1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Republican Party

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REPUBLICAN PARTY. Of the three important American parties which have called themselves Republican,[1] this article deals only with that one which was organized during the years 1854 to 1856 and has been in control of the government of the United States during the larger portion of the half century since the presidential election of 1860.

Origin and Character.—Sectionalism, the movement which tended to break the Union into two separate republics, one based on free labour, the other on that of slaves, had gained before the middle of the 19th century such headway as to compel a reconstruction of the party system. The beginning of this reconstruction was heralded by the rise of the Liberty party (q.v.), in 1840, its completion by the disruption in 1860 of the Democratic party along sectional lines, and the election of Abraham Lincoln by a sectional vote.

The event which determined the date of the birth of the Republican party was the repeal by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 of that provision of the Compromise of 1820 which excluded slavery from the national territory N. of the geographical line 36° 30′ and the formal substitution in that bill of "squatter" for national sovereignty, in deciding the question of slavery in the Territories. The enactment of this bill introduced a new and highly critical stage in the relations between North and South. Down to 1850 the differences of the two sections over slavery had always been arranged by mutual concessions. In 1854 this expedient was set aside. Without giving anything in return, Douglas and his supporters took from the free-labour section an invaluable barrier against the extension of slavery: and through the doctrine of "squatter sovereignty" denied to Congress the power to erect such barriers in the future. But this only hastened a crisis that could not have been greatly delayed. Calhoun had already discerned the true source and deadly nature of the growing sectional estrangement, and Lincoln was soon to utter the prophetic words: "This government cannot endure permanently, half slave and half free."

The immediate result of the agitation over the repeal was to convince a large number—which soon became a majority—of the best citizens of the North, irrespective of party, that the restriction of slavery was essential to the well-being both of the North and of the Union as a whole. In order to give effect to this conviction it was necessary to form a new party. The agitation which prepared the way for its rise began in Congress during the debates on the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, and spread thence throughout the North. The West was more quickly responsive than the East. But everywhere large elements of the existing parties came together and agreed to unite in resisting the extension of slavery. Before the discussion of the repeal in Congress had reached its later stages, a mass meeting of Whigs, Democrats and Free Soilers at Ripon, Wisconsin, resolved that if the Kansas-Nebraska Bill should pass: "They would throw old party organizations to the winds and organize a new party on the sole issue of the non-extension of slavery." The name Republican was formally adopted at a state convention of the new party held at Jackson, Michigan, on the 6th of July 1854, and by other Western state conventions on the 13th of the same month.

The great majority of the new party had been either Whigs or Democrats. In two cardinal points they were agreed, namely, opposition to slavery and belief in the national, as opposed to the federative, nature of the Union. In other points there was at the beginning much disagreement. Fortunately the issues on which there was agreement overshadowed all others long enough to bring about a fusing of the two elements. It was the union of the Whig who believed in making government strong and its sphere wide, with the Democrat who believed in the people and the people's control of government, that made the Republican party both efficient and popular.

History.—Before its advent to power, from 1854 to 1860, the tasks of the Republican party were three: to propagate the doctrine of slavery restriction by Congressional action; to oppose the extension of slavery under the operation of the doctrine of squatter sovereignty; and to obtain control of the Federal government. In each it was successful. Throughout the North and under such leaders as Seward, Lincoln, Chase, Sumner, Henry Ward Beecher and Horace Greeley, all the resources of the press, the platform, the pulpit and (an institution then powerful but now forgotten) the lyceum or citizens' debating club, were fully enlisted in the propaganda. Other events that turned to the advantage of the Republicans were the brutal assault upon Charles Sumner in the Senate Chamber in 1856, the Ostend Manifesto, advising in the interest of slavery the acquisition of Cuba by force if Spain should refuse to sell, the enforcement—sometimes brutal and always hateful—of the Fugitive Slave Law (q.v.), and the quarrel of Douglas with the administration and the South over the application of squatter sovereignty to Kansas. On the other hand, the decision of the Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott, which the Republicans refused to accept as good law, and the raid of John Brown at Harper's Ferry, which they condemned, brought them into serious embarrassment.

In the prosecution of the third task, the attainment of office, the party followed wise counsels and was fortunate. In its first national platform, that of 1856, the party affirmed its adherence to the principles of Washington and Jefferson, denied the constitutional right of Congress or a Territory to establish slavery, and declared that it was "both the right and duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery." At the close of the resolutions there was a demand for government aid to a Pacific railway and for the improvement of rivers and harbours.

