Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader

By Jonathan Bean | Go to book overview

2
The Republican Era
1854–1876

WITH THE ELECTORAL SUCCESS of the newly formed Republican Party (established in 1854), many classical liberals joined the party because of its opposition to slavery. Republicans, including Abraham Lincoln, declared slavery to be a moral wrong yet confined the political issue to whether slaves ought to exist in the territories of the United States. This expediency, or fear of getting ahead of public opinion, disillusioned classical liberals, who hoped for a firmer stance against slavery. When southern states seceded from the Union (1860–1861), President Lincoln backed his party’s passage of a constitutional amendment that would have inserted the right to own slaves within the federal Constitution. At the outset, Lincoln seemed willing to do anything to appease southerners and bring them back into the Union. In a published letter to newspaper editor Horace Greeley (August 19, 1862), Lincoln stated, “My paramount object is to save the Union, and not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the union without freeing any slave, I would do it—if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it—and if I could do it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”1 Lysander Spooner and Frederick Douglass criticized Lincoln for not making emancipation the centerpiece of his administration. Readers will find a trio of documents below contrasting the views of Lincoln, Spooner, and Douglass on slavery and the Civil War.

After the war, with North and South still divided over race, Republicans faced off against southern Democrats for generations to come. Despite its temporizing, the Republican Party was arguably the party of civil rights, as seen in many of the documents below. The Democratic Party was simply “wrong on race,” as

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