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The Birth of the Grand Old Party

The Republicans' First Generation

Edited by Robert F. Engs and Randall M. Miller. Afterword by James M. McPherson

Publication Year: 2002

The period from 1850 to 1876 was the most transformative era in American history. During the course of this tumultuous quarter century Americans fought a bloody civil war, tried to settle the issue of state versus central government power, recognized the dominance of the new industrial economy over the older agricultural one, and ended slavery, long the shame of the nation. At the same time, a major political realignment occurred with the collapse of the "second American party system" and the emergence of a new party, the Republicans.

But the defeat of slavery—the chief catalyst for the birth of the Republican party—was at best a limited success. The Constitution had been rewritten to abolish slavery and guarantee equal protection under the law, but social equality for African Americans and expanding freedom for others remained elusive throughout the nation. For these triumphs and enduring tragedy, the Republican party, which became in time and memory the party of Abraham Lincoln, bore primary responsibility.

This collection of six original essays by some of America's most distinguished historians of the Civil War era examines the origins and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first generation. The essays consider the party in terms of its identity, interests, ideology, images, and individuals, always with an eye to the ways the Republican party influenced midnineteenth-century concerns over national character, political power, race, and civil rights.

The authors collectively extend their inquiries from the 1850s through the 1870s to understand the processes whereby the second American party system broke down, a new party and politics emerged, the Civil War came, and a new political and social order developed. They especially consider how ideas about freedom in the 1850s coalesced during war and Reconstruction to produce both an expanded call for political and civil rights for the ex-slaves and a concern over expanded federal involvement in the protection of those rights. By observing the transformation of a sectional party born in the 1850s into the "Grand Old Party" by the 1870s, the authors demonstrate that no modern political party, even the one that claims descent from Lincoln, has surpassed the accomplishments of the first generation of Republicans.

Jean H. Baker, Professor of History at Goucher College, Maryland, is author of Mary Todd Lincoln: A Biography.

Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, is author of Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, winner of the Bancroft Prize.

Michael F. Holt, Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia, is author of The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War.

James M. McPherson, Professor of History at Princeton University, is author of Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Mark E. Neely, Jr., McCabe-Greer Professor in the American Civil War Era at Pennsylvania State University, is author of The Fate of Liberty: Abraham Lincoln and Civil Liberties, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in history.

Phillip Shaw Paludan, Naomi Lynn Professor of Lincoln Studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, is author of The Presidency of Abraham Lincoln, winner of the Lincoln Prize.

Brooks D. Simpson, Professor of History at Arizona State University, is author of Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865.

Published in cooperation with The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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Title Page

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p. iii

Copyright Page

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p. iv

Table of Contents

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p. v

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pp. vii-x

This collection of original essays examines the origins and evolution of the Republican party over the course of its first generation. The essays consider the party in terms of its identity, interests, ideology, images, and individuals, always with an eye to the ways the Republican party reflected and affected mid-nineteenth-century American concerns over national...

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pp. 1-7

The historical period discussed in these essays is the most transformative era of American history. There was one nation, called the “United States of America,” in 1850 and another very different nation, using the same name and occupying the same space, in 1876. The primary instrument and chief beneficiary of this transformation was the Republican party....

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Chapter 1: The Ideology of the Republican Party

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pp. 8-28

In August 2000, the Republican party gathered in Philadelphia for its national convention, and nominated George W. Bush for president. Few delegates realized that the party’s first national nominating convention, in 1856, also took place in the City of Brotherly Love. But that party was a far different institution from its counterpart today. The sight of a...

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Chapter 2: Making and Mobilizing the Republican Party, 1854–1860

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pp. 29-59

Most Americans were taught in high school that the early Republican party was the product of an escalating sectional conflict between the North and South over slavery extension that helped disrupt an earlier system of two-party competition, propel northern voters toward the Republican column, and elect a Republican president within six years...

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Chapter 3 War Is the Health of the Party: Republicans in the American Civil War

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pp. 60-80

Abraham Lincoln dominates discussion of Civil War Republicanism.1 Influenced, perhaps, by a modern world in which the presidency shapes party goals and rhetoric, historians have undervalued the significance of his party and concentrated on Lincoln’s actions as emancipator, master strategist, master diplomatist. Works that study Lincoln’s relationship to...

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The Genesis and Growth of the Republican Party: A Brief History

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pp. 81-102

In the mid-nineteenth century the old political party system fell apart and a new one arose. Slavery was the issue, freedom the cause that led many northerners in the 1850s to seek a new political home in the Republican party, an unlikely melange of former Whigs, Democrats, nativists, Free Soilers, and others who agreed only on “no further extension of...

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Chapter 4: Politics Purified: Religion and the Growth of Antislavery Idealism in Republican Ideology During the Civil War

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pp. 103-127

In the aftermath of the shocking defeat at the Battle of Bull Run in the summer of 1861, Republicans found it difficult to take a philosophically long view of the country’s situation. It helped, of course, to live far to the north of the nation’s capital and not to witness the frightening and humiliating arrival of the panicked and rain-soaked Union soldiers who...

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Chapter 5: Defining Postwar Republicanism: Congressional Republicans and the Boundaries of Citizenship

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pp. 128-147

The period after the Civil War afforded the Republican party both the opportunity and the necessity of renegotiating the basic legal, constitutional, and political principles of American society.1 In a national government they dominated, the Republicans framed and implemented new policies and structures for all blacks—newly freed slaves in the South and...

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Chapter 6: The Reforging of a Republican Majority

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pp. 148-166

The story of the Republican party from 1868 through the 1870s is that of an ongoing quest to define identity, ideology, and issues—to reforge the majority first fused together in the 1850s. Party leaders entered the period believing that Reconstruction was coming to a close; they awaited with anticipation what form a new agenda and perhaps even realignment...

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pp. 167-170

From its first days in the troubled 1850s, the Republican party has been a contentious subject. The party drew together, in fits and starts, previously competing interests of free soilers, nativists, anti-nativists, anti- Nebraska Democrats, conscience Whigs, and others. Defining the party was no easy matter as events moved rapidly and Republicans organized...


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pp. 171-185

Select Bibliography

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pp. 187-192

List of Contributors

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pp. 193-194


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pp. 195-202

E-ISBN-13: 9780812206654
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812218206

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 51322054
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Birth of the Grand Old Party