Tag Archives: Republican Party

Lincoln is unpopular in some Republican circles

From Milwaukee’s Journal Sentinel:

In Wisconsin, the party of Abraham Lincoln will be deciding this weekend whether it favors not only the right to secession but also the right to nullify federal laws.

Delegates at the state Republican convention are set to vote Saturday on a proposed resolution that directs lawmakers to push through legislation nullifying Obamacare, Common Core educational standards and “drone usage in the state of Wisconsin.”

“Be it further resolved,” the proposal concludes, “that we strongly insist our state representatives work to uphold Wisconsin’s 10th Amendment rights, and our right to, under extreme circumstances, secede, passing legislation affirming this to the U.S. Federal Government.”

…The proposal — which has garnered national attention — was originally approved in March by the GOP’s 6th Congressional District caucus and forwarded to the state party’s resolution committee. The panel approved a slightly modified version of the suggested resolution and forwarded it to the full convention.

Rohn Bishop, treasurer of the Fond du Lac County Republican Party, said he was booed at the March caucus meeting when he brought up Lincoln’s name while arguing against the secession and nullification provisions. He said he also noted that the meeting took place two days after the 160th anniversary of the party’s founding in Ripon.

“I was completely blown away that at a Republican Party event, the presidency of Abraham Lincoln would be controversial,” Bishop said Wednesday.

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A conservative defense of Lincoln

In Lincoln Unbound, which hits bookstores this month, Rich Lowry examines Lincoln’s belief in America as a land of opportunity and upward mobility.  Lowry’s new piece in National Review offers a preview of his book, arguing that conservative attempts to depict Lincoln as a tyrant or proto-liberal are misguided, and that Republicans can still learn a great deal from the first member of their party to win the presidency:

…Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the foremost proponent of opportunity in all of American history. His economics of dynamism and change and his gospel of discipline and self-improvement are particularly important to a country that has been stagnating economically and suffering from a social breakdown that is limiting economic mobility. No 19th-century figure can be an exact match for either of our contemporary competing political ideologies, but Lincoln the paladin of individual initiative, the worshiper of the Founding Fathers, and the advocate of self-control is more naturally a fellow traveler with today’s conservatives than with progressives.

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Nominating Lincoln

By Michael Lynch

If there is any uncertainty surrounding this week’s Republican National Convention, it involves the threat of severe weather rather than the outcome.  Mitt Romney’s nomination is essentially a foregone conclusion.  Party conventions used to be more suspenseful, as was the case in 1860 when the Republicans put forth their second candidate for the presidency.

Presidential nominating conventions of this sort, while not exactly novel, were nonetheless a fairly recent phenomenon at that time.  Before the 1830’s, congressional party caucuses picked presidential candidates.  The nominating convention was an innovation (and possibly the only lasting historical contribution) of the Anti-Masonic Party, which met to select William Wirt for the election of 1832, and other parties took up the practice not long afterward.  Nineteenth-century conventions were consequential affairs, contingent on wheeling and dealing among delegates rather than ordained by the results of primaries.  These meetings were thus not the coronation ceremonies they would eventually become, but crucibles of destiny that could make or break a man’s political career.

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The Republican National Convention of 1860, which took place in a Chicago structure called the Wigwam (a two-story, wooden meeting hall with a capacity of about 10,000 people) was particularly momentous, because it selected the party’s first successful candidate for the White House and the man who presided over the worst crisis in the nation’s history.   How did a man like Abraham Lincoln, who had enjoyed success as a legislator in his home state but whose national record was rather undistinguished, become his party’s pick for the highest office in America?

Problems with the other contenders helped him along.  New York’s William Seward, the front-runner, had earned for himself a reputation for radicalism, while his attempts to conciliate moderates in the run-up to the convention served only to alienate those radicals who had supported him earlier.  Simon Cameron had served in the Senate, but proved willing to bow out in exchange for a cabinet post.  Salmon P. Chase was a former Democrat whose opposition to tariffs made him distasteful to many of the ex-Whigs who had built the Republican Party in the 1850’s.  Edward Bates had ties to the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings, and had therefore alienated himself from the German voters courted by the Republicans.  (Each of these men would end up in the cabinet of the eventual nominee.)

That left Lincoln, who had three things working in his favor.  He seemed moderate enough to appeal to a large number of voters.  He had a body of speeches, debates, and published remarks which proved that he had a mind to reckon with.  And he had allies at the Wigwam who knew how to work the delegates.  Lincoln came in second to Seward on the convention’s first ballot; on the third, he captured the nomination, thanks to able maneuvering by his friend David Davis and support from a group of Ohio delegates at a crucial point.

This combination of handicapped Republican competitors, adroit supporters, and a moderate record, along with a sectionally fractured Democratic opposition, sent Lincoln to Washington, D.C.  The election of this ostensibly moderate westerner drove the Deep South out of the Union.  Ironically, the exigencies of the ensuing war caused this man, nominated for office because his rivals were too radical, to undertake measures that were downright revolutionary.  All of it was contingent on what happened in Chicago, in an age when presidential nominating conventions offered up more uncertainty and excitement than they do now.

—Michael Lynch graduated from LMU with a degree in history, worked at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum as an assistant curator, and now teaches survey-level history courses on campus. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Tennessee and blogs about historical topics at pastinthepresent.wordpress.com.

