Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Party Schmarty - The National Union Party
Greetings Cosmic Americans!
The other day I was talking with a friend about the various political party systems in US history (by the way - the founders were not particularly fond of parties). I got to thinking...this party stuff can get confusing.
Let's have a look at the 1850s for example. You couldn't swing a dead cat around without hitting a political party. There were the Whigs - not much longer for the world but hanging around nevertheless. Then there were the Democrats - split along sectional lines into northern and southern contingents - over slavery of course. And let's not forget about the Free Soil Party - aka the Republicans...political newcomers in the 1850s but destined to make quite a splash. Even the Know Nothing Party and the Constitutional Unionists deserve a mention, despite their failure to ever really get anywhere.
So in the midst of all this partying the country sort of erupted into the greatest conflagration seen on this continent before or since. You guessed it kids - the Civil War.
Well, the Confederacy didn't really have political parties. You were either for Jeff Davis or you hated him. And there were plenty of both running around. One might imagine some sort of party system forming had the CSA lived to set one up.
Parties were alive and well in the Union. It boiled down to these basics: Republicans on one side and a kind of sketchy Democratic Party on the other, an uneasy coalition with some in favor of continuing the war and others vehemently opposed to it.
So, you might ask.....what was this National Union Party that formed in the middle of the war? The presidential election of 1864 saw the victory of a party that nobody even really talks about anymore...headed by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself.
BUT WAIT!! Wasn't honest Abe the poster child for the Republicans? Well, it turns out, the National Union Party was a clever idea cooked up by the GOP. Forming a new party without any clear association with either old party (not really - but it sounded good...) allowed for the construction of a much stronger coalition of those who favored carrying the war to Union victory. In a sense, it was tantamount to war Democrats joining forces with Republicans (Andrew Johnson, anyone?) and soundly defeating Democratic contender George McClellan.
Little Mac, former Army of the Potomac commander and arguably the most cautious man in the world, had other ideas about the war. Oh sure, he liked the Union well enough, but may very well have settled it on terms pretty much putting the Old Union right back in place.
Well I for one am glad things worked out the way they did (and so did about 3 million slaves).
So let's review. Lincoln and his crew put aside party for party's sake and actually worked with one-time political opponents to get something done - and what they got done helped a lot when it came to saving the Union.