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The Civil War and the Republican Party

The Civil War marked a new period in American history and its political development. The Republicans of 1854 saw the Kansas and Nebraska Act as a direct attack on the issue of the non-extension of slavery, the basis of Western free soil principle. The act threatened to disperse slavery, and with it the African-American man, into territories which these Western Free Soilers hoped to protect for the growth and development of a white population involved in trading and labor relations. Furthermore, once the Republican Party became a feasible political organization, other events and issues, such as the Dred Scott decision and the issues of acquiring Cuba for the United States and of reopening the African slave trade, were viewed by its members not simply as political or economic problems of Northern Americans by the slave South, but as racial attacks on white population as well. Given their low opinion, their terror and dislike of both the African-American man and Southern slavery, the exploitation of a racial ideology by most Western Republicans followed as a natural consequence. From their Free Soil background, they came proudly to identify themselves as members of a “white man’s party.”

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During this period of time, racial philosophy was a monopoly of the Republican Party, but that party expressed it in a unique way. The racism of the Democratic Party was pro-slavery, in that it supported the growth of African-American people so long as they were slaves, the racism of the Republican Party was antislavery, in that it opposed the expansion of African-American people whether they were slaves or free. In other words, the pro-slavery expansion of the Democratic Party looked to the peopling of the West with African-Americans, while the antislavery position of the Republican Party looked to reserving the West for whites. Arguing the latter point, Republicans could appeal to all of like mind. They could, for instance, appeal to those Western farmers, whose desire for land, being apparently insatiable, feared not only the aggrandizement of that land by a few large slaveholders, but also the eventual liberation of their African-American slaves and the competition for that land that the freed African-Americans would represent (Andrews, p.31). Furthermore, by appealing to Caucasian unity, the new party appealed to a broader political spectrum, including recent European immigrants, many of whom lived in urban areas and were concerned about labor competition from free African-Americans. In general, armed and imbued with the racial ideology which had been developed by the intellectual community and nurtured and popularized by numerous Eastern and Western Free Soilers, Republicans had a ready made arsenal with which to assault the African-American man, the South, and what they derisively called the “Nigger Democracy” (Brinkley p. 87).

The Republican Party, and in particular the Western wing of that party, was ruled by politicians who were conservative on the problem of race and who evinced small concern for the enslaved African-American man. For instance, most Republicans politicians, like Free Soil politicians, were reluctant to interfere with the institution of slavery in the slave states. Most wished the party to nominate only moderate or conservative candidates whose policies would be far removed from the objectives of the radical abolitionists. Still, Republican leaders attacked the handful of radical abolitionists, who were concerned more with slavery’s effects on the African-American man than its threat to the white. Even those Republican members, such as Benjamin Wade, Owen Lovejoy and Salmon Chase, who tended to be identified with the more liberal issues within the party, appeared, by 1860, to fall over each other in their desire to assure the South of their conservative intentions concerning slavery. It would seem that the instant threat of secession and the desire to preserve the Union interrupted, for the time being, the program of these people for the ultimate elimination of slavery and the removal of African-Americans from America. Wade told his Southern colleagues in Congress that there was no reason for them to leave the Union, because the Republican Party did not intend to tamper with the institution of slavery. Republican leaders rarely missed a chance to pledge that neither the party nor its membership subscribed to radical thought (Blassingame, p. 65).