The platform of 1860 was more comprehensive. It added to the planks of the first, an arraignment of the administration and the Dred Scott decision, and demands for a protective tariff and a homestead act. Although the popular vote for Abraham Lincoln was more than a half-million greater than that for John C. Frémont, the party's candidate in 1856, nevertheless it was the disruption of the Democratic party that made the Republican triumph possible. On the other hand, the Republican party was the strongest member of the new party system as reorganized on the sectional principle. Moreover, in character and purpose, as well as numerical strength, it was better qualified than its rivals to meet the impending crisis.

The War Period, 1861–1865.—Between the election of Mr Lincoln in November 1860, and his inauguration on the following 4th of March, seven of the slave-holding states seceded, formed a Confederacy and withdrew their representatives from the national legislature. All attempts to arrange a compromise failed. The vacillation of President Buchanan, and the position taken in his annual message that the national government had no right to coerce a seceding state, gave strong support to the disunion movement. These events forced upon the Republican party a change of policy. Hitherto its efforts had been directed chiefly to excluding slavery from the Territories. Now the first duty was to save the Union from disruption. In order to do this it was necessary to unite the North, and to bring to the support of the Union a large proportion of those border slave states, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri, in which there was considerable Union sentiment. Hence the party laid aside completely the earlier issue of slavery restriction and accepted as the sole issue of the hour the maintenance of the Union. Indeed, in order to secure more easily the co-operation of loyal Democrats, it even gave up its own name for a time and called itself the Union party.

During the early period of the war the President checked all efforts on the part of zealous subordinates, civil and military, to make the war for the Union even incidentally a war upon slavery. In his efforts to unionize the border states Mr Lincoln in March 1862 urged that Congress should co-operate with any state in providing for a voluntary, gradual and compensated emancipation. Congress acceded, but not one of the border states would undertake emancipation. Many of the Republican leaders rejected the border state policy of the President and urged a more radical course towards slavery. In replying to Horace Greeley, who voiced the discontent in a public letter, to which he gave the title, The Prayer of Twenty Millions of People, Mr Lincoln in August 1862 wrote: "My paramount object is to save the Union and not either to save or destroy slavery."

But as evidence accumulated that slavery was a strong military support of the Confederacy the policy of destroying slavery as a means of saving the Union grew in favour. To this policy Mr Lincoln on the 22nd of September 1862 committed himself, the Republican party and the cause of the Union. The first response was distinctly unfavourable. The immediate effect was "to unite the South and divide the North." A considerable element of the Democratic party became disloyal, while the party as a whole opposed all measures looking to the destruction of slavery. The autumn elections greatly reduced the Republican majority in Congress. But the new policy steadily gained ground until the Republican party in its third national convention, which met on the 7th of June 1864, resolved: "that as slavery was the cause and now constitutes the strength of this rebellion, justice and national safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the republic." In the following year slavery was finally abolished by the Thirteenth Amendment.

On the Republican party, since it had an effective majority in each house of Congress, rests the responsibility for the legislation of the war period. The theory of loose construction of the Constitution was accepted. Throughout the Civil War, Congress, proceeding upon this theory, made prompt provision for the prosecution of the war. It passed Legal Tender Acts; it established a system of national banks; greatly raised the tariff rates; and in order to hasten the settlement of the Far West and to make that section an integral part of the Union, it passed a Homestead Act and an act providing for a railway to the Pacific. For a time, while disloyalty was most rife in the North, there was a sharp curtailment of the rights of the individual citizen through the suspension, initiated by the President and approved by Congress, of the writ of Habeas Corpus. Most of the acts, which their opponents held to be violations of the Constitution, were in general acts of questionable utility. The results of the war, which came to a close early in 1865, vindicated in a signal way the principles, policies and leadership of the Republican party. It had saved the Union; it had established the national character of the Union so firmly as to bring to an end the doctrine of the right of secession; and it had destroyed slavery.

The party had been singularly fortunate in its founders and leaders. Of these three were pre-eminent: Horace Greeley, William H. Seward and Abraham Lincoln—Greeley in the field of journalism, Seward in the two realms of idealistic and practical politics, and, greatest of all, Abraham Lincoln who won and held the people.

