Owen Lovejoy
Owen Lovejoy Page  [End Page 82]

Stephen A. Douglas knew that his Nebraska bill would raise "a hell of a storm." Though he had long desired to facilitate the settlement of the territory north and west of Missouri, the Illinois Democrat also sought harmony and unity for the Democratic party. Cooperation of influential senators from the slaveholding South was essential to Douglas's goals of western expansion. To garner the support of Southern Democrats, Douglas accepted a revision to his original bill that explicitly repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery north of the southern border of Missouri. Despite the vocal protest of Free Soilers, which Douglas predicted, the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed Congress in the spring of 1854. [1]

Outrage at the Nebraska bill erupted in the North. Citizens gathered in public meetings to protest what they saw as a betrayal of the sacred Missouri Compromise and to pour out their wrath on Douglas, who claimed he could travel from Boston to Chicago by the light produced by burning effigies. Indeed, some anti-Nebraska Germans in Illinois did illuminate the night with a burning likeness of Douglas hung with a sign that read "Benedict Arnold of 1854." A meeting of citizens in Earlville termed Douglas an "ambitious and shameless Demagogue" and compared him to Judas. The hostility was no less severe in his own party. The Democratic Alton Courier argued that the Nebraska bill "opens the door for a great outrage upon human rights, the introduction of slavery into Terri- Page  [End Page 83] tory now free, and which we should be glad to have ever remain so." At a meeting in Chicago on September 1, Douglas faced a crowd of eight to ten thousand people so hostile that he was unable to speak above their hisses and groans. A month later at Princeton, in Bureau County, veteran abolitionist Owen Lovejoy "bantered and badgered" Douglas for allowing slavery to spread into free territories. Former Whig congressman Abraham Lincoln from Springfield also lay in wait for Douglas. Assiduously pouring over congressional speeches and federal census data during the summer and fall of 1854, Lincoln was writing anti-Nebraska editorials and preparing to debate Douglas over the question of the extension of slavery.[2]

Between 1854 and 1856, anti-Nebraska sentiment in Illinois and the rest of the North eventually coalesced into the Republican party. As a distinctly sectional party, the Republicans were dedicated to stopping the spread of slavery in the west. With this antislavery rather than abolitionist platform, they were able to draw in a wide spectrum of Northern opinion from radical demands for the abolition of slavery to a milder resentment at the power of Southern slaveholders. During the remainder of the 1850s, the Republicans created a moral consensus that was ultimately capable of mobilizing Northern society behind a war to end slavery. The rise of the Republican party is thus essential in understanding the coming of the Civil War. [3]

The political careers of Abraham Lincoln and Owen Lovejoy between 1854 and 1856 provide a useful vantage point for examining the emergence of the Republican party. Both men cast their political futures with the newly forming Republicans. In 1856, anti-Nebraska sentiment propelled Lovejoy to Congress and brought Lincoln national attention as a speaker able to articulate and shape anti-Nebraska sentiment into a potent antislavery message that would Page  [End Page 84] capture the hearts and minds of the North. Yet Lincoln and Lovejoy joined the Republican cause at very different rates. As a seasoned abolitionist and brother of martyred abolitionist editor Elijah, Lovejoy was active at every step of party organization and helped keep antislavery principles at the forefront of the anti-Nebraska movement and formation of the Republican party. He faithfully represented the radical abolitionist wing of the emerging Republicans. Lincoln, by contrast, was more reluctant to embrace the Republican cause. He was hesitant to give up hope on the Whigs, spent much of the 1854 campaign denying he was a Republican, and sought to distance himself from antislavery radicals during the following two years. The juxtaposition of Lincoln and Lovejoy suggests the Republican ambiguity and ambivalence toward slavery and race that would significantly shape national policy throughout the years of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Paul Selby recalled the chaos that followed in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. "Parties were disintegrating," the editor of the Jacksonville Morgan Journal remembered, "and their mutually repellant [sic] elements were seeking new associations." In New York, where Democratic factionalism had been particularly rife, one observer spoke of the parties in "a state of disorganization—rather of utter anarchy." The American political landscape was indeed a mess. The Whig party was dying, Democrats had fractured into Nebraskite and anti-Nebraska factions, and the nativist Know-Nothings loomed as a major new party. To add to the confusion, local and state parties emerged on such issues as prohibition and anti-Catholicism. In Connecticut, there were twenty-three political parties in 1854. The political confusion, uncertainty, and fluidity that was so manifest to contemporaries must be kept in mind as we narrate the story of the rise of the Republican party in Illinois. For it is only with the benefits of historical hindsight that Republican success seems inevitable. For contemporaries like Lincoln and Lovejoy, the process of party formation was uneven and halting, with the outcome far less certain than what history eventually produced.[4] Page  [End Page 85]

