6 Early Abolitionists

6 Early Abolitionists

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1. Benjamin Lay

Even though he stood just 4 foot, 7 inches tall and had a hunched back, Benjamin Lay loomed large among 18th century abolitionists. The Quaker dwarf first developed a hatred for slavery in the 1720s while working as a merchant alongside sugar plantations in Barbados. Upon moving to Philadelphia a few years later, he launched a crusade to convince his fellow Quakers that the “peculiar institution” was incompatible with their faith. He interrupted Quaker gatherings to lecture on abolitionism, refused to eat food or wear clothes made by slave labor and published a 278-page screed titled “All Slave-Keepers that Keep the Innocent in Bondage, Apostates.”

Lay was best known for staging bizarre pieces of antislavery theater. For one stunt, he stood outside with one bare foot in the snow to show the suffering of slaves “who go all winter half-clad”; for another, he briefly kidnapped a slaveholding Quaker’s child to illustrate the injustice of separating Africans from their families. In 1738, Lay took the floor at annual Quaker meeting, drew a sword and stabbed a hollowed-out Bible filled with red-colored juice, spraying some of it on the crowd. “Thus shall God shed the blood of those who have enslaved their fellow creatures,” he proclaimed. Lay’s radicalism made him an outcast for much of his life, but he eventually achieved a small success in 1758, when the Quakers voted to exclude slaveholders from their business meetings. Upon hearing the news, the elderly dwarf supposedly rose from his chair and said, “I can now die in peace.”

2. Olaudah Equiano

Born in 1745 in present-day Nigeria, Olaudah Equiano was kidnapped from his village as an adolescent and sold into slavery. He endured the horrors of the Middle Passage aboard a slave ship, and later passed between several masters including a British Royal Navy officer, who used him as a servant during voyages between Europe and North America. After purchasing his freedom in 1766, Equiano moved to England and became active in the abolitionist movement. He penned editorials in newspapers, helped organize a group of black Londoners known as the Sons of Africa and petitioned the British crown to take action against slavery. He also became one of history’s earliest proponents for interracial marriage, which he argued would eliminate color barriers and inspire racial harmony.

Equiano’s biggest contribution to abolitionism came in 1789, when he published “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” an autobiography now considered one of the first slave narratives. The book was a bestseller, and he spent the next several years touring the British Isles and using his life story to illustrate the evils of slavery. Equiano died in 1797—a decade before Britain finally abolished the slave trade—but his “Interesting Narrative” later became an influential text among American abolitionists.

3. Anthony Benezet

During the mid-18th century, Philadelphia schoolteacher Anthony Benezet laid the foundations of the trans-Atlantic abolitionist movement. The kindhearted Quaker first took up the cause in 1754, when he joined with fellow activist John Woolman in writing a text titled “An Epistle of Caution and Advice, Concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves.” Over the next 25 years, Benezet published countless other antislavery tracts that drew on enlightenment philosophy, religious doctrine and economics to make a case for emancipation. Having taught many African children in his school, he also espoused the then-provocative idea that blacks possessed the same intellectual capacity as whites.

Benezet’s writings were widely distributed across both the United States and Europe, and he corresponded with the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Methodism founder John Wesley. In 1775, he helped found The Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, America’s first abolitionist group. He also lobbied the Quakers to denounce slavery and open a school for blacks, and was instrumental in winning passage of a law that gradually abolished slavery in Pennsylvania. When Benezet died in 1784, some 400 black Philadelphians turned out to march in his funeral procession.

4. Elizabeth Freeman (Bett)

In 1781, as the American Revolution raged, a Massachusetts slave named Bett approached abolitionist lawyer Theodore Sedgwick and asked him to help her sue for her freedom. Bett had endured mistreatment at the hands of her master’s wife—including a blow from a hot kitchen shovel that left her with a burn on her arm—and she was determined to never return to their house again. To back up her case for emancipation, she cited a surprising source: Massachusetts’ newly inked constitution, which included a passage stating that all the state’s residents were “born free and equal.”

Sedgwick took the case, and later argued in county court that Massachusetts’ constitution nullified any previous laws supporting slavery. In a landmark decision, the jury agreed and awarded Bett her freedom as well as 30 shillings in damages. It was one of the first times that a slave successfully won emancipation in court, and along with another case involving a man named Quok Walker, it helped set a precedent that saw Massachusetts abolish slavery in 1783. Having struck a major blow for the abolitionist cause, Bett went on to work as a paid domestic servant in Sedgwick’s home. She also adopted a name that reflected her new status as a free citizen: Elizabeth Freeman.

5. Benjamin Rush

The most prominent American physician of the late-18th century, Dr. Benjamin Rush was also a patriot leader who signed the Declaration of Independence and served as surgeon general of the Continental Army. His interest in abolitionism began in the early 1770s, when fellow Philadelphian Anthony Benezet inspired him to pen a critique of slavery titled, “An Address to the Inhabitants of the British Settlements in America, upon Slave-Keeping.” Approaching the subject with a scientist’s eye, Rush stressed that blacks had the same natural intelligence as their white counterparts and that education and emancipation were needed to undue the damage done by slavery.

When the American Revolution ended, Rush was among the many patriots who believed the principles of the new republic left no room for slavery. “It would be useless for us to denounce the servitude to which the Parliament of Great Britain wishes to reduce us,” he once wrote, “while we continue to keep our fellow creatures in slavery just because their color is different.” He joined the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in the 1780s, serving first as its secretary and then its president, and later made arrangements to free his lone slave. Rush also took steps to lift up Philadelphia’s free black community, including raising money for African churches and enlisting the help of black nurses during a 1793 yellow fever epidemic.

6. Moses Brown

Many former slave owners took up the abolitionist cause during the 1700s, but few made as radical a conversion as Moses Brown. The Rhode Island native and Brown University co-founder came from a prominent family whose commercial interests included slave trading. Brown owned several slaves himself, but he began to question the practice in the late-1760s after a disastrous voyage saw the family’s slave ship lose more than half its 200-person human cargo to disease, suicide and a failed insurrection. The tragedy weighed heavily on Brown’s conscience, and by 1774, he had converted to Quakerism and renounced slavery. “I saw my slaves with my spiritual eyes as plainly as I see you now,” he later recalled, “and it was given to me as clearly to understand that the sacrifice that was called for of my hand was to give them liberty.”

After manumitting his slaves, Brown cut ties with the family slaving business and became an ardent abolitionist. He assisted in court cases involving blacks unfairly held in bondage, distributed pamphlets against slavery, donated land for black schools and campaigned tirelessly for the abolition of the African slave trade on both the state and federal level. Even after Rhode Island banned the slave trade in 1787, he founded the Providence Society for the Abolition of Slavery to help prosecute those who violated the new law. Before his death in 1836, Brown had a personal meeting with famed abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who deemed the reformed slave trader “an extraordinary man” with “interest in all the great philanthropic movements of the age.”

6 Early Abolitionists - HISTORY

A: Black and white abolitionists often had different agendas by the 1840s, and certainly in the 1850s. But one of the greatest frustrations that many black abolitionists faced was the racism they sometimes experienced from their fellow white abolitionists. In many cases, within the Garrisonian movement in particular, the role of the black speaker or the black writer or the black abolitionist was, in some ways, prescribed, as the famous case of Frederick Douglass' relationship with the Garrisionians.

The Garrisionians wanted Douglass to simply get up and tell his story, to tell his narrative on the platform. They didn't want him to speak about Northern racism, to take on the whole picture of the anti-slavery movement as much as he did. And it had a lot to do with why Douglass eventually broke with the Garrisionians.

It was a problem for white abolitionists as well, because, in many ways, what they had discovered with black speakers is the authentic black voice, and they were using it all that they could, whether it was Douglass or whether it was Henry Garnett or whether it was others.

But for black abolitionists, it became very often simply a case of the demand for recognition, the demand for mutual respect. And it was also especially frustrating to black abolitionists to deal sometimes with the kinds of abstract debates that abolitionists would have, that white abolitionists would have, over doctrine. And, increasingly, in the 1850s, black abolitionists didn't have time to struggle over doctrinaire questions of tactics and strategy. They were by the 1850s about the business of building their own communities, and trying to organize real strategies against slavery in the South.

28. Abolitionist Sentiment Grows

Most of the African American characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin are transported to Africa at the end of the novel, causing controversy amongst abolitionists and free African Americans.

As the cotton industry took hold and slavery became more and more entrenched across the American south, the opposition to the Peculiar Institution began to grow.

The first widely accepted solution to the slavery question in the 1820s was colonization. In effect, supporters of colonization wanted to transplant the slave population back to Africa. Their philosophy was simple: slaves were brought to America involuntarily. Why not give them a chance to enjoy life as though such a forced migration had never taken place? Funds were raised to transport freed African-Americans across the Atlantic in the opposite direction. The nation of Liberia was created as a haven for former American slaves.

But most African-Americans opposed this practice. The vast majority had never set foot on African soil. Many African-Americans rightly believed that they had helped build this country and deserved to live as free citizens of America. By the end of the decade, a full-blown Abolitionist movement was born.

These new Abolitionists were different from their forebears. Anti-slavery societies had existed in America since 1775, but these activists were more radical. Early Abolitionists called for a gradual end to slavery. They supported compensation to owners of slaves for their loss of property. They raised money for the purchase of slaves to grant freedom to selected individuals.

Many runaway slaves died on their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad. This stone marking the grave of a four-year-old fugitive slave orphan is in Oberlin, Ohio, a town noted for helping slaves escape.

The new Abolitionists thought differently. They saw slavery as a blight on America. It must be brought to an end immediately and without compensation to the owners. They sent petitions to Congress and the states, campaigned for office, and flooded the south with inflammatory literature.

Needless to say, eyebrows were raised throughout the north and the south. Soon the battle lines were drawn. President Andrew Jackson banned the post office from delivering Abolitionist literature in the south. A " gag rule " was passed on the floor of the House of Representatives forbidding the discussion of bills that restricted slavery. Abolitionists were physically attacked because of their outspoken anti-slavery views. While northern churches rallied to the Abolitionist cause, the churches of the south used the Bible to defend slavery.

Abolitionists were always a minority, even on the eve of the Civil War. Their dogged determination to end human bondage was a struggle that persisted for decades. While mostly peaceful at first, as each side became more and more firmly rooted, pens were exchanged for swords. Another seed of sectional conflict had been deeply planted.

Juneteenth and the Black Women of the Abolitionist Movement: A Brief History

The goal of the abolitionist movement was realized on June 19th, 1865, when Union army general Gordon Granger announced federal orders in the city of Galveston, Texas, proclaiming that all slaves in Texas were now free. That day is now known as Juneteenth. This is a brief history of Juneteenth and some of the Black women who worked resolutely for the freedom of Black America.

Juneteenth: Freedom in Texas

The Emancipation Proclamation was issued on September 22nd, 1862 and placed into effect on January 1,1863. It called for the immediate release of enslaved African Americans living in the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation should have ushered in freedom for all Black Americans. But for at least 250,000 enslaved people living in the remote state of Texas, emancipation did not come. In fact, it would not come for another two and a half years.

It is unclear why the news of emancipation took so long to reach the most isolated state in the Confederacy. Historians have investigated several scenarios, including that would-be messengers could have been murdered in order to silence the news, or that the news was deliberately withheld for the benefit of enslavers. Nonetheless, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger seized Command of Texas on June 19th, 1865, and under General Order Number 3, announced that all enslaved people were to be freed immediately [1]. This order advised newly freed African Americans to remain at their residences and work for wages. However, many decided to depart from their former places of captivity. Some headed to other defunct Confederate States in search of lost family members. Other free people disbursed West and into northern states, hopeful to find better living conditions [2].

(general order number 3, via texas.gov)

The disbursement of newly free people allowed the story of Juneteenth to travel far and wide. In Texas and elsewhere, Juneteenth celebrations continued annually as a symbol of pride and the unbreakable spirit of Black America. Post-abolition society remained a hostile and dangerous place for Black Americans. In the early 20th century, Juneteenth gained popularity as a joyous, unifying act of resistance against the brutalities of Jim Crow America. The first Juneteenth marked the beginning of a new era in the struggle for Black liberation. But what led up to that moment?

Before Juneteenth and the Emancipation Proclamation, the abolitionist movement was a key driver of the social and legislative support that eventually put an end to chattel slavery. It was a struggle that had to be tirelessly fought. Though the voices of abolition were fairly significant in number, only white male abolitionists were permitted to speak on it. Some white women were famously active in the movement, but not without objection from their communities [3].

For Black Americans, participating in the anti-slavery struggle could be especially dangerous business. Under the shadow of white supremacy, African Americans had fewer rights, even within the Union. But for free Black Americans, publicly opposing slavery was worth the risk. The most well-known Black abolitionists include Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass– yet there were many other notable Black abolitionists, and probably numerous more that remain unnamed.

(Frances E.W. Harper, via Smithsonian Libraries)

“… I belong to this race, and when it is down I belong to a down race when it is up I belong to a risen race.”- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, (1872)

Frances E.W. Harper Frances Ellen Watkins Harper was a poet, abolitionist orator, and suffragist. Born of free status in Baltimore in 1825, Watkins was influenced by her uncle, William Watkins. He was a passionate abolitionist, literacy advocate, and teacher. Watkins received her elementary education from her uncle’s Academy.

In her prose, Watkins spoke of identity, morality, and the inhumanity of the slave trade. Her first poetry collection was entitled “Forest Leaves.” As tensions over slavery started to boil, Watkins became devoted to the struggle for abolition. She spent nearly a decade traveling across the United States and Canada as an abolitionist lecturer. In 1859, she published “The Two Offers”, a story that spoke out about women’s education. This was the first short story ever published by a Black woman.

At the 1866 National Women’s Rights Convention, Frances E.W. Harper famously delivered her speech, “We are all Bound Up Together”, which urged white suffragists to stand up for their black sisters. Harper continued her leadership by co-founding the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Through her writing, poetry, and lectures, Harper powerfully amplified the voices of her community until her death in 1911 [4,5,6].

Sarah Mapps Douglass Born September 9, 1806, Sarah Mapps Douglass was the daughter of prominent Philadephian abolitionists. Despite being born into an elevated social status, Douglass was outspoken against the anti-black discrimination that she experienced within her community and within the Quaker Church. These experiences fueled her work as a dedicated educator, writer, fundraiser, and anti-slavery lecturer [7]. Early on, Douglass operated and taught at a private school for African American Women. She later became involved with the Female Literary Association, a Black women’s society for intellectual growth and activism. Through the Association, Douglass published numerous anti-slavery pieces in a weekly abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator. In 1837, Douglass served as a committe member for the first integrated National Anti-Slavery Convention. Years later, she studied medicine and went on to teach African American women about health and physiology. She remained active in the abolitionist sphere, eventually serving as vice president of the women’s Freedman’s Aid Society [8]. Douglass’s unwavering dedication to activism and teaching made her an invaluable voice within the anti-slavery movement.