Reconstruction.—The larger tasks of the period from the close of the Civil War in 1865 to the inauguration of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 were three: first, to accomplish with the least possible disturbance the transition from war to peace; second, to settle certain matters of dispute with France and England that had arisen during the progress of the war; and third, to reconstruct the South. Full responsibility for the way in which these tasks were discharged rests upon the Republican party, for it was in control of the presidency and the Senate throughout the period and of the House until December 1875. In the first and second it was notably successful. The soldiers of North and South returned at once to the fields of productive labour. The colossal war establishment was quickly reduced to the requirements of peace. The French withdrew from Mexico. The Alabama Claims were submitted to arbitration. But the reconstruction of the South proved difficult in the extreme. The strain of a prolonged and exhausting war, the upheaval of emancipation, and the utter collapse of the Confederate government, had thrown the elements of social, economic and civil life in the South into almost hopeless disorder. To restore these to normal relations and working was but part of the task; the other and more important part was to apply those methods of reconstruction which would tend to make one nation out of hitherto discordant sections. In his third annual message, Dec. 8th, 1863, Lincoln brought forward the so-called presidential plan of reconstruction. This was rejected on the ground that reconstruction was a Congressional rather than an executive function; and on the 4th of July 1864 Congress passed a bill making Congress instead of the president the chief agent in the work of reconstruction. President Johnson adopted Lincoln's plan, and put it into operation with such vigour that when Congress met in December 1865 all the states that had seceded were quite or nearly ready to demand the readmission of their representatives to the House and Senate.

From the standpoint of party the situation was highly critical. The men whom the newly reconstructed states had sent to Washington represented the old South and would naturally join the opposition. Although the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery, was assured, and a fortnight later was officially proclaimed, nevertheless the reconstructed legislatures were busy enacting police regulations which, in the opinion of most Republicans, threatened to re-enslave the freedmen. With an earnestness like that which the party in earlier days had shown in opposing the extension of slavery, it now resolved to secure full civil rights to the freedmen. Another consideration of great weight in shaping party policy was the need of maintaining the rights of Congress against executive encroachment. Owing to the war and Lincoln's masterful personality, the presidency had gained in prestige at the expense of Congress. The tendency thus established would be strengthened to a dangerous degree, it was thought, if the President were to take the leading part in reconstructing as well as in saving the Union. There now took place within the party a change of great importance. Hitherto the conservatives, represented by such leaders as Lincoln and Seward, had always won in struggles with the radical elements; but now the tide changed, and the radicals who were more narrowly national and more strongly partisan gained control, and ruled the party to the end of the period. This revolution within the Republican party between the years 1865 and 1867 was fostered by a marked recrudescence of sectional feeling in the North, and by the character of the successor of President Lincoln and of the party leaders in Congress. President Johnson while eminently patriotic and courageous, was tactless and imprudent to the last degree. Mr Sumner, the leader of the Senate, was not conciliatory in manner, and while incapable of revengeful feeling seemed more considerate of the freedman than of the Southern white. Thaddeus Stevens, whose influence over the House of Representatives was stronger than that of Sumner over the Senate, regarded the South as "a conquered province," and his personal feelings towards the ruling class of the South were harshly vindictive. The policy adopted by the Republican majority in each house of Congress was to refuse admission to the men chosen by the states that had been reconstructed under the presidential plan, until a joint-committee of both houses should investigate conditions in the South. In this rebuff there was distinct intimation of a purpose to set aside altogether the reconstructive work of the President. Congress proceeded at once to enact measures to continue and extend the earlier temporary provision for helpless freedmen whom emancipation had set adrift, and to give them full civil rights. By passing the Fourteenth Amendment in June 1866 Congress committed itself to the policy of securing the civil rights of the negro by constitutional guarantee. Each of these acts was vetoed by the President, between whom and Congress political disagreement ripened soon into bitter enmity. As the quarrel developed Congress ignored the recommendations of the President, repassed by the requisite majority and without due consideration of his objections each measure that he vetoed, took from him the power to remove subordinates which had been exercised by his predecessors, deprived him of his constitutional rights as commander-in-chief of the army, and finally in 1868 undertook to drive him from office by impeachment.

In 1867 Congress, under the control of the radical wing of the Republican party, set aside nearly all reconstructive work that had been accomplished previously and put into execution a plan of its own, under which the Southern States were reconstructed anew and admitted to representation in Congress between the years 1867 and 1870. Inevitable consequences of the Congressional plan of reconstruction were: first, the erection of state governments that were inefficient, corrupt, ruinously wasteful and shamefully oppressive; second, the extreme demoralization of the freedmen suddenly transformed from slaves into rulers of their former masters; third, the demoralization, in many cases also extreme, of the great body of the Southern whites by the expedients to which they resorted in order to escape from the rule of the freedman, led by the "Carpet Bagger" his Northern, and the "Scalawag" his Southern, white ally; fourth, the alienation of the white and coloured races in the South,—an alienation which was to each a source of immeasurable evils; fifth, the speedy overthrow on the withdrawal of military support of the governments set up under the Congressional plan, and the creation of a South "solid" in resentful opposition to the North and the Republican party. And sixth, as the outcome of all these results, an unfortunate delay in reuniting North and South. The Republican party suffered during this period a moral decline, seen in the frequent efforts to gain party advantage by kindling anew the earlier sectional animosities, a growing arrogance, the increasing weight of the partisan and spoilsman in party management, and the widespread corruption that came to light in the "scandals" of the second administration of General Grant. The mismanaged Liberal Republican movement of 1870–1872 was a reaction against this moral decline and a protest against the Southern policy of the party and its support of the "Spoils" system. The service of the Liberal Republicans consisted mainly in the aid they gave to the reform of the Republican party and in the influence they exerted to induce the Democratic party to accept the results of the war.