A vigorous two-party system characterized American politics during the two decades preceding the Kansas-Nebraska Act. In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected president on a coalition that would comprise the essential elements of the Democratic party: New York followers of Martin Van Buren, Southern slaveholders, western farmers, and urban workingmen in the Northeast. In general, the Democrats stood for states rights and opposed any tendencies towards a strong central government. By the early 1830s, Jackson's opponents had coalesced into the Whig party. With national leaders like Henry Clay of Kentucky and Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, the Whigs endorsed governmental promotion of economic growth and regulation of the nation's morality. While the Democrats held a virtual monopoly on the presidency during the Age of Jackson, competition with Whigs on the state and local level was most often balanced and keen. In Illinois, however, the Democrats were the majority party.[5]

Slavery became an increasingly divisive issue in Jacksonian politics. The appearance of William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper, The Liberator, in Boston in 1831 signaled the emergence of immediate abolitionism. The American Anti-Slavery Society was established in Philadelphia two years later. During the 1830s, abolitionists used newspapers, pamphlets, public lectures, petition campaigns, and fairs to convince the nation of the inherent sinfulness of slavery. In Illinois, antislavery was synonymous with the name Lovejoy. In 1837, minister and religious editor Elijah P. Lovejoy had called for an organization of a state antislavery society. On the night of November 7, 1837, he was killed while defending his press from an anti-abolition mob in Alton. His brother Owen was one of the Page  [End Page 86] first converts after Elijah's martyrdom. "I shall never forsake the cause that has been sprinkled with my brother's blood," he declared at Elijah's deathbed. Another abolitionist destined to play a role in the founding of the Illinois Republican party was Zebina Eastman, who began editing the Genius of Liberty in Lowell (LaSalle County) in 1840. Beginning in 1840, many abolitionists became disillusioned with the slow progress of moral suasion and turned their efforts towards politics. Their first venture into antislavery politics was hardly an electoral success. The Liberty party, founded in 1840, received only 157 votes in the entire state of Illinois that election year. Lovejoy, Eastman, and Ichabod Codding were all Liberty party pioneers who would spearhead the drive for the Republican party in Illinois. [6]

During the 1830s and 1840s, the two-party system safely channeled and contained the sectional controversy over slavery. The need of each party for the bisectional support necessary to win the presidency required political leaders to subordinate slavery to other issues. By the late 1840s, the question of the status of slavery in the territories placed a more serious strain on the party system. Southerners became more insistent that their parties protect slaveholding rights in the territories, while Northerners grew increasingly resentful of slavery's expansion. The Compromise of 1850 marked a temporary armistice between North and South and allowed both Democrats and Whigs to maintain a semblance of national unity.

The Whigs were the first political party to succumb to sectional division. Their ultimate demise in the early 1850s is important to understand for it facilitated and hastened the development of the Republican party. Several factors help explain the mysterious disappearance of the Whigs. Their ready acceptance of nativism tainted the party in the eyes of many voters. Their two principle leaders and spokesmen, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, were dead by 1852. Moreover, economic issues like banking, which had given ideological glue to the Whig party, had become less compelling by Page  [End Page 87] the 1850s. In the presidential election of 1852, the Whigs were seriously divided between Northern supporters of Winfield Scott and Southern backers of Millard Fillmore. Illinois Whiggery reflected these national divisions. In the northern part of the state, Whig leaders appealed to free-soil sentiment while in the South they portrayed themselves as a compromise party. In the presidential contest, the Whig candidate Scott only carried two slave states and two free states. Democrat Franklin Pierce won Illinois with 15,000 votes. Ultimately, the Whigs were victims of a changing political context in the 1850s. As historian Michael Holt explains, voters grew apathetic and alienated while other parties emerged to more effectively channel their interests. In the political language of the 1850s, the Whigs had failed to offer voters a protection of republican liberty. [7]

The demise of the Whig party is clearer in historical hindsight than it was at the time. To contemporaries, there was evidence that Whiggery could still be a vital political force. The Whigs' proportion of the popular vote in the North in the presidential election of 1852 was only slightly lower than it had been in 1848. In Illinois, the popular vote of the Whigs declined only from 43 percent to 42 percent. Under a new redistricting plan, Illinois Whigs were in control of four of the nine seats in the House of Representatives. These signs of Whig vitality help explain why Abraham Lincoln clung tenaciously to the Whigs and reluctantly entered the Republican party. He remained active in Whig politics in Illinois, serving as a national committeeman in 1852. According to historian Don E. Fehrenbacher, "a responsible Whig like Lincoln had to proceed for a time on the assumption that such a renewal was possible." [8]