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Republicans should look to Lincoln, says Obama

While in Chicago a few days ago, President Obama told a fundraiser audience that Republicans should look back on the legacy of the first member of their party to occupy the White House:

Obama told the audience that while his GOP competitors were campaigning in Illinois, they should put aside their “avalanche of attack ads” and focus on the vision of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln.

“I hope that while my counterparts on the other side enjoy the outstanding hospitality of the people of Illinois and spend some money here to promote our economy. I hope they also take a little bit of time to reflect on this great man, the first Republican President,” Obama said.

Obama argued that unlike the Republicans of today who preach about the importance of less federal government, and more self reliance, Lincoln understood that “we are also one nation and one people and that we rise or fall together.”

You can read more about Obama’s remarks by clicking here.

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Lincoln’s birthday around the Web

Here are a few links to enjoy as you celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 203rd birthday.

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Lincoln, Liberty, and the GOP

By Michael Lynch

At The Washington Post, Michael Gerson argues that Ron Paul aims to undo the Republican Party’s legacy, a legacy which can be traced back to the election of Abraham Lincoln:

Whatever his personal views, Paul categorically opposes the legal construct that ended state-sanctioned racism. His libertarianism involves not only the abolition of the Department of Education but also a rejection of the federal role in civil rights from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This is the reason Paul is among the most anti-Lincoln public officials since Jefferson Davis resigned from the United States Senate. According to Paul, Lincoln caused 600,000 Americans to die in order to “get rid of the original intent of the republic.” Likewise, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 diminished individual liberty because the “federal government has no legitimate authority to infringe on the rights of private property owners to use their property as they please.” A federal role in civil rights is an attack on a “free society.” According to Paul, it is like the federal government dictating that you can’t “smoke a cigar.”

I think Gerson is overstating his case, but my intention here is not to take issue with either Ron Paul’s political inclinations or Gerson’s interpretation of them.  It’s to note that the Post editorial touches on some important points regarding America’s political trajectory.  The Civil War was a critical stage in the gradual transformation of Americans’ relationship to the federal government.

The generation that founded the Republic believed government was the most important potential threat to liberty, and restricted both the federal government and the state governments they created.  Over the course of the 1780’s, some of them became convinced that their federal government was too restricted, and accordingly set up a new, more vigorous one.  But even this strengthened national government was circumscribed within limits and greeted with some controversy.  For much of the nation’s early history, Americans perceived the relationship between government and liberty as fundamentally adversarial.

As historian James McPherson has noted in an essay printed in his collection Drawn with the Sword, the Civil War marked a turning point from a prevailing American belief in negative liberty (freedom from) toward positive liberty (freedom to).  Whereas the first amendments to the new Constitution prevented the government from infringing on rights, the Reconstruction Amendments ratified after the war used the government as a force to extend and safeguard rights.  The relationship between liberty and government was not necessarily adversarial anymore.  Out of the conflict came an opportunity to flex the government’s muscles on behalf of both negative and positive liberty at the same time—negative liberty because the end of slavery also brought about an end to those laws that upheld the institution, and positive liberty because government was the tool that struck off the chains.

Even before the war, the Whig Party had already demonstrated a certain degree of willingness to use government as a tool to foster national development, with federal support for internal improvements like roads and canals, and the former Whigs who filled the ranks of the new Republican Party when their own party splintered in the 1850’s brought their old political attitudes with them.  Lincoln, the loyal Whig who became the first Republican in the White House, provides the perfect example.  As a young legislator, he wanted Illinois to adopt the same internal improvements that Whig leader Henry Clay advocated on a national scale.  Even during his presidency, with the Civil War occupying so much of his attention, Lincoln still managed to indulge these Whig tendencies.  It was he who signed the legislation enabling the construction of a transcontinental railroad, although it remained unfinished until four years after his death.

In its infancy, then, the Republican Party was in a sense the party of “big government”—or at least the closest approximation to such a party that existed at that time.  In the decades after the war, the political landscape continued to change.  The emergence of big business and the problems that plagued the nation’s growing cities convinced many Americans that a vigorous government was no longer the only significant threat to liberty, and could in fact be used as an agent of reform.  This conviction that government offered a remedy for the ills of late nineteenth-century America gave rise to the Progressive movement.  The twentieth century, of course, brought further extensions of federal power and more political re-alignments, during which the Republicans transformed into a party advocating limits to the national government’s role.  Drawing a direct line from the Republican Party of the 1860’s to that of today, as Gerson seems to do in his editorial, is thus something of an oversimplification.

But, of course, no one would disagree that Ron Paul’s desire to reduce the power of the national government is much greater than that of the other GOP contenders.  That is because even today’s Republican Party, though it is no longer the party of big government, takes for granted a degree of federal power that would have seemed extraordinary in the age before the Civil War changed the relationship between government and the people, and between government and liberty.  In this new election year, Republicans in particular and Americans in general will once again be faced with the question of how much power the federal government should wield, and in what manner.

—Michael Lynch graduated from LMU with a degree in history, worked at the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum as an assistant curator, and now teaches survey-level history courses on campus. He holds an M.A. in history from the University of Tennessee and blogs about historical topics at pastinthepresent.wordpress.com.

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