But despite the warnings it received, the prestige it had gained during the war and the popularity of President Grant, the Republican party lost ground steadily during the second half of the period. In the election of 1874 the Democratic party gained control of the House of Representatives; and in the election of 1876 came within a hair's breadth of winning the presidency.

Election of Mr Hayes to that of Mr McKinley, 1876–1896.—During these twenty years the subsidence of old and the rise of new issues led to a reconstruction of the party system, which, although less radical than that of 1840 to 1860, brought into existence several new parties and changed in important respects the character and policies of those already in the field. From the standpoint of party history the chief interest of these twenty years lies in the answer to the question, How did the discredited Republican party secure in 1896 a new and prolonged lease of power? The task was not easy. The reconstruction policy of the party had alienated many Northern supporters and had made the South solidly Democratic. The prevalence of the spoils system and the scandals of the second administration of General Grant had hurt the prestige of the party as a guardian of public morals and of the national honour. What gave the Republicans a fighting chance were: its record down to the close of the Civil War; its proven aptitude for the tasks of government; and the growth among the people of a more vital national feeling which turned instinctively to the party that had saved the nation. Despite these substantial advantages over their Democratic rivals the Republicans lost the presidential elections of 1884 and 1892, and the entire Democratic party—some Republicans agreeing—has always held that a just decision of the contested election of 1876 would have seated Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic candidate, instead of Mr Hayes. In the Senate the Republicans were in a majority during fourteen years. In the House, whose members are chosen by popular vote, these figures were reversed, the Democrats having control during fourteen years. In each of five successive presidential elections, those of 1876, 1880, 1884, 1888 and 1892, the Democratic popular vote was larger than the Republican. Marked features of the party situation were the apparent similarity for a time of the principles of the two great parties, the influence on their policy exerted by the stronger minor parties, and the rise of the Mugwumps (not strictly a party), who claimed the right to vote for the best candidate independently of party and were in the main of Republican origin.

Of the issues of the period one, the reform of the civil service, was served by both of the great parties with imperfect fidelity. Each of the Republican presidents, Hayes, Garfield, Arthur and Harrison gave it efficient and steadfast support; and so did Cleveland, the Democratic president, although under stronger pressure from party hunger. The same was true in the case of the more important questions of foreign policy and, to a degree in its early stage, of the question of silver coinage. It was not so with the treatment of the South. President Hayes withdrew the national troops from S. Carolina and Louisiana and thus brought to an end Federal military interference with state governments. For this course a considerable section of the Republican party gave him thereafter a support which was half-hearted and inconstant. Further disaffection resulted from efforts to reform the civil service of New York which brought the President into conflict with the powerful Republican party machine in that state.[2] The high character of the President and his firm, wise and upright course raised the reputation of the party. His veto of the Silver Bill and the resumption of specie payments tended to the same result. The failure in 1880 of the third term movement for General Grant worked for the health of the party. The struggle of President Garfield with New York spoilsmen and his assassination by a disappointed office-seeker, gave a fresh impetus to the movement for the reform of the civil service. President Arthur maintained the high standard established by Presidents Hayes and Garfield.

In the election of 1884 the old parties were competitors for the confidence of the conservative and reforming elements of the country. Mr Blaine, the Republican candidate, who in brilliancy, popularity, patriotism, and disappointing personal fortunes recalled the Whig leader, Henry Clay, lost the election by a narrow margin because, while meeting the requirements of the conservatives, he had lost in a measure the confidence of the reformers.

In the election of 1888 Mr Cleveland, by making tariff reform the issue, turned the manufacturing interests to the support of Mr Harrison, the candidate of the Republicans, who thereby won the election. Mr Harrison, while not personally popular, maintained the best traditions of his Republican predecessors. The highly protective McKinley tariff, framed in obedience to the people's mandate in 1888, proved somewhat disappointing, and in the election of 1892, Mr Cleveland, as the champion of lower tariff rates, was successful for the second time. Mr Cleveland, at the beginning of his second term, secured the repeal of the act for the purchase of silver, and thus strengthened himself with the conservatives of both parties. Democratic defection in the Senate nullified largely the downward revision of the tariff urged by the President and supported by the House.

