The Party of Lincoln

A few notes from my History lecture.

I really haven’t taken any sort of look into the history of the current political parties before. I thought these were interesting, some of them I knew and some I did not. (These refer to the late 19th Century.)

The Republican party had come into existence in the 1850s as a protest against the extension of the slave system into federal territories. In the late nineteenth century, Republicans billed themselves as the “party of loyalty,” the party of Lincoln which had stood by the Union in wartime. […] Throughout the north, veterans’ organizations contributed much to the Republican cause. At election time, aging men in old blue uniforms often volunteered their time to help the Republican cause. One of the largest and most powerful was the Grand Army of the Republic. Republican politicians curried favor with these men by speaking at rallies and conventions. One other way they got on the right side of these men was by sponsoring pension bills in Congress.

Democrats […] frequently complained that these pensions were overly generous, even rewarding individuals for services they had not actually rendered.

That seems to have stuck around.

Republicans were more active than Democrats in using the powers of government to aid economic growth. […] Republicans rarely challenged the essential elements of “laissez faire,” which asserted that government should not regulate or in other ways hamper economic growth. Republicans did, however, support certain policies which they thought would encourage healthy business activities. In this sense, they sometimes supported “aid” or assistance to the economy.

In the late nineteenth century, Republicans rarely challenged the prevailing sense that it was best for government to simply leave its “hands off” of business and let nature take its course. On the other hand, Republicans were certainly “business-friendly,” in that they usually supported measures for positive aid. One of the best known was the protective tariff. Throughout the late nineteenth century, the Republican party expressed support for a high tariff (e.g., a tax on imported goods) to “protect” American industry from foreign competition. Some of the most intense party battles of this period were battles over whether to raise or lower the tariff. Republicans almost always wanted a high tariff, and predictably, the leaders of big business were usually Republicans themselves.

Yep, that seems familiar, too.

Another form of positive aid embraced by Republicans was government assistance for “internal improvements.” “Internal improvements” are best described as upgrades to the nation’s infrastructure, particularly transportation and industry. Republicans were usually in the forefront in supporting land giveaways to railroads and factories, as well as gifts of money and tax credits to encourage industrial growth. Republicans were generally supportive of government programs to build bridges, dredge harbors, and otherwise improve transportation.

Infrastructure! No, they’ve abandoned that bit.

In 1862, for example, Congress passed the Morrill Act. This law set aside federal monies to be used by the states to create colleges for teaching agricultural and mechanical subjects. The institutions created are sometimes called “land-grant” colleges, because funds were to be derived from the sale of federal land. Republicans were in the vanguard in support for this legislation.

Education is so passé now. Republicans prefer nitwitted folksy people.

Republicans were usually supportive of something called “sumptuary laws.” A “sumptuary law” is essentially a law in support of moral reform. There is an old saying that “you can’t legislate morality,” but then as now, legislators were more than willing to give it a try. In the late nineteenth century, the two most often debated sumptuary laws were temperance laws and blue laws. Republicans were generally supportive of both. Temperance laws were laws to restrict (or even prohibit) the manufacture and sale of liquor. As indicated in previous lectures, a number of states—and many localities—had taken steps to outlaw liquor within their jurisdictions. This movement would eventually culminate in the passage of national prohibition after World War I. “Blue laws” were laws aimed at “keeping the Sabbath.” Across the country, local and state governments often passed laws to keep businesses closed on Sundays and even to prohibit certain activities on this day. In many states, the playing of baseball or the holding of a dance on a Sunday was against the law. Michigan, of all places, even briefly had a law against the operation of a motor car on a Sunday!

-sigh- Legislating morality on a purely Christian paradigm. Yeah, they love that one.

A much more striking evolution is that of the Democratic Party of the time.

Democrats were usually against extensions of federal control and Republicans for it.

Just as Democrats advocated a weak central government, they also expressed alarm at government’s attempts to aid or assist the economy.

Nineteenth century Democrats also unashamedly billed themselves as the “white man’s party.”

Democrats were usually found opposing efforts to restrict the liquor traffic or outlaw activities on Sundays. As far as a typical Democrat of the period was concerned, if a working man wanted to take a glass of beer on his own, it should be no one else’s business; if a group of farm boys wanted to play baseball on a Sunday, then government should not interfere.

How times have changed.


2 Responses to “The Party of Lincoln”

  1. It was a strange time. One half of the United States insisting the other half couldn’t withdraw from being part of it, using force of arms to do the persuading. Which probably didn’t come as a great shock, considering the fact neither of those parties and both halves of the population never blinked at using force of arms to acquire the territories of folks standing in the way of the acquisition by already owning it. Be they Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole, Navajo, Apache, or just a mere weaker nation called Mexico.

    Maybe freedom’s easier to hold onto if you’re on the winning side.

  2. Aye, that’s true enough. Our last segment, we read a Speech by Chief Red Cloud that made me tear up for them.


    We held our dying children and felt their little bodies tremble as their soul went out and left only a dead weight in our hands. They were not very heavy but we were faint and the dead weighed us down. There was no hope on earth. God seemed to have forgotten.

    This class has made me miss my Dad quite a bit. His area of expertise was the Civil War and its aftermath. I wish I could sit down over coffee and discuss these ideas with him.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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