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History of Democrats vs. Republicans on Slavery
The history of a racist tinge being fought against or allowed into a political party is a long, hard struggle. I continue to be appalled at the stories black friends tell me they have heard from grandparents and great grandparents. It still is not over, even today. Looking back to 1789, after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, Congress made further extensive efforts to end slavery.
They did this by passing the laws of the Northwest Ordinance. This law outlawed any slavery in federal territories held at that time. It is for this reason that these seven eventually entered the nation as slave-free states:
A couple decades later, Congress continued its fight against slavery by ending slave trade in 1808. A sermon celebrating this was given by the Rev. Absalom Jones. He was the first black bishop in the Episcopal Church in America. This sermon he gave in St. Thomas’ Church, Philadelphia became famous.
The Northwest Territory
Slavery had not yet been brought to an end in every state, but this was a clear effort to make progress in that direction. Despite this, a major reversal in this direction was about to happen.
By 1820, most of the Founding Fathers were dead and Thomas Jefferson’s party, the Democrat Party, had become the majority party in Congress. This change brought about a new congressional policy. This Congress passed the 1820 Missouri Compromise.
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The 1820 Missouri Compromise promoted slavery
The Missouri Compromise completely undid the previous policy that allowed slavery in almost half of the federal territories. Several new states were admitted as new slave states; Missouri, Arkansas and what is today part of Oklahoma. For the first time since the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution, slavery was being officially promoted by Congressional policy.
The Missouri Compromise (yellow and light blue to the south)
Democrats vs Republicans on Slavery
The 1850 Fugitive Slave Law
There were some other laws Democrats passed in Congress that were pro-slavery. One was the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Northerners now had to return escaped slaves, or else pay huge fines. There are many times when this law provided an excuse for southern slave hunters to kidnap blacks in the north—those who were actually free, owned by no one—and take them to the south to be slaves. This law destroyed the lives of many blacks in the north.
As a consequence, over 20,000 northern blacks left everything in the United States behind and fled to Canada. This is the period of time that the Underground Railroad was most active, helping blacks in the south, as well, escape slavery by making it all the way to Canada, all because of the Democrat’s far-reaching Fugitive Slave Law.
The 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act
The Democrats in control of Congress passed another law in 1854 encouraging the spread of slavery; the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This allowed slavery in parts of the new territory—to the northwest—where previously it had not been allowed!
A new political party
After passing all these pro-slavery laws, in May 1854, a number of anti-slavery Democrats in Congress formed a new political party to fight slavery. Other anti-slavery members who joined them were from the Whigs, Free Soil advocates and Emancipationists. They wanted to gain equal rights for black Americans.
The name of that party? They called it the Republican Party. They chose this name because they wanted to return to the principles of freedom and equality. These are the principles first put forth in the documents of the republic before the pro-slavery Congressional members had misused and manipulated to their own purposes those original principles.
© 2011 Deidre Shelden