MOOC | Lincoln, the Republican Party & the War | The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1861-1865 | 2.6.2


>>So, too, the Republican Party comes into its own. When Lincoln is elected, the Republican Party had only existed for five or six years. It was a conglomeration of state parties and different factions: Radical, Conservative, ex-Democrat, ex-Whig, etc. Now it becomes a national party. It becomes a central element, as I mentioned last time, in promoting the war effort, in mobilizing support for the war, mobilizing support for the government. The strength of the Republican Party in the North counteracts this sort of centrifugal force of state loyalties and opposition to the war, which we’ll talk about in a little bit. And Lincoln presides over — remember I said Lincoln was a very shrewd politician, among many other things — and he presides over this nationalization of the Republican Party. Power in the party itself shifts from the state level to the national level. Not only to the president, but to key leaders in Congress. And states become reliant, states become reliant on the federal government for support. The soldier vote, a very important part of the Civil War (we’ll talk about this) in 1864, that soldiers in the field are allowed to vote in local elections — in most states, not all. And often the soldier vote, which is overwhelmingly Republican, and often Democrats claim it’s manipulated at the level of army camps to be Republican, is the margin of victory in state elections. And so the state parties become reliant on the federal government and the army for victories. Sometimes the state governments look to the federal government literally for financial survival, particularly in Indiana. When the Democrats won control of the state of Indiana in the 1862 elections, they just refused to fund the state government, basically, headed by Oliver Morton, a leading Republican — the governor was still in. And Morton basically ran the state on War Department funds for a year. The War Department just gave him money to run the state, because the legislature would not do so. The army, the army begins as a conglomeration of state units. And that’s how they’re called most of the war, you know, the Massachusetts Infantry and the, you know, New York Riflery, and all this. And Lincoln calls on the states to raise money. But as the war goes on, the government, the federal government takes more and more control over the recruiting of soldiers. They send recruiting agents into states to raise troops, going around the local militia and state authorities, short-circuiting governors. Again, the whole point here is this centralization, centralization of power, in one way or another: intellectual centralization, and political and military centralization, going on in the war. Now, Lincoln plays an important role in this. And we had compared him with Jefferson Davis. Lincoln somehow manages to connect the war with the deepest values of Northern society, to use his own office to mobilize popular support. I’ve said this many a time, but in a war like this, public support is the critical thing. It’s more important than winning a battle here or there. Public sentiment, the will to fight. Lincoln links the war with these deep values, but he also can be seen — the value of free labor, the value of economic opportunity, of course we’ve talked about this. Many scholars see Lincoln also, though, as part of the 19th century process of nation building. He’s been compared to Bismarck of Germany whose — the German unification is taking place just around this time. The unification of Italy into a nation state is taking place. He’s the Bismarck, the Mazzini. The Meiji Restoration in Japan, where local authority is being subordinated to national authority, is taking place at this time. Now, is this just a coincidence? This is what we call international or global history, but causation is a little tricky in this. It’s interesting to see, but is it a coincidence that these things are all going on at the same time? Or is there some underlying causation that lies at the bottom of all these things? It’s a little unclear. But certainly the consolidation of nation states is happening in the mid-19th century. But Lincoln’s nation is a little bit different than the nations being consolidated in Europe. Those are based on unifying a particular people with a common ethnic or cultural or linguistic heritage. What is Germany? It’s the place where German — the Volk, the German people — live. The unification of Italy, the boundaries are set primarily by the Italian language. But not in the United States. Lincoln’s America, at least this is how he presents it, is based on universal values, not particular ethnic or religious heritage. Political democracy, human liberty. In this, you know, amazingly succinct manner Lincoln summarizes this in the Gettysburg Address given in November 1863. It only takes three minutes to deliver the Gettysburg Address, right? Many of the people there didn’t even hear it, because it came after a two hour address by Edward Everett, and then there was some singing, and then people stretched and walked around. And then Lincoln came on. But anyway, in two minutes he somehow managed to distill this common concept of what the war is about. It’s in the Gienapp book and I don’t want to just, I’m not going to recite the Gettysburg address for you. But you know, he starts out, “Four score and seven years ago…” Alright, that’s kind of cool. [laughter] But date it back. Date it back 87 years. It’s to the Declaration of Independence, not to the Constitution. The Declaration of Independence founds the nation, not the Constitution. The Declaration puts forward the principle, right, that all men are created equal. That is the principle — not the principle of language, not the principle of ethnicity — the principle of equality is the essence of the American nation, says Lincoln. And then he talks about — he doesn’t mention slavery in the Gettysburg Address, but he talks about a new birth of freedom and everybody could understand what he’s referring to there. And then he ends up by defining democracy, right? Government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So in that one thing he links together the all these — equality, democracy, liberty — that’s what the American nation stands for, says Lincoln. In the Gettysburg Address… The Gettysburg Address, according to people who count this up, consists of 269 words. In those 269 words he does not use the word “union” once, but he uses the word “nation” five times. The war begins as a war for the union. By the end of the war, they’re talking about the nation. What’s the difference? The nation is a unitary entity. A union is a collection of other entities, right? The “union of the states.” They’re not talking about that by the end of the war. It’s the nation, a singular thing, which overrides those other divisions.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

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