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.

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

The Second Inaugural

In light of Don’s post about the historically illiterate folks wiping out any mention of God from the Gettysburg Address, I thought it fitting to post Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address – not that I need much of an excuse to post what I believe to be the greatest speech in American history.  If these folks think that the “under God” reference was bad enough, I can only imagine what they’d make of this.


AT this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Published in: on July 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm  Comments (3)  

Lincoln’s Final Address

It is fashionable in some circles to make much hay of Abraham Lincoln’s supposed overt racism and proposals to  establish a colony for freed slaves.   There is little point in rehashing many of the arguments about Lincoln being a product of his time.  I will simply note that once Lincoln met with black leaders such as Frederick Douglas and other freed slaves, he realized these individuals wanted to stay in America, and he abandoned plans for colonization.

A prime example of how far Lincoln’s racial views evolved was his final address, issued just a few days before his assassination.  In it, Lincoln outlines plans for Reconstruction, specifically mentioning the ongoing efforts in Louisiana.  Lincoln makes clear that Reconstruction efforts must guarantee civil rights – including the franchise – for freed slaves.

This call for civil rights protection enraged one of the audience members, prompting this man to declare that “That is the last speech he will make.”  (Some accounts expand the reaction thusly: “That means n—– citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”) The man who uttered that prophetic note was John Wilkes Booth.


Published in: on July 8, 2010 at 8:48 am  Comments (2)  

April 15, 1865

Today marks the 145th anniversary of Lincoln’s death at the hands of John Wilkes Booth.  Booth shot Lincoln the previous evening while Lincoln was watching a production of Our American Cousin at the Ford Theater.  Lincoln was taken across the street to the Petersen house, and died nine hours later.  Normally I wouldn’t cite Wikipedia, but here is a pretty good summation of the events surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, including the details of the entire conspiracy.  Having just read Jean-Edward Smith’s biography of U.S. Grant, I had almost forgotten that Grant and his wife were originally supposed to accompany the Lincolns to the theater, but Grant’s wife changed her mind at the last moment.  Grant would continue to blame himself for Lincoln’s assassination, believing that had he been there, he would have heard Booth enter the box and would have stopped him.

Lincoln’s assassination led to perhaps the greatest what-if in our history: what if Lincoln had not been assassinated and survived to serve out his second term?  I’ve actually toyed with the idea of writing an alternative history based on that assumption, but that would be a daunting task.  I strongly suspect that Lincoln would have been far more effective in carrying out reconstruction than his pigheaded successor.  Lincoln had proven to be a masterful politician, effectively managing the extremist and moderate factions within his party.  Andrew Johnson had no similar skills, and could not contain the radical Republicans.  Reconstruction was thereby managed by Radical Republicans seemingly bent on revenge and an over-conciliatory President who seemed unwilling to ensure civil rights for the freed slaves.  Lincoln would likely have steered a middle course that would have shunned attempts at vengeance while also attempting to build a more lasting peace that would have granted some greater assurance of civil rights protection to emancipated slaves.

Then again, few presidents have had successful second terms.  Arguably, no president has ever had a successful second term, so it is quite possible that Lincoln would have been no different.  But Lincoln was no ordinary man.

Booth eventually received the justice due to him, but not before horribly affecting the course of American history.

Published in: on April 15, 2010 at 1:04 pm  Comments (5)  

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

For those of you interested in the “real” history of Abraham Lincoln, Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, has authored Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Here is a promotional spot for the book:

Unfortunately I agree with Allahpundit‘s initial reaction.  This promises to be about as funny as his first book – meaning not at all.  In the case of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, it was a great idea horribly executed.  Maybe he will do better this time around with some original material.

Published in: on March 4, 2010 at 9:20 am  Comments (2)  
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The Lincoln We Need

I am a day late to the celebration of Lincoln’s Birthday.  I was back at work for the first time in a week and simply had no time.  But I couldn’t let the event pass without linking to this superb post by Todd Huston at Right Wing News.  While acknowledging Lincoln’s imperfections, Huston demolishes two strands of anti-Lincoln criticism: that he was a racist, and that he was a tyrant.  It’s a fantastic piece that should be read in its entirety.

Published in: on February 13, 2010 at 4:56 pm  Comments Off on The Lincoln We Need  
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