Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reconstruction of the Democratic Party

On the 12th of this month, one year ago, the “dogs of war” were unloosed, the cannon was unlimbered and belched forth the parricidal shot that proclaimed from the hot-bed of treason, that the civil war was fairly inaugurated; that peace which for nearly a half century had dwelt in our fair country, had blown, and the desolation of an internecine struggle had commenced.  Previous to that time the political principles of the nation had assumed a strange aspect. – All of the old questions that divided the people into parties had sunk away and been forgotten.  The national bank, sub-treasury system, tariff, internal improvements, all had been harmonized, and the country was at peace on these great political questions.  The Whig party, which had given life to these issues, and died, and with its dissolution, the Democratic party had almost sunk into desuetude.  A new political organization had been formed, growing out of the rapid strides that slavery had made.  It was started by no political demagogues with the expectation of rallying around them a powerful party and hoisting into power some political favorites.  But men of principle, who saw the rapid encroachments of a stupendous evil and the fearful result if it were permitted to overspread our country, determined to stay its progress, and for that purpose rallied around them some of the best talent of the country and laid down a platform of principles, as a basis for a new political organization, the chief plank of which was hostility to the advance of slavery.  They were not abolitionists, feebly fighting against the evil in its strongholds, but patriots, bent upon staying its progress.  By aiming at too much they might have lost all.  The public mind was ripe for confining slavery to the limits of the States in which it then existed, while it would have rebelled against any attempt to destroy it there.

The new platform of principles not only enlisted the best talent of the country, but it called for the co-operation of the moral men of the nation, until it soon became apparent that it embraced the great majority of the people of the North, and was making inroad among the better informed classes of those States where the chains of slavery pressed less gallingly. – Toward this new organization the old Democratic party, which in name still kept the field, although shorn of many of its best men and all of its old principles, showed a hostile front.  It had always been a negative organization, and it was strictly in accordance with its antecedents to oppose any measure assumed by any other party.  The first gun fired upon Fort Sumter destroyed all organized pro-slavery feeling at the North, it disrupted the Democratic party and scattered it like chaff before the wind.  As a political organization it was emphatically dead, as it could not  maintain its opposition to Republicanism and at the same time be loyal to the North.  That which destroyed the Democratic organization gave life and vigor to the Republican party, it intensified its principles; no longer seeking to stay slavery within its already overgrown limits, it sought to curtail its existing dimensions.  With the progress of the war, slavery fell so into disrepute that even its friends began to forsake it, justly regarding it as the cause of all our troubles.  Gathering boldness, Republicanism now sought to provide a way for its final extinction, and, in the language of Wendell Phillips, “for the first time in the history of the anti-slavery North, the Government has spoken; the President who first spoke an anti-slavery word after he got into the chair is our present one,” and to show the advance of anti-slavery principles, the press that had formerly represented the Democratic party, was the loudest in encoring the sentiments enunciated by the President.

In this condition of affairs, as we attempted to show in our Monday morning’s issue, a few of the old bell-weathers of the defunct democratic party, who still hankered after the loaves and fishes and whose sympathies were with the South, have attempted its re-construction on the basis of opposition to Republican principles as matured by the war; or in other words, an advocacy of the system of human chattelism, the maintenance of that institution which has been the cause of all the heart agonies, bloodshed and misery, that have overspread our once happy country during the last twelvemonth.  In its issue of Saturday the Democrat of this city handed in its allegiance to this faction, and taking heart from this demonstration of the debris of the old Democratic party to kick itself into existence, calls upon the “Democrats of the State, county, town and district to stand ready to fall into line.”  “Let there be no wavering in the ranks,” it says, “for the day of battle is dawning, and the enemy is already in sight.”  And who is that enemy?  The anti-slavery men of the North.  Unless we are grievously mistaken in the intelligence of our countrymen, both native and adopted, a party founded upon such basis can never possess vitality in the free States of the North.

– Published in The Davenport Daily Gazette, Davenport, Iowa, Wednesday Morning, April 2, 1862, p. 2

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