Anti-Racism in U. S. History: The First Two Hundred Years

By Herbert Aptheker | Go to book overview

16
From Liberty Party to
Republican Party

In the politics of the ten or fifteen years prior to the Civil War, racism and anti-racism played a significant role. Those who held power in the slaveholding states intensified repression and propaganda. In the remaining states efforts looking toward compromise and, in effect, acquiescence with the status quo tended to dominate the scene and to control most forms by which opinion was created and dispensed.

Nevertheless, in the South, significant challenges to traditional parties and attitudes did surface, and in the North, despite all efforts at restraint, discontent with the political, economic, and ideological mainstream grew. In fact, by the mid-1850s, turmoil, not placidity, was characteristic.

Left-wing forces in Northern politics were minor in the 1840s, but their influence grew as the years passed; they were characterized by opposition to slavery and the questioning of racism. While some recent literature, exemplified by the work of James B. Stewart, James M. McPherson, and Eric Foner in particular, has brought forward this development, the contrary attitude, particularly emphasizing the apparent omnipotence of racism, remains dominant. I believe that the challenging viewpoint is valid.

While moral suasionists, political activists, and advocates of militant resistance were present in the anti-slavery movement from its earliest appearance, the latter two groups tended to grow in relative importance as the slave system and those who opposed it matured. One of the earliest manifestations of political emphasis saw the founding of the Liberty party late in 1839. This political component, undergoing appropriate alterations, persisted and developed until it triumphed with the Republican party. While the level of slavery's rejection varied in the course of this development, the opposition to slavery's expansion, if not its existence, always was present. Comprehending the nature of the slave system, its supporters were correct

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