From the 2005 Abbeville Institute Summer School.

When John C. Calhoun spoke of slavery as “the peculiar institution,” he didn’t mean to say that there was anything peculiar about slavery, as it has been interpreted since. He only meant to say that slavery was peculiar to the Southern States in the same sense that whaling fleets were peculiar to New England. But if we want to look into a peculiar institution in American history, we couldn’t find anything better to examine than the Republican Party, which indeed has had a strange history and played a strange role in the American regime over a long period of time. And its peculiarities precede Lincoln and continue long after him, but Lincoln is certainly central to the story. It’s fairly easy to construct a description of the Democratic Party, what it stood for, what it represented, who it represented, and what its role has been in American history, despite the fact that the Democratic Party has gone through at least one revolutionary change in its long history. Now, generalizing broadly about parties, there is change over time, and there’s also the American phenomenon in which parties deliberately dilute their message and try to avoid sharp ideological differences and appeal to the middle and broaden their stance. Nevertheless, with the Democratic Party we can identify certain things. Originally and through most of its history it was a Jeffersonian party, at least in lip service. It stood for States Rights, limited federal government, laissez-faire economy. It represented farmers, small businessmen, the South, in particular, the pioneer West, and, to some extent, the working class through most of its history. This was the identity of the Democratic Party that even survived the War to Prevent Southern Independence. Truly, the party in the 20th century underwent a revolution, and in the 20th century, it’s something very different. It’s social democracy as defined by the New Deal and the Great Society, and a rather different constituency, I think. But nonetheless, in either of its identities, onlookers have had a pretty clear idea of what the Democratic Party was and what it constituted in American life.

I submit that it is almost impossible to construct a similar description of the Republican Party and its role in American history. In fact, the only time that it has been fairly clear about things was during the time of Lincoln and for a period shortly thereafter, and even there was not completely clear about what it was up to. It was clear about the tariff, but not necessarily about the reasons for the tariff. It was clear about opposing slavery in the territories, but not necessarily completely clear about the reasons for that. But since then, it’s difficult to find a clear pattern in what the Republicans have claimed to represent. And when you compare words and deeds, the case becomes even cloudier. In other words, I’m suggesting that throughout most of its history the Republican Party has not been very clear about its agenda. Apparently, there are millions of people in the United States who harbour the strange belief that the Republican Party is the party of free enterprise and, at least since the New Deal, the party of conservatism. In fact, the party is and always has been, not the party of free enterprise, but the party of state capitalism. That, along with the powers and perks it provides its leaders, is the whole reason for the creation and continued existence of the Republican Party. When I say “state capitalism” I mean a regime of highly concentrated private wealth and private ownership, subsidized and protected by government. The only difference between this and socialism is that the ownership remains private, but not the activity of the government. If you look closely at its history, you’ll see that the Republican Party has never, never, ever opposed interference in the economy by the government and never opposed government expenditures unless the proposals had to do with something that was approved by labour unions or disapproved by big business. Consider that for a long time the Republican Party was the party of high tariffs. High tariffs were profitable for Northern big capital; they oppressed the South and indeed the general population. Now the Republican Party is the party of so-called “free trade,” which, as it is structured now, benefits Northern big capital and is of dubious benefit to the rest of us. So, in both cases, the Republican Party has pursued opposite policies and both times presented idealistically as good for America without very close attention to exactly who this is good for in America.

