The Venomous Vulgarian: the Lasting Toxic Legacy of Donald Trump

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I watched and listened to Donald Trump before and after the third and thankfully final debate of the 2016 Presidential election, I was struck with just how viscous, vulgar, and venomous this man is. I cannot remember anyone in American politics at the national level, Republican or Democrat, or for that matter even Whig, who ever managed to immerse himself so deeply into the amoral, unethical, and undemocratic sewer that Trump has bathed himself, the Republican Party and this nation. 

Trump’s toxicity is unparalleled in American politics. Everything and everyone who has ever had anything to do with him is poisoned by his touch. Wives, business partners, contractors, employees, political advisors, and supporters have all been stained by the Mustard Gas that Trump emits on a minute to minute basis. Maybe the most stained are the Evangelical Christian church leaders who have not only endorsed and defended Trump, but  who positively described his character as Christian and said nothing about Trump’s words and actions, which if an opponent had uttered, or had been accused, they would have excoriated with a particularly “Christian” self-righteousness.  Their actions have stained the witness of the church for at least the next generation and it is no wonder that young people are fleeing the church. I specifically use the imagery of Mustard Gas, not just because of its toxicity, but because of its persistence. The battlefields of World War One France and Belgium are still contaminated by it, and the toxic residue still injures people today. 

That my friends is the poisonous and corrosive effect of Donald Trump on this country.  He is a toxic and persistent threat to everyone, even his most devout followers. Race baiting, misogynistic, narcissistic, vulgar, and ignorant, Trump spews his vile venom of conspiracy theories wrapped in fiction, and coated in lies, and buttressed with near pornograpic misogyny in every direction. He has given his supporters in the heavily armed Alt-Right, the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and White Supremacists the boldness to come out of hiding because he has normalized their hate, something that no Western statesman or politician has done since before the verdicts at Nuremberg. 

I have long felt that Trump reminded me of Nazi leaders, but frankly most of them, while every bit as toxic as Trump were both more intelligent and were better able to cover the darkness of their amoral souls with a modicum of respectability, with the exception of one; the publisher of the infamous newspaper Der Sturmer, and Gauleiter of Nuremberg, Julius Streicher. 

Robert Jackson, the Associate Justice of the Supreme Court who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg referred to Streicher in his summation: 

“Streicher, the venomous vulgarian, manufactured and distributed obscene racial libels which incited the populace to accept and assist the progressively savage operations of “race purification.” 

Is that not exactly what Trump has done during his seventeen month campaign to stir up race hatred against Mexicans and Arabs, not to mention Asians and Blacks? Of course it is, which is exactly why the leaders of the Alt-Right claim him as their candidate, the man who in their perverted minds has made them respectable again and ready to assume their place in Trump’s new order. Anti-Semitism and racism runs rampant in the words of his closest collaborators such as the Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, as well as Alt-Right Neo-Nazi and KKK leaders like David Duke, Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, and Peter Brimalow. 

My friends, what you see in Trump is what you get. Unlike Hitler and Goering, but much like Streicher, Trump has no capability of maintaining any sort of respectability. He has been stoking the fires of violence by claiming that the election is rigged and pumping up his followers for violence if he loses. 

Donald Trump is dangerous and will remain an enemy of the American experiment long after he is defeated on November 8th. 

Until tomorrow,


Padre Steve+ 

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Trump and the Alt-Right: it can Happen Here

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am writing this before the final debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. I will blog my comments about the debate later and those observations will be posted tomorrow morning. 

But tonight I have just a thought. Most of my readers know my background in history and the history of the Weimar and Nazi eras, and some know that my primary history professor when I was an undergraduate was an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials. As such I have spent much of my life studying those eras as well as the trials themselves. When teaching ethics at the Staff College I spend a good amount of time on the subject in order that the men and women who will be advising leaders at the operational and strategic levels of warfare and national security strategy will understand just how important it is not just to follow orders, and to weigh ethics, morality, and international law when they propose a course of action to our civilian and military policy makers. 

I just finished reading Robert E. Conot’s book Justice at Nuremberg which was published in my junior year of college back in 1981. That was an era when the people that now refer to themselves as the Alt Right were in full Holocaust denial mode. Not only that the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party were riding a temporary wave of popularity. Conot wrote this as he ended his masterpiece about the Nuremberg trials:

“The begetters of the ultra-right-wing movement that denies the Holocaust and sanitize the Nazi regime and sugarcoat the culpability of its leaders are the successors to the proponents of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In place of the fiction that the Jews are conspiring to dominate the world, they proposed the Big Lie that the Holocaust is a myth, designed by the Jews for ulterior purposes. The new anti-Semites use the same techniques as the old, and their goal is also the same. To denigrate and discredit not only the Jewish faith but all men of liberal and democratic persuasion, so as to pave the way for a rescrudivence of persecution and tyranny…

In lockstep with these pernicious propagandists March new-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, demonstrating for “Aryan” supremacy, urging the deportation of Jews and blacks, employing Hitlerian euphemisms, and manipulating democratic processes and guarantees in the same manner as Hitler a century ago. Never let it be forgotten thatHitler exploited the freedom granted him by the Weimar constitution to destroy the republic. The rise of a new Hitler in an industrial nation may be remote, but it is not impossible. Given the proper combination of circumstances, no country, including the United States, is immune.” 

That is where we stand today. Donald Trump makes the same threats against political opponents as did Hitler. He singles out liberal Jews, hispanics, Muslims, African Americans, women, Gays, Democrats, and even Republican opponents as he launches his vitriolic Twitter tirades at all hours of the day. His strongest supporters seem to be the members of what is now called the “Alt-Right” which is little more than a polite and politically correct term for Nazis and Kansmen including the former head of the KKK, David Duke. Armed Alt-Right Trump supporters are already menacing Democratic offices, threatening all opponents, and preparing to create havoc at polling places. 

Like Hitler before him, Trump is working to discredit the democratic process from within, and providing his most strident and potentially violent and already hate-filled supporters with the argument that the election is fixed and that he is opposed by the liberal media. It is an old and tired argument, not at all dissimilar to those of Hitler and Goebbels in the 1932 German Presidential election which Hitler lost to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, and which they used to destroy their political opponents after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in January 1933. 

Trump and his Alt-Right supporters are truly dangerous, and not just to those who oppose them today. They are equally dangerous to those who for whatever reason chose to support him now, just as they were to the German conservatives who initially supported Hitler and then found out that they had supported a criminal. 

We can never forger the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller, who wrote:

“I found myself wondering about that too.I wonder about it as much as I regret it. Still, it is true Hitler betrayed me. I had an audience with him, as a representative of the Protestant Church, shortly before he became chancellor in 1932. Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreeed not to allow programs against the Jews, assuring me as follows: “There will be restrictions against the Jews, but no ghettos, no programs, in Germany, at that time… I hated the growing atheistic movement, which was fostered and promoted by the Social Democrats and Communists. Their hostility toward the church made me pin my hopes on Hitler for a while. I am paying for that mistake now; and not mine alone, but thousands of other persons like me.” 

Unlike so many of the “conservative Christians” who now wholeheartedly support Trump, I will not be deceived. I know the price. I have been to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. I have been to Nuremberg. As a historian I know exactly who Trump is and what he promises, and I will not stop speaking out. 

Until tomorrow, or maybe even later tonight, 


Padre Steve+

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When Political Parties Implode: “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” Secession


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is the last section that I am posting regarding the breakup of the Whig and Democratic Parties in the years leading up to the Civil War. I think this one is very relevant today as Donald Trump and his supporters are calling the validity of  the election into question and threatening violence, coups, and revolution should Hillary Clinton be elected. There is no wisdom found in their actions. Driven by over 30 years of propaganda and over 50 years of measures that gave persecuted minorities such as African Americans, Hispanics, Women, and Gays the same basic rights as the white majority, the anger has reached a fever pitch and much of the Republican Party and what is so wrongly called the Conservative movement has gone mad. The title of this article includes the comment of William Lloyd Garrison in describing the mood of the South as Southern States began to secede. I wonder who will be the Republican Stephen Douglas who will attempt to pull the party out of the abyss that it is throwing itself headlong into. The irony is, that it is now the Republican Party that is doing what the Democrats did in 1860, but then the Republicans beginning in the 1960s became the old Democratic Party when they brought in the Dixiecrats and adopted the Southern Strategy.

I hope you enjoy,


Padre Steve+


After the election Lincoln tried to reassure the South that he would remain true to his campaign promise not to interfere with slavery where it already existed, but he also refused to give in to threats of secession. Despite his belief that anything that he said would be twisted into the exact opposite by Southerners, Lincoln released a statement through Senator Lyman Trumbull in Springfield saying:

“The states will be left in complete control of their affairs and property within their respective limits as they have under any administration. I regard it as extremely fortunate for the peace of the whole country, that this point, upon which the Republicans have been for so long, as so presently misrepresented, is now brought to a practical test, and placed beyond the possibility of doubt. Disunionists per se, are now in hot haste to get out of the Union, precisely because they perceive they cannot, much longer, maintain apprehension among the southern people that in their homes, and firesides, and lives, are to be endangered by the action of the Federal Government.” [1]

On his way to Washington D.C. the President Elect stopped in New York and gave a speech  “promising that he would “never of his own volition “consent to the destruction of this Union,” he qualified this promise with “unless it were that to be that thing for which the Union itself was made.” [2]  Two days later Lincoln speaking Independence Hall in Philadelphia Lincoln further detailed what he meant in New York, going back to the premise of the Declaration of Independence in which “he asserted that he “never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration…. I was not the mere matter of separation of the colonies from the mother land; but rather something in that Declaration” that provided “hope for the world for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weights should be lifted from the shoulders of all men, and that all should have an equal chance.” [3] It was a thought that he would continue to refine in the Emancipation Proclamation Gettysburg Address, the Thirteenth Amendment and in his Second Inaugural Address.

