Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1848-1865

Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1848-1865

Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1848-1865

Race and the Rise of the Republican Party, 1848-1865

Excerpt

During the antebellum period, and in particular in the 1840's and 1850's, the antislavery movement in the Northeastern and Western sections of the United States became increasingly politicized. Rather than remaining the almost exclusive domain of a handful of abolitionists, the antislavery cause became popular with a large number of Eastern and Western politicians, newspaper editors and popular writers. Beginning with the formation of the Liberty Party in 1839 and, more importantly for the purpose of this study, with that amorphous mass known as the Free Soil movement in the 1840's, and its outgrowth, the Free Soil Party in 1848 and the Republican Party in 1854, the antislavery cause achieved political significance. This work demonstrates that racial considerations formed a crucial element in Free Soil and Republican antislavery thought and action. At the same time, it will show that not all Free Soilers and Republicans were consistently swayed by racist dogma, that a small but significant minority at times expressed opinions on the Negro race and its place in American society that were contrary to those held by the majority in their parties.

Relatively large numbers of Free Soilers and Republicans endorsed ideas on race currently held by many of those associated with the scientific and learned communities of the period, ideas which viewed the Negro as racially, that is, as biologically, inferior to the Caucasian and the Caucasian race as superior to all others. Numerous learned writers, physicians and scientists, including some founding members of the Free Soil and Republican Parties, claimed that differences among the races, not simply physical but mental, were innate and hence permanent. Contrary to the belief in environmental causation held by many of the rationalist philosophers of the eighteenth century enlightenment and by the radical abolitionists and some intellectuals and scientists of the antebellum period, a belief which stressed the essential unity of all mankind, these writers maintained that environmental factors were inconsequential in influencing a person's development and ultimate worth. Race was the key determinant. In fact, each race had its own distinct and inborn characteristics. In essence, physical appearance alone was the key to correctly anticipating an individual's physical and mental capacities. More pointedly, all one had to do to judge an individual's abilities was to determine his or her skin color.

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