MumBet, aka Elizabeth Freeman

Elizabeth Freeman, “MumBet” Before she became Elizabeth Freeman, this abolitionist was called “MumBet”. MumBet was born into enslavement and was likely in her teens when she was brought to work in the home of Colonel John Ashley in 1746. While working in the Ashley home, MumBet overheard a discussion about the newly ratified Massachssetts constitution. More specifically, she heard the words “all people are born free and equal” and figured that this statement applied to her, too.

MumBet sought the help of Theodore Sedgwick, a local lawyer and abolitionist. Sedgwick added a male party, an enslaved man called Brom, to her case in order to strengthen it. Brom and Bett v. Ashley broke ground when the jury ruled that the enslaved parties were being held unlawfully and declared both MumBet and Brom to be free. MumBet eventually chose the name Elizabeth Freeman and lived out the rest of her days as a free woman. Freeman’s persistence and faith sparked a movement. Within a few years, slavery was declared illegal in the state of Massachusetts [9].

Juneteenth is a powerful time to celebrate the lives of these and so many more incredible Black Americans. It’s also a valuable time to focus on how to move forward in their legacies. As we continue with the demands and labors for an equitable society, it’s more critical than ever to amplify the voices of Black America. More inspiration for your Juneteenth celebration can be found here.

Written by Jessica Lamb, WMC Volunteer

1.”History of Juneteenth.” June 17, 2020.

2.Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “What is Juneteenth?”. PBS. The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. June 17, 2020.

3. “Women and Abolition” The Abolition Seminar, 2014. June 17, 2020.

4. Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.” National Women’s History Museum, 2020. June 17, 2020.

5. Marcia Robinson PhD, Milton C. Sernett PhD. “Frances Ellen Watkins Harper.” National Abolition Hall of Fame and Museum. June 17, 2020.

6. The editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Frances E.W. Harper: American Author and Social Reformer.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. June 17, 2020.

7.Lindhorst, Marie. “Politics in a Box:

Sarah Mapps Douglass and the

Female Literary Association, 1831-1833”. Penn State. June 17, 2020.

8.Levy, Valerie D. “Sarah Mapps Douglass” Voices From the Gaps, 2009. June 17, 2020.

9. “August 22, 1781: Jury Decides in Favor of Elizabeth “Mum Bett” Freeman. Mass Moments. June 17, 2020.

Nineteenth Century

In the early to mid-Nineteenth Century, the abolitionist movement gained momentum in the northeast. In the early part of the century, many states reduced the number of their capital crimes and built state penitentiaries. In 1834, Pennsylvania became the first state to move executions away from the public eye and carrying them out in correctional facilities.

In 1846, Michigan became the first state to abolish the death penalty for all crimes except treason. Later, Rhode Island and Wisconsin abolished the death penalty for all crimes. By the end of the century, the world would see the countries of Venezuela, Portugal, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Brazil and Ecuador follow suit. (Bohm, 1999 and Schabas, 1997).

Although some U.S. states began abolishing the death penalty, most states held onto capital punishment. Some states made more crimes capital offenses, especially for offenses committed by slaves. In 1838, in an effort to make the death penalty more palatable to the public, some states began passing laws against mandatory death sentencing instead enacting discretionary death penalty statutes. The 1838 enactment of discretionary death penalty statutes in Tennessee, and later in Alabama, were seen as a great reform. This introduction of sentencing discretion in the capital process was perceived as a victory for abolitionists because prior to the enactment of these statutes, all states mandated the death penalty for anyone convicted of a capital crime, regardless of circumstances. With the exception of a small number of rarely committed crimes in a few jurisdictions, all mandatory capital punishment laws had been abolished by 1963. (Bohm, 1999)

During the Civil War, opposition to the death penalty waned, as more attention was given to the anti-slavery movement. After the war, new developments in the means of executions emerged. The electric chair was introduced at the end of the century. New York built the first electric chair in 1888, and in 1890 executed William Kemmler. Soon, other states adopted this execution method. (Randa, 1997)

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The American party system had been dominated by Whigs and Democrats for decades leading up to the Civil War. But the Whig party's increasing internal divisions had made it a party of strange bedfellows by the 1850s. An ascendant anti-slavery wing clashed with a traditionalist and increasingly pro-slavery Southern wing. These divisions came to a head in the 1852 election, where Whig candidate Winfield Scott was trounced by Franklin Pierce. Southern Whigs, who had supported the prior Whig president Zachary Taylor, had been burned by Taylor and were unwilling to support another Whig. Taylor, who despite being a slaveowner, had proved notably anti-slave after campaigning neutrally on the issue. With the loss of Southern Whig support, and the loss of votes in the North to the Free Soil Party, Whigs seemed doomed. So they were, as they would never again contest a presidential election. [6]

The final nail in the Whig coffin was the Kansas–Nebraska act, passed by Democrats in 1854. It was also the spark that began the Republican Party, which would take in both Whigs and Free Soilers and create an anti-slavery party that the Whigs had always resisted becoming. [6] [7] [8] The Act opened Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory to slavery and future admission as slave states, thus implicitly repealing the prohibition on slavery in territory north of 36° 30′ latitude that had been part of the Missouri Compromise. [9] [10] This change was viewed by anti-slavery Northerners as an aggressive, expansionist maneuver by the slave-owning South. Opponents of the Act were intensely motivated and began forming a new party. The Party began as a coalition of anti-slavery Conscience Whigs such as Zachariah Chandler and Free Soilers such as Salmon P. Chase. [11] [12]

The first anti-Nebraska local meeting where "Republican" was suggested as a name for a new anti-slavery party was held in a Ripon, Wisconsin schoolhouse on March 20, 1854. [13] The first statewide convention that formed a platform and nominated candidates under the Republican name was held near Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, 1854. At that convention, the party opposed the expansion of slavery into new territories and selected a statewide slate of candidates. [14] The Midwest took the lead in forming state Republican Party tickets apart from St. Louis and a few areas adjacent to free states, there were no efforts to organize the Party in the southern states. [15] [16]

New England Yankees, who dominated that region and much of upstate New York and the upper Midwest, were the strongest supporters of the new party. This was especially true for the pietistic Congregationalists and Presbyterians among them and, during the war, many Methodists and Scandinavian Lutherans. The Quakers were a small, tight-knit group that was heavily Republican. By contrast, the liturgical churches (Roman Catholic, Episcopal and German Lutheran) largely rejected the moralism of the Republican Party most of their adherents voted Democratic. [17] [18]

The new Republican Party envisioned modernizing the United States, emphasizing expanded banking, more railroads and factories, and giving free western land to farmers ("free soil") as opposed to letting slave owners buy up the best properties. It vigorously argued that free market labor was superior to slavery and was the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism this was the "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men" ideology. [12] Without using the term "containment", the Republican Party in the mid-1850s proposed a system of containing slavery. Historian James Oakes explains the strategy:

The federal government would surround the south with free states, free territories, and free waters, building what they called a 'cordon of freedom' around slavery, hemming it in until the system's own internal weaknesses forced the slave states one by one to abandon slavery. [19]

The Republican Party launched its first national organizing convention in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on February 22, 1856. [20] [21] This gathering elected a governing National Executive Committee and passed resolutions calling for the repeal of laws enabling slaveholding in free territories and "resistance by Constitutional means of Slavery in any Territory," defense of anti-slavery individuals in Kansas who were coming under physical attack, and a call to "resist and overthrow the present National Administration" of Franklin Pierce, "as it is identified with the progress of the Slave power to national supremacy." [22] Its first national nominating convention was held in June 1856 in Philadelphia. [20] John C. Frémont ran as the first Republican nominee for President in 1856 behind the slogan "Free soil, free silver, free men, Frémont and victory!" Although Frémont's bid was unsuccessful, the party showed a strong base. It dominated in New England, New York and the northern Midwest and had a strong presence in the rest of the North. It had almost no support in the South, where it was roundly denounced in 1856–1860 as a divisive force that threatened civil war. [23]

The Republican Party absorbed many of the previous traditions of its members, who had come from an array of political factions, including Working Men, [Note 1] Locofoco Democrats, [Note 2] Free Soil Democrats, [Note 3] Free Soil Whigs, [Note 4] anti-slavery Know Nothings, [Note 5] Conscience Whigs, [Note 6] and Temperance Reformers of both parties. [Note 7] [24] [25] [26] [27] Many Democrats who joined were rewarded with governorships, [Note 8] or seats in the U.S. Senate, [Note 9] or House of Representatives. [Note 10]

During the presidential campaign in 1860, at a time of escalating tension between the North and South, Abraham Lincoln addressed the harsh treatment of Republicans in the South in his famous Cooper Union speech:

[W]hen you speak of us Republicans, you do so only to denounce us as reptiles, or, at the best, as no better than outlaws. You will grant a hearing to pirates or murderers, but nothing like it to "Black Republicans." [. ] But you will not abide the election of a Republican president! In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, "Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!" [28]

The election of Lincoln as president in 1860 opened a new era of Republican dominance based in the industrial North and agricultural Midwest. The Third Party System was dominated by the Republican Party (it lost the presidency only in 1884 and 1892). Lincoln proved brilliantly successful in uniting the factions of his party to fight for the Union in the Civil War. [29] However, he usually fought the Radical Republicans who demanded harsher measures. Many conservative Democrats became War Democrats who had a deep belief in American nationalism and supported the war. When Lincoln added the abolition of slavery as a war goal, the Peace Democrats were energized and carried numerous state races, especially in Connecticut, Indiana and Illinois. Democrat Horatio Seymour was elected Governor of New York and immediately became a likely presidential candidate. [30] [31]

Most of the state Republican parties accepted the antislavery goal except Kentucky. During the American Civil War, the party passed major legislation in Congress to promote rapid modernization, including a national banking system, high tariffs, the first temporary income tax (subsequently ruled constitutional in Springer v. United States), many excise taxes, paper money issued without backing ("greenbacks"), a huge national debt, homestead laws, railroads and aid to education and agriculture. [32]

The Republicans denounced the peace-oriented Democrats as disloyal Copperheads and won enough War Democrats to maintain their majority in 1862. In 1864, they formed a coalition with many War Democrats as the National Union Party. Lincoln chose Democrat Andrew Johnson as his running mate [33] and was easily re-elected. [34] During the war, upper-middle-class men in major cities formed Union Leagues to promote and help finance the war effort. [35] Following the 1864 elections, Radical Republicans Led by Charles Sumner in the Senate and Thaddeus Stevens in the House set the agenda by demanding more aggressive action against slavery and more vengeance toward the Confederates. [36]

Reconstruction (freedmen, carpetbaggers and scalawags): 1865–1877 Edit

Under Republican congressional leadership, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution—which banned slavery in the United States—passed the Senate in 1864 and the House in 1865 it was ratified in December 1865. [37] In 1865, the Confederacy surrendered, ending the Civil War. [38] Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865 following his death, Andrew Johnson took office as President of the United States. [33]

During the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, there were major disagreements on the treatment of ex-Confederates and of former slaves, or freedmen. Johnson broke with the Radical Republicans and formed a loose alliance with moderate Republicans and Democrats. A showdown came in the Congressional elections of 1866, in which the Radicals won a sweeping victory and took full control of Reconstruction, passing key laws over the veto. Johnson was impeached by the House, but acquitted by the Senate.

With the election of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, the Radicals had control of Congress, the party and the army and attempted to build a solid Republican base in the South using the votes of Freedmen, Scalawags and Carpetbaggers, [23] supported directly by U.S. Army detachments. Republicans all across the South formed local clubs called Union Leagues that effectively mobilized the voters, discussed issues and when necessary fought off Ku Klux Klan (KKK) attacks. Thousands died on both sides. [39]

Grant supported radical reconstruction programs in the South, the Fourteenth Amendment and equal civil and voting rights for the freedmen. Most of all he was the hero of the war veterans, who marched to his tune. The party had become so large that factionalism was inevitable it was hastened by Grant's tolerance of high levels of corruption typified by the Whiskey Ring.

Many of the founders of the GOP joined the liberal movement, as did many powerful newspaper editors. They nominated Horace Greeley for president, who also gained the Democratic nomination, but the ticket was defeated in a landslide. The depression of 1873 energized the Democrats. They won control of the House and formed "Redeemer" coalitions which recaptured control of each southern state, in some cases using threats and violence.

Reconstruction came to an end when the contested election of 1876 was awarded by a special electoral commission to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, who promised through the unofficial Compromise of 1877 to withdraw federal troops from control of the last three southern states. The region then became the Solid South, giving overwhelming majorities of its electoral votes and Congressional seats to the Democrats through 1964.

In terms of racial issues, Sarah Woolfolk Wiggins argues that in Alabama:

White Republicans as well as Democrats solicited black votes but reluctantly rewarded blacks with nominations for office only when necessary, even then reserving the more choice positions for whites. The results were predictable: these half-a-loaf gestures satisfied neither black nor white Republicans. The fatal weakness of the Republican Party in Alabama, as elsewhere in the South, was its inability to create a biracial political party. And while in power even briefly, they failed to protect their members from Democratic terror. Alabama Republicans were forever on the defensive, verbally and physically. [40]

Social pressure eventually forced most Scalawags to join the conservative/Democratic Redeemer coalition. A minority persisted and, starting in the 1870s, formed the "tan" half of the "Black and Tan" Republican Party, a minority in every Southern state after 1877. [41] This divided the party into two factions: the lily-white faction, which was practically all-white and the biracial black-and-tan faction. [42]

In several Southern states, the "Lily Whites,” who sought to recruit white Democrats to the Republican Party, attempted to purge the Black and Tan faction or at least to reduce its influence. Among such "Lily White" leaders in the early 20th century, Arkansas' Wallace Townsend was the party's gubernatorial nominee in 1916 and 1920 and its veteran national GOP committeeman. [43] The factionalism flared up in 1928 [44] and 1952. [45] The final victory of its opponent the lily-white faction came in 1964. [46]

Gilded Age: 1877–1890 Edit

The party split into factions in the late 1870s. The Stalwarts, followers of Senator Roscoe Conkling, defended the spoils system. The Half-Breeds, who followed Senator James G. Blaine of Maine, pushed for reform of the Civil service. Upscale reformers who opposed the spoils system altogether were called "Mugwumps.” In 1884, Mugwumps rejected James G. Blaine as corrupt and helped elect Democrat Grover Cleveland, though most returned to the party by 1888. In the run-up to the 1884 GOP convention, Mugwumps organized their forces in the swing states, especially New York and Massachusetts. After failing to block Blaine, many bolted to the Democrats, who had nominated reformer Grover Cleveland. Young Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, leading reformers, refused to bolt—an action that preserved their leadership role in the GOP. [47]

As the Northern post-war economy boomed with industry, railroads, mines and fast-growing cities as well as prosperous agriculture, the Republicans took credit and promoted policies to keep the fast growth going. The Democratic Party was largely controlled by pro-business Bourbon Democrats until 1896. The GOP supported big business generally, the gold standard, high tariffs and generous pensions for Union veterans. However, by 1890 the Republicans had agreed to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission in response to complaints from owners of small businesses and farmers. The high McKinley Tariff of 1890 hurt the party and the Democrats swept to a landslide in the off-year elections, even defeating McKinley himself.