Stephen A. Douglas tried to reassure the Southern leaders as well even as argued against secession. He reminded Southerners how he had fought against Lincoln and the platform of the Republican Party and stated “that the mere election of any man to the Presidency does not furnish just cause for dissolving the Union.” [4] Addressing Southern concerns in a pragmatic way, the Little Giant tried to diffuse Southern fears by reminding them that the answer to their fears lay in the checks and balances laid out in the Constitution and in the ballot box. Douglas’s next words redound to the present day:

“It is apprehended that the policy of Mr. Lincoln and the principles of his party endanger the peace of the slaveholding states. Is that apprehension founded? No, it is not. Mr. Lincoln and his party lack the power, even if they had the disposition, to disturb or impair the rights and institutions of the South. They certainly cannot harm the South under existing laws. Will they have the power to repeal or change these laws, or to enact others? It is well known that they will be a minority in both houses of Congress, with the Supreme Court against them. Hence no bill can pass either house of Congress impairing or disturbing these rights or institutions of the southern people in any manner whatever, unless a portion of southern senators and representatives absent themselves so as to give an abolition majority in consequence of their actions.

In short, the President will be utterly powerless to do evil…. Four years shall soon pass, when the ballot box will furnish a peaceful, legal, and constitutional remedy for the evils and grievances with which the country might be afflicted.” [5]

An attempt in Congress led by President James Buchanan and Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky to bring about a constitutional compromise to mollify both sides was considered. A committee of thirteen senators was convened to entertain various compromise propositions, however, most of the suggested compromises were heavily weighted toward Southern interests, though it promised to restore the prohibition of slavery north of the line drawn in the Missouri Compromise.

A frustrated Lincoln wrote, “I’ll tell you now what bothered me: the compromises measures introduced in Congress required the Republicans to make all the concessions.” [6] Lincoln warned Crittenden that such proposals would not be acceptable: “Entertain no proposition for a compromise in regard to the extension of slavery…. The instant you do they have us under again…. The tug has to come & better now than later.” [7]

Lincoln had seen how for four decades Southerners had pushed for compromises that only benefited them and the extension of slavery, even at the expense of Northern states rights and he was not about to let it happen again. The President Elect wrote:

“The Crittenden plan, I feared, would put the country back on the high road to a slave empire. Whether it was the revival of the Missouri Compromise line or a popular sovereignty, it was all the same. “Let neither be done,” I warned Republicans in Washington, “and immediately filibustering and extending slavery recommences. Within a year, we shall have to take Cuba as a condition on which the South will stay in the Union. Next it will be Mexico, then Central American. On the territorial question, I am inflexible. On that point hold firm as a chain of steel…” [8]

In the South the efforts of staunch Southern Unionists like Alexander Stephens to discourage secession were dismissed as the movement toward secession became a passion filled revolutionary movement, which acted as a cathartic movement for many Southerners. Like Douglas, Stephens had the greatest faith in the checks and balances provided in the Constitution and he pleaded with his fellow Georgians at the state capital of Milledgeville noting that the checks and balances “would render Lincoln “powerless to do any great mischief,” and he warned that “the dissolution of the Union would endanger this “Eden of the world,” that “instead of becoming gods, we shall become demons, and no distant day commence cutting one another’s throats…” [9] While his speech received favorable coverage in the North and even in London, it was met with little enthusiasm at home.

Influential Southern preachers joined in the push for secession and warned of what they saw as the dire consequences of Lincoln’s election. The Baptist clergyman James Furman expressed the outrage and paranoia of many in the South by warning after Lincoln’s election “If you are tame enough to submit, Abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” [10] Likewise entire southern denominations began to endorse secession, southern Methodists raised “alarms about a Union dominated by abolitionists as they called on the Lord for deliverance from the northern “Egypt.” The division of Israel and Judah (not to mention the nation’s already fractured churches became typologies for the American crisis. Just as southern Methodists had once “seceded from a corrupt church,” a Mississippi politician declared, “We must secede from a corrupt nation.” To drive the point home, Georgia Methodists ministers endorsed disunion by an overwhelming 87-9 vote.” [11]

Despite Lincoln and Douglas’s efforts during and after the election to strike a conciliatory tone, it did not take long before Southern states began to secede from the Union. In light of the profoundly sectional nature of Lincoln’s victory “emboldened many Southern politicians and journalists to insist that they would not be bound by the result.” [12] In his final speech before the Senate, Senator Robert Toombs of Georgia lambasted the “black Republicans” and abolitionists, “We want no negro equality, no negro citizenship, we want no negro race to degrade our own; and as one man [we] would meet you upon the border with the sword in one hand and the torch in the other.” [13] Other Senators, many who would become prominent leaders of the Confederacy made their speeches, some, like that of Jefferson Davis tinged with regret while others like Senator Stephen Mallory, and the future Secretary of the Navy for the Confederacy delivered a fiery broadside against his Northern colleagues, “You cannot conquer us. Imbue your hands in our blood and the rains of a century will not wipe away from them stain, while the coming generation will weep for your wickedness and folly.” [14] As these men finished the left the chambers of Congress where many had served for years many left with tears, while some marked their exit with angry words.

Alexander Stephens

Stephens, still a Unionist at heart lamented the election even as he prepared to leave the Senate before becoming the vice president of the Confederacy, warned that “revolutions are much easier started than controlled, and the men who begin them [often] …themselves become the victims.” [15] Even so the senator noted “If the policy of Mr. Lincoln and his Republican associates be carried out…no man in Georgia will be more willing or ready than myself to defend our rights, interest, and honor at every hazard and to the last extremity.” [16] But as he resigned his office Stephens replied to a friend’s question, “why must we have civil war?”

“Because there are not virtue and patriotism and sense enough left in the country to avoid it. Mark me, when I repeat that in less than twelve months we shall be in the midst of a bloody war. What will become of us then God only knows.” [17]

But Stephens’ warning fell on deaf ears as passionate secessionist commissioners went throughout the South spreading their message of fear. “Thus fanned, mob spirit ran close enough to the surface to intimidate many moderates – the very temperament that inclines men toward moderation is apt to respond timidly when threatened or abused – and to push others closer to the extremist position.” [18] Such was the case with Southern moderates and Unionists as men like Stephens were swept up in the tumult as their states seceded from the Union. Senator Judah P. Benjamin of Louisiana wrote, “The prudent and conservative men South… were not able to stem the wild torrent of passion which is carrying everything before it…. It is a revolution…of the most intense character…and it can no more be checked by human effort, for the time, than a prairie fire by a gardener’s watering pot.” [19]

The Palmetto State of South Carolina was the first state to secede. Its senior senator, James Chesnut launched a fusillade against the North in a speech before the state legislature in which he argued that the South could not wait for another election: He thundered:

“Because of the Yankee puritans’ invasive mentality, incendiary documents would flood our region, Southern Republicans would fill our offices. Enemies would control our mails. The resulting upheaval would make “Lincoln’s election…a decree for emancipation. Slavery cannot survive the four years of an administration whose overwhelming influences” will be “brought to bear against it.” To submit now is to guarantee that before 1865, we must “slay the Negro, or ourselves be slain.”  [20]

William Tecumseh Sherman was serving as the President the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy, what is now Louisiana State University. Like many men in the ante-bellum era, Sherman had thought little about the slavery issue, though he was very concerned with the preservation of the Union. He thought secession made no sense, especially for the people of the South. When Sherman read the news of South Carolina’s secession it “cut to the depths of his nationalistic soul.” The future general wept, and told his friend David Boyd “Boyd, you people of the South don’t know what you are doing! You think you can tear to pieces this great union without war…. “The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth…. You are bound to fail. Only in spirit and determination are you prepared for war.” [21] Sherman, the man who later proclaimed that “War is Hell” proved to be a remarkably accurate seer regarding the fate of the Confederacy.

South Carolina was followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. “A belt of seven states from South Carolina to Texas, embracing nearly one-sixth of the country’s population and nearly one-fifth of the national domain, had proclaimed independence and severed its ties with the Union.” [22] Many of the declarations of causes for secession made it quite clear and explicit that slavery, and fear that the institution was threatened by Northern abolitionists was the root cause. The declaration of South Carolina is typical of these and is instructive of the basic root cause of the war:

“all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” [23]

Throughout the war slavery loomed large, even though in the beginning of the abolition controversies of the 1830s many northerners “were content to tolerate slavery’s indefinite survival in the South so long as it did not impinge on their own rights and aspirations at home.” [24] Such attitudes were still common in the North during the late 1850s, especially among Democrats.

