Lincoln on Race and Slavery

By Abraham Lincoln; Henry Louis Gates Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

15

AL to Owen Lovejoy:
CW, 2:316–317

In 1846, Lincoln won election as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives but served only one term. As he readied himself for a return to electoral politics eight years later, he found his party disintegrating. Despite their differing positions on slavery, the abolitionist Owen Lovejoy sought to bring Lincoln into the fledgling Republican Party. Lincoln proved reluctant to abandon the party of his revered mentor Henry Clay, wary of joining a party containing a strong antislavery faction. Lovejoy had long roots in abolitionist politics that culminated in four consecutive terms in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning in 1856. In 1840—three years after a proslavery mob murdered his brother Elijah, the editor of an antislavery newspaper—Lovejoy had cofounded the abolitionist Liberty Party, the first political party to run African Americans as political candidates. Though it never gained traction, the Liberty Party represented one influential precedent to the new organization that Lovejoy helped create out of the diverse political elements that opposed the 1854 KansasNebraska Act. A divided political landscape became further complicated by the rise of nativist parties like the anti-immigration Know Nothings. A large number of Whigs, themselves leery of foreigners, had defected to the Know Nothings after the Whig Party tried to recruit immigrants away from the Democratic Party. In early 1856, with the dissolution of the Whig Party all but complete, Lincoln led a group of Anti-Nebraska editors in drafting a declaration announcing the intentions of the Republican Party in the coming presidential election. It contained compromises that would allow a “fusion” party to form, incorporating the divergent platforms of antislavery advocates, immigrants, and Know Nothings. On May 29, 1856, Lincoln publicly broke with the Whigs and joined the Illinois Republican Party. For Lincoln's slow progress toward the Republicans, see: David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).

-71-

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