Foreign affairs seldom became partisan issues (except for the annexation of Hawaii, which Republicans favored and Democrats opposed). Much more salient were cultural issues. The GOP supported the pietistic Protestants (especially the Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Scandinavian Lutherans) who demanded prohibition. That angered wet Republicans, especially German Americans, who broke ranks in 1890–1892, handing power to the Democrats. [48]

Demographic trends aided the Democrats, as the German and Irish Catholic immigrants were mostly Democrats and outnumbered the British and Scandinavian Republicans. During the 1880s, elections were remarkably close. The Democrats usually lost, but won in 1884 and 1892. In the 1894 Congressional elections, the GOP scored the biggest landslide in its history as Democrats were blamed for the severe economic depression 1893–1897 and the violent coal and railroad strikes of 1894. [48]

Pietistic Republicans versus Liturgical Democrats: 1890–1896 Edit

Voting behavior by religion, Northern U.S. late 19th century [49]
% Dem % GOP
Immigrant groups
Irish Catholics 80 20
All Catholics 70 30
Confessional German Lutherans 65 35
German Reformed 60 40
French Canadian Catholics 50 50
Less Confessional German Lutherans 45 55
English Canadians 40 60
British Stock 35 65
German Sectarians 30 70
Norwegian Lutherans 20 80
Swedish Lutherans 15 85
Haugean Norwegians 5 95
Natives: Northern Stock
Quakers 5 95
Free Will Baptists 20 80
Congregational 25 75
Methodists 25 75
Regular Baptists 35 65
Blacks 40 60
Presbyterians 40 60
Episcopalians 45 55
Natives: Southern Stock (living in North)
Disciples 50 50
Presbyterians 70 30
Baptists 75 25
Methodists 90 10

From 1860 to 1912, the Republicans took advantage of the association of the Democrats with "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” Rum stood for the liquor interests and the tavernkeepers, in contrast to the GOP, which had a strong dry element. "Romanism" meant Roman Catholics, especially Irish Americans, who ran the Democratic Party in every big city and whom the Republicans denounced for political corruption. "Rebellion" stood for the Democrats of the Confederacy, who tried to break the Union in 1861 and the Democrats in the North, called "Copperheads,” who sympathized with them. [ citation needed ]

Demographic trends aided the Democrats, as the German and Irish Catholic immigrants were Democrats and outnumbered the English and Scandinavian Republicans. During the 1880s and 1890s, the Republicans struggled against the Democrats' efforts, winning several close elections and losing two to Grover Cleveland (in 1884 and 1892). [ citation needed ]

Religious lines were sharply drawn. [50] Methodists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Scandinavian Lutherans and other pietists in the North were tightly linked to the GOP. In sharp contrast, liturgical groups, especially the Catholics, Episcopalians and German Lutherans, looked to the Democratic Party for protection from pietistic moralism, especially prohibition. Both parties cut across the class structure, with the Democrats more bottom-heavy.

Cultural issues, especially prohibition and foreign language schools became important because of the sharp religious divisions in the electorate. In the North, about 50% of the voters were pietistic Protestants (Methodists, Scandinavian Lutherans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and Disciples of Christ) who believed the government should be used to reduce social sins, such as drinking. [50]

Liturgical churches (Roman Catholics, German Lutherans and Episcopalians) comprised over a quarter of the vote and wanted the government to stay out of the morality business. Prohibition debates and referendums heated up politics in most states over a period of decade as national prohibition was finally passed in 1919 (repealed in 1933), serving as a major issue between the wet Democrats and the dry GOP. [50]

The election of William McKinley in 1896 marked a resurgence of Republican dominance and was a realigning election. [51]

McKinley Edit

The Progressive Era (or "Fourth Party System") was dominated by Republican Presidents, with the sole exception of Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921). McKinley promised that high tariffs would end the severe hardship caused by the Panic of 1893 and that the GOP would guarantee a sort of pluralism in which all groups would benefit. He denounced William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic nominee, as a dangerous radical whose plans for "Free Silver" at 16–1 (or Bimetallism) would bankrupt the economy.

McKinley relied heavily on finance, railroads, industry and the middle classes for his support and cemented the Republicans as the party of business. His campaign manager, Ohio's Mark Hanna, developed a detailed plan for getting contributions from the business world and McKinley outspent his rival Democrat William Jennings Bryan by a large margin. This emphasis on business was in part reversed by Theodore Roosevelt, the presidential successor after McKinley's assassination in 1901, who engaged in trust-busting. McKinley was the first President to promote pluralism, arguing that prosperity would be shared by all ethnic and religious groups. [48]

Roosevelt Edit

Theodore Roosevelt, who became president in 1901, had the most dynamic personality of the era. Roosevelt had to contend with men like Senator Mark Hanna, whom he outmaneuvered to gain control of the convention in 1904 that renominated him and he won after promising to continue McKinley's policies. More difficult to handle was conservative House Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon. [ citation needed ]

Roosevelt achieved modest legislative gains in terms of railroad legislation and pure food laws. He was more successful in Court, bringing antitrust suits that broke up the Northern Securities Company trust and Standard Oil. Roosevelt moved to the left in his last two years in office, but was unable to pass major Square Deal proposals. He did succeed in naming his successor, Secretary of War William Howard Taft, who easily defeated Bryan again in the 1908 presidential election. [ citation needed ]

By 1907, Roosevelt identified himself with the left-center of the Republican Party. [52] He explained his balancing act:

Again and again in my public career I have had to make head against mob spirit, against the tendency of poor, ignorant and turbulent people who feel a rancorous jealousy and hatred of those who are better off. But during the last few years it has been the wealthy corruptionists of enormous fortune, and of enormous influence through their agents of the press, pulpit, colleges and public life, with whom I've had to wage bitter war." [53]

Tariffs Edit

Protectionism was the ideological cement holding the Republican coalition together. High tariffs were used by Republicans to promise higher sales to business, higher wages to industrial workers, and higher demand for their crops to farmers. Progressive insurgents said it promoted monopoly. Democrats said it was a tax on the little man. It had greatest support in the Northeast, and greatest opposition in the South and West. The Midwest was the battle ground. [54] The tariff issue was pulling the GOP apart. Roosevelt tried to postpone the issue, but Taft had to meet it head on in 1909 with the Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act. Eastern conservatives led by Nelson W. Aldrich wanted high tariffs on manufactured goods (especially woolens), while Midwesterners called for low tariffs. Aldrich outmaneuvered them by lowering the tariff on farm products, which outraged the farmers. The great battle over the high Payne–Aldrich Tariff Act in 1910 ripped the Republicans apart and set up the realignment in favor of the Democrats. [55] Insurgent Midwesterners led by George Norris revolted against the conservatives led by Speaker Cannon. The Democrats won control of the House in 1910 as the rift between insurgents and conservatives widened. [23]

1912 personal feud becomes ideological split Edit

In 1912, Roosevelt broke with Taft, rejected Robert M. La Follette, and tried for a third term, but he was outmaneuvered by Taft and lost the nomination. The 1912 Republican National Convention turned a personal feud into an ideological split in the GOP. Politically liberal states for the first time were holding Republican primaries. Roosevelt overwhelmingly won the primaries—winning 9 out of 12 states (8 by landslide margins). Taft won only the state of Massachusetts (by a small margin) he even lost his home state of Ohio to Roosevelt. Senator Robert M. La Follette, a reformer, won two states. Through the primaries, Senator La Follette won a total of 36 delegates President Taft won 48 delegates and Roosevelt won 278 delegates. However 36 more conservative states did not hold primaries, but instead selected delegates via state conventions. For years Roosevelt had tried to attract Southern white Democrats to the Republican Party, and he tried to win delegates there in 1912. However Taft had the support of black Republicans in the South, and defeated Roosevelt there. [56] Roosevelt led many (but not most) of his delegates to bolt out of the convention and created a new party (the Progressive, or "Bull Moose" ticket), in the election of 1912. Few party leaders followed him except Hiram Johnson of California. Roosevelt had the support of many notable women reformers, including Jane Addams. [57] [58] The Roosevelt-caused split in the Republican vote resulted in a decisive victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, temporarily interrupting the Republican era. [23]

Regional, state and local politics Edit

The Republicans welcomed the Progressive Era at the state and local level. The first important reform mayor was Hazen S. Pingree of Detroit (1890–1897), who was elected Governor of Michigan in 1896. In New York City, the Republicans joined nonpartisan reformers to battle Tammany Hall and elected Seth Low (1902–1903). Golden Rule Jones was first elected mayor of Toledo as a Republican in 1897, but was reelected as an independent when his party refused to renominate him. Many Republican civic leaders, following the example of Mark Hanna, were active in the National Civic Federation, which promoted urban reforms and sought to avoid wasteful strikes. North Carolina journalist William Garrott Brown tried to convince upscale white southerners of the wisdom of a strong early white Republican Party. He warned that a one party solid South system would negate democracy, encourage corruption, because the lack of prestige of the national level. Roosevelt was following his advice. However, in 1912, incumbent president Taft needed black Republican support in the South to defeat Roosevelt at the 1912 Republican national convention. Brown's campaign came to nothing, and he finally supported Woodrow Wilson in 1912. [59]

Republicans dominate the 1920s Edit

The party controlled the presidency throughout the 1920s, running on a platform of opposition to the League of Nations, support for high tariffs, and promotion of business interests. Voters gave the GOP credit for the prosperity and Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were resoundingly elected by landslides in 1920, 1924 and 1928. The breakaway efforts of Senator Robert M. La Follette in 1924 failed to stop a landslide for Coolidge and his movement fell apart. The Teapot Dome Scandal threatened to hurt the party, but Harding died and Coolidge blamed everything on him as the opposition splintered in 1924. [48]

GOP overthrown during Great Depression Edit

The pro-business policies of the decade seemed to produce an unprecedented prosperity—until the Wall Street Crash of 1929 heralded the Great Depression. Although the party did very well in large cities and among ethnic Catholics in presidential elections of 1920–1924, it was unable to hold those gains in 1928. [48] By 1932, the cities—for the first time ever—had become Democratic strongholds.

Hoover was by nature an activist and attempted to do what he could to alleviate the widespread suffering caused by the Depression, but his strict adherence to what he believed were Republican principles precluded him from establishing relief directly from the federal government. The Depression cost Hoover the presidency with the 1932 landslide election of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt's New Deal coalition controlled American politics for most of the next three decades, excepting the presidency of Republican Dwight Eisenhower 1953–1961. The Democrats made major gains in the 1930 midterm elections, giving them congressional parity (though not control) for the first time since Wilson's presidency. [23]

Unlike the "moderate," internationalist, largely eastern bloc of Republicans who accepted (or at least acquiesced in) some of the "Roosevelt Revolution" and the essential premises of President Truman's foreign policy, the Republican Right at heart was counterrevolutionary. Anticollectivist, anti-Communist, anti-New Deal, passionately committed to limited government, free market economics, and congressional (as opposed to executive) prerogatives, the G.O.P. conservatives were obliged from the start to wage a constant two-front war: against liberal Democrats from without and "me-too" Republicans from within. [60]

The Old Right emerged in opposition to the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Hoff says that "moderate Republicans and leftover Republican Progressives like Hoover composed the bulk of the Old Right by 1940, with a sprinkling of former members of the Farmer-Labor party, Non-Partisan League, and even a few midwestern prairie Socialists.” [61]

The New Deal Era: 1932–1939 Edit

After Roosevelt took office in 1933, New Deal legislation sailed through Congress at lightning speed. In the 1934 midterm elections, ten Republican senators went down to defeat, leaving them with only 25 against 71 Democrats. The House of Representatives was also split in a similar ratio. The "Second New Deal" was heavily criticized by the Republicans in Congress, who likened it to class warfare and socialism. The volume of legislation, as well as the inability of the Republicans to block it, soon made the opposition to Roosevelt develop into bitterness and sometimes hatred for "that man in the White House.” Former President Hoover became a leading orator crusading against the New Deal, hoping unrealistically to be nominated again for president. [62] [63]

Most major newspaper publishers favored Republican moderate Alf Landon for president. In the nation's 15 largest cities the newspapers that editorially endorsed Landon represented 70% of the circulation. Roosevelt won 69% of the actual voters in those cities by ignoring the press and using the radio to reach voters directly. [64] [65]

Roosevelt carried 46 of the 48 states thanks to traditional Democrats along with newly energized labor unions, city machines and the Works Progress Administration. The realignment creating the Fifth Party System was firmly in place. [66] Since 1928, the GOP had lost 178 House seats, 40 Senate seats and 19 governorships, though it retained a mere 89 seats in the House and 16 in the Senate. [67]

The black vote held for Hoover in 1932, but started moving toward Roosevelt. By 1940, the majority of northern blacks were voting Democratic. Southern blacks seldom were allowed to vote, but most became Democrats. Roosevelt made sure blacks had a share in relief programs, the wartime Army and wartime defense industry, but did not challenge segregation or the denial of voting rights in the South. [68]

Minority parties tend to factionalize and after 1936 the GOP split into a conservative faction (dominant in the West and Midwest) and a liberal faction (dominant in the Northeast)—combined with a residual base of inherited progressive Republicanism active throughout the century. In 1936, Kansas governor Alf Landon and his liberal followers defeated the Herbert Hoover faction. Landon generally supported most New Deal programs, but carried only two states in the Roosevelt landslide. The GOP was left with only 16 senators and 88 representatives to oppose the New Deal, with Massachusetts Senator Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. as the sole victor over a Democratic incumbent.

