The Republican Party: Overall Issues, 1860-1868
The Republican party during the 1860’s was known as the party more concerned with “civil rights” and the common American. This came about through a series of sweeping changes in the party that occurred during two major time periods: the 1860-1864 and 1864-1868. The changes in the party reflected the attitude in the North as opposed to the confederate, democratic South. The main issue that divided the two was slavery and its implications for control of the nation.
The best illustration of the party’s anti-slavery sentiment (as contrasted to abolitionism) in 1860, is the fact that although the party was against slavery , it refused to attempt to stamp it out of the regions it was already present. For example, in the Republican Party Platform for 1860, the party states its abhorrence for slavery and declares that slavery should not be instituted into new territories, but it never tries to outlaw it from Southern states.
“That the normal conditions of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom…and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature or of any individuals, to give existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States.”
In the first four years of the 1860’s, the North and South waged war over these issues, with the Republican North emerging victorious. The Republicans took charge of the national political power. Although he worked with an anti-slavery platform, President Lincoln attempted to make a generous peace with the South, with hopes of expanding the power of the Republican party with support from the South. Examples of this can be found in the fact that Confederate officials were not barred from public office, compensation for lost slaves was not ruled out and Lincoln hinted that he would be generous with pardons to rebel leaders. With the Emancipation Proclamation, the Republicans gained freedom for slaves, but not social or political equality.
During the years of 1864-1868, the Republican platform again changed with the public opinion in the North to one of abolition. In the platform for the National Union Convention, the party affirmed its support for an Amendment to “terminate and forever prohibit the existence of slavery within the limits or jurisdiction of the United States.” The 13th Amendment confirmed the death of slavery. However, the so-called “Black Codes” that Southern governments implemented forced abolitionist Republicans in Congress to clash with President Andrew Johnson over the passage of a new Freedmen’s Bureau bill and a Civil Rights Act. This clash signified a division between the old Republican values of tolerance and the new platform of slave rights. This led to the passage of the 14th amendment, which declared all slaves as citizens and defined their voting privileges as equal to every other citizen. The radical republicans had achieved their goal. With freedmen able to vote, the Republic party would be able to carry more of the Southern states in elections and maintain control.
Near the end of the Reconstruction Era, the Republican party underwent even more changes. With the slavery issue settled in their eyes, scandals in the party, and the threat of violence from various hate groups keeping freedmen from voting, its attentions began to turn elsewhere. The metamorphosis that the party underwent through the 1860’s was a direct result of the popular opinion in the North at the time. As the detestment of slavery grew in the North, so did the Republican legislation grow more severe against it, starting with the party platforms and ending with the ratification of the 14th Amendment.