Posts Tagged ‘Republican Party’

The Election of 1856

November 20, 2016

The election of 1856,may have been one of the most important elections in American history. The country was beginning to tear itself apart over slavery and wise, tactful leadership was needed to avert a civil war. Unfortunately the political generation that had produced such legislative giants as Henry Clay and Daniel Webster had passed away the candidates of both major parties, the Democrats and the newly formed Republicans in their first presidential contest, were mediocrities.

The Compromise of 1850 had only delayed the inevitable clash between North and South over slavery. Although the immediate issue of whether the territories won from Mexico would be slave or free territories, the provision that the territories themselves would make the choice to permit slavery through popular sovereignty effectively repealed the Missouri compromise and made future conflicts over the expansion of slavery more likely.

The Compromise of 1850

The Compromise of 1850

When the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and permitted popular sovereignty on the slavery question, pro and anti slavery settlers poured into Kansas and began fighting a miniature civil war, foreshadowing the greater war to come.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Kansas-Nebraska Act

The Democratic National Convention was held in Cincinnati on June 2. The delegates declined to nominate President Franklin Pierce for a second term. Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the author of the Kansas-Nebraska Act seemed to be a strong contender for the nomination, but he was passed over for James Buchanan of Pennsylvania. Buchanan was very well qualified to part the job of chief executive, at least in theory. He had been serving as American ambassador to Great Britain at the time he was nominated and had previously held the posts of Secretary of State under President Polk, U S Senator from Pennsylvania from 1834 to 1845; where he served as Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, Ambassador to Russia under President Andrew Jackson from 1832-1833, and Congressman from Pennsylvania from 1821-1831. Buchanan had also served as a private in the Pennsylvania militia during the War of 1812. Despite his long career of service to his country, Buchanan was not particularly distinguished as a leader and the most likely reason he was nominated was because he had been out of the country during the controversies surrounding the Kansas-Nebraska Act and Bleeding Kansas. Buchanan was not known to have said anything about the issue of slavery that would upset the South and although he was a Northerner, he seemed sympathetic to the South and its peculiar institution.

For Buchanan’s running mate, the delegates selected John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky, who had been a Congressman from 1851-1855. Breckinridge would have preferred not to be nominated as Buchanan’s running mate, as he had supported Pierce and the two men did not get along, but he acquiesced. The Democrats went on to adopt a platform of popular sovereignty on the slavery question and support for the Ostend Manifesto which called for the acquisition of Cuba from Spain.

The Republicans met for their first national convention in Philadelphia of June 17. The Republican party  was formed from a coalition of former Whigs, Free-Soilers, and anti-slavery democrats to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act and was formally launched at a mass meeting at Jackson, Michigan back on July 6, 1854 and quickly began to win elections throughout the North that fall. The Republican Party was an explicitly anti-slavery party, but they didn’t call for the abolition of slavery where it existed, only for slavery not to expand into the western territories.

The Republicans chose the famous explorer and military hero John C. Fremont to be their presidential candidate. Fremont was known as “The Pathfinder” for his expeditions in the west and had captured California, during the Mexican War and had briefly served a contentious term as military governor there. After the was, Fremont had settled in California and served as one of the new state’s first Senators from 1850-1851. Fremont was not particularly well qualified to be president, but he did have a catchy slogan, “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont”. The Republicans went on to pick former New Jersey Senator William L. Dayton as his running mate.

 

There were other parties who ran candidates in this election, the most notable being the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic American Party. The American Party was as much a secret society as a political party and because its members answered. “I know nothing when asked about its activities, the movement became known as the Know-Nothings. The American Party had managed to win a few elections, chiefly in New England. At their convention in Philadelphia in February 1856, the Know-Nothings nominated former president

 Millard Fillmore as their candidate, even though he had not been a follower of their movement and was, in fact, out of the country. They selected Andrew Jackson Donelson as their Vice-Presidential candidate.There were also the remnants of the Whig Party which met in Baltimore in September, They also nominated Millard Fillmore.

Along with the debate over slavery, there was the usual nineteenth century campaign hoopla, with parades, mass meetings, speeches, and political clubs. The Republicans did not run in the southern states, which were expected to vote for Buchanan and the Democrats,  so most of the campaigning was in the North and West. The Republicans opposed the extension of slavery into new territories and appealed to western farmers who did not want to have to compete with slave labor and eastern businessmen who supported high tariffs to protect American industry and fund internal improvements. Mainly of these businessmen supported the Democrats, however, fearing possible economic disruption if the Republicans won. The Democrats appealed to racism, calling their opponents “Black Republicans” and warned that the South would secede in the event of a Republican victory. They also claimed that Fremont was secretly a Catholic. Oddly, this did not help him get the Catholic vote, since the Catholics somehow believed that he was connected to the Know-Nothings.

In the end, the people of the North decided that they feared disunion and civil war more than they disliked slavery. Buchanan got 1,836,072 popular votes (45.3%) and 174 electoral votes, sweeping the entire South, California, and Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey in the North. Fremont did not do too badly considering that this was the Republicans’ first national election. He won 1,342,345 popular votes (33.1%) and 114 electoral votes, winning the rest of the North. The American Party also did surprisingly well with 873,053 popular votes (21.5%) and they won the state of Maryland with its 8 electoral votes. The fact that the results were divided upon sectional lines was more than a little ominous, as were the Southern threats to secede if the election wouldn’t go their way.

