Was the Republican party's popularity before 1860 a produce of its conservatism rather than radicalism?

Brit123

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The Republican Party of the Civil War is surely remembered as radical due to its platform against the expansion of slavery and its later emancipation proclamation. However, the question was raised to me recently of whether their growing popularity stemmed rather from their conservatism. What do you think?
 

jackt62

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The onset of the Republican Party and its first electoral contests in 1856 and 1860 was surely more "conservative" than the later development of that party during the CW and Reconstruction. It is true that the primary position of the Republican Party was to oppose the expansion of slavery to the territories obtained by the Mexican Cession in 1848. But otherwise, its platform did not advocate for emancipation, a position that did not evolve until later on. The Republican Party largely arose from the defunct Whig Party, which had long stood for tariff protection, national infrastructure, and banking. Those positions contrasted sharply with the Democratic Party, which stood for states rights, slavery protection, and a weak federal government.
 

NedBaldwin

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The Republican Party of the Civil War is surely remembered as radical due to its platform against the expansion of slavery and its later emancipation proclamation. However, the question was raised to me recently of whether their growing popularity stemmed rather from their conservatism. What do you think?
tricky.

In their platforms, the Republicans made reference to the Declaration of Independence and the "Republican fathers"; their stance against slavery was based on fundamental principles they felt they had inherited from prior generations. is that conservatism or radical?

They believed in "the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom" and that it was only due to government actions that slavery had been given legal existence and that it was their mission to get government out of the business of propping up slavery. is that conservatism or radical?
 

Bruce Vail

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I'm not sure the Republican Party platform position of opposition to the expansion of slavery meets any coherent definition of "radical." After all, a bunch of states had abolished slavery within their own borders well before 1860, even going back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Abolitionism was 'radical' -- opposition to the expansion was more 'moderate.'

The Whig Party roots of the Republican Party suggest a fudamental conservatism. The Radical Republicans were opposed by the more Whiggish elements within tthe Republican Party coalition. The influence of the Radicals inside the Republican Party died out quickly once the war was ended.
 

NedBaldwin

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... The Republican Party largely arose from the defunct Whig Party, which had long stood for tariff protection, national infrastructure, and banking. ...
Disagree. While there were prominent Whigs who joined the party (Lincoln, Seward, Bates, Chandler), many of the early leaders of the Party were former Democrats who had left the D party over the slavery issue...

the Blairs, Fremont, Chase, Banks, Hannibal Hamlin, Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, Preston King, David Wilmot, Alexander Randall, Kinsley Bingham, John Hale, Ben Wade, and had all been democrats.
 

Brit123

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tricky.

In their platforms, the Republicans made reference to the Declaration of Independence and the "Republican fathers"; their stance against slavery was based on fundamental principles they felt they had inherited from prior generations. is that conservatism or radical?

They believed in "the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom" and that it was only due to government actions that slavery had been given legal existence and that it was their mission to get government out of the business of propping up slavery. is that conservatism or radical?
I have been thinking about it quite a bit and when defining conservatism as aversion to change/holding traditional values, to a certain extent Republicans before 1860 must have been this. As you say, they did frequent refer to the founding fathers to justify their position, which must be conservative as inferred that they held traditional republican values. Lincoln himself stated many times that the fathers had opposed slavery and enacted the Northwest Ordinance that banned slavery in NW territory.
 

jackt62

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Disagree. While there were prominent Whigs who joined the party (Lincoln, Seward, Bates, Chandler), many of the early leaders of the Party were former Democrats who had left the D party over the slavery issue...

the Blairs, Fremont, Chase, Banks, Hannibal Hamlin, Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, Preston King, David Wilmot, Alexander Randall, Kinsley Bingham, John Hale, Ben Wade, and had all been democrats.
Yes, that is true and there were other factions (even some I believe from the American "Know Nothing" party) who coalesced together to form the new Republican party. But certainly, the breakup of the Whigs helped lead to that new party configuration.
 