The swift rise and fall of the Know-Nothing Party is also essential in explaining the emergence of the Republican party. The Know-Nothings were the political manifestation of nativist sentiment that had been growing since the 1840s in response to the rapid Page  [End Page 88] influx of Irish Catholic immigrants. Organized under the banner of the American party, nativists in particular feared the political power being exercised by immigrants, especially in urban areas. One historian describes the Know-Nothings as "the fastest growing political force in many parts of the United States." In Massachusetts, they captured 63 percent of the popular vote and elected all state officers and all national congressman. In Pennsylvania, they polled more than 40 percent of the vote. In Illinois, local Know-Nothing organizations emerged in Joliet, Ottawa, Alton, and other communities. Know-Nothings drew in many former Whigs in 1854 and 1855, furthering the demise of the latter party. Yet the Know-Nothings collapsed as quickly as they rose. The seemingly unavoidable conflict over slavery divided two Know-Nothing meetings, in 1855 and 1856. [9]

In the political confusion between 1854 and 1856, anti-Nebraska elements often sought coalitions with Know-Nothings in efforts that became known as "fusion." Antislavery candidates for Congress in 1854 often received nativist support. In Illinois, candidates in the third, fourth, and seventh congressional districts were greatly aided by Know-Nothing endorsements. Indiana editor and budding Republican politician Schuyler Colfax published anti-Catholic stories in his newspaper. There was some ideological affinity between free soil and nativism. One free-soil paper suggested that the "two malign powers"—Slavery and Catholicism—"have a natural affinity for each other." On the other hand, many anti-Nebraska leaders deplored the bigotry inherent in the Know-Nothings and were fearful of alienating the crucial support of Protestant Germans. [10]

During the spring and summer of 1854, anti-Nebraska meetings were held throughout Illinois. The editor of the Chicago Free West claimed that reports of meetings around Illinois were coming to him "in flocks like autumn laves [sic] upon the earth." Antislavery radicals in Illinois closely watched the beginnings of party organizations in other states. By the summer, local conventions across the state had adopted the label "Republican." Conventions in Aurora Page  [End Page 89] and Rockford even put congressional candidates into the field. A state Republican convention was called for Springfield on October 4 and 5, 1854, to coincide with the state fair. According to editor Paul Selby, Owen Lovejoy was one of the "leading spirits upon the floor." Ichabod Codding, Zebina Eastman, and Erastus Wright of Sangamon were also instrumental in this first state meeting. A state central committee was formed, and Abraham Lincoln was chosen as a member. Yet fearful of the antislavery radicals and clinging to his Whig allegiance, Lincoln declined to serve. He did, however, make a powerful anti-Nebraska speech while he and Douglas were at the state fair. [11]

The 1854 elections in Illinois demonstrated the potency of anti-Nebraska sentiment. "Never before," declared the Joliet Signal, "have the democracy of Illinois been so completely vanquished." With shameless exaggeration, the Aurora Guardian claimed that the fall elections were "Republicanism Triumphant." The new state legislature was primarily anti-Nebraskan. Five fusionists were elected to Congress. The most pressing task before the new legislature was the election of a United States senator from Illinois. Lincoln had been elected to the legislature as a Whig and was now eager for the Senate nomination. Besides Lincoln, the major challengers to sitting Senator James Shields were Governor Joel A. Matteson and anti-Nebraska Democrat Lyman Trumbull. Though Lincoln polled well on early ballots, suspicion of his Whig background and Democratic maneuvering led to his defeat and Trumbull's election. [12]

Although 1855 was a non-election year in Illinois, national events kept the momentum of the Republican party alive. The Kansas-Nebraska Act had triggered a bloody struggle between antislavery and proslavery settlers for territorial hegemony in Kansas. Meanwhile, Republicans continued their efforts at organization. Republican leaders from Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Vermont had issued a call for a national convention to meet at Pittsburgh in February 1856. Owen Lovejoy was part of the Illi- Page  [End Page 90] nois delegation. He gave an impassioned speech that included a bold call to arms in Kansas: "Who would not lose his life in such a cause? In defense of Kansas I will offer myself as a captain, and if not wanted in that capacity, I will shoulder a gun and go as a private."[13]