It’s not particularly surprising that there should be a party of state capitalism in the United States, and it certainly isn’t surprising that such a party should present itself as something other than what it is. In terms of the Founding Fathers, the interests the Republican Party has served overall are those of the court party. And I’m generalizing, as I said before, rather broadly. The American Revolution was a revolt against the court party and its use of the government to enrich certain interests. Jeffersonians understood that in every political regime there were on one side the great mass of unorganized, decent people who went about their own business, and on the other side there were the court party, a minority who hung around the government and manipulated the government finances and sought government favours. It’s much easier and quicker to get rich by finding a clever way into the Treasury, than it is by hard work, and this is what American politics is mostly about. All you have to do is look closely at a session of Congress. 99% of what goes on has to do with who gets what money or what benefits. Of course, schemes to plunder society through government must never be seen as such. They must be powdered and perfumed to look like a public good. Contrary to what we might hope, there is nothing in the New World and the escape from Europe that works against a court party. In fact, the opposite is true. In the immense riches of this underdeveloped continent there were actually increased incentives for swindling money out of government. The number of projects that can be presented in America as worthy of government support were infinite. In America there were not any firmly established institutions of credit and currency, control of which was always the quickest way to big riches. And as much as we would like to think so, there’s nothing necessarily in the democratic system that stands in the way of the triumph of state capitalism, because the mass of the people can almost always be circumvented by people whose full-time job is swindling government. I think we ought to see the triumph of Lincoln and his party overall, basically, realistically, factually simply as the permanent victory of the court party or state capitalism in the United States, something which had been on the table since Calhoun’s time, but which had been had not been able to triumph. The Lincoln regime eliminated all barriers, making the federal government a machine to transfer money to the interests that were politically connected. Today we complain about the Democrats as the party of welfare. The Republicans pioneered welfare. The pension system for Union veterans, for anybody who ever tried on a uniform and wore it for a couple of weeks, was the first great entitlement program in American history, and it transferred millions of dollars.

This operation of swindling the taxpayers is always presented as something else. Alexander Hamilton justified profits to himself and his friends on the grounds that they were a good thing, claiming that “a public debt is a public blessing.” Thomas Jefferson wondered – how could debt be a blessing? Obviously, it’s a blessing to those who own the debt and collect the interest on it. At one point the Whig Party, Abraham Lincoln’s party, had argued that the paper that was issued by their favourite banks was “the people’s money” and therefore was morally superior to the government, even though the government money was soundly backed while their paper money was not. One plank of Lincoln’s platform and campaign was “Vote Yourself a Farm!” So much for free enterprise. The thrust of the Republican campaign in 1860 was: “These troublesome Southerners with their constitutional scruples are holding back the prosperity and progress of the North. They want to keep the public lands and sell them off gradually. We want to give them away, so vote yourself a farm!” The Republicans marketed their planned program as a great opportunity for the common people. Some common people did get land, but most of the free land, millions and millions of acres, went to government connected corporations, which was the point, after all. At the end of all this, after saving the Union and freeing the slaves (but keeping them out of the North), and serving the prosperity of the North, and supposedly serving the interests of the common man. If you filter this through Lincoln’s masterful rhetoric, then all of this gave the party of big business a lock on the righteousness, both at the time and for a long time to come after Lincoln’s triumph.

The most consistent theme of the Republican Party since the War has been its role as the respectable party, without much attention to any principles or policies that might be represented. The voters of the Republican Party have been those who think of themselves as more respectable and more patriotic than the other party. What I’m trying to get at is as perhaps captured by the Republican slogan in the period after the Civil War, when they referred to the Democrats as “the party of rum, Romanism and rebellion,” by which they meant that the Democrats were wastrels, Catholics, and Southerners. In contrast to that, the Republicans were the respectable people. on. And of course, they waved the bloody shirt for a long time. This is still going on, it seems to me. You listen to the Republican radio demagogues that we’re all familiar with and sometimes listen to in the car, the people who are always blasting liberals and promoting the Republican Party. Well, there are plenty of things wrong with liberals and plenty of reasons for disliking liberals, but if you listen to what people are saying, it’s really just the old “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” It’s an appeal to emotions. “The Democrats, the liberals, are bad people and we’re good people.” Of course, this doesn’t really tell you what’s wrong with liberals.

