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Upheaval at the 1860 Democratic Convention: What Happened When a Party Split | Retro Report

Upheaval at the 1860 Democratic Convention: What Happened When a Party Split | Retro Report

If a particularly powerful issue grabs the
public imagination, and you try to sweep it under the rug, that’s not going to work. Eventually push was going to come to shove. A new deal for the American people Extremism in the defense of liberty There is no substitute for victory The United States of America From the time of the founding of the Republic, slavery was the most divisive issue in American politics. When you talk about slavery in the abstract,
that was one thing. But when you actually saw runaway slaves being
rendered back under the Fugitive Slave Act, when you read accounts of slaves
beaten, punished, mutilated, or husbands sold away from wives
and children sold away from parents, it appealed to people’s emotions. In certain parts of the country, a process
of emancipation began but slavery deepened and intensified in the Deep South, which not only made Southern slave holders the richest people and most politically
powerful people in the United States, but also drove American economic growth. The Democrats were the main party and they’d
been the main party for decades. For the Democrats, far and away the front-runner
was Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, the so-called Little Giant. He’d been in politics for 30 years. But the Democrats were divided over the slavery issue, and Douglas had tried to paper over the differences. The technical question was, “Should slavery be allowed to expand into the Western territories?” The Southern Democrats said, “Yes,” and Douglas, trying to keep the
North and South wings of the party united, said, “Well, let’s let the people who move out to the territories decide whether they want slavery or not.” So when the Democrats got together
at the convention in Charleston, there was no clear plan. Southerners decided to write
a hardcore, pro-slavery platform they knew that Stephen Douglas would never accept. But the Douglas forces won on the platform, at which point delegates
from the Deep South got up and left. And when they did, there weren’t enough
delegates at the convention for Douglas to get two thirds of the vote
in order to get the nomination. Once the Democrats split up in Charleston, they decide to reconvene in
another Southern city, Baltimore. Baltimore essentially was a repeat of their first one. The same men who walked out
in Charleston came back, still determined to deny Douglas the nomination,
and walked out yet again. The Democrats who were left simply announced
that whoever was there was going to vote. The two-thirds rule meant two-thirds of those
in the building at any given moment. And they went ahead and nominated Stephen Douglas. Then Southern Democrats decide to hold their
own rump convention. They support a federal slave code and they
nominate John Breckinridge, the sitting Vice President from Kentucky. So the result was, you had two candidates
from the Democratic party running for President. The Democratic dysfunction of 1860 – three
conventions, two nominees in the field – that’s dysfunction on a major scale. And really by the early fall it was pretty
clear the Republicans were going to win. The Republican Party is a new party,
committed to ending slavery in some way. They existed only in the North. Abraham Lincoln was so little known, even in 1860, that the newspapers often reported
his first name as Abram and not Abraham. Prior to 1860, the Democrats had won time and again. The Democratic Party was the one major institution that kept the union together, that had Northern and Southern support,
and when it broke up, the Civil War seemed almost inevitable. The big question of course is what have happened
had the Democrats been unified, had they met in Charleston
and tried to find some kind of consensus candidate. Had the Democrats won, the United States would have been a very different country for years to come. In American history, when a party breaks up, for the next generation that party is on the outs. The Republican party then dominates American
politics from 1860 up ’til 1912. Today, it could well be that a split in the
party akin to that would have the same effect – whichever party breaks up might be in the
wilderness for the next generation.

Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  1. Really interesting. Can’t help but think of the Republicans. If they rejected Trump, they’d be done for.

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