Roosevelt alienated many conservative Democrats in 1937 by his unexpected plan to "pack" the Supreme Court via the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937. Following a sharp recession that hit early in 1938, major strikes all over the country, the CIO and AFL competing with each other for membership and Roosevelt's failed efforts to radically reorganize the Supreme Court, the Democrats were in disarray. Meanwhile, the GOP was united as they had shed their weakest members in a series of defeats since 1930. [69] Re-energized Republicans focused attention on strong fresh candidates in major states, especially Robert A. Taft the conservative from Ohio, [70] Earl Warren the moderate who won both the Republicans and the Democratic primaries in California [71] and Thomas E. Dewey the crusading prosecutor from New York. [72] The GOP comeback in 1938 was made possible by carrying 50% of the vote outside the South, giving GOP leaders confidence it had a strong base for the 1940 presidential election. [73] [74]

The GOP gained 75 House seats in 1938, but were still a minority. Conservative Democrats, mostly from the South, joined with Republicans led by Senator Robert A. Taft to create the conservative coalition, which dominated domestic issues in Congress until 1964. [75]

World War II and its aftermath: 1939–1952 Edit

From 1939 through 1941, there was a sharp debate within the GOP about support for Great Britain as it led the fight against a much stronger Nazi Germany. Internationalists, such as Henry Stimson and Frank Knox, wanted to support Britain and isolationists, such as Robert A. Taft and Arthur Vandenberg, strongly opposed these moves as unwise for risking a war with Germany. The America First movement was a bipartisan coalition of isolationists. In 1940, a dark horse Wendell Willkie at the last minute won over the party, the delegates and was nominated. He crusaded against the inefficiencies of the New Deal and Roosevelt's break with the strong tradition against a third term, but was ambiguous on foreign policy. [76]

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 ended the isolationist-internationalist debate, as all factions strongly supported the war effort against Japan and Germany. The Republicans further cut the Democratic majority in the 1942 midterm elections in a very low turnout episode. With wartime production creating prosperity, the conservative coalition terminated nearly all New Deal relief programs (except Social Security) as unnecessary. [76]

Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio represented the wing of the party that continued to oppose New Deal reforms and continued to champion non-interventionism. Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, represented the Northeastern wing of the party. Dewey did not reject the New Deal programs, but demanded more efficiency, more support for economic growth and less corruption. He was more willing than Taft to support Britain in 1939–1940. After the war the isolationists wing strenuously opposed the United Nations and was half-hearted in opposition to world communism. [76] [77]

As a minority party, the GOP had two wings: The left-wing supported most of the New Deal while promising to run it more efficiently and the right-wing opposed the New Deal from the beginning and managed to repeal large parts during the 1940s in cooperation with conservative Southern Democrats in the conservative coalition. Liberals, led by Dewey, dominated the Northeast while conservatives, led by Taft, dominated the Midwest. [78] The West was split and the South was still solidly Democratic.

In 1944, a clearly frail Roosevelt defeated Dewey for his fourth consecutive term, but Dewey made a good showing that would lead to his selection as the candidate in 1948. [78]

Roosevelt died in April 1945 and Harry S. Truman, a less liberal Democrat became president and replaced most of Roosevelt's top appointees. With the end of the war, unrest among organized labor led to many strikes in 1946 and the resulting disruptions helped the GOP. With the blunders of the Truman administration in 1945 and 1946, the slogans "Had Enough?" and "To Err is Truman" became Republican rallying cries and the GOP won control of Congress for the first time since 1928, with Joseph William Martin, Jr. as Speaker of the House. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 was designed to balance the rights of management and labor. It was the central issue of many elections in industrial states in the 1940s to 1950s, but the unions were never able to repeal it.

In 1948, with Republicans split left and right, Truman boldly called Congress into a special session and sent it a load of liberal legislation consistent with the Dewey platform and dared them to act on it, knowing that the conservative Republicans would block action. Truman then attacked the Republican "Do-Nothing Congress" as a whipping boy for all of the nation's problems. Truman stunned Dewey and the Republicans in the election with a plurality of just over twenty-four million popular votes (out of nearly 49 million cast), but a decisive 303–189 victory in the Electoral College. [79]

Southern realignment Edit

Before Reconstruction and for a century thereafter, the white South identified with the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party's dominance in the Southern states was so strong that the region was called the Solid South. The Republicans controlled certain parts of the Appalachian Mountains [80] and they sometimes did compete for statewide office in the border states. [81]

Before 1948, the Southern Democrats saw their party as the defender of the Southern way of life, which included a respect for states' rights and an appreciation for traditional values of southern white men. They repeatedly warned against the aggressive designs of Northern liberals and Republicans as well as the civil rights activists they denounced as "outside agitators", thus there was a serious barrier to becoming a Republican. [81]

In 1948, Democrats alienated white Southerners in two ways. The Democratic National Convention adopted a strong civil rights plank, leading to a walkout by Southerners. Two weeks later, President Harry Truman signed Executive Order 9981 ending discrimination against Blacks in the armed forces. In 1948, the Deep South walked out, formed a temporary regional party (the "Dixiecrats") and nominated J. Strom Thurmond for president. Thurmond carried the Deep South, but the outer South stayed with Truman, and most of the Dixiecrats ultimately returned to the Democratic Party as conservative Southern Democrats. [82] While the Dixiecrat movement did not last, the splintering among Democrats in the South paved the way for the later Southern shift towards the Republican Party, which would see Thurmond himself switching to the Republican Party in 1964. [82]

Eisenhower, Goldwater, and Nixon: 1952–1974 Edit

In 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower, an internationalist allied with the Dewey wing, was drafted as a GOP candidate by a small group of Republicans led by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in order that he challenge Taft on foreign policy issues. The two men were not far apart on domestic issues. Eisenhower's victory broke a twenty-year Democratic lock on the White House. Eisenhower did not try to roll back the New Deal, but he did expand the Social Security system and built the Interstate Highway System.

After 1945, the isolationists in the conservative wing opposed the United Nations and were half-hearted in opposition to the expansion of Cold War containment of communism around the world. [83] A garrison state to fight communism, they believed, would mean regimentation and government controls at home. Eisenhower defeated Taft in 1952 on foreign policy issues.

To circumvent the local Republican Party apparatus mostly controlled by Taft supporters, the Eisenhower forces created a nationwide network of grass-roots clubs, "Citizens for Eisenhower". Independents and Democrats were welcome, as the group specialized in canvassing neighborhoods and holding small group meetings. Citizens for Eisenhower hoped to revitalize the GOP by expanding its activist ranks and by supporting moderate and internationalist policies. It did not endorse candidates other than Eisenhower, but he paid it little attention after he won and it failed to maintain its impressive starting momentum. Instead the conservative Republicans became energized, leading to the Barry Goldwater nomination of 1964. Long-time Republican activists viewed the newcomers with suspicion and hostility. More significantly, activism in support of Eisenhower did not translate into enthusiasm for the party cause. [84]

Once in office, Eisenhower was not an effective party leader and Nixon increasingly took that role. Historian David Reinhard concludes that Eisenhower lacked sustained political commitment, refused to intervene in state politics, failed to understand the political uses of presidential patronage and overestimated his personal powers of persuasion and conciliation. Eisenhower's attempt in 1956 to convert the GOP to "Modern Republicanism" was his "grandest flop". It was a vague proposal with weak staffing and little financing or publicity that caused turmoil inside the local parties across the country. The GOP carried both houses of Congress in 1952 on Eisenhower's coattails, but in 1954 lost both and would not regain the Senate until 1980 nor the House until 1994. The problem, says Reinhard, was the "voters liked Ike—but not the GOP". [85]

Eisenhower was an exception to most Presidents in that he usually let Vice President Richard Nixon handle party affairs (controlling the national committee and taking the roles of chief spokesman and chief fundraiser). Nixon was narrowly defeated by John F. Kennedy in the 1960 United States presidential election, weakening his moderate wing of the party. [86]

Conservatives made a comeback in 1964 under the leadership of Barry Goldwater, who defeated moderates and liberals such as Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. in the Republican presidential primaries that year. Goldwater was strongly opposed to the New Deal and the United Nations, but rejected isolationism and containment, calling for an aggressive anti-communist foreign policy. [87] In the presidential election of 1964, he was defeated by Lyndon Johnson in a landslide that brought down many senior Republican congressmen across the country. Goldwater won five states in the deep South, the strongest showing by a Republican presidential candidate in the South since 1872. [88]

Strength of parties in 1977 [89]
Party Republican Democratic Independent
Party ID (Gallup) 22% 47% 31%
Congressmen 181 354
House 143 292
Senate 38 62
% House popular vote nationally 42% 56% 2%
in the East 41% 57% 2%
in the South 37% 62% 2%
in the Midwest 47% 52% 1%
in the West 43% 55% 2%
Governors 12 37 1 [Note 11]
State Legislators 2,370 5,128 55
31% 68% 1%
State legislature control 18 80 1 [Note 11]
in the East 5 13 0
in the South 0 32 0
in the Midwest 5 17 1
in the West 8 18 0
States' one party control
of legislature and governorship
1 29 0

By 1964, the Democratic lock on the South remained strong, but cracks began to appear. Strom Thurmond was the most prominent Democrat to switch to the Republican Party. One long-term cause was that the region was becoming more like the rest of the nation and could not long stand apart in terms of racial segregation. Modernization brought factories, businesses and larger cities as well as millions of migrants from the North, as far more people graduated from high school and college. Meanwhile, the cotton and tobacco basis of the traditional South faded away as former farmers moved to town or commuted to factory jobs. Segregation, requiring separate dining and lodging arrangements for employees, was a serious obstacle to business development.

The highly visible immediate cause of the political transition involved civil rights. The civil rights movement caused enormous controversy in the white South with many attacking it as a violation of states' rights. When segregation was outlawed by court order and by the Civil Rights acts of 1964 and 1965, a die-hard element resisted integration, led by Democratic governors Orval Faubus of Arkansas, Lester Maddox of Georgia, Ross Barnett of Mississippi and, especially George Wallace of Alabama. These populist governors appealed to a less-educated, blue-collar electorate that on economic grounds favored the Democratic Party and supported segregation. [90]

After passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, most Southerners accepted the integration of most institutions (except public schools). With the old barrier to becoming a Republican removed, Southerners joined the new middle class and the Northern transplants in moving toward the Republican Party. Integration thus liberated Southern politics from the old racial issues. In 1963, the federal courts declared unconstitutional the practice of excluding African-American voters from the Democratic primaries, which had been the only elections that mattered in most of the South. Meanwhile, the newly enfranchised black voters supported Democratic candidates at the 85–90% level, a shift which further convinced many white segregationists that the Republicans were no longer the black party. [90]

The New Deal Coalition collapsed in the mid-1960s in the face of urban riots, the Vietnam War, the opposition of many Southern Democrats to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement and disillusionment that the New Deal could be revived by Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. In the 1966 midterm elections, the Republicans made major gains in part through a challenge to the "War on Poverty." Large-scale civic unrest in the inner-city was escalating ( reaching a climax in 1968) and urban white ethnics who had been an important part of the New Deal Coalition felt abandoned by the Democratic Party's concentration on racial minorities. Republican candidates ignored more popular programs, such as Medicare or the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and focused their attacks on less popular programs. Furthermore, Republicans made an effort to avoid the stigma of negativism and elitism that had dogged them since the days the New Deal, and instead proposed well-crafted alternatives—such as their "Opportunity Crusade." [91] The result was a major gain of 47 House seats for the GOP in the 1966 United States House of Representatives elections that put the conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats back in business. [92]

Nixon defeated both Hubert Humphrey and George C. Wallace in 1968. When the Democratic left took over their party in 1972, Nixon won reelection by carrying 49 states.

Nixon's involvement in Watergate brought disgrace and a forced resignation in 1974 and any long-term movement toward the GOP was interrupted by the scandal. Nixon's unelected vice president, Gerald Ford, succeeded him and gave him a full pardon, giving Democrats a powerful issue they used to sweep the 1974 off-year elections. Ford never fully recovered. In 1976, he barely defeated Ronald Reagan for the nomination. First Lady Betty Ford was notable for her liberal positions on social issues and for her work on breast cancer awareness following her mastectomy in 1974. The taint of Watergate and the nation's economic difficulties contributed to the election of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.

The Reagan Revolution Edit

Ronald Reagan was elected president in the 1980 election by a landslide electoral vote, though he only carried 50.7 percent of the popular vote to Carter's 41% and Independent John Anderson's 6.6 percent, not predicted by most voter polling. Running on a "Peace Through Strength" platform to combat the communist threat and massive tax cuts to revitalize the economy, Reagan's strong persona proved too much for Carter. Reagan's election also gave Republicans control of the Senate for the first time since 1952, gaining 12 seats as well as 33 House seats. Voting patterns and poll result indicate that the substantial Republican victory was the consequence of poor economic performance under Carter and the Democrats and did not represent an ideological shift to the right by the electorate. [93]

Ronald Reagan produced a major realignment with his 1980 and 1984 landslides. In 1980, the Reagan coalition was possible because of Democratic losses in most social-economic groups. In 1984, Reagan won nearly 60% of the popular vote and carried every state except his Democratic opponent Walter Mondale's home state of Minnesota and the District of Columbia, creating a record 525 electoral vote total (out of 538 possible votes). Even in Minnesota, Mondale won by a mere 3,761 votes, meaning Reagan came within less than 3,800 votes of winning in all fifty states. [94]

Political commentators, trying to explain how Reagan had won by such a large margin, coined the term "Reagan Democrat" to describe a Democratic voter who had voted for Reagan in 1980 and 1984 (as well as for George H. W. Bush in 1988), producing their landslide victories. They were mostly white, blue-collar and were attracted to Reagan's social conservatism on issues such as abortion and to his hawkish foreign policy. Stan Greenberg, a Democratic pollster, concluded that Reagan Democrats no longer saw Democrats as champions of their middle class aspirations, but instead saw it as being a party working primarily for the benefit of others, especially African Americans and social liberals.

Social scientists Theodore Caplow et al. argue: "The Republican party, nationally, moved from right-center toward the center in the 1940s and 1950s, then moved right again in the 1970s and 1980s". [95]

Reagan reoriented American politics and claimed credit in 1984 for an economic renewal—"It's morning again in America!" was the successful campaign slogan. Income taxes were slashed 25% and the upper tax rates abolished. The frustrations of stagflation were resolved under the new monetary policies of Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, as no longer did soaring inflation and recession pull the country down. Working again in bipartisan fashion, the Social Security financial crises were resolved for the next 25 years.

In foreign affairs, bipartisanship was not in evidence. Most Democrats doggedly opposed Reagan's efforts to support the contra guerrillas against the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and to support the dictatorial governments of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador against communist guerrilla movements. He took a hard line against the Soviet Union, alarming Democrats who wanted a nuclear freeze, but he succeeded in increasing the military budget and launching the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)—labeled "Star Wars" by its opponents—that the Soviets could not match.

Reagan fundamentally altered several long standing debates in Washington, namely dealing with the Soviet threat and reviving the economy. His election saw the conservative wing of the party gain control. While reviled by liberal opponents in his day, his proponents contend his programs provided unprecedented economic growth and spurred the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Detractors of Reagan's policies note that although Reagan promised to simultaneously slash taxes, massively increase defense spending and balance the budget, by the time he left office the nation's budget deficit had tripled in his eight years in office. In 2009, Reagan's budget director noted that the "debt explosion has resulted not from big spending by the Democrats, but instead the Republican Party's embrace, about three decades ago, of the insidious doctrine that deficits don't matter if they result from tax cuts". He inspired conservatives to greater electoral victories by being reelected in a landslide against Walter Mondale in 1984, but oversaw the loss of the Senate in 1986.