One attitude that Republicans have most consistently displayed throughout their history is disdain and contempt for the South because that’s an attitude that is always respectable and it was the basis of their rise to power in the beginning. I know any number of politicians in South Carolina who have danced on the strings of the Republican Party and betrayed their own people because they thought they were going to be nominated for vice-president. No Southerner has ever been nominated for president or vice president by the Republican Party, except Andrew Johnson in 1864, and he was not really a Republican. In the Republican platform of 1900, they justified the slaughter that was going on in the Philippines on the grounds that the rebels in the Philippines were just like the Southern traitors of earlier times who deserved death for having revolted against the greatest government on earth. The Republican Party has lived with a large gap between what it says and what it does. Deceit has become a habit and a fixed policy. Republican leaders always – and I mean always – act as if telling the truth was the worst possible strategy. Richard Nixon, who was something of a crackpot realist like Lincoln, thought only of damage control when he got into trouble, when simple truth-telling might have saved him. It might occur to some observers that crackpot realism describes the way a recent war has been started and carried on. What I’m trying to describe here is something that makes up the history of this peculiar institution, the Republican Party, and it’s more than simply politicians lying for advantage (which, of course, is a tool the trade). The very name of the Republican Party is a lie. From the first breath of the Republican Party, the name “Republican” was adopted as the party formed in the 1850’s to suggest a heritage and a likeness to the Jeffersonian Republican Party of earlier times. And it had a very slender plausibility, but it’s basically deceitful. The main plank of the new Republican Party was “free soil,” banning slavery (and, of course, black people) from any existence in the territories and future States.

Now, it’s quite true that in the 1780’s Jefferson and indeed most Southerners voted to exclude slavery from the Northwest Territory, what became the Midwest, a region to which Virginia had by far the strongest claim by both charter and conquest. However, they did so for sentiments and reasoning which were the opposite of what characterized the Republican Free-Soilers of the 1850’s. To detect the lie, all you have to do is look at the stance of Jefferson and most of his followers, Northern and Southern, during the Missouri Compromise in 1819-1820. The effort to eliminate slavery from Missouri and the territories, which was the first version of the free-soil policy of Lincoln, was denounced by Jefferson at the time as a threat to the future of the Union having nothing to do with slavery, but as a transparent Northern power-grab. This was what he called the “fire bell in the night.”[1] In the 1780’s, among other considerations, the foreign slave trade was still open. People were still being imported. That was not the case in 1819, so the question of the restriction of slavery takes on a very different caste. In 1819, though there were no more importations, the black population was proliferating abundantly in North America, as it always has, in fact. The Southern Republicans who had criticized slavery and sought to restrict its spread in the 1780’s had in mind the long-term welfare of all Americans. The Northern Republicans of the 1850’s who raised a truly hysterical and exaggerated campaign against what they called “the spread of slavery” were a very different people with very different motives. Not even to mention, of course, that the Northern Republicans were totally committed to a mercantilist agenda, every plank of which Jeffersonians had defined themselves by being against. The Republicans of the 1850’s exactly represented those parts of the country and those interests that had been the most rabid opponents of Jefferson and his Republicans. Interestingly, these same areas of the country today are the most liberal – the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West Coast. Some of the old-fashioned Democrats in my family used to say that the Democratic Party quit being a States’ Rights party and became a left-wing party because it was taken over by Republican progressives.

