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Contrary to popular opinion, George W. Bush isn't the first 'unitary executive' by any means. Several presidents have found the Constitution an inconvenient impediment and sought expanded power, always with the best of intentions.

You know where that road leads.

To understand something of the Republican party, we need a little of the backstory. One can draw a symbolic line from Alexander Hamilton, to Henry Clay and his 'American System', briefly through William Henry Harrison (who died a month after taking office) and to the collapse of the Whig party in 1856.

Come with me to 1860 ...

Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican presidential candidate in 1860 -- even though he said in 1859, "I will always be a Whig in politics."  Actually, the Republican party was formed in 1854, so there were other Republicans, to be sure, not to denigrate them.  

With family connections to the Clays of Kentucky, and with Henry Clay having died in 1852, it seems likely that Lincoln saw himself as heir to the American System agenda. After all, he announced his political policy when he first ran as a Whig candidate for Illinois legislative office in 1832.

"I am in favor of a national bank ... of the internal improvements system and a high protective tariff."

The historian Michael F. Holt wrote, "Few people in the Whig party were so committed to its economic agenda as Lincoln." They maintained opposition to Andrew Jackson over the Second Bank of the United States. Then the Whig Party shot itself in the foot in the 1852 campaign by casting aside incumbent President Millard Fillmore in favor of General Winfield Scott. They lost to Democratic dark horse candidate Franklin Pierce. The Whigs were  effectively history.

The Lincoln-Douglas debates in Illinois in 1858 contesting a state seat in the United States senate dealt primarily with the issue of slavery. During his first 25 years of public political life, Lincoln had scarcely mentioned the problem. But there were other matters of partisan agenda, of which Stephen Douglas said, "Lincoln goes for consolidation and uniformity in our government while I go for maintaining the confederation of the sovereign states."

Stephen Douglas was re-elected by the legislature (as the system was then) due to a narrow Democratic majority.

"Republicanism" as the ideal to describe the new party of 1854 was chosen, as it evoked the style of Jefferson, Jackson, and nationalists. And for 1860, they chose a Hamilton/Clay disciple.  That election was a four-way dogfight. Lincoln won due to strong support in the North -- indeed, his name was not even on the ballot of nine Southern states. The losers were Democrat Stephen A. Douglas, John C. Breckinridge of the Southern Democrats, and John Bell of the new Constitutional Union Party.


South Carolina and six other deep South cotton-growing states seceded even before Lincoln took office, calling themselves the Confererate States of America. Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina,  Tennessee, and Virginia had considered joining in. Outgoing President Buchanan and president-elect Lincoln would not acknowledge the Confederacy.

Well! and why should they?

Because: it can be argued that the War of Independence itself was an act of secession. In those early days of the new nation, the idea of secession was not anathema at all. Indeed, even Thomas Jefferson who strongly supported the Union, said in his 1801 Inaguration Address: "If there be any among us who would wish to dissolve this Union or to change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety which which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it."

Wow. And in 1816, the New England Federalists intended to secede from the Union.  Affirming his consistency of thought, Jefferson said: " ... I have no hesitation in saying 'let us separate.'"

Of course, way back in 1787, Jefferson had written to James Madison: " ... a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, & as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical ... "

At the constitutional convention, even Alexander Hamilton had said: "Can any reasonable man be well disposed toward a government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself -- a government that can exist only by the sword?"

Lincoln must have missed that point.


Conventional history tells us this was The Cause of the War Between the States.

Remembering that "history is written by the victors" (TM Winston Churchill)  and considering the backstory, we find a sad tale. The first African slaves landed in Colonial America in 1526. They were part of the ill-fated Spanish colony, San Miguel de Gualdape. In the course of a leadership fight, the slaves revolted, fled to live with Native Americans.

In 1565, the first permanent settlement established, Saint Augustine (Florida) included a large number of African slaves.

Now, Native Americans themselves effected a type of slavery. Historians argue various viewpoints of cultural perspectives on that matter. But the sword cuts both ways -- the early colonists often enslaved Native Americans.

In 1619, the first Africans were brought to the British colony of Virginia -- but apparently were considered indentured servants. Either by fulfilling a work contract or converting to Christianity, they could gain their freedom. One, Anthony Johnson, won his freedom and subsequently owned slaves and also had indentured servants.

Incidentally, there was a trade in New England fostered by some clergy, with the good intention of "bringing these poor souls to Jesus." Unfortunately, the early experiment was unsucessful as the harsh winter took its toll of many of these souls. Nonetheless, the New England importation continued, though the slaves were sold South, presumably after being Christianized.