But it was the continued actions and multiple transgressions of slavery supporters that energized northerners as never before. Their use of the courts to advance their rights and the cause of slavery, by the compromises that had extended slavery to the territories; their use of the courts especially the Dred Scott to allow slaveholders to recover their human property, even in Free States provoked no end of indignation throughout the North, even for those sympathetic to Southern concerns. Those actions demonstrated to Northerners:

“just how fundamental and intractable the differences with Southern political leaders were. Thus educated, most northern voters had decided by 1860 that only an explicitly anti-slavery party could protect their interests.” [25]

The fiery abolitionist and profoundly religious editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison, used biblical imagery in a rather astute analysis of the behavior of Southern leaders after the election of 1860. He wrote of the Southern response to Lincoln’s election:

“Never had the truth of the ancient proverb “Whom the gods intend to destroy, they first make mad” been more signally illustrated than in the condition of southern slaveholders following Lincoln’s election. They were insane from their fears, their guilty forebodings, their lust for power and rule, hatred of free institutions, their merited consciousness of merited judgments; so that they may be properly classed as the inmates of a lunatic asylum. Their dread of Mr. Lincoln, of his Administration, of the Republican Party, demonstrated their insanity. In vain did Mr. Lincoln tell them, “I do not stand pledged to the abolition of slavery where it already exists.” They raved just as fiercely as though he were another John Brown, armed for southern invasion and universal emancipation! In vain did the Republican party present one point of antagonism to slavery – to wit, no more territorial expansion. In vain did that party exhibit the utmost caution not to give offense to any other direction – and make itself hoarse in uttering professions of loyalty to the Constitution and the Union. The South protested that its designs were infernal, and for them was “sleep no more!” Were these not the signs of a demented people?” [26]

But both sides were blind to their actions and with few exceptions, most leaders, especially in the South badly miscalculated the effects of the election of 1860. The leaders in the North did not realize that the election of Lincoln would mean the secession of one or more Southern states, and Southerners “were not able to see that secession would finally mean war” [27] despite the warnings of Alexander Stephens to the contrary. In fact throughout the South it was believed that there would be no war because “they believed that the Yankees were cowards and would not fight”… “Senator James Chesnut of South Carolina offered to drink all the blood shed as a consequence of secession. It became a common saying in the South during the secession winter that “a lady’s thimble will hold all the blood that will be shed.” [28]

Following their secession the five slave states of the lower South: “appointed commissioners to the other slave states, and instructed them to spread the secessionist message across the entire region. These commissioners often explained in detail why their states were exiting the Union, and they did everything in their power to persuade laggard slave states to join the secessionist cause. From December 1860 to April 1861 they carried the gospel of disunion to the far corners of the South.” [29]

The editors of the Philadelphia Press accused the Southern secessionists of being enemies of democracy and wrote:

“should the Cotton States go out in a body, we shall witness the beginning of an experiment to establish, on this continent, a great slaveholding monarchy. With few exceptions, the leaders of the Disunion cabal are men of the most aristocratic pretensions – men who…easily adopt the habits and titles of the European nobility. South Carolina, which is the head of Secession, is almost a monarchy herself. Her representatives in both branches of Congress, for years past, have acted upon the idea that the people of the free states are servile, and Mr. Hammond, the most candid and straightforward of the set, denounced the laboring white masses of the free States as the mudsills of society …” [30]

The mood of the South in the fall of 1860 was “fearful, uncertain, impatient and volatile, eager to adopt the course that best offered hope of deliverance – which was ideally suited for the immediacy and urgency of the radical secessionists.” [31] Using the political machinery of the Democratic Party in the South which they now possessed, the proponents of secession were far better organized than Southern Unionists who had a difficult time putting up a united front in the face of the radicals.

Slavery and the superiority of the white race over blacks were at the heart of the message brought by these commissioners to the legislatures of the yet undecided states. Former Congressman John McQueen of South Carolina wrote to secessionists in Virginia “We, of South Carolina, hope to greet you in a Southern Confederacy, where white men shall rule our destinies, and from which we may transmit our posterity the rights, privileges and honor left us by our ancestors.” [32] In Texas McQueen told the Texas Convention: “Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican part and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to an equality with ourselves and our children.” [33] These Southern secessionists were realists, they knew that the election of 1860 was a watershed in terms of the history of slavery in the United States, emancipation was coming, it might take a decade, it might take twenty-five or even fifty years, but they knew that it was coming, and for them secession was the only logical action left that was “consistent with their ideology.” [34] Many of these men now viewed it as an issue of now or never.

In his First Inaugural Address Lincoln cut to the heart of the division in the country: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.” [35] Of course he was right, and his Southern opponents agreed. Jefferson Davis wrote: “The great northern party, thus organized, succeeded in electing to the office of the Presidency a man who openly proclaimed his hatred of slavery, who declared that the government could not endure “half slave and half free.” [36]

As the war began, white Southerners of all types and classes rallied to the call of war against the hated Yankee. The common people, the poor yeomen farmers were often the most stalwart defenders of the South. With the Orwellian slogan “Freedom is not possible without slavery” ringing in their ears, they went to war against the Yankees alongside their slave-owning neighbors to “perpetuate and diffuse the very liberty for which Washington bled, and which the heroes of the Revolution achieved.” [37]

Alexander Stephens, the longtime friend of Lincoln who had been a devout Unionist, who had supported Stephen Douglas until the bitter end, and who had strenuously opposed secession in the months leading to the election of 1860 was now the Vice President of the Confederacy. He had been elected Vice President the same day as Jefferson Davis was elected President by the new Confederate Congress and now went through the South speaking about the nature of the new government.  Stephens explained the foundations of the Southern state in his Cornerstone Speech of March 21st 1861, the speech echoed what many Southerners had believed for years regarding slavery and the status of Blacks, namely that Blacks were a lesser order of humanity:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” [38]

Jefferson Davis had issued instructions to cabinet members to downplay slavery as an issue and was infuriated. The new President of the Confederacy wrote: “That speech infuriated me, Oh, what Stephens had said was true, perfectly true, but could anything hurt us more abroad than such impolitic remarks? It was the beginning of a fatal falling out between me and that rebellious and vindictive dwarf, who was hell-bent on forming his own policies and disputing mine with niggardly deviousness.” [39]

The Orwellian definition of slavery as being necessary to liberty and the Confederate leader’s proclamations that they were comparable to the founding fathers was condemned throughout the North. The editors of the New York Evening Post wrote:

“The founders fought to “establish the rights of man… an principles of universal liberty.” The South was rebelling “not in the interest of general humanity, but of a domestic despotism…. Their motto is not liberty, but slavery.” Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence spoke for “Natural Rights against Established Institutions,” added the New York Tribune, while “Mr. Jeff. Davis’s caricature thereof is made in the interest of an unjust, outgrown, decaying institution against the apprehended encroachments of human rights.” It was, in short, not a revolution for liberty but a counterrevolution “reversing the wheels of progress…. to hurl everything backward into deepest darkness… despotism and oppression.” [40]

Secession commissioners from the first seven Confederate States fanned out to the undecided Slave states to spread the message of secession. One of these men was Henry Benning of Georgia. Benning spoke to the secession convention of Virginia, a state that the new Confederacy deemed all-important to its cause and which it had to have on its side in the coming confrontation with the Union. There the Georgia Supreme Court Justice used the time-honored method of racial fear mongering to sway the men of the Virginia House of Delegates, he thundered:

“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is be abolished except in Georgia and the other cotton States, and…ultimately in these States also,” Benning insisted. “By the time the North shall have attained the power, the black race will be a large majority, and we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.” [41] 

Not letting up the fiery Georgian told the Virginians that the North would invade the South to end slavery and of the outcome of such an invasion:

“We will be overpowered and our men compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth,” he told his audience, “and for our women, the horrors of their state cannot contemplate in imagination.” This then, was “the fate that Abolition will bring upon the white race….We will be exterminated.” [42]

Virginia’s Governor, John Letcher was “a longtime foe of secession and had wanted to bring slavery to an end in Virginia, but once elected to the governorship he adroitly put all that behind him, and rather like [Robert E.] Lee, he went to work with considerable efficiency for two causes in which he did not believe.” [43] One Unionist delegate to the convention wrote of the proceedings, “The scenes witnessed within the wall of that room…have no parallel in the annals of ancient or modern times. On the morning of the 17th, Mr. Wise rose from his seat and drawing a large Virginia horse-pistol from his bosom laid it before him and proceeded to harangue the body in the most violent and denunciatory manner. He concluded by taking his watch from his pocket and, with glaring eyes and bated breath, declared that events were now transpiring which caused a hush to come over his soul.” [44] Those events were a planned seizure of Federal facilities including the arsenal at Harpers Ferry and the Naval Yard at Norfolk. But not all in Virginia were convinced. The strongly Unionist western counties of the state, where few people owned slaves and those who did held very few, voted heavily against secession. The counties withstood the initial shock of secession and would “in a wholly extra-legal way, abetted by Washington – perform its own act of secession, breaking away from Virginia and clinging to the Union as a bob-tailed but finally acceptable new state.” [45]

Former President John Tyler added his voice to the secession cause in Virginia and “personally drafted a document placing the state’s military force under Jefferson Davis’s direct command.” Shortly thereafter he was “elected to the Confederate Congress – becoming the only former President to win office in a foreign country.” [46] However, before he could take office, the former President, now an intractable enemy of the country that he once led, died in Richmond. Shortly thereafter his portrait was removed from its place of honor in the capital.

Tennessee was another state where secession was problematic. Eastern Tennessee was strongly Unionist and the counties “held a convention, denounced the governor and legislature for making the alliance with the Confederacy, and sent a memorial asking that the eastern counties be allowed to form a new state.” [47] The legislature and governor refused this but the area would prove a problem for Jefferson Davis as well as Lincoln who would have liked to help the Tennessee Unionists, but had no military way to do so.