When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow, many conservative Republicans were dubious of the growing friendship between him and Reagan. Gorbachev tried to save communism in the Soviet Union first by ending the expensive arms race with America, then in 1989 by shedding the East European empire. Communism finally collapsed in the Soviet Union in 1991.

President George H. W. Bush, Reagan's successor, tried to temper feelings of triumphalism lest there be a backlash in the Soviet Union, but the palpable sense of victory in the Cold War was a triumph that Republicans felt validated the aggressive foreign policies Reagan had espoused. As Haynes Johnson, one of his harshest critics admitted, "his greatest service was in restoring the respect of Americans for themselves and their own government after the traumas of Vietnam and Watergate, the frustration of the Iran hostage crisis and a succession of seemingly failed presidencies". [96]

Emergence of neoconservatives Edit

Some liberal Democratic intellectuals in the 1960s and 1970s who became disenchanted with the leftward movement of their party in domestic and foreign policy became "neoconservatives" ("neocons"). [97] A number held major appointments during the five presidential terms under Reagan and the Bushes. They played a central role in promoting and planning the 2003 invasion of Iraq. [98] Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, while not identifying themselves as neoconservatives, listened closely to neoconservative advisers regarding foreign policy, especially the defense of Israel, the promotion of democracy in the Middle East and the buildup of American military forces to achieve these goals. Many early neoconservative thinkers were Zionists and wrote often for Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee. [99] [100] The influence of the neocons on the White House faded during the Obama years, but it remains a staple in Republican Party arsenal. [101]

After the election of Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1992, the Republican Party, led by House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich campaigning on a "Contract with America", were elected to majorities to both Houses of Congress in the Republican Revolution of 1994. It was the first time since 1952 that the Republicans secured control of both houses of U.S. Congress, which with the exception of the Senate during 2001–2002 was retained through 2006. This capture and subsequent holding of Congress represented a major legislative turnaround, as Democrats controlled both houses of Congress for the forty years preceding 1995, with the exception of the 1981–1987 Congress in which Republicans controlled the Senate.

In 1994, Republican Congressional candidates ran on a platform of major reforms of government with measures such as a balanced budget amendment and welfare reform. These measures and others formed the famous Contract with America, which represented the first effort to have a party platform in an off-year election. The Contract promised to bring all points up for a vote for the first time in history. The Republicans passed some of their proposals, but failed on others such as term limits.

Democratic President Bill Clinton opposed some of the social agenda initiatives, but he co-opted the proposals for welfare reform and a balanced federal budget. The result was a major change in the welfare system, which conservatives hailed and liberals bemoaned. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives failed to muster the two-thirds majority required to pass a Constitutional amendment to impose term limits on members of Congress.

In 1995, a budget battle with Clinton led to the brief shutdown of the federal government, an event which contributed to Clinton's victory in the 1996 election. That year, the Republicans nominated Bob Dole, who was unable to transfer his success in Senate leadership to a viable presidential campaign.

The incoming Republican majority's promise to slow the rate of government spending conflicted with the president's agenda for Medicare, education, the environment and public health, eventually leading to a temporary shutdown of the U.S. federal government. The shutdown became the longest-ever in U.S. history, ending when Clinton agreed to submit a CBO-approved balanced budget plan. Democratic leaders vigorously attacked Gingrich for the budget standoff and his public image suffered heavily.

During the 1998 midterm elections, Republicans lost five seats in the House of Representatives—the worst performance in 64 years for a party that did not hold the presidency. Polls showed that Gingrich's attempt to remove President Clinton from the office was widely unpopular among Americans and Gingrich suffered much of the blame for the election loss. Facing another rebellion in the Republican caucus, he announced on November 6, 1998 that he would not only stand down as Speaker, but would leave the House as well, even declining to take his seat for an 11th term after he was handily re-elected in his home district.

George W. Bush, son of George H. W. Bush, won the 2000 Republican presidential nomination over Arizona Senator John McCain, former Senator Elizabeth Dole and others. With his highly controversial and exceedingly narrow victory in the 2000 election against the Vice President Al Gore, the Republican Party gained control of the Presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952. However, it lost control of the Senate when Vermont Senator James Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an independent in 2001 and caucused with the Democrats.

In the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001, Bush gained widespread political support as he pursued the War on Terrorism that included the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. In March 2003, Bush ordered for an invasion of Iraq because of breakdown of United Nations sanctions and intelligence indicating programs to rebuild or develop new weapons of mass destruction. Bush had near-unanimous Republican support in Congress plus support from many Democratic leaders.

The Republican Party fared well in the 2002 midterm elections, solidifying its hold on the House and regaining control of the Senate in the run-up to the war in Iraq. This marked the first time since 1934 that the party in control of the White House gained seats in a midterm election in both houses of Congress (previous occasions were in 1902 and following the Civil War). Bush was renominated without opposition as the Republican candidate in the 2004 election and titled his political platform "A Safer World and a More Hopeful America". [102]

It expressed Bush's optimism towards winning the War on Terrorism, ushering in an ownership society and building an innovative economy to compete in the world. Bush was re-elected by a larger margin than in 2000, but won the smallest share ever of the popular vote for a reelected incumbent president. However, he was the first Republican candidate since 1988 to win an outright majority. In the same election that year, the Republicans gained seats in both houses of Congress and Bush told reporters: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style".

Bush announced his agenda in January 2005, but his popularity in the polls waned and his troubles mounted. Continuing troubles in Iraq as well as the disastrous government response to Hurricane Katrina led to declining popular support for Bush's policies. His campaign to add personal savings accounts to the Social Security system and make major revisions in the tax code were postponed. He succeeded in selecting conservatives to head four of the most important agencies, Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State, Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, John Roberts as Chief Justice of the United States and Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Bush failed to win conservative approval for Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, replacing her with Samuel Alito, whom the Senate confirmed in January 2006. Bush and McCain secured additional tax cuts and blocked moves to raise taxes. Through 2006, they strongly defended his policy in Iraq, saying the Coalition was winning. They secured the renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act.

In the November 2005 off-year elections, New York City, Republican mayoral candidate Michael Bloomberg won a landslide re-election, the fourth straight Republican victory in what is otherwise a Democratic stronghold. In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger failed in his effort to use the ballot initiative to enact laws the Democrats blocked in the state legislature. Scandals prompted the resignations of Congressional Republicans House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley and Bob Ney. In the 2006 midterm elections, the Republicans lost control of both the House of Representatives and Senate to the Democrats in what was widely interpreted as a repudiation of the administration's war policies. Exit polling suggested that corruption was a key issue for many voters. [103] Soon after the elections, Donald Rumsfeld resigned as secretary of defense to be replaced by Bob Gates.

In the Republican leadership elections that followed the general election, Speaker Hastert did not run and Republicans chose John Boehner of Ohio for House Minority Leader. Senators chose whip Mitch McConnell of Kentucky for Senate Minority Leader and chose their former leader Trent Lott as Senate Minority Whip by one vote over Lamar Alexander, who assumed their roles in January 2007. In the October and November gubernatorial elections of 2007, Republican Bobby Jindal won election for governor of Louisiana, Republican incumbent Governor Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky lost and Republican incumbent Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi won re-election.

With President Bush ineligible for a third term and Vice President Dick Cheney not pursuing the party's nomination, Arizona Senator John McCain quickly emerged as the Republican Party's presidential nominee, receiving President Bush's endorsement on March 6, six months before official ratification at the 2008 Republican National Convention. On August 29, Senator McCain announced Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his running-mate, making her the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket. McCain surged ahead of Obama in the national polls following the nomination but amid a financial crisis and a serious economic downturn, McCain and Palin went on to lose the 2008 presidential election to Democrats Barack Obama and running mate Joe Biden.

Following the 2008 elections, the Republican Party, reeling from the loss of the presidency, Congress and key state governorships, was fractured and leaderless. [104] Michael Steele became the first black chairman of the Republican National Committee, but was a poor fundraiser and was replaced after numerous gaffes and missteps. [105] Republicans suffered an additional loss in the Senate in April 2009, when Arlen Specter switched to the Democratic Party, depriving the GOP of a critical 41st vote to block legislation in the Senate. The seating of Al Franken several months later effectively handed the Democrats a filibuster-proof majority, but it was short-lived as the GOP took back its 41st vote when Scott Brown won a special election in Massachusetts in early 2010.

Republicans strongly opposed Obama's 2009 economic stimulus package and 2010 health care reform bill. The Tea Party movement, formed in early 2009, provided a groundswell of conservative grassroots activism to oppose policies of the Obama administration. With an expected economic recovery being criticized as sluggish, the GOP was expected to make big gains in the 2010 midterm elections. However, establishment Republicans began to see themselves at odds with Tea Party activists, who sought to run conservative candidates in primary elections to defeat the more moderate establishment-based candidates. Incumbent senators such as Bob Bennett in Utah and Lisa Murkowski in Alaska lost primary contests in their respective states.

Republicans won back control of the House of Representatives in the November general election, with a net gain of 63 seats, the largest gain for either party since 1948. The GOP also picked up six seats in the Senate, falling short of retaking control in that chamber, and posted additional gains in state governor and legislative races. Boehner became Speaker of the House while McConnell remained as the Senate Minority Leader. In an interview with National Journal magazine about congressional Republican priorities, McConnell explained that "the single most important thing we want to achieve is for (Barack) Obama to be a one-term president". [106]

After 2009, the voter base of the GOP changed in directions opposite from national trends. It became older and less Hispanic or Asian than the general population. In 2013, Jackie Calmes of The New York Times reported a dramatic shift in the power base of the party as it moved away from the Northeast and the West Coast and toward small-town America in the South and West. During the 2016 presidential election, the Republicans also gained significant support in the Midwest. [107]

In a shift over a half-century, the party base has been transplanted from the industrial Northeast and urban centers to become rooted in the South and West, in towns and rural areas. In turn, Republicans are electing more populist, antitax and antigovernment conservatives who are less supportive — and even suspicious — of appeals from big business.

Big business, many Republicans believe, is often complicit with big government on taxes, spending and even regulations, to protect industry tax breaks and subsidies — "corporate welfare," in their view. [107]

In February 2011, several freshmen Republican governors began proposing legislation that would diminish the power of public employee labor unions by removing or negatively affecting their right to collective bargaining, claiming that these changes were needed to cut state spending and balance the states' budgets. These actions sparked public-employee protests across the country. In Wisconsin, the veritable epicenter of the controversy, Governor Scott Walker fought off a labor-fueled recall election, becoming the first state governor in U.S. history to defeat a recall against him.

After leading a pack of minor candidates for much of 2010 and 2011, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, despite outmatching his opponents in both money and organization, struggled to hold on to his lead for the 2012 GOP nomination. As the presidential campaign season headed toward the voting stage in January 2012, one candidate after another surged past Romney, held the lead for a few weeks, then fell back. According to the RealClearPolitics 2012 polling index, five candidates at one time or another were the top choice of GOP voters: Texas Governor Rick Perry, motivational speaker Herman Cain, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Senator Rick Santorum and Romney himself. [108]

After losing to Santorum in Iowa and Gingrich in South Carolina, Romney racked up a number of wins in later contests, emerging as the eventual frontrunner after taking the lion's share of states and delegates in the crucial Super Tuesday contests, despite an embarrassing loss in the Colorado caucuses and near-upsets in the Michigan and Ohio primaries. Romney was nominated in August and chose Congressman Paul Ryan, a young advocate of drastic budget cuts, as his running mate. Throughout the summer polls showed a close race and Romney had a good first debate, but otherwise had trouble reaching out to ordinary voters. He lost to Obama 51% to 47% and instead of gaining in the Senate as expected, Republicans lost seats.

The party mood was glum in 2013 and one conservative analyst concluded:

It would be no exaggeration to say that the Republican Party has been in a state of panic since the defeat of Mitt Romney, not least because the election highlighted American demographic shifts and, relatedly, the party's failure to appeal to Hispanics, Asians, single women and young voters. Hence the Republican leadership's new willingness to pursue immigration reform, even if it angers the conservative base. [109]

In March 2013, National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gave a stinging postmortem on the GOP's failures in 2012, calling on the party to reinvent itself and to endorse immigration reform and said: "There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak our ground game was insufficient we weren't inclusive we were behind in both data and digital and our primary and debate process needed improvement". Priebus proposed 219 reforms, including a $10 million marketing campaign to reach women, minorities and gays a shorter, more controlled primary season and better data collection and research facilities. [110]

The party's official opposition to same-sex marriage came under attack. [111] [112] Meanwhile, social conservatives such as Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee remained opposed to same-sex marriage and warned that evangelicals would desert if the GOP dropped the issue. [113] Many leaders from different factions spoke out in 2013 on the need for a new immigration policy in the wake of election results showing a sharp move away from the GOP among Hispanics and Asians, but the Republicans in Congress could not agree on a program and nothing was done. [114] Republicans in Congress forced a government shutdown in late 2013 after narrowly averting similar fiscal crises in 2011 and 2012.

The Tea Party fielded a number of anti-establishment candidates in the 2014 Republican primaries, but scored very few notable wins. However, they managed to unseat House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in his Virginia primary race. GOP attacks on Obama's unpopular administration resonated with voters and the party posted major gains around the country. They regained control of the Senate and increased their majorities in the House to the highest total since 1929. They took control of governorships, state legislatures and Senate seats in nearly all Southern states, except Florida and Virginia. [115]

Great divisions in the House GOP conference were apparent after the 2014 midterm elections, with conservative members, many of them from the right-leaning Freedom Caucus, expressing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. John Boehner's surprise announcement in September 2015 that he would step down as Speaker sent shockwaves through the House. After Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy bowed out of the race to replace Boehner due to a lack of support, House Ways and Means Chair Paul Ryan announced he would run, with the Freedom Caucus' support. Ryan was elected Speaker on October 29.