Meanwhile, British indentured servitude was on the decline.  Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 caused planters and merchants to have second thoughts about that practice. After all, when you free a number of poor men without resources or jobs, freedom just looks like "nothin' left to lose." At this point, slavery became an entrenched practice. There were still slaves in the North but not as many, and they worked as laborers, domestic servants, or trades assistant.

Over two centuries, about 12 million Africans were brought to the New World.  Only about 650,000 ended up in North America. The majority were sent to Haiti, Barbados, other Caribbean areas, Brazil and other Spanish American areas.

By 1696, the first complete 'slave code' was written. Conditions became more repressive for Africans. However, enslaving Native Americans ceased. From this point to the mid-18th century, slavery was commonly accepted as normal -- even the Quakers tolerated slaveholding and slave trading. Perhaps the New York Slave Insurrection of 1741 caused a shift in perceptions.

After the American Revolution, some states wrote constitutions prohibiting slavery. The Constitution, however, prevented the Federal Government from abolishing slavery or the slave trade. So, at this point we have a long cultural history and the principle of individual states' sovereignity.

In 1808, the United States prohibited the slave trade, following on from most states having already passed laws against it.

Over in the rest of the world, slavery had been commonly practised by many. But in Great Britain, an abolitionist movement developed, spurred by the Quakers. Slavery in British colonies was formally made illegal in 1833 and all slaves were emancipated in 1834. A plan of compensation reimbursed colonial former owners. All in all, a peaceful resolution.

Even during the American Revolution and after,  some people began to understand that slavery was a social evil, both for a free country and for individuals.  Not too surprisingly, the first article published advocating slave emacipation was written by Thomas Paine in 1775.

So, as an abolitionist sentiment began to grow, it curiously crossed paths with technological progress -- and unintended consequences. Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, which allowed processing to increase by 50 times, per day.  At the same time, less labor intensive mixed agriculture developed in the Carolinas and Virginia. The excess labor force there was sold on to 'cotton country'.

More consequences: as the Northern states outlawed slavery in preference to graduated emancipation, and the slave trade there was illegal, some unknown number of African-Americans were sold to the South.  Even so, the abolitionists were growing, by one estimate, 200,000 activists in a nation of 30 million by 1860. But although a 'social good' was recognised, at the same time, the NIMBY effect grew.

The pragmatic question of 'what do you do with a free slave if you don't ship him South first?' became a Northern problem.  And despite the growing abolitionist movement, most Northern states had Black Codes. Freedom was a limited option, in reality. Some Northern states prevented Black suffrage, either by law or popular prejudice. Only 6% of blacks actually were allowed to vote even as late as the start of the War Between the States.

Indiana: prohibited Negroes from coming into the state; any living there previously found little law on their side. Contracts with Negros were 'null and void'; they could not testify in court against white people, nor hold political office, nor send their children to public schools.

Illnois: Blacks found guilty of bad behavior could be whipped, put into involuntary service -- or sold into slavery down South. 1853. The state constitution was amended and approved by public referendum to prohibit black emigration into the state. Senator Lyman Turnbill expressed the popular will  : "Our people want nothing to do with the Negro."

Ohio, 1847: Virgina John Randolph's emancipated slaves were warned against crossing the border. Try and "the banks of the Ohio River would be lined with men with muskets."

New York: voters rejected a referendum for equal-suffrage even as late as 1869.

Other states not keen on equal-suffrage: Michigan, Iowa, Wisconsin. Labor unions lobbied to prevent blacks from competing against whites for jobs in various industries. And of course, they could not join a union anyway. During his travels in America, de Tocqueville observed that racism was worse in the North than the South. Foreigners!

Northern newspapers, by and large, supported the status quo, even for slavery in the South. And it was well understood that the new territories in the west were "for the white race." So much for abolitionism.

Economic factors

In 1775, the American colonies money supply was $12 million. How do you buy a war with that? Simple, you do what inevitably happens: create debt. Five years later,  the federal debt was $227 million and estimated as much again combined in each of the states.

The 1775 colonial money, the Continental, was equivalent to one dollar in gold. By 1779, it was worth less than a cent and vanished as money. George Washington said, "A wagon-load of money will scarcely purchase a wagon-load of provisions."

In 1781, the Continental Congress chartered the Bank of North America. In effect, it was a central bank, operating on fractional reserve principles. And to anyone cognizant of the Great Credit Crunch of 2007, it comes as no surprise that the reality was "economical with the truth" from its inception. Mistrust of its monopoly money led to its demise as a federal institution in 1783, although it shifted to a commercial banking firm chartered in Pennsylvania.