In 1860, the Republicans promoted their candidate as the rail-splitter, the poor boy who’d made good, a representative and example of the common people. This image, of course, had nothing to do with Lincoln of 1860, with his agenda, or with the important issues of the time. There was nothing new about this. This was a reprise of the Whig Campaign of 1840, the “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” campaign. For a long time, historians (all of whom are biased New Englanders) said that American democracy had crashed with the election of Andrew Jackson, that the standards had fallen and things had gone downhill after the election of Jackson in 1828, because he had beaten a New Englander. Well, Jackson was a natural aristocrat, and the real degradation of the democratic process occurred in 1840 on the part of the Whigs. It was this campaign that successfully pioneered the transformation of national political campaigns into celebrations of hoopla and demagoguery. It showed how it can be done, and how it has been done most of the time since. In 1840, the Whig party did not trouble at all to adopt a platform or to nominate for President any of its well-known leaders. It put up the elderly General Harrison of Ohio, who had been a hero in the War of 1812 and long before a governor and senator. General Harrison entertained company, but he issued no position papers. His candidacy was promoted by the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too!” Tippecanoe was a battle he’d won against the Indians thirty years before. The campaign was characterized by masked torchlight parades and rallies featuring the log cabin in which General Harrison supposedly lived, the coonskin cap he supposedly wore, and the jug of home-distilled liquor that he supposedly sipped from. The general actually lived on a quite nice estate near Cincinnati, and he was born a Virginia aristocrat. In fact, Harrison and his running mate, John Tyler, were both born in a small county in tidewater Virginia, Charles City County. (Long ago and far away in my misspent youth, I was a newspaper man in Richmond and Charles City County was a part of my beat as a reporter). As a further obfuscation, Tyler had been added to the ticket to appeal to Southerners who were opposed to Van Buren and the Democrats for quite different reasons than were the Whigs. Harrison swept the country. This probably owed more to Van Buren’s lack of appeal than to the Whig campaign itself. But he won, Harrison won, and immediately after the election was decided, Henry Clay, the real leader and hero of the Whig Party, announced that his party now had a mandate for its program: raising the tariff up again, re-establishing the National Bank, and distributing lavishly from the treasury for corporations that promised to build infrastructure. None of these issues had been mentioned in the platform or the campaign, but there was now a mandate for the party’s platform. Does this remind you, perhaps, of any more recent presidential mandates about things that were never discussed before the voters?

I want to look a little bit at Lincoln’s party and how it came into being, the elements that brought it together. And it was not really the respectable party. It was a revolutionary party, in a sense, when it came together. By winning the war and staying on top after the war, it became forever after the “respectable party” in American politics. In March of 1850, William H. Seward, who was one of the founders of the Republican Party and its most prominent leader at that time (until Lincoln maneuvered him out of the presidential nomination in 1860), and during the compromise debates in 1850, Seward made a speech as a senator which anticipated his later famous speech about “the irrepressible conflict” between the North and the South. And his theme was not, as you might think, lamenting that there was an irrepressible conflict. It was a boastful celebration of an inevitable conflict in which the North would emerge triumphant over the South. James K. Paulding, a New Yorker, well-known author, and former Secretary of the Navy wrote to a Southern friend about Seward’s 1850 speech:[2]

“I cannot express the contempt and disgust with which I have read the speech of our Senator, Seward, though it is just what I expected from him. He is one of the most dangerous insects that ever crawled about in the political atmosphere, for he is held in such utter contempt by all honest men that no notice is taken of him till his sting is felt.—He is only qualified to play the most despicable parts in the political drama, and the only possible way he can acquire distinction is by becoming the tool of greater scoundrels than himself. Some years ago, after disgracing the State of New York as Chief Magistrate, he found his level in the lowest depths of insignificance and oblivion, and was dropped by his own party. But the mud has been lately stirred at the very bottom of the pool, and he who went down a mutilated tadpole has come up a full-grown bull frog, more noisy and impudent than ever. This is very often the case among us here, where nothing is more common than to see a swindling rogue, after his crimes have been a little rusted by time, suddenly become an object of popular favor or executive patronage. The position taken and the principles asserted by this pettifogging rogue in his speech would disgrace any man — but himself.”[3]

This is one observation about the rising Republican Party and the people who were starting it off by a Northerner. Paulding also wrote: “I fear it will not be long before we of the North become the tools of the descendants of the old Puritans.” As was pointed out yesterday by Doctor Trask, most Northerners had traditionally despised New Englanders and their fanaticism, imperialism, and self-seeking. What Paulding is suggesting is that greater New England is encroaching over more and more of the North at this time. This is certainly part of a description of what happened in the 1850’s to change the North into a Republican area. So, as Paulding suggested, the Republican Party is a vehicle for failed politicians of both parties, like Mr. Lincoln, for instance, who had served one term in Congress quite a while back. Otherwise, his political career had been making not very much progress. With the Mexican War and the acquisition of territory, and the Wilmot Proviso, opportunistic politicians, failed politicians, of both parties had found an occasion to bring themselves forward. That it was opportunistic and destructive of the peace of the Union was secondary. This opportunity, I think, had two parts which tell us about the origins of the Republican Party.

