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

By Michael S. Green | Go to book overview

3
The Great Secession
Winter and the Politics of
Power and Responsibility

"A MEMORABLE DAY, " conservative Republican George Templeton Strong wrote on 6 November 1860, election day. "We do not know yet for what." Abraham Lincoln knew, telling reporters, "Well, boys, your troubles are over, mine have just begun." In six years his party had vaulted from sectional opponents to the presidency. Its call for freedom, combined with other planks and a divided opposition, had produced a victory that made Republicans responsible for governing the Union. But first came the winter of Southern secession and Republican discontent. By 4 March 1861, when Lincoln took office, seven states had seceded and formed the Confederacy. For four months Republicans endured a frustrating preparation for responsibility, with everything they did subject to scrutiny. Victory and secession forced them into new stands on the future of slavery and the Union, and to redefine and refine their ideology and purpose.1

This preparation for responsibility exasperated Republicans, but that winter midwifed the Civil War party and its redefined ideology. During six years on the outside looking in, they had insisted on spreading ideas of free soil and free labor. During the four months they had spent partway in, trying to fill some of the vacuum left by President James Buchanans irresolution and the Souths departure, the dominant themes of their wartime ideology—freedom, union, and power—came to the fore. If the growth of freedom was needed to preserve the Union as the framers had designed it, the Union was even more crucial to preserving freedom. The party's power, then and later, was needed to save the Union, whether or not that Union stood for freedom as strongly as its new leaders did. In years to come, they sought to resolve that contradiction. To have a Union there must be freedom; to have freedom

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