At a cost, the economic crisis was survived. However, the founding fathers had had enough of debt and fiat money, thus at the Constitutional Convention, the phrase 'emit bills of credit' was struck out. Paper money rightfully had left its mark. Thomas Paine called fiat (paper) money "counterfeiting by the state."

The lack of paper money didn't hurt. In December 1793, it was noted that "the federal constitution has removed all danger of our having a paper tender, our trade has advanced fifty per cent." American exports had been $19 million in 1791, and $93 million just a decade later. The federal deficit had been paid down totally by 1802.

Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury in 1790, proposed the charter of the Bank of the United States. Jefferson opposed it: "A private central bank issuing the public currency is a greater menace to the liberties of the people than a standing army. And, "We must not let our rulers saddle us with perpetual debt."

He might have had something but Hamilton prevailed and a twenty-year charter was passed by Congress in 1791. Similar to the Bank of England (much as the Bank of North America was) its capitalization was mandated at $10 million, yet began life with less than $700,000 in real money. And to no one's surprise when a private bank exists to create money for the federal government, there was deja vu inflation.

In the first five years, Americans lost 42% of the value of their money.

Eventually, a fierce battle in Congress saw the charter renewal narrowly defeated. Though January 24, 1811, saw the end of that beast, banking woes continued to exist. State and territory banks created money out of thin air for the federal government during the War of 1812. The national debt soared from $45 million to nearly triple that. Inflation soared. By the time American citizens had had enough and began to demand paper dollars be redeemed for gold, real money, they ended up losing 66% of their money value. Many banks just faded away, 'insolvent'.

But lo! just to show that no bad idea is worth dismissing, Congress chartered the Second Bank of the United States for twenty years, in 1816.

This was not totally copycat of the previous bank, no, it added an improvement: allowing foreign investment. And a boom was on, speculation in western areas, progress, Manifest Destiny! That last until 1818, when the Second Bank contracted the money supply "to put the brakes on inflation" and where have we heard that before? A little late or whatever, by that point, American money had lost over 40% of value. Citizens exist to be fleeced, right?

Time passes. Andrew Jackson in his first term, and an enemy of the bank, is confronted with an early request for charter renewal. The assumtion was, he would not risk his political career and hopes for re-election. The bill was pushed by Senator Henry Clay.

But Jackson vetoed the bill. He objected to American money going to foreign investors, as well as a number of Americans, "chiefly of the richest class", to the detriment of citizens generally. Jackson's appeal to the public struck a chord. The November election saw him with 55% of the popular vote (Clay got 37%) and 80% of the electoral college vote. Jackson paid off the national debt, created a surplus, and distributed $35 million back to the states for public works.

There's much fascinating devils in the history details in this period. Suffice to say, the Second Bank charter was never renewed and it became a state bank in Pennsylvania.

More money details to come, during Lincoln's administration ...

For now, the next major aspect of the American System of Clay deals with protectionism: tariffs and quotas.  Forty years of Clay's support for protectionist tariffs guarded Northern manufacturers from foreign competition. For a South wanting newfangled agricultural machinery, either option was expensive, domestic or foreign.

Many other tariffs existed, more protectionism. Special-interest factions and backscratching. The South was responsible for about 80% of U.S. exports at the time, king cotton and other agrarian produce. Needless to say. bales of cotton do not produce finished goods. Thus, textiles for many years were either Northern or imported goods. But by 1860, the South was developing its own textile industry; as many as five thousand slaves worked in the small mill operations in 1860.

Another economic factor that left the Democrats and the South less than impressed was the history of  'internal improvements', which is a polite fiction masking the reality of government subsidies to a favored few, with the usual corruption and incompetence.

In 1837, Lincoln and the Whigs supported legislation in the state of Illinois for a variety of improvements. A $12 million bill led to two years of disaster. Bankers and brokers oversold the market on Illinois state bonds. Some absconded with the proceeds.  The good intentions of turnpikes and canals came to naught -- save for a long-term debt for the citizens.

When in 1848, the state amended its constitution, the decade-old memory led to a clear assertion: no tax dollars for alleged private enterprise plans. Ohio did the same in 1851, after other bad experiences with waste and corruption. (I'm reminded that Ohio forgot earlier lessons. The city of Cincinnati floated a bond issue in 1929 for an extensive subway system. Some of the stations were actually built on the Central Parkway. But the Great Depression intervened and the project was abandoned. But not the cost: the bite to the taxpayers ended in 1964!)

The Election of 1860

Abraham Lincoln was the second choice before the Republican national convention. Senator William H. Seward of New York had been thought to be the front runner. Other possible candidates were Salmon P. Chase, Governor of Ohio; Senator Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania; and Edward Bates, a former U.S. representative from Missouri.