This mode of thinking followed by the new party during the Civil War reinforced the conclusion that many Northern people and political leaders had already reached: the United States must somehow be rid of the African-American presence. Obviously, various solutions had been contemplated since Jefferson’s time. First, Southern slaveholders must be persuaded willingly to free their chattel. Secondly, and as a part of winning the slaveholders’ acquiescence, the country must be rid of free African-Americans. A number of ntelligentsia, who also doubled as Republicans, such as Dr. Julian Sturtevant of Illinois and Dr. Louis Agassiz of Massachusetts, assumed as late as 1863 that the problem would eventually solve itself, as African-Americans were eliminated in the marketplace by competing white workers ( Sturtevant’s prediction) or by African-Americans naturally migrating to other zones (Agassiz’s prediction). At first, a number of congressional Republicans seemed divided, some supporting Sturtevant’s prediction, others Agassiz’s, while still others appeared to combine the two. Into the second year of the war, the most touted Republican solution to the twofold dilemmas posed by slavery and race was the same issue that many of the intelligentsia, Free Soilers and Republicans had recommended all along: gradual, compensated emancipation coupled with African-American colonization. Accordingly, various schemes for compensating slaveholders and financing colonization were introduced into Congress (Current, p. 87). Richard One plan to reimburse slaveholders was proposed by Doolittle, in which one half the proceeds from the sale or lease of confiscated rebel estates would be returned to the slave states by the Treasury Department, to be used equally for compensating slaveholders and financing colonization (Vinovskis, p. 87).

Once Southerners accepted compensation and colonization, the Union could be restored, African-American people would vanish, and best of all white men could get on with achieving their manifest destiny. Indeed, John Sherman worried that if African-Americans were not colonized somewhere, either out of the country or in parts of the South part, Anglo-Saxon “nationality” would be “overthrown.” On the other hand, and apparently in an effort to make the program attractive to its supposed beneficiaries, Sherman, Browning and Doolittle all noted how emigrating African-Americans would be spared white prejudice, Sherman specifically citing the African-American laws, North and South. Rather than pursuing the morally important and economically sensible course of removing these political laws, and removing the legal imprimatur for white prejudice, Sherman would remove African-American people. Fearing the presumed dangers to Anglo-Saxondom, the Lincoln administration and congressional Republicans forged ahead to implement the ambitious scheme (Sellers, p. 65).

In April 1862, under the chairmanship of Republican Congressman Albert S. White of Indiana, the House Committee on Emancipation and Colonization began work on a plan to bring about emancipation and to transport African-American Americans out of the country. Specially, the republics to the south of the United States were being considered suitable sites. The Committee issued its report on July 16, 1862, noting that liberation without “deportation and colonization…would oppress the nation with a helpless population” (Schlesinger, 82). In calling for African-American colonization, the Committee report cited the long held Republican fears of miscegenation, labor competition and racial conflict (Schlesinger, p. 87).

Since political leaders claimed that commingling was the root cause of the Civil War, African-American people had to go; as he told them in his much repeated remark, “it is better for us both…to be separated.” Seemingly goading his visitors, Lincoln accused African-Americans of being “selfish” if they remained in the United States, where, he insisted, they were not wanted by the dominant white population. With apparent condescension, he declared that African-Americans “should sacrifice” their “present comfort, for the purpose of being as grand…as the white people.” Lincoln also dealt with specifics. He told his African-American listeners that they need not go to Liberia, since he was thinking of a place closer to the United States, namely Central America. Then Lincoln came to the nub of why he had invited them: he wanted them to convince their own people to leave the country (Robertson, p. 101).

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The African population, who attended this White House meeting, including Frederick Douglass, later said that they were shocked at what they considered to be Lincoln’s callousness. Nevertheless, being, in a sense, a captive audience, with the President of the United States doing all the talking as they listened in a state of disbelief, they said little in response. However, once word both of the meeting and of Lincoln’s proposals became public knowledge, the reaction was swift and sure. For instance, Douglass attacked the whole idea of colonization, not only because he was opposed in principle, but because he saw the very promotion of the idea as a means of encouraging white hostility toward African-American people. He said that any thought of colonization was tantamount to “furnishing a weapon to all the ignorant and base, who need only the countenance of men in authority to commit all kinds of violence and outrage upon the colored people” in the free states (Potter, p. 44).