The North, in some respects, was ripe for this new party, for a certain amount of revolution. Major segments of Northern society and economy were discontented over the lack of Federal support for business. The Democrats had managed to bring down the tariff, do away with the National Bank, and generally vetoed internal improvement bills. There were a great many people who regarded this as a threat against the North. “You won’t let us use the government in the obvious way to increase our prosperity and greatness, and we cannot let our march of progress into greater things be held up by the Democrats!” That was one ground on which the Republican Party made progress. The other ground has to do with the hysterical and false claim that the South was trying to spread slavery, even spread slavery to the North. Actually, if you look at the South and what was going on, there was very little interest in spreading slavery and very little inclination to do it. Now, there was a political reaction when the Wilmot Proviso came along and basically the Northern majority said: “You Southerners will never have any more territory.” Well, there was a reaction against that, but the notion that there was some sort of campaign to spread slavery, even to the free states, was paranoia and viciously dishonest propaganda. But the ground was there for it after three decades of abuse of the South and its leaders by anti-slavery leaders. And this ground allowed Republican politicians to form, for the first time in American history, a strictly sectional party, something that every patriot had warned against throughout the history of the United States. Beginning with Washington and every patriot since had warned Americans to not form parties. Well, you know, this is what the Republican Party is, a party for the interests of the North. Period. It is hostile to anybody who interferes with those interests.

Almost all of the interpretations of the meaning of Republican war against the South, whenever anybody defends it, they always fall back on certain pretty phrases in some of Lincoln’s speeches as providing the definitive description and explanation of what happened. If you look at the primary sources as historians used to do, you get a very different picture. In their private letters and sometimes in public speeches that Republican leaders (who reveal themselves to anybody who looks) reveal themselves to be just the ruthless villains that previous generations of historians knew them to be. In their own words they boast about their intention to keep control of the government by any means, to keep the South captive for economic exploitation, and sometimes about their intent to exterminate the Southern people, although it’s usually clergymen who make that particular point. And you saw some of this yesterday in the rhetoric Doctor Trask brought forward. They revel triumphantly in conquest and dominion. Very often it reminds me of Nazi boasting. As for the glory of emancipation that so long lent righteousness to their war, as Frederick Douglass pointed out, Lincoln’s party was preeminently the party of white men. The Republicans before, during, and after the War never did anything for the primary purpose of helping the black people.

Let me repeat that. Before, during, and after the War, the Republican Party never did anything with the primary purpose of helping the black people. The black people were for use for higher purposes: keeping down the South and keeping the Republicans in power. Most importantly, they were to stay in the South. Millions of acres of public land were given away in the West to corporations that could provide the proper cash incentives to the congressmen, and there was not a patch of land for the freedmen in all of that vast territory. In the “free soil” debates before the war, Republican leaders dwell, not on the evil of slavery, even in the abstract, as Lincoln does in some of his speeches. They dwell not on the evil of slavery, but on their intention, in their own words, to keep “the black scourge” out of the new territories, which must be reserved for white men only. There’s not any happy talk about striking a blow against slavery. It’s keeping the blacks out of “the white man’s territory.” Every time he goes back to Washington, Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, a stalwart radical Republican, writes his wife complaining about how he hates to go to Washington because of the all of the N-words there. If you look at the iconography of emancipation, what you see is not a celebration of black freedom. What you see as a celebration of Northern nobility for which the black folks are passive but slavishly grateful beneficiaries. Look at the statues and you’ll see what I mean. Certain other elements involved in this new party, besides opportunistic politicians, are obviously the powers of industry and finance who knew to profit from the new regime, and the New England intelligentsia and their numerous offspring. We can take Ralph Waldo Emerson, by common consent, as the representative man of the New England intelligentsia who joined this Northern crusade of the Republican Party. And this was the Emerson who said that he was more concerned about one white man corrupted by slavery than by the state of a thousand slaves. This is the man who said that the inmates at the Massachusetts penitentiary were intellectually and morally superior to the leaders of the South. This is the man who said that the mass murderer John Brown was a great man. So, here we have another substantial element in the formation of the Republican Party.[4]