Businessman Donald Trump won the 2016 Republican primaries, representing a dramatic policy shift from traditional conservatism to an aggressively populist ideology with overtones of cultural identity politics. Numerous high-profile Republicans, including past presidential nominees like Mitt Romney, announced their opposition to Trump some even did so after he received the GOP nomination. Much of the Republican opposition to Trump stemmed from concerns that his disdain for political correctness, his support from the ethno-nationalist alt-right, his virulent criticism of the mainstream news media, and his expressions of approval for political violence would result in the GOP losing the presidential election and lead to significant GOP losses in other races. In one of the largest upsets in American political history, [116] [117] [118] [119] Trump went on to defeat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

In addition to electing Donald Trump as president, Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate, in the House, and amongst state governors in the 2016 elections. The Republican Party was slated to control 69 of 99 state legislative chambers in 2017 (the most it had held in history) [120] and at least 33 governorships (the most it had held since 1922). [121] The party took total control of the government (legislative chambers and governorships) in 25 states following the 2016 elections [122] this was the most states it had controlled since 1952. [123]

In 2017 Donald Trump promised to use protective tariffs as a weapon to restore greatness to the economy. [124]

Sources differ over the extent Trump dominated and "remade" [125] the Republican Party. [126] Some have called his control "complete", noting that the few dissenting "Never Trump" Republican elected officials retired or were defeated in primaries, [125] that conservative media strongly supported him, and that his approval rating among self-identified Republican voters was extraordinarily high. [127] [128] [129] While approval among national voters was low. [130]

According to Trump and others, his policies differed from those of his Republican predecessors (such as Reagan) in being more oriented towards the working class, more skeptical of free trade agreements, and more isolationist and confrontational with foreign allies. [131]

Others suggested that Trump's popularity among the Republican base did not translate into as much GOP candidate loyalty as expected. [132] Still others opined that Republican legislation and policies during the Trump administration continued to reflect the traditional priorities of Republican donors, appointees and congressional leaders. [133] Jeet Heer of New Republic suggested that Trump's ascendancy was the "natural evolutionary product of Republican platforms and strategies that stretch back to the very origins of modern conservatism" [134]

Donald Trump is the first president in US history to be impeached twice. The first impeachment was in December 2019 but he was acquitted by the Senate in February 2020. The second impeachment was in January 2021 where he again was acquitted after he left office.

In the 2018 United States elections, the Republican Party lost the House of Representatives for the first time since 2011 but increased their majority in the Senate. In the 2020 United States elections, the Republican Party lost the Presidency and the Senate. [135] Despite the loss, Donald Trump initially refused to concede and attempted to overturn the election. This culminated in the storming of the United States Capitol in 2021 as Trump and his supporters tried to disrupt the Electoral College vote count. After the storming, Donald Trump conceded the election in the following day. [136] Motivated by false claims of widespread election fraud in the 2020 election, Republicans initiated an effort to make voting laws more restrictive. [137]

The Republican Party had a progressive element, typified in the early 20th century by Theodore Roosevelt in the 1907–1912 period (Roosevelt was more conservative at other points), Senator Robert M. La Follette, Sr. and his sons in Wisconsin (from about 1900 to 1946) and western leaders such as Senator Hiram Johnson in California, Senator George W. Norris in Nebraska, Senator Bronson M. Cutting in New Mexico, Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin in Montana and Senator William Borah in Idaho. They were generally progressive in domestic policy, supported unions [138] and supported much of the New Deal, but were isolationist in foreign policy. [139] This element died out by the 1940s. Outside Congress, of the leaders who supported Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, most opposed the New Deal. [140]

Starting in the 1930s, a number of Northeastern Republicans took liberal positions regarding labor unions, spending and New Deal policies. They included Mayor Fiorello La Guardia in New York City, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, [76] Governor Earl Warren of California, Governor Harold Stassen of Minnesota, Senator Clifford P. Case of New Jersey, Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. of Massachusetts, Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut (father and grandfather of the two Bush Presidents), Senator Jacob K. Javits of New York, Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, Senator George Aiken of Vermont, Governor and later Senator Mark Hatfield of Oregon, Governor William Scranton of Pennsylvania and Governor George W. Romney of Michigan. [141] The most notable of them all was Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller of New York. [142] They generally advocated a free-market, but with some level of regulation. Rockefeller required employable welfare recipients to take available jobs or job training. [143]

While the media sometimes called them "Rockefeller Republicans", the liberal Republicans never formed an organized movement or caucus and lacked a recognized leader. They promoted economic growth and high state and federal spending while accepting high taxes and much liberal legislation, with the provision they could administer it more efficiently. They opposed the Democratic big city machines while welcoming support from labor unions and big business alike. Religion was not high on their agenda, but they were strong believers in civil rights for African Americans and women's rights and most liberals were pro-choice. They were also strong environmentalists and supporters of higher education. In foreign policy they were internationalists, throwing their support to Dwight D. Eisenhower over the conservative leader Robert A. Taft in 1952. They were often called the "Eastern Establishment" by conservatives such as Barry Goldwater. [144]

The Goldwater conservatives fought this establishment from 1960, [145] defeated it in 1964 and eventually retired most of its members, although some became Democrats like Senator Charles Goodell, Mayor John Lindsay in New York and Chief Justice Earl Warren. [146] President Richard Nixon adopted many of their positions, especially regarding health care, welfare spending, environmentalism and support for the arts and humanities. [147] After Congressman John B. Anderson of Illinois bolted the party in 1980 and ran as an independent against Reagan, the liberal GOP element faded away. Their old strongholds in the Northeast are now mostly held by Democrats. [144] [148]

The term "Rockefeller Republican" was used 1960–1980 to designate a faction of the party holding "moderate" views similar to those of Nelson Rockefeller, governor of New York from 1959 to 1974 and Vice President under President Gerald Ford in 1974–1977. Before Rockefeller, Thomas E. Dewey, governor of New York (1942–1954) and GOP presidential nominee in 1944 and 1948 was the leader. Dwight Eisenhower and his aide Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. reflected many of their views.

An important moderate leader in the 1950s was Connecticut Republican Senator Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, respectively. After Rockefeller left the national stage in 1976, this faction of the party was more often called "moderate Republicans", in contrast to the conservatives who rallied to Ronald Reagan.

Historically, Rockefeller Republicans were moderate or liberal on domestic and social policies. They favored New Deal programs, including regulation and welfare. They were supporters of civil rights. They were supported by big business on Wall Street (New York City). In fiscal policy they favored balanced budgets and relatively high tax levels to keep the budget balanced. They sought long-term economic growth through entrepreneurship, not tax cuts.

In state politics, they were strong supporters of state colleges and universities, low tuition and large research budgets. They favored infrastructure improvements, such as highway projects. In foreign policy they were internationalists and anti-communists. They felt the best way to counter communism was sponsoring economic growth (through foreign aid), maintaining a strong military and keeping close ties to NATO. Geographically their base was the Northeast, from Maine to Pennsylvania, where they had the support of major corporations and banks and worked well with labor unions.

The moderate Republicans were top-heavy, with a surplus of high visibility national leaders and a shortage of grass roots workers. Most of all they lacked the numbers, the enthusiasm and excitement the conservatives could mobilize—the moderates decided it must be an un-American level of fanaticism that drove their opponents. Doug Bailey, a senior Rockefeller aide recalled, "there was a mentality in [Rockefeller's] campaign staff that, 'Look, we have got all this money. We should be able to buy the people necessary to get this done. And you buy from the top down'". Bailey discovered that the Rockefeller team never understood that effective political organizations are empowered from the bottom up, not the top down. [149]

Barry Goldwater crusaded against the Rockefeller Republicans, beating Rockefeller narrowly in the California primary of 1964 giving the Arizona senator, all of the California delegates and a majority at the presidential nominating convention. The election was a disaster for the conservatives, but the Goldwater activists now controlled large swaths of the GOP and they had no intention of retreating. The stage was set for a conservative takeover, based in the South and West, in opposition to the Northeast. Ronald Reagan continued in the same theme. George H. W. Bush was more closely associated with the moderates, but his son George W. Bush was firmly allied with the conservatives. [150]

From its inception in 1854 to 1964, when Senate Republicans pushed hard for passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 against a filibuster by Senate Democrats, the GOP had a reputation for supporting blacks and minorities. In 1869, the Republican-controlled legislature in Wyoming Territory and its Republican governor John Allen Campbell made it the first jurisdiction to grant voting rights to women. In 1875, California swore in the first Hispanic governor, Republican Romualdo Pacheco. In 1916, Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first woman in Congress—and indeed the first woman in any high level government position. In 1928, New Mexico elected the first Hispanic U.S. Senator, Republican Octaviano Larrazolo. In 1898, the first Jewish U.S. Senator elected from outside of the former Confederacy was Republican Joseph Simon of Oregon. In 1924, the first Jewish woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives was Republican Florence Kahn of California. In 1928, the Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Charles Curtis of Kansas, who grew up on the Kaw Indian reservation, became the first person of significant non-European ancestry to be elected to national office, as Vice President of the United States for Herbert Hoover. [151]

Blacks generally identified with the GOP until the 1930s. Every African American who served in the U.S. House of Representatives before 1935 and all of the African Americans who served in the Senate before 1979, were Republicans. Frederick Douglass after the Civil War and Booker T. Washington in the early 20th century were prominent Republican spokesmen. In 1966, Edward Brooke of Massachusetts became the first African American popularly elected to the United States Senate. [Note 12] [152] [153]

Some critics, most notably Dan Carter, have alleged that the rapid growth in Republican strength in the South came from a secretly coded message to Wallacites and segregationists that the GOP was a racist anti-black party seeking their votes. [154] Political scientists and historians point out that the timing does not fit the Southern strategy model. Nixon carried 49 states in 1972, so he operated a successful national rather than regional strategy, but the Republican Party remained quite weak at the local and state level across the entire South for decades. Matthew Lassiter argues that Nixon's appeal was not to the Wallacites or segregationists, but rather to the rapidly emerging suburban middle-class. Many had Northern antecedents and they wanted rapid economic growth and saw the need to put backlash politics to rest. Lassiter says the Southern strategy was a "failure" for the GOP and that the Southern base of the Republican Party "always depended more on the middle-class corporate economy and on the top-down politics of racial backlash". Furthermore, "realignment in the South quote came primarily from the suburban ethos of New South metropolises such as Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina, not to the exportation of the working-class racial politics of the Black Belt". [155]

The South's transition to a Republican stronghold took decades and happened incrementally, with national politics gradually influencing state and local politics. [156] First the states started voting Republican in presidential elections—the Democrats countered that by nominating Southerners who could carry some states in the region, such as Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996. However, the strategy narrowly failed with Al Gore in 2000. The states began electing Republican senators to fill open seats caused by retirements and finally governors and state legislatures changed sides. [157] Georgia was the last state to shift to the GOP, with Republican Sonny Perdue taking the governorship in 2002. [ citation needed ] Republicans aided the process with redistricting that protected the African-American and Hispanic vote (as required by the Civil Rights laws), but split up the remaining white Democrats so that Republicans mostly would win. [157] [ dubious – discuss ]

In addition to its white middle class base, Republicans attracted strong majorities from the evangelical Christian community and from Southern pockets of traditionalist Roman Catholics in South Louisiana. [158] The national Democratic Party's support for liberal social stances such as abortion drove many white Southerners into a Republican Party that was embracing the conservative views on these issues. Conversely, liberal voters in the northeast began to join the Democratic Party. [ citation needed ]

In 1969, Kevin Phillips argued in The Emerging Republican Majority that support from Southern whites and growth in the South, among other factors, was driving an enduring Republican electoral realignment. In the early 21st century, the South was generally solidly Republican in state elections and mostly solidly Republican in presidential contests. [ citation needed ] In 2005, political scientists Nicholas A. Valentino and David O. Sears argued that partisanship at that time was driven by disagreements on the size of government, national security and moral issues, while racial issues played a smaller role. [159]

Anti-Slavery Activists

Benjamin Lay, a Quaker who saw slavery as a "notorious sin," addresses this 1737 volume to those who "pretend to lay claim to the pure and holy Christian religion." Although some Quakers held slaves, no religious group was more outspoken against slavery from the seventeenth century until slavery's demise. Quaker petitions on behalf of the emancipation of African Americans flowed into colonial legislatures and later to the United States Congress.

In this plea for the abolition of the slave trade, Anthony Benezet, a Quaker of French Huguenot descent, pointed out that if buyers did not demand slaves, the supply would end. "Without purchasers," he argued, "there would be no trade and consequently every purchaser as he encourages the trade, becomes partaker in the guilt of it." He contended that guilt existed on both sides of the Atlantic. There are Africans, he alleged, "who will sell their own children, kindred, or neighbors." Benezet also used the biblical maxim, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," to justify ending slavery. Insisting that emancipation alone would not solve the problems of people of color, Benezet opened schools to prepare them for more productive lives.

Connecticut theologian Jonathan Edwards, born 1745, echoes Benezet's use of the Golden Rule as well as the natural rights arguments of the Revolutionary era to justify the abolition of slavery. In this printed version of his 1791 sermon to a local anti-slavery group, he notes the progress toward abolition in the North and predicts that through vigilant efforts slavery would be extinguished in the next fifty years.

Abolitionist and women's rights advocate Sojourner Truth was enslaved in New York until she was an adult. Born Isabella Baumfree around the turn of the nineteenth century, her first language was Dutch. Owned by a series of masters, she was freed in 1827 by the New York Gradual Abolition Act and worked as a domestic. In 1843 she believed that she was called by God to travel around the nation--sojourn--and preach the truth of his word. Thus, she believed God gave her the name, Sojourner Truth. One of the ways that she supported her work was selling these calling cards.

The quote below, echoing Patrick Henry, is from this biography of underground railroad conductor Harriet Tubman:

After making her own escape, Tubman returned to the South nineteen times to bring over three hundred fugitives to safety, including her own aged parents.

In a handwritten note on the title page of this book, Susan B. Anthony, who was an abolitionist as well as a suffragist, referred to Tubman as a "most wonderful woman."

In 1833, sixty abolitionist leaders from ten states met in Philadelphia to create a national organization to bring about immediate emancipation of all slaves. The American Anti-slavery Society elected officers and adopted a constitution and declaration. Drafted by William Lloyd Garrison, the declaration pledged its members to work for emancipation through non-violent actions of "moral suasion," or "the overthrow of prejudice by the power of love." The society encouraged public lectures, publications, civil disobedience, and the boycott of cotton and other slave-manufactured products.

White abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, born in 1805, had a particular fondness for poetry, which he believed to be "naturally and instinctively on the side of liberty." He used verse as a vehicle for enhancing anti-slavery sentiment. Garrison collected his work in Sonnets and Other Poems (1843).

During the 1840s, abolitionist societies used song to stir up enthusiasm at their meetings. To make songs easier to learn, new words were set to familiar tunes. This song by William Lloyd Garrison has six stanzas set to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."


In 1828, while working for the National Philanthropist, Garrison took a meeting with Benjamin Lundy. The anti-slavery editor of the Genius of Emancipation brought the cause of abolition to Garrison’s attention. When Lundy offered Garrison an editor’s position at Genius of Emancipation in Vermont, Garrison eagerly accepted. The job marked Garrison’s initiation into the Abolitionist movement.