In spite of the unfavorable response within the free African-American community of the North and by several Republican politicians, Lincoln and his supporters persevered in their efforts. With $600,000 already appropriated to begin the task, Lincoln and his new Secretary of the Interior, John P. Usher of Indiana, signed a contract, on December 31, 1862, with New York businessman Bernard Kock, a contract to transport African-Americans out of the country. The next day the president put his name to the final Emancipation Proclamation. The contract, which was later leased to two Wall Street investment brokers, Paul S. Forbes and Charles K. Tuckerman, culminated in the landing of the first African-American American colonists at Ile a Vache, Haiti, on June 1, 1863. The colonists, many from the Washington, D.C. area, were simply dumped there, with little planning and little of the promised supplies to sustain them. As a result this experiment proved to be a disaster, as some 108 of 435 African-American colonists died (McPherson, p. 51).

In 1864, the Lincoln governemnt and its associates in Congress abandoned the whole notion of colonization, although Frank Blair continued to back this policy by drawing analogies between Jefferson’s idea and Lincoln’s attempts to implement that idea. At the same time Senator James H. Lane of Kansas introduced an old idea, a bill for the internal colonization of African-Americans, this time in a portion of Texas which he hoped to see set aside for that purpose. Thus, when promoting his plan, Lane described a different and certainly improved African-American man, all in an effort to make him appear a more viable emigrant. To illustrate, the African-American character was now “faithful, confiding, affectionate [and] industrious.” African-Americans were now “given to neatness and generally religious.” Rather than being lazy and barbaric, African-Americans now exhibited “ambition” and even a “high civilization” (Kenneth, p. 87).

The rather feeble efforts of the American Colonization Society aside, had all of the proselytizing on behalf of colonization-by Jefferson and Clay, by scientists and intellectuals, and by Free Soil and Republican politicians, writers and journalists — finally come to no more than (Donald. 65). If colonization was an impractical proposition from the outset, why had so many people persisted as its advocates? It would probably be asking too much for an historical study to give a satisfactory answer to such a question. Since self-proclaimed realistic people have throughout time frequently advocated unrealistic propositions, the question might better be left to the philosophers or psychologists. Be that as it may, one observation seems obvious: many Republican leaders and opinion makers of the 1850’s had assumed that, under their guidance, the North and South would in good time be able to reach a resolution of the twin problems of slavery and race, one that would be beneficial to all white Americans. If their party, as a first step in this process, pledged to stop the further spread of slavery or African-American people, its promise not to violate slavery where it already existed would seem to have been tendered as proof that later steps to a final solution would be undertaken only with the cooperation of the South. The South thought differently (Elkins and McKitrick, p. 82).

The Civil War forced the hand of Republican strategists. Now any answers to the lingering questions of slavery and race could only be addressed if they helped to answer what, to the Lincoln administration, was the more immediate and pressing question of preserving the Union. Consequently, after unsuccessfully seeking to win the slave states to its plan of gradual, compensated emancipation, and the slave states and free African-Americans to its plan of colonization, the government, after its single attempt to execute colonization, fell back on the original Free Soil measure of containment, but with an added feature pleasing to Northern African-Americans, abolitionists and European critics of the administration, emancipation. As well, Lincoln, in a consistent and familiar refrain for Republicans, also used emancipation to appeal to laboring whites, the major component of the Union war effort (Blassingame, p. 87).

Other Republicans reassured themselves that freed African-Americans, of their own volition, would remain in the South. Representative William Davis of Pennsylvania based his prediction on the “fact” that the “African-American is not migratory,” because he is too “feeble.” Davis’ Pennsylvania colleague, Samuel S. Blair, analogous to both Kelley and Davis, argued climatic determinism and promised Northern whites that African-Americans were “not nomadic,” and therefore they need not worry. Racialist considerations aside, there was another immediate issue that weighed heavily in favor of repression (McPherson, p. 55).

Some Republican leaders, just as some Free Soil and Republican politicians, were apt, though, to express viewpoints that were contradictory to those expressed by most of their fellow party leaders (McPherson 88). In 1860 Republican leaders opened his central emigration office in Boston, and from there published tracts painting a beautiful picture of the island and describing the assumed benefits of Haitian emigration to American-born African-Americans. All in all, Redpath’s bureau netted some one thousand African-American colonists for this Haitian project, a good number of whom either died there or later returned to the United States. As unproductive, and in fact destructive of human life, as his scheme proved to be, Redpath’s effort nevertheless served as a prototype for Lincoln’s project at Ile a Vache, Haiti, several years later (Kenneth, p. 23).

