republicans agreed, however reluctantly, that the Constitution did not permit the federal government to interfere with slavery in the states. Some Republicans, including Lincoln, even acknowledged the constitutional obligation to return fugitive slaves, although many other leading...

To continue reading