Bruce Vail

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Disagree. While there were prominent Whigs who joined the party (Lincoln, Seward, Bates, Chandler), many of the early leaders of the Party were former Democrats who had left the D party over the slavery issue...

the Blairs, Fremont, Chase, Banks, Hannibal Hamlin, Charles Sumner, Henry Wilson, Lyman Trumbull, Preston King, David Wilmot, Alexander Randall, Kinsley Bingham, John Hale, Ben Wade, and had all been democrats.

FYI -- Salmon Chase was not a Democrat. From Wiki:

Chase left the Whig Party in 1841 to become the leader of Ohio's Liberty Party. In 1848, he helped establish the Free Soil Party and recruited former President Martin Van Buren to serve as the party's presidential nominee. Chase won election to the Senate the following year, and he opposed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In the aftermath of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Chase helped establish the Republican Party, which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories. After leaving the Senate, Chase served as the Governor of Ohio from 1856 to 1860.
 

NedBaldwin

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FYI -- Salmon Chase was not a Democrat. From Wiki:

Chase left the Whig Party in 1841 to become the leader of Ohio's Liberty Party. In 1848, he helped establish the Free Soil Party and recruited former President Martin Van Buren to serve as the party's presidential nominee. Chase won election to the Senate the following year, and he opposed the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas–Nebraska Act. In the aftermath of the Kansas–Nebraska Act, Chase helped establish the Republican Party, which opposed the extension of slavery into the territories. After leaving the Senate, Chase served as the Governor of Ohio from 1856 to 1860.
Correction noted. Thank you
 

Bruce Vail

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The Republican Party was the reformulated Whig Party. Yes, a handful of Democrats were thrown in, and ex-Whigs like Lincoln courted ex-Democrats to broaden the party's base. But the ex-Democrats were mostly just window-dressing for a revived Whig organization.

I am not sure where the notion that Radical Republicans Charles Sumner and Ben Wade were originally Democrats comes from. These men had no meaningful association with the Democratic Party.
 

Brit123

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The Republican Party of the Civil War is surely remembered as radical due to its platform against the expansion of slavery and its later emancipation proclamation. However, the question was raised to me recently of whether their growing popularity stemmed rather from their conservatism. What do you think?
Thought about it a bit more. late 1850s was an era with deeply imbued racism and democrats consistently charged Republicans as being radicals who wanted racial equality- so much so, Lincoln saw this as the reason Fremont won the 1856 election. Therefore, to appeal to a wider base of the populace (which was generally racist and white supremacist) their political rhetoric needed to be generally conservatism. In this, leaders like Lincoln in debates described themselves as only upholding the constitution and declaration as their founders had.
Was the idea of colonisation projects (sending African Americans to Central American or 'back' to Africa) a central part of their popularity growth? if so, was this a conservative measure?
In addition, when they talked of free-labour they talked of Adam smith's free labour justifications, and stated that slavery in westward expansion would undermine the promise of America exceptionalism and make northern society eventually resemble an old work class-stratified economic order. I would class this as conservative rhetoric. Therefore, overall, perhaps popularity between 1856-1860 more to do with conservatism?
 

NedBaldwin

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The Republican Party was the reformulated Whig Party. Yes, a handful of Democrats were thrown in, and ex-Whigs like Lincoln courted ex-Democrats to broaden the party's base. But the ex-Democrats were mostly just window-dressing for a revived Whig organization.

I am not sure where the notion that Radical Republicans Charles Sumner and Ben Wade were originally Democrats comes from. These men had no meaningful association with the Democratic Party.
Have led me to rethink. Concede that my original statement was not correct. Doing more work to have a better statement.
 
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19th century political parties were quite fluid and politicians moved around...

Sumner was a Conscience Whig who later became a Free Soiler. This group was closely aligned with the Van Buren Democrats and this was the coalition in the Mass legislature that elected him to the US Senate, where he and others were known as Free Soil Democrats. He joined the Republicans in 1854 but became a member of the Half-Breed faction after his fallout with Grant. This group wanted an end to Radical Reconstruction and restoration of self government in the south. When they failed to defeat Grant in 1872, many of the Liberals became democrats, however, Sumner did not. He did work closely with a number of the southern Democrats in the Senate.

