Construction and Reconstruction
The Civil War
“Liberty and Union” was Webster’s phrase and Webster, had he survived until its organization, would have become a leader of the Republican party. It was fitting that the party should take to itself his war-cry, though the exigencies of the time made it necessary for it to reverse the order. Union and Liberty was the first programme of the organization when it was entrusted with the government of the nation.
The first duty was to save the nation, to preserve and to vindicate the integrity of the Federal Union. Of this there was instant need since the southern Democrats, in fulfilment of their ante—election threats began the work of secession before Lincoln was installed in the presidency. This process was disapproved and deplored by Buchanan but no attempt was made by him to prevent it. His theory, openly proclaimed, was that the Federal government had no constitutional power to “coerce a sovereign state,” that is, to restrain it from seceding from the Union. So during the closing months of his administration the work of dismembering the Republic went on, directed and managed at Washington itself. When, therefore, the Republican administration of Lincoln was installed on March 4, 1861 it was for the first time in American history confronted with the spectacle and problem of a dissevered Union.