On February 22, 1856, a group of anti-Nebraska editors in Illinois met in Decatur. One historian claims that this meeting marked the true beginning of the state Republican party. The editorial gathering was organized by Paul Selby, editor of the former Whig newspaper, the Morgan Journal. His call was endorsed by twenty-five newspapers across the state, including the Winchester Chronicle and the Decatur Chronicle. George Schneider of the Illinois Staats-Zeitung represented the important German element in the anti-Nebraska coalition. The editors resolved to ban the introduction of slavery into territories already free and restore the Missouri Compromise line. Abraham Lincoln was the one prominent political leader who attended the Decatur meeting. At a banquet held that night at the Cassell House, Lincoln made a speech in which he promised to "buckle on his armor for the approaching contest with the Pierce party." The editors issued a called for a state Republican convention to meet in Bloomington later that May. [14]

Anti-Nebraska Democrats, former Whigs, and antislavery veterans converged on Bloomington on May 29, 1856, to formally organize the Republican party in Illinois. Old-line conservative Whigs like Orville H. Browning and David Davis joined efforts, sometimes uneasily, with antislavery radicals like Lovejoy and Codding. About 270 delegates from mostly northern and central Illinois adopted an anti-extension platform and proposed a slate of candidates. The fusionist character of Illinois Republicanism was reflected in the nomination of a German for lieutenant governor and Know-Nothing Whigs for other state offices. Lovejoy gave a speech at the Bloomington convention that prompted Lincoln law partner William Herndon to compare Lovejoy to "Otis of colonial fame ... a flame of fire." Abraham Lincoln spoke after Lovejoy. He came to the platform, reported the Alton Weekly Courier, "amid deafening Page  [End Page 91] applause." He spoke what was becoming standard Republican fare on the dangers of the slave power to free white labor. Keenly recognizing Lincoln's abilities as an orator, journalist John L. Scripps stated that the speech "fused the mass of hitherto incongruous elements into perfect homogeneity." Herndon considered the speech "the grand effort of his life." The Chicago Press editorialized that Lincoln "made the speech of the occasion." Yet since Lincoln's address at Bloomington was never recorded, it has become known as his "Lost Speech."[15]

In the presidential election year of 1856, Republicans were eager to challenge the Democrats. The national Republican convention was held at Philadelphia in June. Once again, Lovejoy and Codding were in attendance, "conspicuous, determined, insistent." Despite a stirring antislavery address by Lovejoy, the Republican platform was more anti-extensionist than abolitionist. It called for the end of the spread of slavery into the territories and admission of Kansas as a free state. The Republicans nominated western explorer John C. Frémont for president. Lincoln's name was also conspicuous at Philadelphia; he received 110 votes for vice-president though the nomination eventually went to William L. Dayton of New Jersey. In the fall election, Frémont faced Democrat James Buchanan and the Know-Nothing or American nominee Millard Filmore. Buchanan won the electoral vote, but he garnered only 45 percent of the popular vote, while Frémont scored impressive victories in Wisconsin, Michigan, all of New England, and New York.[16]

Illinois was a key battleground in the presidential election of 1856, and the Republicans fought hard for victory. They brought in such national figures as antislavery senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire and Governor Charles Robinson of Kansas. The campaign became a festive affair of barbecues and parades. Young Republicans called "Wide Awakes" marched in uniforms and carried torches during nocturnal processions. Enthusiastic Republican meetings sang songs to "Free Speech, Free Press, Free Soil, Free Men,/ FRE-MONT AND VICTORY." By his own count, Lincoln gave more than fifty speeches during the presidential campaign. Page  [End Page 92] He addressed a crowd of close to ten thousand at Princeton. At Decatur, he spoke with Lovejoy and Trumbull. Despite Lincoln's efforts, Buchanan carried Illinois. Yet a Republican state ticket headed by William H. Bissell and Francis Hoffman was victorious and gave Illinois a Republican administration.[17]

A more complicated election occurred in the Third Congressional District of Illinois. Partly as a concession to the antislavery radicals who were left off the state ticket, Republicans meeting in Ottawa nominated Lovejoy. Lincoln had supported his old friend Leonard Swett for the nomination, though he did later work for Lovejoy. Disaffected delegates from the southern part of the district met in a separate convention and nominated T. L. Dickey. Throughout the campaign Lovejoy seemed handicapped by his abolitionist past. In an attempt to discredit him even in northern Illinois, a conservative Democratic paper labeled him "a model abolitionist." Despite the attempts to portray Lovejoy as a radical abolitionist and the disaffection of some conservative Whigs, Lovejoy defeated his Democratic opponent by six thousand votes and went to the Thirty-Fifth Congress as a Republican Representative from Illinois. [18]

