Wait, Who Founded the Republican Party?

As Ed Morrissey suggests, it’s a dangerous thing when President Obama goes off teleprompter.

We all remember Abraham Lincoln as the leader who saved our Union. Founder of the Republican Party.

Not exactly, Mr. President.  As Ed points out, Abe wasn’t even the first presidential nominee in Republican party history – that honor went to John Fremont, who lost the 1856 presidential election to Buchanan.  Moreover, not only was Lincoln not a founder of the party, he was one of the last individuals to desert the rotting corpse of the Whig party.  When just about most Whigs, north and south, had abandoned the party in droves, Lincoln tenaciously clung to the Whig designation until he eventually bowed to political realities.  Lincoln joined the Republicans in large part due to his distaste of the nativism of other emerging major party: the Know Nothings.  Lincoln abhorred their anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic platform and so decided that the Republicans were the most palatable of the “anti-Nebraska” (those opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska act and the extension of slavery) parties emerging in the United States.

Lincoln’s letter to Joshua Speed, dated August 24, 1855, explains his reluctance to leave the Whigs and to adopt the Republican moniker.  It’s a very important letter in that it also demonstrates Lincoln’s revulsion towards slavery.  It’s an impassioned critique of the Douglas Democrats and of those that claimed to not care about the course of slavery.  For purposes of Lincoln’s political designation, here is the key passage:

You inquire where I now stand. That is a disputed point — I think I am a whig; but others say there are no whigs, and that I am an abolitionist. When I was in Washington I voted for the Wilmot Proviso as good as forty times, and I never heard of any one attempting to unwhig me for that. I now do no more than oppose the extension of slavery.

I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that “all men are created equal.” We now practically read it “all men are created equal, except negroes” When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read “all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.” When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].

This was written well into 1855, so even at this point Lincoln still considered himself a Whig.  It would a while longer before he fully adopted the Republican label.  Whatever can be said of Lincoln, founder of the Republican party is not one of them.

That’s not to say, of course, that Lincoln is not representative of the original GOP.  It’s often been suggested that Lincoln would not fit into today’s GOP, but that is an erroneous assumption.  But that is a discussion for another time.

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Published in: on September 9, 2011 at 9:56 am  Comments (2)  

2 Comments

  1. [...] Even as late as 1855, Lincoln resisted the temptation to abandon the Whigs: When just about most Whigs, north and south, [...]

  2. The Republican party has long called itself the “Party of Lincoln” since Lincoln was the the first Republican President. Even though he was not among the community organizers of that nascent party back in the 1850’s the founding of, and the longevity of the GOP rests on his broad shoulders.


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