The highly divided border states of Kentucky and Missouri remained in the Union, but became highly partisan battlegrounds between secessionists and Unionists in which insurgents used terrorist methods against their fellow citizens throughout the war. Kentucky’s pro-secession Governor, Beriah Magoffin called the legislature into convention to decide secession “but the legislature, by a vote of 54 to 36 in the lower house, refused to call one and adjourned on February 11 without taking any decisive action.” [48] Losing that vote, he issued a declaration of neutrality which caused both Lincoln and Jefferson Davis to move with caution in the state. Lincoln understood the strategic importance of Kentucky and said “I think to lose Kentucky is nearly the same as to lose the whole game….Kentucky gone, we cannot hold Missouri, nor, as I think, Maryland. These all against us, and the job on our hands is too large for us. We may as well consent to separation at once, including the surrender of this capital.” [49] Lincoln’s use of caution, diplomacy, and when needed the force of the law, courts, and the military paid strategic military and economic dividends for the North as the Ohio River remained under Union control.

Maryland too remained in the Union as Governor Thomas H. Hicks, with the help of federal troops resisted a call in the legislature for a secession vote, even so as Union volunteers marched to Washington in response to Lincoln’s calls for troops some regiments were attacked in Baltimore. The 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was set upon as a “crowd of southern sympathizers threw bricks and stones and fired into their ranks as they changed trains. They returned the fire, killing twelve citizens and wounding many more, then packed their four dead on ice for shipment north, and came on to Washington, bearing their seventeen wounded on stretchers.” [50]

To Lincoln, the issue of secession as well as territory was “never just about politics. To him it spoke about the nation, even if primarily as a symbol. In his mind the nation must be about freedom, never slavery.” [51] For him the Union was sacred and could not be dissolved for any reason, especially the cause of slavery. In contrast to the secessionists who proclaimed that the states had formed the Federal Government and had the right to dissolve the Union, Lincoln, using the reasoning and arguments of Daniel Webster asserted in his inaugural address that the Union actually predated the Constitution:

“Descending from these general principles, we find the propositions that, in legal contemplation, the Union is perpetual, confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And final, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution, was “to form a more perfect Union.” [52]

In early April 1861, a few days before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter, a New York Times editorial made a proposition that unveiled the reality of the situation now confronting the divided nation, and which so many had for so long refused to face: “If two sections can no longer live together, they can no longer live apart in quiet until it is determined which is master. No two civilizations ever did, or can, come into contact as the North and South threaten to do, without a trial of strength, in which the weaker goes to the wall…. We must remain master of the occasion and the dominant power on this continent.” [53]

Thus, the American ideological war was born; it had taken decades to reach the point of no return. It had taken years of frustration, and attempts at compromise by politicians who attempted to dodge the moral issues inherent in slavery. Time could not heal the wounds caused by slavery as long as “one section of the country regarded it as a blessing, the other as a curse.” [54] Frederick Douglass observed: “Whatever was done or attempted with a view to the support and secularity of slavery on served to fuel the fire, and heated the furnace of [anti-slavery] agitation to a higher degree than had any before attained.” [55]


[1] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.355-356

[2] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[3] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 310

[4] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.338

[5] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.338-339

[6] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.355

[7] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.134

[8] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.354-355

[9] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.184

[10] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword p.50 These words are little different than the words of many conservative Evangelical Christian pastors, pundits and politicians today in relation to the legalization of Gay marriage.

[11] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.38-39

[12] Ibid. Holzer Lincoln and the Power of the Press p.256

[13] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[14] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.77

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

[16] Cooper, William J. We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War November 1860-April 1861 Alfred a Knopf, New York 2012 p.75

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury pp.46-47

[18] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter pp.250-251

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.237

[20] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II p.398

[21] O’Connell Robert L. Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman Random House, New York 2013 p65

[22] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.248

[23] __________ Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. Retrieved from The Avalon Project, Yale School of Law 24 March 2014

[24] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.251

[25] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

[26] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.342

[27] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.122

[28] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.238

[29] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.18

[30] Ibid. Stampp The Causes of the Civil War p.189

[31] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.250

[32] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[33] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.48

[34] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.145

[35] Lincoln, Abraham First Inaugural Address March 4th 1861 retrieved from 24 March 2014

[36] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.429

[37] Ibid. McPherson Drawn With Sword pp.50-51

[38] Cleveland, Henry Alexander H. Stevens, in Public and Private: With Letters and Speeches, before, during and since the War, Philadelphia 1886 pp.717-729 retrieved from 24 March 2014

[39] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.382

[40] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.244

[41] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.66

[42] Ibid. Dew Apostles of Disunion p.67

[43] Ibid. Korda Clouds of Glory p.232

[44] Osborne, Charles C. Jubal: The Life and Times of General Jubal A. Earl, CSA Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill NC 1992 p.49

[45] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[46] Goodheart, Adam The Ashen Ruin in  The New York Times: Disunion, 106 Articles from the New York Times Opinionator: Modern Historians Revisit and Reconsider the Civil War from Lincoln’s Election to the Emancipation Proclamation Edited by Ted Widmer, Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, New York 2013 p.71

[47] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.365

[48] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.510

[49] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One: Fort Sumter to Perryville p.53

[50] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.53

[51] Ibid. Cooper We Have the War Upon Us p.80

[52] Ibid. Wills  Lincoln at Gettysburg p.130-131

[53] Ibid. Foote The Civil War, A Narrative. Volume One p.43

[54] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.143

[55] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.253

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When Political Parties Implode: “I refused to unite with a bunch of traitors and disunionists…” The 1860 Election


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Instead of making direct comments regarding the developments in the current 2016 Presidential campaign, especially the repeated charges by Donald Trump that the election is rigged and continuing threats of violence coming from many of his supporters I have decided to push on with the series that I began last Friday which is excerpted from my draft book “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology, and Politics in the Civil War Era. The past three articles dealt with the breakup of the Whig and Democratic Parties and this one deals with the final break in the Democrats during the election of 1860. I took the title from what Stephen Douglas, the leader of the Northern Democrats and one of the two Democrat Presidential nominees said when Southern Democrats asked him to drop out of the race. I hope that you enjoy.


Padre Steve+

The crisis continued to fester and when Lincoln was elected to the Presidency in November 1860, with no southern states voting Republican, the long festering volcano erupted. The various crises of the 1850s had brought the political emotions nation to a fever pitch and 1860 election season saw a dramatic rise in the overtly racial invective of the pro-slavery Democrats, including many in the North. It was also the election that “marked the crystallization of two fully sectionalized parties,” [1] neither of which could find a place of compromise in order to save the Union. A Mississippian observed that “the minds of the people are aroused to a pitch of excitement probably unparalleled in the history of our country.” [2]

Like the present time where the rise of the internet, social media and other platforms allows people, including radical ideologues of various stripes an unparalleled opportunity to spew hate, the changing nature of technology made the campaign one of the most merciless in American history. “Cheap printing and the telegraph made it easier and easier for the shrillest of ideologues to find audiences, even national ones.” [3] As such the campaign prefigured those of the present time. The newspapers and the ideologues may not have changed many the minds of many voters, most of whom were by now hardened in their position, but “they likely helped spur a gigantic voter turnout – some 80 percent of eligible white males nationwide – which was deemed crucial to Republican success in swing states like Indiana and Pennsylvania.” [4]

Lincoln had run a masterful campaign, rising from a comparatively unknown to a national figure due to his debates with Stephen Douglas during the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign. The Republican Party that he represented was a “coalition of old Democrats, former Whigs, and members of the nativist American Party.” [5] Lincoln defeated the odds on favorite to win the Republican nomination, Senator William Seward, as well as Senator Salmon Chase and Missouri’s elder statesman Edward Bates. Lincoln took the nomination on the third ballot and then went on to defeat a fractured opposition which was composed of three different tickets, those of the Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, the Southern Democrat John C. Breckenridge, and the third, a fusion Constitutional Union Party ticket of John C. Bell and Edward Everett.

The split in the Democrat ticket won the election for Lincoln and was in part the idea of fire-eaters in the South, especially those in South Carolina who could not abide the candidacy of Douglas. These Southern Democrats envisioned “the destruction of the national Democratic Party – and its powerful contingent of moderates in the state – as a visible vehicle for protecting slavery in the Union.” [6]   These men hated Douglas, a man that they once cheered, for his opposition to the Lecompton Constitution and the admission of Kansas as a Slave state.  When the Democratic national convention met to nominate a presidential candidate the delegates especially the leaders of the Gulf state delegations “redoubled their sworn efforts to keep the nomination away from Douglas.” Douglas and his team of advisors attempted to work out a deal to secure the nomination with them, but they met with a stubborn refusal to cede the nomination to Douglas. The result was “an open party rupture” [7] which destroyed any chance of defeating Lincoln and the Republicans. The ever pragmatic Unionist Alexander Stephens “who stood with Douglas to the last, despaired, not only for his party but for his country: “There is a tendency everywhere, not only in the North, but the South, to strife, dissention, disorder, and anarchy.” [8]

Opponents of Lincoln turned the election to a referendum on race. The New York Herald, which was a strongly Democrat paper and had the largest circulation of any paper in the nation was typical of papers that used race to attack the Republicans. The Herald served up “a patented blend of sarcasm and sensationalism. The Herald’s editorial page cracked wise almost every day about “the Eternal nigger,” the “Almighty nigger,” the “Irrepressible nigger” and the “nigger-loving black republicans.” [9] In both the North and South opponents of Lincoln and the Republicans conjured up the fear of a future black president in order to further stoke the flames of racial hatred and division.