In 1860, Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln of Illinois won the presidential election. A sectional party based on the non-extension of slavery had become the majority party in the North. "We have passed the Rubicon," exclaimed abolitionist Wendell Phillips of Boston. "For the first time in our history the slave has chosen a President of the United States." Phillips correctly recognized the revolutionary consequences of Lincoln's election. The Republican victory confirmed the fears of Southern fire-eaters, who warned that only an independent Southern nation could protect slavery from the hands of the Black Republicans. By February 1861, seven slave states from the lower South had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. War began a few months later at Ft. Sumter. After four years of fighting, the Republican administration had abolished slavery and created a strong nation state dedicated Page  [End Page 93] to the principles of civil equality. [19]

The beliefs and values that wrought such a fundamental revolution in American life are evident in the speeches and writings of Lincoln, Lovejoy, and other Illinois Republicans. Between 1854 and 1856, the essential elements of Republicanism began to take recognizable shape. Most critical were Republican notions of race and nationality. We can detect in the response to the Kansas-Nebraska Act both the seeds of final emancipation and the germ of a new idea of an American nation that would be articulated during the war so profoundly by Abraham Lincoln.

It is essential to remember that the Republican party in the 1850s was anti-extensionist rather than abolitionist. The distinction is crucial. In 1856, for example, the Republican platform only stated their opposition "to the extension of Slavery into Free Territory." In 1860, the Republicans admitted that "the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends." As these official campaign statements reveal, Republicans were arguing against the spread of slavery rather than its abolition. Explicitly lacking in Republican antislavery was not only a demand for its abolition but support for civil rights for blacks. Here the Republicans were following the principles of anti-extensionism established by the Free Soil movement of the late 1840s. According to historian Eric Foner, free soilism had divorced slavery from the ideal of racial equality that was often explicit in the arguments of the immediate abolitionists of the 1830s. In order to broaden their potential base of support, the Free Soilers and later Republicans chose expediency over principle and acquiesced to the prevailing racism of Northern society in the 1850s.[20]

This brand of antislavery is evident in a speech Owen Lovejoy delivered to the Illinois House of Representatives on February 6, 1855. Though boldly arguing against the spread of slavery, Lovejoy admitted that "I have no power to enter the State of South Carolina, and abolish slavery there by an act of Congress." Lincoln was Page  [End Page 94] even more explicit in his "Peoria Address" of October 16, 1854. "I wish to MAKE and to KEEP the distinction between the EXISTING institution, and the EXTENSION of it, so broad, and so clear, that no honest man can misunderstand me, and no dishonest one, successfully resent me." Lincoln and Lovejoy were also careful to deny any support for racial equality. "What next?" Lincoln asked rhetorically about getting rid of slavery. "Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not." At a Free Soil convention in 1852, Lovejoy was unwilling to support a more radical resolution for equal rights for blacks. In 1858, a group of Republicans in Macon County, Illinois, confirmed that "our cause is that of the white man, and our object the encouragement and prosperity of free white labor."[21]

Why did the Republicans in the 1850s fail to embrace abolition and racial equality? Politics was part of the reason. Most Republican leaders were astute politicians who recognized that radical views would ruin their chances of electoral victory. Republican Oliver P. Morton of Indiana believed that many Northern voters associated antislavery with the prospect of "turning the negroes loose among us." Democrats eagerly threw the charge of race equality to discredit their Republican opponents. "Whenever we resist the expansion of slavery into the territories," Henry Wilson of Massachusetts explained, "we have a lecture about the equality of the races." Yet political expediency explains only so much. The Republican party was tainted by the racism that infected the North on the eve of the Civil War. "I want to have nothing to do, either with the free negro or the slave negro ...," declared Lyman Trumbull. "We wish to settle the Territories with free white men."[22]

There is evidence, however, of how far some Republicans were able to go in the direction of racial equality. In Illinois, fourteen counties in the northern, antislavery part of the state voted unsuccessfully in 1848 to grant suffrage to African-Americans. Illinois lawyers like Gustav Koerner fought on behalf of freed slaves. Lovejoy himself preached to a racially mixed audience at the First Con- Page  [End Page 95] gregational Church in Chicago and had a long history of helping fugitive slaves along the underground railroad. Perhaps most importantly, Republican antislavery contained within itself the promise of ultimate abolition. Lincoln should be quoted at length for he said it best:

I hate it [slavery expansion] because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because of it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.[23]
Thus visible in the writings of Lincoln, Lovejoy, and the early Republicans are ambiguities and tensions that would severely handicap the fulfillment of America's promise to African-American men and women.