As it turned out, each of the other four had antagonized one or another Repoublican faction and thus Lincoln the moderate was selected.

Opposition to Lincoln and his agenda was so great that some Southern states did not have his name on the ballot.

But there was hardly a North-South divide. Many in the North supported the notion of peaceful secession. Secession movements came and went in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland -- and one proposal came from New York City, not only to secede from the United States, but also from its own state, to re-invent itself as a free-trade port.

The general attitude suggested a forced/ Union was a contradiction in terms of American ideals. Not a single Maryland newspaper supported Lincoln in his campaign. About half of New York newspapers favored peaceful secession of the South. There was also talk of a 'Central Confederacy'. Perhaps the strongest support of Southern secession and rejection of possible Northern military force came from the Democratic Party in New Jersey.

The Democratic Party had seven possible candidates before their convention. A longtime factional dispute over the issue of slavery ended up with a split party. Eventually, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois was nominated for the Democratic Party; the Southern Democrats chose John Cabell Breckenridge of Kentucky, the incumbent Vice President to President James Buchanan.

Disaffected former Whigs and others formed the Constitutional Union Party, nominating John Bell of Tennessee as their presidental candidate. Their party platform was for compromisve; their slogan: "The Union as it is, and the Constitution as it is."

In the four-way dogfight, Lincoln won 39.8% of the popular vote -- but a decisive electoral majority.

1860 election map

Here, one snip from Lincoln's First Inaugural Address:

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Complete text

In Part Two, we will examine the policies of Lincoln the moderate, including an income tax, conscription, habeas corpus, the exile of a critic, how to wage a war, and more.

Originally posted to US2oz on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 04:25 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Baloney (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Slavery was the cause of the war. The South knew immediately after Lincoln's election that the handwriting was on the wall--slavery had to expand or die, and it was not going to expand into the new territories.

    Candidate Lincoln had said at Cooper's Union in NY:

    Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States? If our sense of duty forbids this, then let us stand by our duty, fearlessly and effectively.

    Thus South Carolina et al seceded shortly after his inauguration, triggering the war.

    The mental contortions of the Civil War revisionists are amazing.

  •  All the other 'causes'... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Barth, jmknapp

    are directly related to slavery.  For example 'State's Rights' was about a state's right to have slavery....

    Slavery was the cause of the war.  Period.

    We have no desire to offend you -- unless you are a twit!

    by ScrewySquirrel on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 05:43:58 AM PST

  •  It was caused by money (0+ / 0-)

    The afforementioned tarifs.  

    Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them - T Paine

    by breezeview on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 05:48:45 AM PST

  •  your electoral map says it all unfortunately (0+ / 0-)

    but while some people may have had other issues, the 1860 election was about slavery, as was the Civil War and, as your map shows, we have progressed very little since then.

    In the 1960s, the assassination of the President of the United States effected American political thought sufficiently for two major pieces of legislation, long blocked by the same forces which caused the civil war, to become law.  It was that accident of history that has led us to at least make some progress toward finally resolving the issue that has tormented this country since it was formed.

    To argue that it was not slavery but "other issues" (which were all, as another commenter observed,  slavery related) is to put the same had in the sand that allows us to congratulate ourselves for a racial harmony that is coming, but much more slowly than is popularly believed.

    What Lincoln meant in his inaugural was only that a president's authority over slavery, or even the federal government's, was quite limited.  It was only through a very creative application of the President's authority to quell the rebellion that was called the civil war, that Lincoln could articulate a legal basis for issuing the emancipation proclamation and its legal authority never had to be tested since, in the aftermath of the civil war, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were passed by a Congress without representation by the opposing states:  another accident of history that permitted a progress that otherwise was impossible.

    The parties of that day were not the parties of today, of course.  In fact, one could make the case that what was called the Democratic party is essentially what is today called the Republican party.

    That said, there is considerable support for Jefferson's view of the right of a state to secede from the union and from the point of view of 2008, I am not sure that Lincoln and the rest of those who resisted the confederacy made the right decision. Certainly, had those states been allowed to form a new country, the one I live in would have had a more progressive history and George W. Bush would never have been its president.

    "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"

    by Barth on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 06:48:37 AM PST

  •  one wrong thing I caught early (0+ / 0-)

    on in this diary is the labeling of Lincoln as the first Republican presidential candidate.

    This ignores the fascinating John C. Fremont

    of "free men, free soil, Fremont!" fame.  1856.

    I also detect a whiff of Ron Paulism in here somewhere, but I haven't had my coffee yet, so maybe it's just the fog....

    "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." --Thomas Jefferson

    by penncove on Mon Feb 18, 2008 at 08:01:16 AM PST

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