During the campaign Lincoln was careful to not to go beyond the printed words of his published speeches and he refused to issue any statements to mollify the conspiracy theory hysteria that was enveloping the South. “What is it I should say to quiet alarm?” he asked in October. “Is it that no interference by the government, with slaves or slavery within the states, is intended? I have said this so often already, that a repetition of it is but mockery, bearing an appearance of weakness.” [10] To be frank, Lincoln and other Republicans misread the true feelings of the South and “considered the movement South as sort of a political game of bluff, gotten up by politicians, and meant solely to frighten the North. He believed that when the leaders saw their efforts in that direction unavailing, the tumult would subside.” [11] William Seward equated the Southern threats to cries of “wolf” which had little meaning and told a gathering in New York, “For ten, aye twenty years, these threats have been renewed in the same language and in the same form, about the first day of November every four years. I do not doubt that these Southern statesmen and politicians think that they are going to dissolve the Union, but I think that they are going to do no such thing.” [12]  The editor of a Tennessee paper admitted “the cry of disunion had been raised so often that few had taken it seriously in the campaign. Evidently, the ‘Northern sectionalists’ had believed it to be ‘all talk’… while most intelligent Southerners had assumed that it was ‘an idle menace, made to sway Northern sentiment.’” [13]

The Republican Party itself was a coalition of individuals who often held opposing views, and Lincoln understood that the election, as nearly every election tends to be, was not going to be about one issue alone and even the Republican doctrine of Free Soil was seen by them more as “an economic policy than an anti-slave policy.” [14] As important as abolition was to the founding of the Republican Party, other interests had to be taken into account. These included protective tariffs, infrastructure and railroads, and homestead legislation. Thus he could not go too far in any direction that might deviate from the party platform without risking a fracture in his own party He noted: “It would be both impudent, and contrary to the reasonable expectation of friends for me to write, or speak anything upon doctrinal points right now. Besides this my published speeches contain nearly all I could willingly say.” [15]

The Presidential campaign of 1860 was unique since it had four different tickets vying for the office and it unfolded into “three distinct campaigns: Douglas against Lincoln in the North; Breckinridge versus Bell in the South; and Douglas contesting Bell in the border states, with Lincoln and Breckinridge hoping for some support there as well.” [16] As purely sectional candidates Breckinridge had no hope of winning in the North and Lincoln no chance of winning in the South.

In the South politicians, preachers and newspaper editors sounded the alarm at the possibility of a Lincoln presidency which bordered on outright paranoid hysteria. Conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods about Negro atrocities were flouted as truth in the South, whipping up passions and stoking rampant fear, “R.S. Holt, a wealthy Mississippi planter and brother of the U.S. postmaster general, reported that “we have constantly a foretaste of what Northern-brotherhood means, in almost daily conflagrations & in discovery of poison, knives & pistols distributed among our slaves by the emissaries sent out for that purpose…. There cannot be found in all the planting States a territory ten miles square in which the footprints of these miscreants have not been discovered.” [17]

One of the most consistent defenders of slavery and long term proponents of secession, Virginia Edmund Ruffin wrote to Yancey that “a Republican victory was obviously coming and that it would be “a clear and unmistakable indication of future & fixed domination of the Northern section & its abolition party over the Southern states & their institutions, & the speedy progress to the extermination of Negro slavery & and the consequent ruin of the South.” [18] A newspaper editorial in Georgia warned “Let the consequences be what they may – whether the Potomac is crimsoned in human gore, and Pennsylvania Avenue is paved ten fathoms deep with mangled bodies…the South will never submit to such humiliation and degradation as the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln.” [19]

Prominent Southern ministers, though more cautious than the newspapermen and politicians sounded the alarm. Evangelical “proslavery had popularized the South’s unique approach to the Bible and the founding of the nation. The bible supported slaveholding; God supported the South. The formula was clear. Right made might. The South had to triumph.” [20] A Presbyterian editor counseled prayer to deal with the crisis but added: “An agitation that perpetually sends dread and disturbance in to every hamlet, and to every home and fireside in the land is intolerable. No people can abide it long. They will prefer the hazard of any convulsion, the perils of any terrible adventure, to a life of anxiety and disquiet. The instincts of nature will drive them to seek relief by any, even the most dangerous means.” [21]  A prominent Southern journal remarked “In religious sentiment the South stands as a unit. Its pure doctrines are linked insuperably, though not by legal constraint, with the laws of the land. No isms and schism rankle our hearts. Christ is acknowledged as the common bond of union.” [22] Prominent church leaders like Leonidas Polk Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana made outright demands for secession if the Lincoln won. As it had so many times in the past two decades, religious sentiment helped fuel the Southern fire.

The only hope for the Democrats was for a “fusion” of the three opposition in key northern states to deny Lincoln their electoral votes and throw the election into the House.” [23] But this was not to be as there was far too much bad blood between the Buchanan faction headed by Breckinridge and Douglas, as well as distrust of the Bell ticket due to its connections with the earlier Know Nothing Party and movement. Jefferson Davis, long a proponent of secession went to Douglas to try to sway him from dropping out of the race in favor of a fusion ticket that could unite the Southern vote. Douglas recalled the conversation “If the Democrats run two candidates,” he said, “the Black Republicans will win the election. In that event the slave states will secede…” [24] Davis tried to convince Douglas to drop out saying that Breckinridge and Bell had agreed to if he would, and Douglas, who had a long standing enmity with the Mississippian wrote:

“This was strange talk from Davis, and I was damned suspicious that it might be a trap. It was all I could do to control my hatred for the Goddamned bastard. “The plan is impractical I said coldly. “If I withdraw, my friends in the North will go over to Lincoln. I’m in the hands of my friends and they won’t accept this proposition.

“Then I’ve done all that I can,” he said, rose and walked out.

Why the Goddamned hell should I withdraw? I asked my aides. I was a matter of honor with me. I had won my nomination fairly, on the basis of the party’s time honored principles. I refused to unite with a bunch of traitors and disunionists…

Others pressed me to unite with the “vandals,” as we called the Breckinridge party, but I answered with a thundering no. “I’m utterly opposed to fusing with any man or party who’ll not enforce the laws, maintain the Constitution, and preserve the Union in all contingencies,” I said. I wish to God Old Hickory was still alive, so that he could hang northern and southern traitors from the same gallows.” [25]

The split in the Democratic Party was irrevocable. While all factions of the party had some measure of responsibility for the party’s implosion in 1860, it was the old Southern leaders whose actions doomed the party. Bruce Catton wrote:

“Primary responsibility for the Democratic split in 1860 – the act that ensured a Republican triumph and left the South no cohesive national institution through which it could hope to share or regain power – belongs to those respected Southern leaders whose threats of party rupture and secession as political tactics, in the vain hope that a majority in the party and nation would fall in behind them before the tactic got out of hand. Because they would not adjust to circumstances they were engulfed by them – all without understanding that they were the leading architects of their disaster.”  [26]

Despite the cleavage in the Democratic Party, the election of 1860 enthralled the nation as candidates and their surrogates made the cases for each.  “Americans everywhere – North and South, men and women, slave and free – took an active part in the four-way campaign of 1860. Issues, platforms, speeches, and candidates were reviewed and debated in corn fields and cotton fields, workshops and markets, family gatherings, churches, picnics, races, sewing circles, family gathering, schoolhouses, slave quarters, taverns and beer gardens.” [27]

Unlike now when all states vote the same day for President, the elections of 1860 consisted of votes over a two month period of time in the different states. When Lincoln began to win early contests in the Northern states Douglas took his campaign south where he did not mince words and defied secessionists in his stated desire to preserve the Union. He told his secretary “That does it…Lincoln is the next President. We must try to preserve the Union. I’ll go to the Deep South where the secession spirit is strongest.” [28] In the South the Little Giant was met with scorn.

When all was said and done “some 4,700,000 Americans – well over two thirds of the electorate – marched to the polls and cast their ballots. By the early hours of November 7th it was clear that Lincoln had won, and when the final results were tallied it was clear that he had won rather decisively,” [29] at least in the Electoral College. Douglas received twenty-nine percent of the national vote, Breckinridge eighteen percent, and Bell thirteen. “Lincoln carried seventeen free states and no slave states; Breckinridge, eleven slave states and no free states, Bell three slave states and no free states.” [30] Douglas only won the embattled state of Missouri despite having more of the national popular vote than either Bell or Breckinridge. Lincoln captured forty percent but took 180 electoral votes, far more than the minimum of 152 needed to elect. Lincoln’s gains among former Whigs who were attracted to him by economic versus anti-slavery policies allowed Lincoln to sweep the Northern states and secure the electoral majority. When Douglas heard the final results he was in Mobile Alabama. He told his friend John Forsyth, “Well, John, I am beaten, I said hoarsely. “Lincoln will win by a big margin in the Electoral College. Even if Breckinridge, Bell, and I had withdrawn and united behind a single Democratic candidate, Lincoln would still have won a majority of electoral votes.” [31]

For decades “Southerners had shown how minorities dominate majoritarian processes. The overwhelmingly anti-Slave Power North had now shown how an awakened majority routs a minority.” [32] Even so by November the new President elect realized that the South was not bluffing in terms of secession. “The election had clarified nothing. It simply meant that a nation which had spent a long generation arguing about slavery had grown tired of talk and wanted something done – without specifying what that something might be.” [33] The process “of sectional polarization was almost complete, and it remained to see what the response would come from the section that was at the losing end of the axis.” [34] The answer was not long in coming, in the South those who had talked threatened secession for years now put their words into action as the leaders of states of the Lower South met to plan their exit from the Union.