Along with race, nationality was the other major theme of the Civil War era. Republican political hegemony became inextricably linked to devotion to the Union. During the Civil War, such groups as the Loyal Publication Society and the Union League distributed pamphlets that inculcated nationalist feelings in the people of the North. Leading Republican intellectuals in 1865 began a periodical significantly entitled The Nation. The roots of Civil War nationalism can be discerned in the writings of Republicans during the 1850s. Specifically, they indicate the beginnings of what political theorists often term "civic nationalism," where the primary loyalty of a people is devoted to a nation state that embodies certain ideals. The writings of Lincoln, Lovejoy, and other Illinois Republicans reveal the ingredients that, in the crucible of war, would be forged into a powerful nationalism. [24]

At the core of the Republican ideology of the 1850s was a commitment to freedom. For many, the meaning of freedom had been Page  [End Page 96] enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. In his anti-Nebraska speech to the Illinois House, Lovejoy began by stating "that the principles which underlay our Government found a suitable expression in the Declaration of Independence." He explained that this was "the first embodiment and national proclamation of the great principles of democracy, of American equality." For Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence was "the sheet anchor of American republicanism." He explained that the underlying principle was that "no man is good enough to govern another man, without that other's consent." A Free Democratic meeting in Pontiac, Illinois, insisted that at the heart of the Nebraska controversy lay the question of "whether the principles of the Declaration of Independence shall be carried out, or whether slavery shall forever rule in this nation." Lincoln's and Lovejoy's opposition to slavery flowed from the fountain of the Declaration of Independence. "Now the relation of master and slaves is," Lincoln went on to explain, "PRO TANTO, a total violation of this principle. The master not only governs the slave without his consent; but he governs him by a set of rules altogether different from those which he prescribes for himself." When Lovejoy applied these principles to the extension of slavery, he found it "a perversion of the government to apply it to such a purpose." [25]

Elements of Republican thought in the 1850s also anticipated the creation of a powerful state that accompanied the rise of nationalism in the wartime North. One source of state power was the argument that Congress possessed the power to prohibit slavery in the territories. In their national platform of 1856, Republicans resolved that "the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government." Lovejoy insisted similarly "that it is constitutional for the American people to prohibit slavery in the Territory of the United States." A Republican convention in Macon County in 1858 also confirmed "the power of Congress over slavery in the territories." A second source of state power emerged in the temperance movement, the widespread effort to stop the use of alcohol in the antebellum era. Like many abolitionists, temperance reformers grew impatient with the results of moral suasion and turned during the 1840s to the government to prohibit the production and use of alcohol. "We have tried moral suasion long enough," argued one Page  [End Page 97] writer to the Free West. "It has filled our jails and penitentiaries with criminals, our almshouses with paupers, and our country with ignorance and idleness." Maine passed the first law against the sale of liquor in 1851, and agitation for a "Maine Law" in Illinois increased dramatically around 1854. Reformers hoping for political action formed Maine law alliances. There was a significant correlation between the temperance and anti-Nebraska movements. Maine law alliances were strongest in the northern counties of Illinois, the area of greatest Republican strength. Temperance conventions endorsed Republican candidates. Anti-Nebraska papers like the Free West often reported on the progress of Maine law agitation. Although temperance was always a state rather than federal issue, the advocacy of the coercive power of government explicit in the arguments for temperance anticipated the expansion of federal power during the Civil War. [26]

The Republican party was the product of a complex process of political realignment between 1854 and 1856. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 triggered a widespread movement in the North committed to stopping the extension of slavery. This anti-Nebraska coalition drew in antislavery Democrats, former Whigs, Know-Nothings, abolitionists, and other alienated voters. As a veteran abolitionist and Liberty party pioneer, Owen Lovejoy took an active role in the formation of the Republican party in Illinois. Abraham Lincoln, though persisting in his deep attachment to the Whig party, eventually cast his ambitions with the Republicans and provided them with his unusual gifts of oratory. The elections of 1856 sent Lovejoy to Congress, gave Lincoln important national exposure, and demonstrated the incipient power of this political antislavery phalanx.