Chase was a Whig who dropped out to join a minor party called the Liberty party. He helped to establish the Free Soil party and was friends with Martin Van Buren. He later helped to found the Fusion Party of Ohio and later still helped establish the Republican party and sought its nomination for president in 1860. He sought the Democratic nomination for president in 1868 but was back as a "Liberal" Republican in 1872.

The reason that many associate these two as pre war Democrats is that they co-authored with others a manifesto called "The Appeal of the Independent Democrats" in response to the Kansas Nebraska Bill.
 

Bruce Vail

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For a deep dive into the early Republican Party see Eric Foner's
Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War.

Coincidentally, it's the 50th anniversary of the publication of this book, which I understand to have originated as Foner's doctoral thesis. Of course Foner went on to a brilliant career as one of America's foremost historians.
 

OpnCoronet

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Republican radicalism was fundamentally, a figment of radical southern fire-eaters imaginations. Southerners committed to secession as soon as possible, painted the Republican as radicals who were trying to take over the gov't of the United States.

Lincoln defended the party as not being radical, but, instead was trying to lead the country back to the policies that had existed from the very beginnings of Republic, but were not being subverted by southern disunionists, aided and abetted by the Democratic Party were trying to dissolve the Union, by their radical policies.
 

Joshism

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their stance against slavery was based on fundamental principles they felt they had inherited from prior generations. is that conservatism or radical?
As you say, they did frequent refer to the founding fathers to justify their position, which must be conservative as inferred that they held traditional republican values.

The pro-slavery stance was based on different fundamental principles inherited from previous generations.

Both sides also claimed the Bible justified their position.

Are we going to suggest both sides of the American Civil War were conservatives?

They believed in "the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom" and that it was only due to government actions that slavery had been given legal existence and that it was their mission to get government out of the business of propping up slavery. is that conservatism or radical?

Slavery predated the Constitution and the country. Laws in support of slavery mostly just codified what had been a defacto reality for generations.

The government propping something up with financial subsidies is a very different matter than what was happening with slavery. Either slavery was legal or illegal. The idea that it would go away if the federal government simply ceased to sanction it seems rather naive to me.
 

Joshism

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The 1850s Republicans and Democrats were both very clearly defined parties with little overlap in positions between them. This wasn't a decade when people were indifferent to politics because both parties were "practically the same."

The Republicans were mostly not radical (except the few Radical Republicans); that would be the Liberty Party and other abolitionists.

The Republicans strongest appeal was that they were a successful coalition party. They managed to appeal to most non-Irish immigrants and most northern Know Nothings. They weren't simply the moderate anti-slavery party. They had what we would describe as a fiscal liberal plan, which they implemented during the war: Transcontinental Railroad, Homestead Act, tariffs, land grant colleges.
 

ErnieMac

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For a deep dive into the early Republican Party see Eric Foner's
Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War.

Coincidentally, it's the 50th anniversary of the publication of this book, which I understand to have originated as Foner's doctoral thesis. Of course Foner went on to a brilliant career as one of America's foremost historians.
One of my college text books about 10 years later.
 

Bruce Vail

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Republican radicalism was fundamentally, a figment of radical southern fire-eaters imaginations. Southerners committed to secession as soon as possible, painted the Republican as radicals who were trying to take over the gov't of the United States.

No, that's not right. The Radicals were a distinct subset of the Republican Party that gained a lot of influence during the war, but then gradually lost power in the post-war era. Their power probably peaked when they impeached Andrew Johnson in 1868, but receded after the failure to remove Johnson from the White House, and then the elevation of U.S. Grant to the leadership of the party.

Radical Republican leaders -- men like Charles Sumner, Benjamin Wade, and Oliver Morton -- wanted to end slavery and dethrone the Democratic Party at the head of federal government. They were very real and they were the worst nightmare of the southern fire-eaters,
 
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