[1] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

[2] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.229

[3] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.45

[4] Holzer, Harold Lincoln and the Power of the Press: The War For Public Opinion Simon and Schuster, New York 2014 p.255

[5] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 267

[6] Ibid. McCurry Confederate Reckoning p.44

[7] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.202

[8] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[9] Ibid. Goodheart 1861 p.45

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.231

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.432

[12] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.95

[13] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals pp.274-275

[14] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.255

[15] Ibid. Goodwin Team of Rivals p. 266

[16] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[17] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.229

[18] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.97

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.230

[20] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.135

[21] Ibid. Rable God’s Almost Chosen Peoples pp.34-35

[22] Ibid. Daly When Slavery Was Called Freedom p.135

[23] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.232

[24] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.329

[25] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury pp.329-330

[26] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.211

[27] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.223

[28] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.331

[29] Ibid. Catton Two Roads to Sumter p.243

[30] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

[31] Ibid. Oates The Approaching Fury p.337

[32] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume II pp.338-339

[33] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.119

[34] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.447

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When Political Parties Implode: “The Party is Split Forever…”

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing for some time about the coming demise of the Republican Party and the past few days I have been republishing sections of my draft text “Mine Eyes have Seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era to show how the Whig and Democratic Parties imploded between 1850 and 1860.

Have a great day,


padre Steve+

democrat condenders

The fight over Lecompton was a watershed in American politics that those who wrote the Constitution of the United States could not have imagined. The deeply partisan fight served to illuminate how easily “minuscule minorities’ initial concerns ballooned into unmanageable majoritarian crises. The tiny fraction of Missouri slaveholders who lived near the Kansas border, comprising a tinier fraction of the South and a still tinier fraction of the Union, had demanded their chance to protect the southern hinterlands.” [1] The crisis that Kansas Democrats provoked drew in the majority of Southern Democrats who came to their aid in Congress and President Buchanan. This provoked Northerner, including Democrats to condemn the Southern minority, which they believed was disenfranchising the majority of people in the territory in order to expand slavery there and to other territories in the west.

The issue of Lecompton crisis galvanized the political parties of the North and demolished any sense of national unity among the Democrats. The split in the Democratic Party mirrored the national divide and the party split into hostile Northern and Southern factions, which doomed it as a national party for the foreseeable future.

Following Lecompton the intra-party Democrat divide widened as “Pro-Douglas and pro-Buchanan Democrats openly warred on one another for the next two years; an unacknowledged but real split had taken place.” [2]


The battle over the Lecompton Constitution also marked the first time that a coalition Northern Democrats sided with anti-slavery forces to defeat pro-slavery legislation in congress. Though the measure to admit Kansas as a slave state was defeated it was a narrow victory; the “Republicans and anti-Lecompton Douglas Democrats, Congress had barely turned back a gigantic Slave Power Conspiracy to bend white men’s majoritarianism to slavemaster’s dictatorial needs, first in Kansas, then in Congress.”  [3]

The political impact of the Lecompton crisis on the Democratic Party was an unmitigated disaster. The party suffered a major election defeat in the 1858 mid-term elections and lost its majority in the House of Representatives even though it barely maintained a slim majority in the Senate. While the victorious Republicans had won the election, they made little legislative headway since the Democrats still controlled the Senate and James Buchanan remained President. In a sense “there were two Democratic parties: one northern, on southern (but with patronage allies in the north); one having its center of power in the northern electorate and in the quadrennial party convention… the other with its center of power in Congress; one intent on broadening the basis of support to attract moderate Republicans, the other more concerned to preserve a doctrinal defense of slavery even if it meant driving heretics out of the party.” [4] Democratic Party divide fulfilled what Lincoln had said about the country, as the Democratic Party had “became increasingly a house divided against itself.” [5]

Douglas’s courageous opposition to the fraud of Lecompton would be the chief reason for the 1860 split in the Democratic Party as Southern Democrats turned with a vengeance on the man who had been their standard bearer during the 1856 Democratic primary. “Most southern Democrats went to Charleston with one overriding goal: to destroy Douglas.” [6] The party decided to meet in the Charleston to decide on their platform and the man who would be their standard bearer in the election of 1860. When the convention met in April 1860 it rapidly descended into a nightmare for the Democrats as “Southern delegates were much more intent on making a point than on nominating a presidential candidate.” [7] The “Southern delegates demanded a promise of federal protection of slavery in all the territories and a de facto veto in the selection of the party’s presidential candidate” [8] in order to block the nomination of Douglas. Southern radicals “led by William Lowndes Yancey of Alabama stood for seven days agitating for a pro-slavery platform.” [9]

democratic convnetion

Ohio Democrat George A. Pugh responded to the Southern fire-eaters and said that “Northern Democrats had worn themselves out defending Southern interests – and he declared that the Northern Democrats like himself were now being ordered to hide their faces and eat dirt.” [10] Georgia Senator Alexander Stephens who had moderated his position and was supporting Douglas wrote that the radicals “strategy was to “rule or ruin.” [11] When their attempts to place the pro-slavery measures into the party platform were defeated by Northern delegates, it prompted “a walkout by delegates from Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.” [12] This deprived Douglass of the necessary two thirds majority needed for the nomination and “the shattered convention adjourned, to reconvene in Baltimore on June 18,”  [13] the “incendiary rhetoric left the Democratic Party in ashes.” [14] A friend of Alexander Stephens suggested that the party might patch things up in Baltimore, but Stephens dismissed the suggestion and told his friend, “The party is split forever. The only hope was in Charleston.” [15]

Old line former Whigs who feared the disintegration of the country led by Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden formed their own convention, the Constitutional Union Party and declared a pox on both the Buchanan and Douglas factions of the Democratic Party. They nominated a rather cold and uninspiring moderate slave owner, the sixty-four year old John Bell of Tennessee as their candidate for Constitutional Union Party President and “then chose a man who overshadowed him, Edward Everett of Massachusetts, aged sixty-seven, as the vice-presidential nominee.” [16] But this ticket had no chance of success, Bell “stood for moderation and the middle road in a country that just now was not listening to moderates, and the professional operators were not with him.” [17]

When the Democratic Party convention reconvened the results were as Stephens predicted. Another walk out by Southern delegates resulted in another and this time a final split. “Rival delegations from the Lower South States arrived in Baltimore, one side pledged to Douglas and the other to obstruction. When the convention voted for the Douglas delegations, the spurned delegates walked out, this time joined by colleagues from the Upper South.” [18] Though Douglas did not have the two-thirds majority, the convention “adopted a resolution declaring Douglas unanimously nominated.” [19]  A day later the radicalized Southern delegates nominated their own candidate, the current Vice President, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their candidate “for president on a slave-code platform.” [20] 

There were now four presidential tickets, three composed of Democrats and former Whigs, “each supported by men who felt that they were following the only possible path to salvation. A Republican victory was almost certain, and the Democrats, who had the most to lose from such a victory, were blindly and with a fated stubbornness doing everything they could to bring that victory to pass.” [21]

The Democratic Party had imploded and doomed the candidacies of Douglas and Breckinridge. The Augusta Daily Chronic and Sentinel editorialized, “It is an utterly futile and hopeless task to re-organize, re-unite and harmonize the disintegrated Democratic party unless this is to be done by a total abandonment of principle… No, sensible people might as well make up their minds to the fact that the Democratic party is dissolved forever, that new organizations must take its place.”  [22]    


[1] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.140

[2] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.213

[3] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.142

[4] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.394

[5] Fehrenbacher, Don E. Kansas, Republicanism, and the Crisis of the Union in The Civil War and Reconstruction Documents and Essays Third Edition edited by Michael Perman and Amy Murrell Taylor Wadsworth Cengage Learning Boston MA 2011 p.94

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.213

[7] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.216

[9] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

[10] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.32

[11] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.215

[12] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[13] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

[14] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.167

[15] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[16] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.417

[17] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.46

[18] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.168

[19] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.413

[20] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.216

[21] Ibid. Catton The Coming Fury p.69

[22] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.121

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When Political Parties Implode: “Mr. President I Wish to Remind You that General Jackson is Dead”


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing about the coming collapse of the Republican Party and have decided to republish some of my writings dealing with what happened to the Whig and Democratic Parties between 1854 and 1860. Today an article about the epic battle between President James Buchanan and Senator Stephen A. Douglas from draft text “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era.


Padre Steve+

Kansas was politically divided between two competing legislatures, each which claimed to be the voice of the people. The population of Kansas was heavily anti-slavery, in fact slaveholders and their supporters were a minuscule minority in the territory, but they were both load, and often used violence and intimidation to achieve power. As such many citizens felt disenfranchised by the official legislature, which was “a pro-slavery body elected by fraud in 1855.” [1] This body met in the city of Lecompton. In 1857 the Lecompton legislature sensed the opportunity to have Kansas admitted to the Union as a Slave State. To ease the way for this to happen over the will of the majority this legislature elected slavery supporters to be members of a constitutional convention, the goal of which was to draft a constitution which would be submitted to Congress for the admission of the Kansas Territory to the Union as a Slave State.

