Freedom, Union, and Power: Lincoln and His Party during the Civil War

By Michael S. Green | Go to book overview

9
Reforming and
Remaking the Nation

WHILE THADDEUS STEVENS seemed to embody radical Republicanism, Thomas Ewing was a quintessential conservative. Known for bitter partisanship, blistering comments about colleagues and issues, and power over House Republicans before the title of majority leader existed, Stevens never hid his desire to free slaves and clothe them with economic and political freedom. A former senator and member of two presidential cabinets, Ewing became a conservative Republican. After joining the new party, the aging politicians retained enough Whiggery to support the internal improvements their old party deemed necessary to developing the nations economic power. The radical and the conservative endorsed a railroad to the Pacific. "We must either agree to surrender our Pacific possessions to a separate empire or unite them to the Atlantic by a permanent highway of this kind. The Romans consolidated their power by building solid roads from the capital to their provinces, " Stevens said. Lobbying for his father and the railroad builders, Thomas Ewing Jr. said, "We are waking up the Abolitionists in favor of the Bill on the ground that the increased demand for labor arising from the contracting for construction will give employ directly and indirectly to tens of thousands of the contrabands, about whom they are greatly troubled."1

This strange combination exemplified Republican ideology. Stevens, who later advocated turning plantations over to the ex-slaves who had worked on them and needs no defenders of his support for civil rights, spoke of national power and the need to secure the Pacific to the United States. Never noted for a commitment to black freedom, the Ewings advertised the railroad to radicals as a way to aid black laborers and the free labor cause. They sought basically the same ends through different means. If the radical and conservative somehow seemed to change places, they still occupied Republican ground. They

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