The rise of the Republican party in the 1850s marked a revolution in American political life. It was in a very real sense the beginning of the end of chattel slavery in the United States. It also forecast a profound redirection of American nationalism. It took the genius of Abraham Lincoln to articulate the principles of this Page  [End Page 98] new nationalism in the crucible of the Civil War, to rededicate the nation to a new birth of freedom. But the Republican party also embodied the contradictions of race in America at the mid-nineteenth century. The Republican commitment to freedom was handicapped by an unwillingness to provide African-American men and women with true political and social equality. As long as that promise remains unfulfilled, the work of Lincoln and Lovejoy remains unfinished. [27] Page  [End Page 99]


  1. James M. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, Volume I: The Coming of the War, 2d ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 1993), pp. 90–93. A good place to begin studying the Kansas-Nebraska Act remains Roy Nichols, "The Kansas-Nebraska Act: A Century of Historiography," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 43 (September 1956): 187–212. David Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861 (New York: Harper and Row, 1976), remains the best narrative and most trenchant analysis of this act and the politics of the 1850s. See also Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, 1809–1858, II (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928), chapter 3.return to text
  2. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, p. 231; Free West, March 24, 1854; Free West, March 30, 1854; Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War, 1848–1870, The Centennial History of Illinois, Volume III (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), p. 120; Avery O. Craven, The Coming of the Civil War, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 333; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 132; Edward Magdol, Owen Lovejoy: Abolitionist in Congress (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1967), p. 115; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, p. 238. On opposition to Douglas within the Democratic Party, see also Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas, p. 442.return to text
  3. A point made most eloquently and forcefully by Eric Foner in Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party before the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970). See also his collection of essays, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980).return to text
  4. Paul Selby, "Editorial Convention, February 22, 1856," McLean County Historical Society Transactions 3 (1900): 23; Johanssen, Stephen A. Douglas, p. 447; Michael F. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1992), pp. 254–255; Alfred C. O'Connell, "The Birth of the G.O.P. in Connecticut," Connecticut Historical Society Bulletin 26 (April 1961): 37. See the valuable warning of Joel Silbey in "The Civil War Synthesis in American Political History," in Stanley N. Katz and Stanley I. Kutler, New Perspectives on the American Past, Vol. I: 1607–1877 (Boston: Little Brown, 1969). return to text
  5. Only twice between 1828 and 1856 did the Whigs win a presidential election and each time their candidate failed to live out his term. The best narrative of the Age of Jackson remains Arthur Schlesinger, The Age of Jackson (Boston: Little Brown, 1945). See the more recent syntheses by Harry L. Watson, Liberty and Power: The Politics of Jacksonian America (New York: Noonday Press, 1990) and Daniel Feller, The Jacksonian Promise: America, 1815–1840 (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995). Party differences are clarified in John Ashworth, "Agrarians" and "Aristocrats": Party Political Ideology in the United States, 1837–1846 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987) and Lawrence Frederick Kohl, The Politics of Individualism: Parties and the American Character in the Jacksonian Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). Essential for understanding ideologies are Marvin Meyers, The Jacksonian Persuasion: Politics and Belief (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1959) and Daniel Walker Howe, The Political Culture of the American Whigs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). On Illinois Whigs, see Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 105–111 and Don E. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness: Lincoln in the 1850s (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1962), pp. 19–21. return to text
  6. Quoted in Sean Wilentz, ed., Major Problems in the Early Republic, 1787–1848 (Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1992), p. 477; Mitchell Snay, Gospel of Disunion: Religion and Separatism in the Antebellum South (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), p. 29. The death of Lovejoy is described in Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 364–368 and Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 3–25. Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 371; Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, p. 68; ibid., p. 58, 68. On free soil politics, see Richard H. Sewell, Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States, 1837–1860 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976) and Vernon L. Volpe, Forlorn Hope of Freedom: The Liberty Party in the Old Northwest, 1838–1848 (Kent: Kent State University Press, 1990).return to text
  7. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln, p. 238; Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, pp. 25–28; McPherson, Ordeal by Fire, pp. 73–74; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 110. See especially the explanation by Holt in "The Mysterious Disappearance of the American Whig Party," in Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln and more generally his The Political Crisis of the 1850s (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1978). return to text
  8. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, p. 74; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 110; Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, p. 27; Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln, p. 266; Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, p. 21; ibid., p. 28. See also Donald, Lincoln, pp. 188–189 and Joel H. Silbey, "'Always a Whig in Politics:' The Partisan Life of Abraham Lincoln," Papers of the Abraham Lincoln Association 8 (1986): 21–42.return to text