By the time he was 25 years old, Garrison had joined the American Colonization Society. The society held the view that Black people should move to the west coast of Africa. Garrison at first believed that the society’s goal was to promote Black people&aposs freedom and well being. But Garrison grew disillusioned when he soon realized that their true objective was to minimize the number of free enslaved people in the United States. It became clear to Garrison that this strategy only served to further support the mechanism of slavery.

Ronald Reagan Paved the Way for Donald Trump

Do the abolitionists have anything left to say to us? Did the antislavery movement leave us with any enduring legacy — any precedents or precepts that can shed some light on the creeping barbarism of our neoliberal age? Do those bourgeois revolutionaries have anything to tell us about the structures of inequality in a capitalist system they did so much to bring about? Or was their failure so complete — their legacy so tainted — that we are better advised to condemn than embrace it?

All revolutions are unfinished. All triumphs are partial. Successful movements, if they do nothing else, expose the fault lines along which the next set of struggles will play themselves out. History is frustrating in that way. When a revolution fails to usher in the millennium it’s all too tempting to turn against the revolution itself. We often end up condemning the revolutionaries for their defective vision and decrying the violence and the bloodshed that seems to have given us so little in return. So it is with the great revolution that destroyed slavery in the United States, the event we call the Civil War.

And so it is with the historians who write about the Civil War. They’ve turned against it. Horrified by the brutal realities of black life in the New South — sharecropping, Jim Crow, disfranchisement, not to mention chain gangs and lynch mobs — historians on the Left have begun to say things that were once the commonplaces of conservative white southerners. The Civil War wasn’t worth it. Instead of freedom it brought misery and repression to the former slaves. Instead of a better life, emancipation brought sickness and death to hundreds of thousands of freed people.

Inevitably, historians are more and more inclined to blame the revolutionaries themselves for the appalling outcome of the Civil War.

The counterrevolutionary thrust of so much recent scholarship has its roots in the failure of the Civil Rights Movement to bring about a just and equitable society. The great achievements of the 1960s and 1970s — formal legal equality, voting rights, and a flourishing politics of diversity — have done nothing to stop the scandalous incarceration rates of young black men and increasingly obscene levels of economic inequality.

Whether it’s the Civil Rights Movement or the Civil War, the same question arises: What went wrong?

The obvious answer, the answer most historians gravitate toward as if by instinct, is the persistence of white racism. And not simply the racism of white southerners — for no one questions the reality of the white backlash in the defeated Confederacy. But recent historians of the Civil War era have tended to point their accusing fingers at the antislavery politicians and even the white abolitionists who led the charge against slavery. “I don’t like white abolitionists,” one historian, an unapologetic leftist (himself, a white male), recently announced. Presumably, what flags this sentiment as radical rather than reactionary is the word “white.” He doesn’t dislike abolitionists, he dislikes white abolitionists.

He didn’t explain why, but it’s clear enough what he meant. White abolitionists were blinded by the same infectious racism that all whites succumbed to in the mid-nineteenth century America and thereby doomed both abolition and Reconstruction to failure. Radical historians who once cut their teeth on the critique of “consensus history” now routinely invoke a white racial consensus as their all-purpose explanation for whatever has gone wrong in American history.

But there was no consensus among whites in mid-nineteenth-century America. Not for nothing did conservatives denounce Abraham Lincoln as a “Black Republican.” For like nearly all opponents of slavery — from the most radical to the most moderate — Lincoln repeatedly insisted that the promise of fundamental human equality applied to whites and blacks alike, that black and white workers were equally entitled to the fruits of their labor, and even that free Americans, black or white, were equally entitled to the privileges and immunities the Constitution guaranteed to all citizens.

To be sure, radicals like William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner were committed to a more robust anti-racist project than were mainstream antislavery politicians like Lincoln. But in the middle decades of the nineteenth century Lincoln and his fellow moderates stood out — and were most often attacked — for the extent rather than the limits of their commitment to racial equality. Whatever the differences between the radical and mainstreams of the antislavery movement, it was the Republican Party that steered the Civil War toward the abolition of slavery, passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866, and sponsored the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments to the Constitution.

It is not obvious that the racism of antislavery activists and politicians can account for the disastrous aftermath of slavery.

If there was a fatal flaw within the antislavery movement, it was one that radicals and moderates shared, and one that was closely related to the very nature of their bourgeois radicalism — an unquestioning commitment to the economic and moral superiority of free labor, a commitment that both inspired and deluded the opponents of slavery.

Even the most radical abolitionists betrayed a blind faith in the magical healing powers of a free market in labor. Scarcely a single theme of the broader antislavery argument strayed far from the premise. Sometimes it was front and center, as when William Seward claimed to have seen with his own eyes the supposed backwardness and irrationality of a southern economy impoverished, or so Seward thought, by its dependence on labor that was coerced rather than rewarded.

Other antislavery arguments were deduced from the premise of free labor’s superiority. The critique of the Slave Power, for example, rested on the assumption that the slaveholders had successfully hijacked the federal government to prop up a slave economy that, left to its own devices, should have shriveled and died on its own. The cruelty and barbarism of slavery likewise derived from the fact that slave labor had to be forced whereas free labor was self-motivated by the lure of remuneration.

Slavery’s enemies used language that delegitimized slavery by mystifying free labor. Dethrone the Slave Power, they claimed, and slavery would die a “natural” death. Lincoln’s own defense of free labor sounded less of economic efficiency than of scriptural injunction, less Adam Smith than the King James Bible. In the right to bread she earns from the sweat of her brow, Lincoln often said, the black woman is my equal and the equal of any living man. Statements of this sort make it difficult, not to say futile, to draw sharp lines between the “moral” and the “economic” arguments against slavery.

It’s hard to imagine what abolitionism would have looked like without its faith — for that’s what it was: faith — in the invisible hand of a free market in labor. In 1833, no less a radical than William Lloyd Garrison invoked its power in the founding charter of the American Anti Slavery Society. Immediate abolition would make the South more rather than less prosperous, Garrison believed, because free labor was more highly motivated than slave labor. Emancipation “would not amputate a limb or break a bone of the slave but,” he explained, “by infusing motives into their breasts, would make them doubly valuable to the masters as free laborers.”

Even Garrison’s later disunionism rested on the premise that northern secession would force the slave states to survive on their own, isolating them within a cordon of freedom, and causing the slave system to die its long-delayed natural death. The slaveholders themselves would eventually realize that a free market in labor power would make their farms and plantations more profitable than ever.

Frederick Douglass put the matter succinctly during the Civil War. When Democrats asked, “What is to be done with the Negro?” once slavery was abolished, Douglass’s one-word answer was: Nothing. Leave the former slaves alone, free them from the restraining hands of their masters, and they would be fine. This was bourgeois radicalism at its most blinkered, narrowing freedom down to formal civic equality and letting the “market” do the rest of the work.

Only after the Civil War, when it became clear that leaving the freed people to fend for themselves was a recipe for disaster, did Douglas repudiate his former faith in the miraculous workings of the free labor market. Like many radicals in the late nineteenth century, Douglass came to see that libertarianism was not enough, that the state would have to actively intervene in the economy if capitalism was to preserve even the semblance of justice and decency. Formal civic equality and contract labor had brought little freedom and less prosperity to the postwar South. Doing “nothing” was doing too much damage.

But at their best, abolitionists transcended the limits of bourgeois libertarianism. As good liberals they were committed to the ideal of self-ownership, to the conviction that freedom resides in the natural right every of human being to the ownership of his or her own self. One person could not rightfully own another, and for that reason “property in man” — slavery — became fundamentally illegitimate in ways that it had never seemed before.

This was an important moral breakthrough. It opened the eyes of millions to the genuine horrors of slavery. It clarified at least as much as it mystified. The critique of the Slave Power, though often discounted as a conspiracy theory, was in fact a sophisticated and persuasive account of how the slaveholding class — the “one percent” of its day — was able to throw so much of its pernicious weight around in Washington, D.C.

The barbarism of slavery was a very real feature of a labor system that relied inescapably on the master’s brute force. And regardless of whether slavery enriched or impoverished the South, there can be little doubt that the slave market shaped Southern society in ways that were fundamentally different from Northern market in free labor. In their stinging critiques of the Money Power and then the Slave Power, homegrown radicals saw clearly that concentrations of private wealth tended to corrupt democracy and threaten freedom.

Even moderates like Lincoln insisted that there were limits to the rights of property, that some things — not least of all human beings — should not be treated as commodities.

There is no mandate from heaven, no precept of natural law, that tells us what does and does not count as property, what is or is not a legitimate commodity. Governments make those decisions, and they are best made democratically. For that we need formal civic equality and jealously guarded voting rights — not only as an end but as the means by which we achieve a more decent society.

In 1860, American voters elected a president who believed that the rights of property did not include the right of one human being to hold property in another. When eleven slave states seceded, the party of Lincoln took control of Congress and proceeded to undermine and ultimately destroy the right of “property in man.” The abolitionists had a neat way of describing this: slavery was the “theft” of the slaves’ property in themselves, they argued, and emancipation merely the restoration of the slaves’ natural right to self-ownership. From this perspective — and it’s a good one — abolition was the largest redistribution of wealth in American history.

This is a precedent we condescend to at our peril. We are faced yet again with the threat to democracy posed by extreme concentrations of private wealth. This morning’s paper has a story about a single hedge-fund billionaire in the United States who is holding 41 million Argentinians hostage to his greedy demand for full payment of his loans. Finance Power now distorts public policy in the same way that the Slave Power once did. Under these conditions how likely are lawmakers to deploy the power of the state to put essential limits on the insidious spread of commodification?

“Left neoliberalism” is no solution it has no answers to some of the most pressing questions of our time. Should Bill and Melinda Gates be setting the agenda for school reform? Should health care be up for sale? Can the market reliably determine what counts as a living wage? Is college a commodity, available as a service to the highest bidders, its value determined by the pay scale of its graduates? Have we unlearned the lesson Frederick Douglass learned, that when it comes to protecting the weak against the strong, “nothing” is not enough?

From the earliest decades of the republic through the middle of the twentieth century, sharp critiques of private power were a recurring theme in American politics. Even Eisenhower raised alarms about the military-industrial complex. But that oppositional tradition has long since shriveled. Social issues that rightly demanded the repeal of state-sponsored forms of discrimination gave a new purchase to libertarian critiques of state power and with them a diminished appreciation of the threat to freedom posed by overweening private power.

Progressives once enlivened the state to limit working hours, outlaw child labor, guarantee workers the right to bargain collectively, provide social security to the elderly and the disabled and medical care to retirees. The same progressives used government to reign in bankers, tax bloated wealth, and force businesses to bargain with unions.

But the rise of neoliberalism has turned many progressives against this tradition. They now seek “market” solutions to problems caused by the unrestrained and increasingly unregulated market. They define students and their parents as “consumers” and offer them more “choices” instead of better-trained teachers. They deregulate the financial system. Their health care reforms are a boondoggle for the insurance industry. Meanwhile the infrastructure that only the state can sustain is ready to collapse. Prisons are privatized. We even contract our wars out to private corporations! The market is out of control, and there are few mainstream voices left echoing the sentiments once uttered even by moderates like Abraham Lincoln: There are limits to the rights of property. Some things should not be up for sale.

What does or does not count as legitimate property is as much a political decision today as it was in the 1860s. This is why, as much as I admire Thomas Piketty’s remarkable study of Capital in the Twenty-First Century , I’m skeptical of his claim that rising inequality is a virtually natural “law” of capitalism. When Piketty tells us that inequality was lessened in the first half of the twentieth century only because of seemingly exogenous shocks of war and depression, I’m reminded of the historians who claim that slavery was not destroyed by abolitionists and runaway slaves but by the war itself.

But wars don’t lead, willy-nilly, to the equalization of wealth or the abolition of slavery. It takes politics, and that means political movements, to turn wars in a progressive direction. Pearl Harbor did not lead inevitably to an 85 percent income tax rate any more than Fort Sumter led inevitably to the Thirteenth Amendment. In both cases those in power took advantage of the war to redistribute wealth.

One Congress raised those taxes during the Second World War decades later another lowered them. No “law” of capitalism compelled either decision, and neither policy was “natural.” Piketty tells us that inequality will inevitably increase if capitalism is left to its own devices, but when has capitalism ever been left to its own devices? The decision to tax capital gains at 18.5 percent rather than 85 percent is a political one it has nothing to do with the innate “laws” of capital accumulation.

The Civil War made it possible to abolish slavery, but the decision to abolish it was still a political one. And as terrible as the war was, without it the decision to destroy slavery could never have been made. So I don’t begrudge the anti-slavery movement for not finishing what it started. Revolutions are always unfinished. The truth is, I rather like the abolitionists, even the white ones. Let’s grant them their blind spots and acknowledge the limits of their vision. For better and for worse, they were bourgeois radicals, not socialists.

Alas, in its affection for the principles of the marketplace, “left neoliberalism” echoes the worst rather than the best of the abolitionist legacy. The antislavery movement was not crippled by the racism that scholars are too quick to discern, but by the libertarian strain that other scholars admire.

I’m much more interested in the way abolitionism moved beyond the limits of libertarianism. But unlike so many students of the movement, I’m not attracted to the cult of true radicalism. I just don’t care which abolitionists top the scales that measure them by their ideological purity. Above all, I’m interested in efficacy I want to know how the abolitionists got abolition done. I want to figure out how hundreds of thousands of men and women managed to organize a successful political movement that brought racial slavery to an end in America. And I want to understand how, by destroying slavery, abolitionists made the next set of struggles possible.

There could be no Civil Rights Movement until there was no more slavery. To guide us through those subsequent struggles, the abolitionists left us with an invaluable set of principles — that equality is a means as well as an end, that working people have a right to “reasonable” wages, that there are limits to the rights of property, and that at a certain point concentrated wealth is not merely obscene, but is a fundamental threat to democracy itself.

America’s Exceptional History of Anti-Slavery

Recently the idea of American Exceptionalism has been ridiculed in academic and political circles with entire books dedicated to the purpose of tearing down any thought of an ethical America.[i] Much of this recent shift centers around America’s record on slavery. For instance, organizations such as the New York Times have started initiatives declaring that the “true founding” was not until the introduction of slavery 1619[ii] and that the “founding ideals were false” due to the existence of slavery.[iii]

The shift to a negative perspective of America largely stems from the revisionist school of history beginning in the 1960’s and culminating with Howard Zinn’s monumental 1980 People’s History of the United States. This book popularized the historiographical approach of doing “history from the bottom up,” which means telling the story of America through the interpretive lens of oppression. A fellow activist historian of Zinn’s, Staughton Lynd explains the fundamental premises underlying this approach in his Doing History from the Bottom Up. In their interpretive model, “was founded on crimes against humanity directed at…enslaved African Americans,” and therefore must be evil.[iv]

Such anti-American revisionism forgets that America’s record of anti-slavery actually is exceptional compared to the rest of the world. Rarely do revisionists remember that over half of the American states had passed laws abolishing slavery by 1804, nearly thirty years before William Wilberforce effected the similar results in England. This wide-scale abolitionism was planted by the Biblical beliefs of several early colonies, was watered by the advocacy and action of the patriots during the American Revolution, and finally brought forth fruit through the establishment of a Constitutional Republic designed to advance liberty and defend the ideals of the Declaration.