Free State partisans in Kansas feared that that if they participated in the election that they would be “gerrymandered, and simply counted out by stuffed ballots,” and most decided to sit out of the election. As a result it was “a quiet election, with many proslavery candidates unopposed and only 2,200 out of 9,000 registered voters going to the polls, a large majority of extreme proslavery men won election as delegates to the constitutional convention in September.” [2] But the result of the election was untenable, for “Two thousand voters in a territory with 24,000 eligible for the franchise had elected a body of delegates whom no one seriously regarded as representative of the majority opinion in Kansas.” [3]

The Lecompton legislature passed the proslavery constitution, but it was vetoed by the outgoing governor, John W. Geary. Geary accused “the pro-slavery legislature of attempting to stampede a rush to statehood on pro-slavery terms,” but his veto was overridden. The constitution had several provisions that most of the population found unacceptable. It protected owners of “the 200 slaves in Kansas, banned free blacks from the state, and prohibited any amendments to the constitution for seven years.” [4] In response the pro-Free State legislature in Topeka issued a referendum in which people voted “10,226 votes to 162 votes” [5] against the pro-slavery measures contained in the Lecompton Constitution. The newly appointed governor of the territory, Robert J. Walker opposed the measure and denounced it “as a vile fraud, a bare counterfeit.” [6] Walker demanded a new, fair, referendum, which the newly elected president James Buchanan, also backed. In response many Southerners in Congress “threatened to secede unless the administration fired Walker and backed down on the referendum issue.” [7] The threat of secession by Southerners in support of the radical minority in Lecompton led to chaos in the Democratic Party which controlled the House, the Senate and held the Presidency.


James Buchanan

James Buchanan was a pro-slavery Pennsylvania Democrat who had rode into office on the votes of the South. He was now pressured by Southern legislators to change his position on the Lecompton Constitution. Buchanan’s cabinet, which was heavily Southern, and pro-slavery expansion also used its influence to pressure the president into supporting the plan to admit Kansas as a Slave State. In response to the pressure, Buchanan reversed his previous stance in regard to Kansas and endorsed the bill, and he “called on Congress admit Kansas as a slave state with a constitution (drafted by the proslavery territorial government at Lecompton) that was never approved by Kansas voters and obviously opposed by a majority of them.” [8] The decision by Buchanan tossed aside the doctrine of popular sovereignty which had been key to engineering earlier compromises and in response some Northern Democrats opposed Buchanan.

Buchanan’s patently obvious move to placate the slave states and overturn the restrictions on the expansion of slavery contained in the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, provoked a new outcry, this time from Northern members of the Democratic Party. Many Northern Democrats were outraged by Buchanan’s flip-flop and the threats of secession emanating from the South if the measure was not approved. Most of the Northern Democrats were willing to accept and even defend slavery where it existed, but they were opposed to the expansion of slavery. His announcement to the House of Representatives “touched off a twelve-hour donnybrook in February 1858” and “about 50 congressmen in various states of inebriation tangled with each other on the House floor… The rumble subsided only when Mississippi congressman William Barksdale tackled an unidentified assailant as the latter snatched his toupee and waved it about like a captured flag. Barksdale finally retrieved his scalp and plopped it on his head wrong side out, the absurdity of the scene giving the combatant’s pause.” [9] Many Northern Democrats felt betrayed by their president’s actions and rose in opposition to the bill that would admit Kansas as a Slave State. Even so Buchanan was a “skilled political infighter swung a remarkable percentage of Northern Democratic members of the House of Representatives, fully 60 percent, behind the Lecompton Constitution,” [10] but he did not contend with the charismatic power of Stephen Douglas in the Senate.

These Democrats were led by the formidable Senator Stephen A. Douglas. Known as the Little Giant Douglas had skillfully crafted the Compromise of 1850 using the principle of popular sovereignty, led these Democrats in their fight against Buchanan’s acceptance and endorsement of Lecompton. Douglas’s previous actions to support the rights of Slave States had made him a hero in much of the South and his stature in both the North and the South made him the frontrunner to win the Democratic nomination for the presidency in 1860.

But Douglas, who had worked so hard to build compromises that would hold the Union together could not countenance the actions and tactics of the Southern members of his party. Douglas was a political realist and not an ideologue. He was very sympathetic to slave holders and was certainly no supporter of emancipation, in fact the Little Giant was an avowed racist. He was completely convinced “of the inferiority of the Negro, and he had a habit of stating it with brutal bluntness, “I do not believe that the Negro is any kin of mine at all…. I believe that this government of ours was founded, and wisely founded upon white basis. It was made by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity, to be executed and managed by white men.” [11] But despite his own racist beliefs Douglas understood the danger that the pro-slavery extremists supporting Lecompton were to the Democratic Party and the nation. Douglas understood that if the bill to admit Kansas as a slave state was passed that it would destroy the unity of the Democratic Party and quite possibly the Union itself.


Stephen Douglas

The Illinois Senator found out about the President Buchanan’s new support of the measure when he read the newspaper. He was outraged when he saw the news in the Washington Union that Buchanan had decided to support Lecompton. He was infuriated and the fury showed when he wrote with characteristic honesty:

“This left no doubt were the old bastard stood. “Can you believe his Goddamned arrogance?” I told a friend. “I run the Committee on Territories. He should have consulted me before approving the Lecompton fraud. He’ll pay for that. By God, sir, I made Mr. James Buchanan, and by God, sir, I’ll unmake him.” [12]

As such, the Little Giant threw caution to the wind and stormed to the White House “to confront Buchanan on the “trickery and juggling of the Lecompton constitution.” He warned the president of that his actions in support of the Lecompton party would “destroy the Democratic party in the North,” and we warned that “if Buchanan insisted on going through with it, Douglas swore to oppose him in Congress.” [13]

It was an epic confrontation. Douglas recalled, “The Lecompton constitution, I told Buchannan bluntly, was a blatant fraud on the people of Kansas and the process of democracy, I warned him not to recommend acceptance of it. With his head titled forward in that bizarre habit of his, he said that he intended to endorse the constitution and send it to Congress. “If you do,” I thundered, “I’ll denounce it the moment that it is read.” His face turned red with anger. “I’ll make Lecompton a party test,” he said. “I expect every democratic Senator to support it.” I will not, sir![14]

Angry and offended by the confrontation of Douglas, Buchanan cut the senator off and issued his own threat to Douglas and his political career saying, “I desire you to remember that no Democrat ever yet differed from an administration of his own choice without being crushed….Beware of the fate of Tallmadge and Rives,” two senators who had gone into political oblivion after crossing Andrew Jackson.” The redoubtable Senator from Illinois was undeterred by the President’s threat and fought back, “Douglas riposted: “Mr. President, I wish to remind you that General Jackson is dead, sir.” [15] It was an unprecedented action by a sitting Senator, to confront a President of one’s own party and threaten to oppose him in Congress was simply not done, but now Douglas was doing it, but doing so to his President’s face, and the consequences for him, his party, and the country would be immense.

Following his confrontation with Buchanan, Douglas was even more determined to defeat the Lecompton party and their brazen attempt to admit Kansas as a slave state over the will of the non-slave majority. In a display of righteous anger Douglas did what few politicians would consider doing in our day and age and “took his political life into his own hands and assailed the Lecompton Constitution on the floor of the Senate as a mockery of the popular sovereignty principle.” [16] President Buchanan and his allies in Congress fought back viciously, so much so that the two sides sometimes came into physical confrontation with each other in the chambers of Congress.

When Buchanan’s supporters pushed for Lecompton’s approval and the admission of Kansas as a Slave State, Douglas fired back, warning “You do,” I said, “and it will lead directly to civil war!” I warned the anti-Lecompton Democrats of the North that the President intended to put the knife to the throat of every man who dared to think for himself on this question and carry out principles in good faith. “God forbid,” I said “that I ever surrender my right to differ from a President of the United States for my own choice. I am not a tool of any President!” [17]

Under Douglas the Northern Democrats joined with Republicans for the first time to defeat the admission of Kansas as a Slave State. Douglas recalled the battle:

“After the Christmas recess, the Administration unleashed its heavy horsemen: Davis, Slidell, Hunter, Toombs, and Hammond, all southerners. They damned me as a traitor and demanded that I be stripped of my chairmanship of the Committee on Territories and read out of the Democratic party. Let the fucking bastards threaten, proscribe, and do their worst, I told my followers; it would not cause any honest man to falter. If my course divided the Democratic party, it would not be my fault. We were engaged in a great struggle for principle, I said, and we would defy the Administration to the bitter end.” [18]

Southern Democrats in Congress fought back furiously. As the battle continued their acrimony towards Douglas grew into apocalyptic proportions and their rhetoric against the Little Giant became more heated. According to his opponents Douglas was “at the head of the Black column…stained with the dishonor of treachery without parallel…patent double dealing…detestable heresies…filth of his defiant recreancy…a Dead Cock in the Pit…away with him to the tomb which he is digging for his political corpse.” [19]

But Douglas was undeterred by the threats to his career made by Buchanan, his congressional opponents and the press. He believed that he was in the right, and though he was in agreement with the philosophy of his opponents regarding slavery as an institution to be protected in the South, he realized that appeasing the South was not an option in regard to Lecompton, since that measure undermined the entire concept of popular sovereignty. He wrote:

“My forces in the House fought a brilliant delaying action while I worked to win over wavering Democrats. When we introduced a substitute bill, Buchannan called a dozen congressmen to the White House and exhorted them not to forsake the administration. He was cursing and in tears. He had reason to be: on April first, a coalition of ninety-two Republicans, twenty-two anti-Lecompton Democrats, and six Know-Nothings sent Lecompton down to defeat by passing the substitute bill. This bill provided for a popular vote on the Lecompton constitution and for a new convention if the people rejected that document, as they surely would.” [20]

The substitute bill was passed by the Senate as well and sent back to Kansas for a popular vote. When the Lecompton Constitution was resubmitted to the people of Kansas for a vote, the results of the referendum were devastating to the pro-slave faction, and  “to the hideous embarrassment of Buchanan, the voters of Kansas turned on August 30th and rejected Lecompton by a vote of 11,812 to 1,926.” [21] The ever colorful and blunt Little Giant wroteThe agony is over,” cried one of my aides, “and thank God that the right has triumphed. Poor old Buck! Poor old Buck had just had his face rubbed in shit. By our “indomitable courage, “ as another aide put it, we’d whipped this “powerful and proscriptive” Administration and forced the Black Republicans to support a substitute measure which fully embodied the great principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Act.” [22] The victory of Douglas and his faction over the Buchanan faction in the Lecompton fight “ended a political battle which had convulsed the country and virtually destroyed two administrations, but the full consequences of the prolonged struggle had yet to become evident.” [23]

Pro-slavery Southerners were outraged and Buchanan used every measure that he could to crush the anti-Lecompton Democrats, but he had lost “one of the most vicious struggles in the history of Congress, Southern Democrats had seriously damaged the patience of their Northern counterparts, and Buchanan loyalists in the North were unseated wholesale by upstart Republicans in the 1858 congressional elections.” [24] Buchanan’s Presidency was discredited, his party divided, its majority in congress lost, and the South moving closer to secession. Southerners considered Douglas a traitor and accused him of betraying them. “A South Carolinian lamented that “this defection of Douglas has done more than all else to shake my confidence in Northern men on the slavery issue, for I have long regarded him as one of our safest and most reliable friends.” [25]


[1] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.81

[2] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.300

[3] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.314

[4] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.115

[5] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.138

[6] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.165

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.164

[8] Ibid. Levine Half Slave and Half Free p.211

[9] Ibid. Goldfield  America Aflame p.144

[10] Ibid. Freehling, The Road to Disunion Volume II: Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 p.138

[11] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.340

[12] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.208

[13] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.166

[14] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.208

[15] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.166

[16] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightning p.115

[17] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.210

[18] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury pp.212-213

[19] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.168

[20] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury pp.215-216

[21] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.116

[22] Ibid, Oates The Approaching Fury p.216

[23] Ibid. Potter The Impending Crisis p.325

[24] Ibid. Guelzo Fateful Lightening p.116

[25] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.167

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When Political Parties Implode: “A Gross Violation of a Sacred Pledge”


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been writing about the coming collapse of the Republican Party and have decided to republish some of my writings dealing with what happened to the Whig and Democratic Parties between 1854 and 1860. Today an article about how that process started from my draft text “Mine Eyes have seen the Glory” Race, Religion, Ideology and Politics in the Civil War Era.


Padre Steve+

The Compromise of 1850 was followed by another congressional act dealing with the status of the Kansas, Nebraska Territory. Both territories lay north of the line barring slavery set by the Missouri Compromise. While that act had been gutted and for all practical sense made meaningless by the Compromise of 1850, it still remained on the books and applied to the establishment of new territories.

The new legislation was sparked by those who in the interest of Manifest Destiny were committed to organizing the territories of the nation to the Pacific, and in some cases to Central America and Cuba. The man at the heart of this legislation was Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois. Douglas saw the need for the organization of the territories and recognized that he needed Southern support for its passage. In response to pressure from Democrat Senators James Mason and Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia, Andrew Butler of South Carolina and David Atchison of Missouri, Douglas crafted the measure and included an “explicit repeal of the ban on slavery north of 36° 30’.” [1]

The explicit use of this measure in the legislation to organize these territories created a storm in both in Washington D.C. and throughout the country. Northern opponents, including Salmon Chase condemned the bill as being “an atrocious plot” of slave power to “convert free territory” into a “dreary region of despotism, inhabited by masters and slaves.” [2] Chase and his allies published the “Appeal of the Independent Democrats” who “condemned this “gross violation of a sacred pledge” and promised to “call the people to come to the rescue of the country from the domination of slavery.” [3] Chase closed the appeal by warning that “the dearest interests of freedom and the Union are in imminent peril” and called for religious and political organization to defeat the bill.” [4]

Horace Greeley, the publisher of the New York Tribune, transformed his paper into an instrument that he used to fight against the act. In an editorial Greeley charged that the Southern slave owners and politicians were:

“not content within its own proper limits,…it now proposed to invade and overrun the soil of freedom, and to unroll the pall of its darkness over virgin territory whereon slave has never stood. Freedom is to be elbowed out of its own home to make room for the leprous intruder. The free laborer is to be expelled that the slave may be brought in.” [5]

After months of wrangling the bill was passed. Historian William Freehling described it as “the latest and most notorious pro-southern law.” [6] The last hope of those who opposed the bill was a veto by Democrat President Franklin Pierce, However, Pierce buckled to the pressure put on him by the supporters of the bill, including many Northern Democrats who supported businesses, banks, and industries that benefited from slavery. The bill for the approval of the measure by the Southern delegations of both parties was nearly unanimous. However, the bill only passed the House of Representatives only due to the support of forty-two Northern Democrats who decided to support their Southern colleagues and antagonize their own constituents and did not get the majority support of any Northern delegation other than Douglas’s own state of Illinois.

To further humiliate their Northern colleague’s Southern senators blocked a measure passed in the House that would have provided 160 acres of land from public property to new settles in the territories. The Southerners opposed that measure because they believed that the passage of such a law “would prove a most efficient ally for Abolition by encouraging and stimulating the settlement of free farms with Yankees and foreigners pre-committed to resist the participancy of slave owners in the public domain.” [7] In other words, they wanted every incentive for slaveholders to move to the new territories while making it more difficult for people who might oppose slavery to do so.

Frederick Douglass condemned the legislation and understood that the “shame of slavery was not just the South’s, that the whole nation was complicit in it.” [8]  In his 1852 Independence Day address the powerful voice of Freemen and abolitionists everywhere spoke of the hypocrisy that the new laws for bolstering the support and spread of slavery. To do so he condemned them from the words of the Declaration of Independence itself:

“Fellow citizens: Pardon me, and allow me to ask, why I am called upon to speak here today? What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits, and express devout gratitude for the blessing resulting from independence to us?…

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals him to be more than all the days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up the crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than the people of these United States at this very hour.

Go where you may, search out where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival…” [9]

As the pressure mounted, the established political parties began to fray at the as those most committed to perpetuating slavery became more extreme in their views. Thus, the war was preceded by the fracturing of political parties and alliances that had worked for compromise in the previous decades to preserve the Union even at the cost of maintaining slavery. The outrage in the North over the Kansas-Nebraska Act combined with the previous Compromise of 1850 provoked a political and social firestorm.

The result of this increased tension shattered the Whig and the Democratic parties along sectional lines. The Whigs in the south collapsed into insignificance and in the North had disintegrated by 1856. The election of 1854 had shattered the Whigs precarious unity, and the bitter division destroyed the party as a national party. Senator Truman Smith resigned from the Senate in disgust and noted “The Whig party has been killed off by that miserable Nebraska business.” [10]  As a result many Northern Whigs gravitated to new political parties, including the nascent Republican Party, which gained Abraham Lincoln, who like many others left the Whigs.

The Democrats now were split between Northern and Southern factions but managed to keep their outward unity for a few more years. While the Democrats were still nominally a national party the losses in 64 of 88 Northern districts in the 1854 election ensured that the party was now for most part a regional party, a party dominated by its pro-slavery Southern wing. The 1854 election had cost the Democrats seventy-four of one hundred and fifty seven seats in the House. In New England only one of thirteen Democrats retained their seats, and in many other areas of the North. Many Northern Democrats too would find homes in the new Republican Party, including William Seward, Salmon Chase, Thaddeus Stevens and Schuyler Colfax. [11]

The national Whig and Democratic Parties that had dominated American life for decades were collapsing and as they did so, the fabric of the Union itself began to fray. The Whigs and the Democrats were national parties, and as such they were an important part of the bonds that held the country together, in them leaders of the North and the South mingled, became friends and worked together, but slavery destroyed that bond. When they splinted into sectional parties, with the Whigs collapsing and the Democrats splitting into hostile Northern and Southern factions it boded ill for the country at large.


[1] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.123

[2] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.124

[3] Ibid. Egnal  Clash of Extremes p.208

[4] Ibid. Foner Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men p.94

[5] Ibid. Goldfield America Aflame p.99

[6] Ibid. Freehling The Road to Disunion Volume One p.559

[7] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.126

[8] Zinn, Howard The Other Civil War: Slavery and Struggle in Civil War America Harper Perennial, Harper and Row, New York 2011 p.20

[9] Ibid. Zinn The Other Civil War pp.20-21

[10] Ibid. McPherson The Battle Cry of Freedom p.125

[11] Ibid. Egnal Clash of Extremes p.215

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