  9. Holt, Political Parties and American Political Development from the Age of Jackson to the Age of Lincoln, p. 267; McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, p. 88; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 137; ibid., p. 94. See also Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas, p. 452. The most recent study on the Know-Nothings is Tyler Anbinder, Nativism & Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992) but see also William Gienapp, "Nativism and the Creation of a Republican." return to text
  10. McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, p. 89; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 137; Willard H. Smith, "Schuyler Colfax and the Political Upheaval of 1854–1855," Mississippi Valley Historical Review 28 (December 1941): 383–398.return to text
  11. Free West, March 16, 1854; Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 128; Paul Selby, "Republican State Convention, Springfield, Ill., October 4–5, 1854," McLean County Historical Society Transactions 3 (1900): 43; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, pp. 265–266.return to text
  12. Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 133; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, p. 273; Johannsen, Stephen A. Douglas, p. 460. Lincoln's motives are perceptively analyzed in Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Civil War, pp. 37–38, while the Senate election of 1855 is fully covered in Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, pp. 275–287. See also Matthew Pinsker, "Senator Abraham Lincoln," Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association 14 (Summer 1993): 1–21. return to text
  13. From the perspective of Lincoln and Illinois, Beveridge provides a good account of activities in Kansas in Abraham Lincoln, chapter 5, but see also David Potter, The Impending Crisis, 1848–1861, pp. 199–224 and James Rawley, Race and Politics: Bleeding Kansas and the Coming of the Civil War (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1969). On the national Republican meeting, see Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 137–138.return to text
  14. Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, 44–45; See Selby 2, pp. 33–39; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, pp. 358–359; Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 143–144.return to text
  15. Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 145–146; Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, p. 46; Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 143–147; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, p. 379; Roy Basler, ed., The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1953), 2:341.return to text
  16. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, p. 290; Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 150–152; McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, pp. 99–101.return to text
  17. Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 147–148; Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, pp. 423–424; Fehrenbacher, Prelude to Greatness, p. 46. return to text
  18. The congressional election can be followed in Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 154–167. See also Cole, Era of the Civil War, p. 150. Lincoln's support of Swett early in this election contest, undoubtedly drawing on their previous political friendship, might also be explained by Lincoln's efforts to distance himself from the radical abolitionists, which are explained in David Herbert Donald, Lincoln (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995), p. 180.return to text
  19. McPherson, Ordeal by Fire, p. 130. return to text
  20. Donald Bruce Johnson and Kirk H. Porter, comp., National Party Platforms, 1840–1972, 5th ed. (1956; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1973), pp. 27, 32; Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War, p. 93. See also his "Politics and Prejudices: The Free Soil Party and the Negro, 1849–1852," Journal of Negro History 50 (October 1965): 239–256. For further confirmation, see Eugene H. Berwanger, "Western Prejudice and the Extension of Slavery," Civil War History 12 (September 1966): 197–212. return to text
  21. Lovejoy's speech is reprinted in the Free West, April 5, 1855; Basler, Collected Works, p. 248; ibid., 256; Foner, "Politics and Prejudice," p. 252; Illinois State Chronicle June 17, 1858. See also George T. Palmer, ed., "A Collection of Letters from Lyman Trumbull to John M. Palmer, 1854–1858," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 16 (April–July 1923): 29. return to text
  22. Foner, Free Soil, pp. 263, 266, 299. return to text
  23. Foner, Free Soil, pp. 281, 284; Magdol, Owen Lovejoy, pp. 36–46; Basler, Collected Works, 3:255. A similar perspective is suggested by John M. Rozett, "Racism and Republican Emergence in Illinois, 1848–1860: A Reevaluation of Republican Negrophobia," Civil War History 22 (June 1976): 101–115. return to text
  24. David Herbert Donald, Liberty and Union (Lexington: D.C. Heath, 1978), pp. 214–219. return to text
  25. Free West, April 5, 1855; Basler, Collected Works, 3:266; Free West, June 22, 1854. return to text
  26. Johnson and Porter, National Party Platforms, 27; Free West, June 2, 1854; Illinois State Chronicle, June 17, 1858. The temperance movement in Illinois is covered in Cole, Era of the Civil War, pp. 207–211. For a more recent study, see Ian Tyrell, Sobering Up: From Temperance to Prohibition in Antebellum America, 1800–1860 (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1979). In her recent study of Republican wartime economic legislation, Heather Cox Richardson recognizes the limits Republicans set on the expansion of governmental power. The Greatest Nation of the Earth: Republican Economic Policies during the Civil War, Harvard Historical Studies v. 256 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997), especially pp. 28, 254, 256, 258. return to text
  27. An interesting essay on Lincoln's nationalism is Kenneth Stampp, "Lincoln and the Secession Crisis," in The Imperiled Union: Essays on the Background of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980). return to text