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To summarize, most Republican leaders prided themselves and their party on their conservatism, in the sense that they promoted policies that championed the rights and interests of the nation’s predominant white population and denied the rights and interests of the nation’s African-American population. Just as Republican politicians did, these scribes urged exclusion and containment as immediate objectives and gradual emancipation with compensation as a future purpose. If a handful of writers at times seemed ready to grant the freedman some essential legal rights, the rest supposed that the country must eventually be rid of him. Some expected him to disappear through the workings of either geographic or economic determinism, but more seemed convinced that he would have to be physically removed to areas outside of the country; that only by colonization could the alleged African-American problem be eliminated from the United States once and for all. James Redpath, in fact, had started to carry out the latter policy, with his Haytian Emigration Bureau, but it would be under the Lincoln administration that the drive to colonize the African-American man enjoyed its greatest sustain. This support was based upon the same racial assumptions that had originally been set forth by the intelligentsia (Kenneth, p. 72).

The Civil War provided a great opportunity to test the theories of the intelligentsia by, for example, measuring the anatomies of African-American and white soldiers and comparing them. Howe was also an important member of the administration sponsored American Freedmen’s Inquiry Commission, and both commissions were precursors of the Freedmen’s Bureau. As was typical of most Free Soilers and Republicans, Howe’s proposal was freighted with racialist baggage. For instance, Howe could accept containment, as long as it was accompanied by the destruction of slavery. Not only would colonization serve the African-American man by freeing him from slavery and from the rigors of a cold and uncongenial climate, but, insisted party writers, it would also free him from the continued economic, social and political oppression which he would suffer by remaining in a predominantly white society. Brown likened the scheme to nothing less than the African-American man’s salvation. The African-American man “must emigrate, if he would escape from membership in a pariah caste.” The basic inducement employed by Republican propagandists to win adherents to colonization was, it goes without saying, racial. Though, before stimulating their audiences by describing the specific racial bounties which, once African-Americans were settled abroad, would bless white America, these writers linked them with the objectives of colonization (Potter, p. 81).

In sum, some Americans came away from the Civil War with a higher regard for African-American people than that which they held when the conflict commenced. Unfortunately some did not. During this period of time, the Republic Party gained recognition and maintained strong image as a political leader in Congress. While the Civil War freed the African-Americans from slavery, it did nothing to free this population from white racialism. As numerous African-Americans pointed out Republican policies during the war acted to intensify that racism around which their party evolved.

Works Cited

  1. Andrews, Charles M. The Colonial Background to the American Revolution. Yale University Press; Revised edition, 1961.
  2. Blassingame, John W. The Slave Community Oxford University Press, USA; 2 edition, 1979.
  3. Brinkley, A. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw, 1991.
  4. Current, Richard N. The History of Wisconsin Volume II. The Civil War Era, 1848-1873. Madison: The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1999.
  5. Donald. H. D. Why the North won. Simon & Schuster, 1999.
  6. Elkins, Stanley and Eric McKitrick, The Age of Federalism Oxford University Press, USA, 1999.
  7. Kenneth, D. Don’t Know Much About The Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  8. McPherson, James M Ordeal By Fire; tHE Civil War And Reconstruction McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2000.
  9. Potter, David M. The Impending Crisis: 1848-1861. New York: Harper and Row, 1976.
  10. Robertson, James I., Jr. Civil War. America Become One Nation. New York: Knopf, 2000.
  11. Sellers, Charles Market Revolution Oxford University Press, USA, 2004.
  12. Schlesinger, Arthur. The Age Of Jackson Back Bay Books, 1988.
  13. Vinovskis, Maris A. ed. Toward a Social History of the American Civil War: Explanatory Essays. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

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