The Election of 1856

The Election of 1856

 

At his inauguration, President James Buchanan spoke of the nation’s bright future of economic progress and territorial expansion. About the slavery issue, he only said that he supported popular sovereignty in the territories and hoped that the upcoming decision by the Supreme Court on Dred Scott v. Sanford would settle the matter once and for all. Just two days later, the Supreme Court rendered its decision declaring that Congress had no power to regulate slavery in the territories, and all hell broke loose.

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Liberals and Conservatives

May 20, 2013

About two weeks ago, I read a column at Townhall.com by Kyle Olson, alleging that a school assignment on civics was a thinly disguised attempt at political indoctrination.

Eighth-graders in Wisconsin’s Union Grove school district were assigned to fill out a “Liberalism vs. Conservatism” crossword puzzle, and they learned some new and very questionable “facts.”

Students learned conservatism is “the political belief of preserving traditional moral values by restricting personal freedoms … ”

Conversely, they learned liberalism is “the political belief of equality and personal freedom for everyone, often changing the current system to increase government protection of civil liberties.”

The crossword puzzle was part of a civics assignment that was forwarded to EAGnews by Tamara Varebrook, a local conservative activist whose eighth-grade daughter received the lesson at Union Grove Elementary School yesterday.

Varebrook said she posted the assignment on her Facebook page to share with other parents who might not be aware of the blatant political bias and effort at indoctrination, disguised as “civics.”

“The definitions of conservatism and liberalism make me sick,” Varebook told EAGnews. “I think it’s horribly distorted and it’s biased.”

Varebrook, who serves on her local Republican Party board and has appeared in commercials promoting conservative values, said she was particularly disturbed by the definition of conservatism as “restricting personal freedom.”

“It’s insinuating conservatives don’t believe in people having civil liberties. That it’s only for old-fashioned fuddy-duddies,” Varebrook said. “That’s completely negative. It’s completely false.”

Last time we checked, it’s the big government progressives who are determined to restrict personal freedoms. You know, the bans on sugary drinks, fatty foods, snacks at school lunch time, salt intake, etc.

I am not sure if political indoctrination is the intent here, although in our public schools that is always a possibility. As far as I can tell, the definitions of liberal and conservative are accurate, at least according to the dictionary. The real problem is that the dictionary definitions of words like liberal and conservative do not do a very good job of describing American politics and are actually very misleading.

Consider the dictionary definitions. According to The Free Dictionary, to be liberal is;

a. Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry.
b. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded.
while a conservative is someone who is;
Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change.
If you think about the history of American politics for the last few decades, it always seems to be the “conservatives who favor new ideas, while the “liberals’ always seem to be the ones who oppose any change. The conservative Ronald Reagan wanted to make changes in the tax code, etc. The liberals in Congress tried to stop him. Newt Gingrich was the conservative who wanted to change things. His opponents were the Democrats who wanted to keep things the same. The conservative George W. Bush wanted to partially privatize Social Security to keep it solvent. The liberals were determined to prevent any reform of Social Security. More recently, the conservative Paul Ryan has wanted to change Medicare and make cuts in government spending. The liberal Barack Obama wants to keep Medicare the same and continue to increase government spending. Conservatives believe that racial attitudes in America have changed sufficiently that laws passed in the Civil Rights era may no longer be necessary. Liberals shout, “affirmative action today, affirmative action tomorrow,  affirmative action forever!!!”. Obamacare is a major change in the health care system in this country, yet it seems to be a program closer to the sort of one size fits all government programs of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society or Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, than something appropriate for the post-industrial, information age, economy of the twenty-first century. It is a policy taking us back to the past rather than forward into the future.
If you go beyond dictionary definitions into the actual ideologies of liberalism and conservatism, the discrepancy becomes even clearer. Historically, liberals have believed in the rights and freedom of the individual, limited constitutional government based on natural rights and natural law, and free trade and the free market. This does not sound very much like the beliefs of contemporary liberals. Conservatives have generally emphasized tradition,religion, authority, the concept of society as an organic whole, property rights, and the concept of experience over ideology in setting policies. I am not sure that any party in America entirely subscribes to this set of ideas, not even Rush Limbaugh, who is actually a classical liberal.

That famous liberal Rush Limbaugh

That famous liberal Rush Limbaugh

I think that what has happened is that conservatives in America have become conservative about liberal values. In other words the sort of things that conservatives want to conserve as traditions and sources of authority are the classical liberal ideas of human rights and freedom. The political philosophy that has emerged from this amalgamation cannot be accurately described as either liberal or conservative. Perhaps the conservatives ought to be called conservative-liberals, or liberal-conservatives, or something like that. Libertarian would be a good title but it has already been taken by the people who want practically no government at all.
What about the “liberals”. I suppose people like Mayor Bloomberg, with his obsession over what New Yorkers eat and drink, as well as many liberals who seek to control our lives for our own good, could be seen as acting in the tradition of paternalistic conservatism. When you consider the liberal desire to prevent any serious reform of New Deal or Great Society programs, this might make sense. Still the liberals seem uninterested in conserving any part of society except for the state and they are certainly not interested in preserving traditional values of any sort. I am tempted to refer to them as Socialists, since many, if not all the people who identify as liberals prefer the widespread government control over the economy that is the aim of Socialism. Since the one value that all contemporary liberals support is the exaltation of the state or government over every other institution, perhaps “Statist” is an appropriate name for them. Since they seem to believe that every aspect of life, even the most personal, should be politicized and  under the control of government, totalitarians might be accurate.

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