A careful review of the colonial anti-slavery context, the development of abolitionist thought during the War for Independence, and the staunch leadership of the pro-freedom Founding Fathers reveals how America led the way in abolishing slavery. Instead of the modern academic narrative which attempts to debunk American exceptionalism, history shows that America was exceptional in their struggle for emancipation.

As mentioned earlier, by 1804 all of the New England states as well as Vermont, New York, and New Jersey had either completely abolished slavery or enacted positive laws for the gradual abolition of it. This is four years before the Federal Congress ends the slave trade, and almost three decades before England votes to follow suit and abolishes slavery. The American wave of emancipation constituted the largest group of people who had voluntarily freed their slaves up to that point in modern history.

The 1810 census documents that the total population of those states—Massachusetts (Maine included), New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey—stood at 3,486,675.[v] This was approximately 48% of the total population, slave and free, of the United States at that time. Although not entirely free of slavery due to the gradual emancipation laws in states such as New York and New Jersey, the total percentage of the population waiting for emancipation was only 0.9% in states originally a colony. So, by 1804 half of America had succeeded in passing laws for the abolition of slavery, and only six years later they had been 99% effective in accomplishing that goal. Nobody else in the world was anywhere close to what those Northern States had succeeded in doing—in this America was exceptional.

Massachusetts itself has the honor of being the only state to have totally abolished slavery by the time the first census was completed in 1790, and Vermont was not far behind with only seventeen slaves left to be liberated by their laws.[vi] Massachusetts also receives distinction for passing potentially the earliest anti-slavery law in the American colonies within the 1641 enactment of the Massachusetts Body of Liberties. The tenth capital crime in that legal code stated that, “if any man stealeth a man or mankind, he shall surely be put to death. Ex. xxi.16.”[vii] Taken from the Bible as evidenced by the scriptural citation, manstealing was interpreted by the New England colonists to include what they considered improper enslavement—later it was to expand to all vestiges of slavery.

Blackstone describes manstealing as, “the forcible abduction or stealing away of a man, woman, or child, from their own country, and sending them into another.”[viii] Going further to say, “this is unquestionably a very heinous crime, as it robs the king of his subjects, banishes a man from his country, and may in its consequences be productive of the most cruel and disagreeable hardships.”[ix]

This law was not simply an empty letter either, and when the first instance of manstealing occurred in 1646 the General Court of Massachusetts was vigorous in its prosecution. The record explains that:

The General Court, conceiving themselves bound by the first opportunity to bear witness against the heinous and crying sin of man stealing, as also to proscribe such timely redress for what is past, and such a law for the future as may sufficiently deter all others belonging to us to have to do in such vile and most odious courses, justly abhorred of all good and just men, do order that the negro interpreter, with others unlawfully taken, be, by the first opportunity, (at the charge of the country for present,) sent to his native country of Ginny, and a letter with him of the indignation of the Court thereabouts, and justice hereof, desiring of honored Governor would please put this order in execution.[x]

Interestingly, the Court chose to go farther than the law necessarily required, deciding to send back the slaves at the cost of the community. After making arrangements for the liberated slaves, the General Court then, “appointed a committee to examine witnesses and draw up the case about Captain Smith and Mr. Kezar killing stealing, and wronging of the negroes, etc.”[xi] This response to the arrival of a slave ship is markedly different than when the first one arrived on the shores of Jamestown, and it indicates an entirely different culture which from an extremely early period looked down upon the slave trade.

Religion Fueled Anti-Slavery

Their reliance upon the Bible to begin to understand their relationship to slavery led New Englanders down a dramatically different path than both the Southern colonies and the world. Instead of viewing enslavement as a natural product of race, they understood it arose out of either personal misfortunes (such as debt) or bad choices (such as crime). The New England slaves therefore attained levels of rights unheard of practically anywhere else.

The Puritans’ idea of a “Bible commonwealth” relied upon the Mosaic laws for much of their own statutes concerning servitude. Therefore, slaves had an increased level of social status with rights including the right to own property, testify in court against white men, wives could not be compelled to testify against their husbands, had legal standing to sue which included suing their masters for freedom.[xii] Additionally, enslaved people had the equal procedural rights within the courtroom which, together with the right to sue, led many slaves to advocate for freedom through the New England government.[xiii]

The wider context of slavery both domestically and globally makes North America’s record even more exceptional. First it must be noted that slavery has existed within every culture historically documented. In fact, the story of American slavery begins long before Christopher Columbus ever dreamed of sailing across the ocean sea. The native tribes he discovered all had slaves and on a whole it is estimated that 20 to 40 percent of native populations were slaves, making the native Americans on par with the slave empires of Greece and Rome. [xiv] This native American tradition of slavery continued uninterrupted by colonization, and by 1860, 12.5% of the population in the Indian Nations were black slaves, equaling one slave for every eight Indians.[xv]

Expanding the scope of inquiry even wider, throughout the nearly 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade 12,521,337 Africans were taken to be slaves around the world. Only a small minority of that number ever embarked to the areas that would become the United States—305,326 to be exact, totaling 2.4%.[xvi] For comparison, Spain and her territories received 1,061,524 slaves during that same period representing nearly 8.5%, and France only barely received more with 11% (1,381,404). Next was Great Britain with 3,259,441 slaves taken from Africa, meaning that over one quarter (26%) of all slaves sourced from the African continent were intended for English lands. That, however, pales in comparison to Portugal and Brazil, where 5,848,266 enslaved humans were shipped—nearly 47% of the total number. Even the Netherland had more stake in the trans-Atlantic slave trade than America did, themselves accounting for 554,336 and 4.4%.[xvii]

What is more, slavery both globally and in America was never simply white on black. Just as every people group has owned slaves, every people group has correspondingly been enslaved. Prior to the 1700s there were more white slaves globally than there were black slaves.[xviii] In fact, early records from Massachusetts reveal that in December of 1738 several white men were sentenced to slavery for a variety of crimes. One had been an indentured servant who physically assaulted the man he was working for, and then “did conspire also against the life of his said whole common wealth,” and two others for theft alongside breaking and entering.[xix] The next year the Massachusetts court similarly sentenced another white criminal to slavery for attempted rape.[xx]

In addition to white slavery in America, Americans themselves were sold into slavery in the Barbary Coast of North Africa after being captured by Muslim slave traders. Charles Sumner, the famous abolitionist and founder or the Republican party, documented that fourteen men from Boston and Philadelphia would fetch $34,792 in the African slave market of 1785.[xxi] Beyond just the American sailors, the Muslim Barbary Pirates conducted extensive slave raids along the European coast, meaning that:

“Between 1530 and 1780 there were almost certainly a million and quite possibly as many as a million and a quarter white, European Christians enslaved by the Muslims of the Barbary Coast.”[xxii]

Just as there were white slaves both in America and the world, there also were black slave masters. Carter Woodson, often considered the “Father of Black History,” conducted a close study of the 1830 census data in order to investigate rates of free blacks who themselves owned slaves. His research revealed that, out of those free blacks who were eligible to own slaves (head of households living in states which would later join the Confederacy), 16% of them owned black slaves.[xxiii] Certain states, however, stand out in their relatively high frequency. South Carolina for instance saw 43% of eligible free black people own slaves, 40% in Louisiana, 26% in Mississippi, 25% in Alabama, and 20% in Georgia.[xxiv] Such statistical data simply shows just how varied the institution of slavery was throughout both history and the American story—far from the monolithic image presented by revisionists.

With so much of the world having been embroiled with slavery and the slave trade for hundreds of years, it makes the actions of America not only unique but remarkable. By the time the 18 th century began, many of the northern colonies began passing laws which established duties on importing slaves. The intent was for such acts cut away the slaver’s profit margin and therefore making it economically undesirable to import slaves into those regions. In 1700 elements of the Massachusetts citizenry petitioned the legislature for restrictive duty on slaves “to discourage the bringing of them” of forty shillings.[xxv] The next year the colony sought to set a limit to the period of slavery that a person could serve, and in 1705 they were successful in obtaining a four-pound import duty.[xxvi] Rhode Island had passed a slightly smaller duty two years earlier of a still substantial three-pounds.[xxvii]

Other colonies such as New York and Pennsylvania attempt to pass even more restrictive bills regulating the slave trade into relative non-existence but many of their efforts were vetoed by the authority of the Crown.[xxviii] The Royal veto of anti-slavery measures, often because of the economic benefit which England derived from the global trade, became a common response to colonial attempts at restricting slavery.

Nearly seventy years later such practices nearly made it into the Declaration of Independence after appearing in Thomas Jefferson’s draft and being approved by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. The grievance against the slave trade was the longest out of all of them, occupying the better part of a page in addition to having the most words underlined or capitalized outside of the title. The grievance in the draft reported to Congress read as follows:

He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of distant people, who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation tither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian king of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce.[xxix]

“Am I not a man and a brother.”

Many other Founding Fathers agreed with Jefferson—in fact, the majority of Founding Fathers agreed with him. Only two states voted against the grievance thus keeping it out of the final Declaration of Independence.

(It should also be noted that although many today claim that when the Declaration states that “all men are created equal” the Founding Fathers really meant to say “all white men are created equal,” Jefferson himself explicitly identifies slaves as men and thereby included in the American promise.)

With over a century of anti-slavery activity, it should come as no surprise to see a dramatic increase in manumissions and widespread emancipation during and immediately following the War for Independence. From 1790 to 1810 the number of free blacks in America increased from 59,466 to 108,395, displaying a growth rate of 82%. The next decade saw that number expand another 72% to 186,446.[xxx] While the number continued to grow albeit at a lower rate of growth in the years leading up to the Civil War, those first two decades of the American Republic saw the strongest rate of voluntary emancipation ever recorded up to that time. It is this period which Arthur Zilversmit calls the First Emancipation.[xxxi]

John Adams, an attorney prior to becoming a politician, recalled the environment of emancipation during those years saying:

“I was concerned in several Causes, in which Negroes sued for their Freedom before the Revolution.…I never knew a Jury, by a Verdict to determine a Negro to be a slave—They always found them free.”[xxxii]

During the Revolution itself many slaves who fought for freedom from England also achieved freedom from slavery, being manumitted on account of their service. William Whipple, signer of the Declaration and General under Washington, freed his slave, Prince Whipple during campaign after realizing the incongruity of his own actions.[xxxiii] Another veteran of the Revolutionary War, a slave named Prime, was actually re-enslaved after the war but, with the help of anti-slavery advocates, he successfully petitioned for his emancipation, winning his freedom not only on the battlefield but in the courtroom as well.

Upon examining this period, renown historian Benjamin Quarles remarked that the War for Independence and the environment leading up to it empowered the black population with the tools and personal agency to reach for their freedom as Americans. He writes that the slaves, “gave a personal interpretation to the theory of natural rights and the slogans of liberty and independence,” and many white leaders who were awakening to the injustice helped them in that greater revolution.[xxxiv]

This brief examination of the overarching facts and context concerning America’s early history with slavery shows that the story is infinitely more nuanced than the revisionist narratives propagated by Zinn, Lynd, and the New York Times. The real history, however, reveals that America’s record for anti-slavery is exceptional when placed in the context of the world at that time. Instead of presenting a view of history as if it Jamestown won the ideological battle for America, historians today must realize that the tree of slavery was choked out by the tree of liberty. That the ideas of Plymouth overcame those of Jamestown.

The story of the northern colonies, when properly told, shows that America was among the first places in the world to lead a successful fight against slavery in both word and deed. Furthermore, the anti-slavery Founding Fathers paved the path which many of the global abolitionist followed in the decades to come. America ought not to be remembered as a land of oppression but rather one of liberation. The New World has been the frontier of freedom from the beginning, being the first to struggle for emancipation and find large-scale success. Those small American Republics, carved out of the wilderness, showed a level of civilization unheard of at that early period, passing anti-slavery and abolition laws before virtually anywhere else in the world. America was indeed exceptional—a seedbed of liberty for themselves and the rest of the world.

[i] Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009) Godfrey Hodgson, The Myth of American Exceptionalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[iii] Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Our Democracy’s Founding Ideals were False When They were Written,” The New York Times (December 5, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/08/14/magazine/black-history-american-democracy.html

[iv] Staughton Lynd, Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E. P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2014), xii.

[v] Aggregate Amount of Each Description of Persons Within the United States of America, and the Territories Thereof (Washington: 1811), 1.

[vi] The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1858 (Boston: Crosby, Nicholas, and Company, 1858), 214.

[vii] Francis Bowen, editor, Documents of the Constitution of England and America, from Magna Charta to the Federal Constitution of 1789, (Cambridge: John Bartlett, 1854), 72.

[viii] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (London: A. Strahan and W. Woodfall, 1795), 4.218-219.

[x] Nathaniel Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: William Whites, 1853), 1.168.

[xii] Arthur Zilversmit, The First Emancipation: The Abolition of Slavery in the North (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), 19.

[xiv] Fernando Santos-Granero, Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), 226-227.

[xv] Joseph Kennedy, Preliminary Reports on the Eighth Census, 1860 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1862), 11.

[xvi] “Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade – Estimates,” Slave Voyages, https://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates (accessed December 6, 2019).

[xviii] Philip Morgan, “Origins of American Slavery,” Organization of American History Magazine of History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (July 2005), p. 53

[xix] Nathaniel Shurtleff, Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (Boston: William Whites, 1853), 1.246.

[xxi] Charles Sumner, White Slaves in the Barbary States (Boston: William D. Ticknor and Company, 1847), 32.

[xxii] Robert Davis, “Counting European on the Barbary Coast,” Past &Present, No. 172 (August 2001), 118.

[xxiii] Thomas J. Pressly, “‘The Known World’ of Free Black Slaveholders: A Research Note on the Scholarship of Carter G. Woodson,” The Journal of African American History 91, no. 1 (2006): 85.

[xxv] Zilversmit, The First Emancipation, 51.

[xxix] Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, edited by Paul Leicester Ford (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904), 210-211.

[xxx] Kennedy, Preliminary Reports, 7.

[xxxi] Zilversmit, The First Emancipation.

[xxxii] Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1877), 401-402.

[xxxiii] William Nell, Colored Patriots of the American Revolution (Boston: Robert Wallcut, 1855), 198.

[xxxiv] Benjamin Quarles, “The Revolutionary War as a Black Declaration of Independence,” Slavery and Freedom in the Age of the American Revolution, edited by Ira Berlin (Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1983), 285.

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