The election of 1896 marked the close of the period of party readjustment. The leading issue was the free coinage of silver under conditions which would have made the monetary standard silver instead of gold, and would have lowered its value. The Democratic convention repudiated Mr Cleveland, accepted free coinage, and nominated W. J. Bryan. The Republicans, at the cost of a formidable party defection, endorsed the gold standard and a highly protective tariff, and nominated William McKinley, whose record and character made him an exceptionally strong candidate. In doing this the Democratic organization became the party of radicalism, the Republican, the party of conservatism. The committal of the Republican party to the maintenance of the gold standard far more than its continued support of high protection, established its position in the reconstructed party system. In doing this it allied its fortunes with those of all the property-holding classes of the country, while retaining in a high degree the confidence of the wage-earners.

Period 1897–1910.—During this period there was first a rapid recovery from economic depression, and then ten years of almost unexampled prosperity, followed by two years of moderate depression. But the period is chiefly memorable for the war of 1898 with Spain; for the oversea territorial expansion that followed; for the rise of the so-called policy of imperialism; for the assumption of a far more prominent international rôle; for wide-reaching measures of internal reform; and, lastly, for the establishment of the policy of conserving the natural resources of the nation.

Throughout this period the Republican party had undisputed control of the national government. One of the earliest acts in the administration of Mr McKinley was the enactment in 1897 of the highly protective Dingley Tariff. The provision for Reciprocity proved at first of little use. But the need of foreign markets for the rapidly growing output of manufactured products, the rising demand that the interests of the home consumer, as well as those of the producer, should be considered, and the conviction that high protection fostered monopolies, brought about a change of sentiment in the party. Mr McKinley, in his last speech, made at the Buffalo Exposition on the 5th of September 1901, gave voice to this change: "The period of exclusiveness is past. The expansion of our trade and commerce is the pressing problem. Commercial wars are unprofitable. A policy of good will and friendly trade relations will prevent reprisals. Reciprocity treaties are in harmony with the spirit of the times. Measures of retaliation are not." These views gained headway against the strenuous opposition of the "stand-patters,"[3] until revision of the tariff downward was demanded in the platform of 1908, and achieved to a moderate degree in the Tariff Act of 1909. The party has also fulfilled its promise to establish the gold monetary standard on a firm basis. During the war with Spain and in meeting the new problems of colonial empire, the Republican party has again justified its reputation for efficiency. Not less noteworthy has been the policy of the party initiated and urged by President Theodore Roosevelt and developed by President W. H. Taft for the regulation of railways and all corporations and trusts engaged in interstate business. The latest important event in the history of the Republican party is the rise of the "Insurgents," a group of senators and congressmen whose professed aims are to resist centralization in both party and national government, to lessen the influence of the money power over public policy, to regulate tariff schedules largely in the interest of the consumer, and in brief to emphasize anew the subordination of party and government to the will and service of the people.

BIBLIOGRAPHY.—See Francis Curtis, History of the Republican Party (2 vols., New York, 1904); J. F. Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 (ibid., 1893–1904); J. W. Burgess, The Middle Period (New York, 1897), The Civil War and the Constitution (ibid., 1899), and Reconstruction and the Constitution (ibid., 1902); T. C. Smith, The Parties and Slavery, 1851–1859 (ibid., 1906); Henry Wilson, Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America (3 vols., Boston, 1872–77); J. G. Blaine, Twenty Years of Congress (2 vols., Norwich, Conn., 1884–1886); Horace Greeley, The American Conflict (2 vols., Hartford, 1864–66); J. G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln, A History (10 vols., New York, 1890); J. T. Morse, Life of Lincoln (2 vols., Boston, 1893); F. Bancroft, Life of W. H. Seward (New York, 1900); H. E. Von Holst, Political and Constitutional History of the United States (Chicago, 1899); and E. Stanwood, History of the Presidency (Boston, 1898).

(A. D. Mo.)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. The party organized by Thomas Jefferson; the National Republicans, 1824–1834; and the Republican party of the present.
  2. In the course of this conflict, which continued to disturb the harmony of the Republican party until the death of President Garfield, the term "Stalwarts" was used to designate the supporters of Senator Conkling, who was in control of the Republican machine in New York state, and the term "Half-Breeds" to designate the supporters of the administration.
  3. Those members of the Republican party who would maintain as far as possible the high protective duties of the Dingley Tariff.