Another very important element is often overlooked, and the more I look into this, the more significant it seems: German refugees from the 1848 revolutions which had failed in Europe. This was a massive migration of people from the German states and principalities between 1848 and 1860. Their numbers in the Midwest were as much as 15% in some States. They were a significant voting bloc. The numbers of this voting bloc can account for the change of the Midwest from Democratic in 1850 to Republican in 1860. There were just as many States Rights’ Democrats in the Midwest in 1860 as there had been before, but they were now being out-voted by new immigrants from Germany. That’s what made the difference. That’s why Lincoln was able to carry the North. And while the Northern leaders were nativists and believed that White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestants from New England were superior to everybody else, they made an exception for the North Germans, whom they found to be acceptable. In their scheme of things, they were spiritual kinsmen. Of course, this old business of the WASP racism of Northerner is something you never hear about, but it’s there. I mean, they talked about it all the time. One of the reasons they didn’t like Southerners is because they were Irish and French and were not pure Anglo-Saxon. They said this all the time, and again, they talked about Southerners being corrupted by association with blacks. Pre-1848, German immigrants, German Catholics and Germans belonging to the quieter Protestant sects did not participate in this Republican fervor. Let’s understand who these people, the “Forty-Eighters,” were. They were military nationalists. You might call them proto-communists or proto-fascists – it amounts to the same thing. Foremost among them, Carl Schurz, arrived in America and he complained immediately that Americans were too laid-back and unideological in their politics.

Now, Lincoln caught on to these Germans very early. He bought several German-language newspapers secretly and operated them. He enlisted the leaders of these Germans as campaign orators and activists very early on, before anybody else. They were quite a significant element in the convention that nominated and those who carried on the campaign for him. And they came to revolutionize America, as they had failed in Europe. These Germans believe that a unified and aggressive nation-state was the height of human existence, that progress towards it was inevitable, and that obstacles to centralization and revolution should be violently destroyed, as they had tried to destroy the provincial aristocracies and petty princes of Europe in the revolutions of 1848. These Germans were among the most active and aggressive of Republican orators, editors, and campaigners and motivated Union soldiers. Nationalistic and militaristic, their goal centralization and revolution of a sort.[5] The South was the obstacle. These German expats really knew nothing about American history or American Constitution. For a long time before this element entered American politics, America has been marked by sectional conflict. There were difficulties between Northerners and Southerners who had different interests and different inclinations. With the rise and influence of the German Forty-Eighters in Northern politics, we find the whole tone of things changed and what had been a manageable competition between sections now has become a world-historical, class, and ideological struggle. There’s not a difference between the North and the South. What we have now in the thinking of the predominant groups in the North is, on the one side, the nation, freedom, and progress, and, on the other side, there is this evil force called “the slave power,” which must be destroyed. These are not our Southern fellow-countrymen over here. These are a historical force, “the slave power,” which must be destroyed, a deadly enemy, an obstacle to the forward progress and greatness and perfection of the nation. You know, all of this was said quite plainly, and the triumph of the Republican Party is signified to me, or illustrated, by a story I often quote. General Richard Taylor (son of President Zachary Taylor) wrote about it in his memoirs. Taylor surrendered the last force on the Gulf, the last sizable force East of the Mississippi. Johnston and Lee had already surrendered, so Taylor opened negotiations and surrendered his small force. And the Union generals were, for the most part, polite. They asked Taylor and his staff officer to sit down and have some breakfast, which they were glad to do. And in the course of this meal, Taylor recollects a Federal officer of German importation who lectured and heckled him:

“There was, as ever, a skeleton at the feast, in the person of a general officer who had recently left Germany to become a citizen and soldier of the United States. This person, with the strong accent and idioms of the Fatherland, comforted me by assurances that we of the South would speedily recognize our ignorance and errors, especially about slavery and the rights of States, and rejoice in the results of the war. In vain Canby and Palmer tried to suppress him. On a celebrated occasion an Emperor of Germany proclaimed himself above grammar, and this earnest philosopher was not to be restrained by canons of taste. I apologized meekly for my ignorance, on the ground that my ancestors had come from England to Virginia in 1608, and, in the short intervening period of two hundred and fifty-odd years, had found no time to transmit to me correct ideas of the duties of American citizenship. Moreover, my grandfather, commanding the 9th Virginia regiment in our Revolutionary army, had assisted in the defeat and capture of the Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, and I lamented that he had not, by association with these worthies, enlightened his understanding. My friend smiled blandly, and assured me of his willingness to instruct me.”[6]

Most peculiarly of all, the historians now like this “slave power” and Marxist class-conflict sort of thing. Some of them even like to talk about this Republican victory, and particularly Reconstruction, as a social revolution, a wonderful social revolution. The only problem was it didn’t go far enough, and the people who resisted should have been wiped out (historians like W.E.B. Du Bois, Eric Foner, and Allen Guelzo). Well, this this is ridiculous, because Lincoln and his supporters did pursue and accomplish a revolution of a sort, but they would have been very surprised to hear it described as a Marxist social revolution. Let’s come back to the fundamentals. The Republican Party engineered and carried out a bloody war against Americans that revolutionized our government and society. And for over a decade after that they maintained a cold war, governing by force and fraud unprecedented in American history. And while in power, they bribed, swindled and looted themselves into private wealth that still underpins many of the fortunes of the United States. Historians of the first half of the 20th century, whether liberals or conservatives, read the sources and understood this. They regarded what had happened as a great national tragedy rather than as an incomplete social revolution. This was my attempt to begin to explore the peculiar institution of the Republican Party. Thank you.


[1]Thomas Jefferson to John Holmes, 22 April 1820.

[2]The speech Paulding refers to in his letter is Seward’s famous “higher law” speech, in which he insists the Federal government is subject to a higher law than the Constitution, namely, the law of God (which conveniently matches Seward’s own position exactly).

[3]Dated 19 March 1850, this was the last letter Paulding ever wrote to John C. Calhoun, who died twelve days after Paulding wrote him. For further details and a complete copy of the letter, see Jay B. Hubbell, “James Kirke Paulding’s Last Letter to John C. Calhoun,” The North Carolina Historical Review, Vol. 32, No. 3 (July, 1955), 410-414.

[4]This is the same Ralph Waldo Emerson, by the way, who also said he wanted to abolish slavery because of his racial prejudice: “The abolitionist wishes to abolish slavery, but because he wishes to abolish the black man.…[T]he brute instinct rallies & centres in the black man. He is created on a lower plane than the white….”

[5]For more on the influence many of the 1848 revolutionaries had on the Republican Party, see Lincoln’s Marxists by Al. Benson Jr., and Walter Donald Kennedy.

[6]Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction (New York, D. Appleton & Co., 1879), 225.

Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books.


  • Julie Paine says:

    What a breath of fresh air amid this fetid season of Republican Lincoln Day Dinners! Thank you, Dr. Wilson.

  • William Quinton Platt III says:

    Slave ships were a peculiar New England institution. The banks financing the New England slave ships, where were they based? The royals, deciding to protect these peculiar institutions with their navies, where were they based? The African chieftains and kings, who supplied the slaves, where were they based?

  • Paul Yarbrough says:

    And today Republicans are mostly concerned with hot-air balloons.

  • Tony c says:

    By golly, I am genuinely amazed by the authors research and fluency. I just finished this masterpiece of scholarly work and can see that my mind will dwell on it’s message(s) for weeks to come. As with most authors writing in this august library the good Sir exemplified truth, accuracy, relativity to our causes and current events and provided even more fodder with which we may use against our enemies and motivate our forces.
    Semper fidelis

  • Mark Corvino says:

    “Nothing is more pitiful than the persistent betrayal of the people by their leaders and nothing more splendid than the people’s refusal to believe it.”
    Archibald Maule Ramsay ( a reminder; Wikipedia’s description of people is not necessarily ” the gospel truth “.)

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