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History of Democrats vs. Republicans on Slavery

Updated on January 22, 2014

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:

  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin

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

Original uploader was Hotstreets at en.wikipedia
Original uploader was Hotstreets at en.wikipedia | Source

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.

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)

Originally from the United States Geological Survey
Originally from the United States Geological Survey | Source

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


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      Jim Franklin 17 months ago

      Having taught US History at the college level, I would like to add the many efforts of Democrats even after the Civil War despite and defying the new amendments to the Constitution to disenfranchise former slaves by court decisions by the courts to establish and maintain segregation as an example Plessy v. Ferguson.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 5 years ago from Texas, USA

      Kevin, interesting point and phenomina you bring up. Could be that black Americans have sided with their oppressors, believing what they say.

    • profile image

      Kevin 5 years ago

      Great article. I've always been curious if there are more non white democrats than republicans because of the same thing hostages go through. The thing where they start to side with the people who took them hostage.

    • profile image

      A few Things 5 years ago

      If I was alive in the 1800s I would probably be a Republican, but not this century. The parties today are not what they were then. Southern Democrats, the most racists, became Republicans after the civil rights era.

      Ms Dee, for 34 years the wealth held by the top 1% has exploded, at the same time the wealth held by the middle class has dwindled; the wealth has been redistributed from the middle class to the rich. At what point can the middle class complain about it without you calling it class warfare?

    • steveamy profile image

      steveamy 6 years ago from Florida

      Umm the Fugitive Slave Law was part of a larger compromise -- the Compromise of 1850 which included a number of other provisions including: admission of California as a free state, Texas surrendering land claims in New Mexico and the Federal Gov. assumed Texas debt, and most importantly the acceptance of Popular Sovereignty as a method for determining the slave status of new territories....

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      wba, I love your specific feedback on these little known facts! As we can see, it has been a hard, continuing struggle to try to do away with separate classes of people. Politics, even today, tries to use class warfare to their own advantage, like Obama is trying to do now, pitting the rich against the poor.

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      Ms Dee-

      Thank you for sharing these little known pieces of history! It's a good point you make that the founders did not promote slavery, but it was the efforts of the early Democrats that did. I didn't know that the slave trade was officially ended in 1808 and that since 1787, government policy promoted the ending of slavery. It's interesting that Democrats now use the references to the slaves voting rights to discredit the Constitution.- Regards and blessings-WBA

    • Dexter Yarbrough profile image

      Dexter Yarbrough 6 years ago from United States

      Hi Ms. Dee! Great history lesson. I admire your desire to educate us on things that many have not been taught.

      I recall my great grandfather, while in his nineties (he lived a long time), remarking (back in about 1970) about how evil the democrats were and that the republicans were more civil to black people. But then my grandmother (his daughter) said that all that had changed and that the democrats were really for black people.

      These types of conversations went on multiple times in black households. I remember telling my grandmother that I liked Richard Nixon and she flat out told me that he was against black people.

      My point is that somewhere along the way, the republicans allowed those with a racist tinge into the party and never challenged them. Moreover, many black people came to view the republicans as snobbish and unconcerned with the plight of poorer Americans. These views are still predominate with many blacks.

      I have known many white republicans that would give me the shirt off their back. But I also have known some that hated for me to be in their presence. It is these few that are the face of the republicans for black people.

      What should also be remembered is that the original values and beliefs for some were not the same for those whose nation was forcibly stolen (let's be truthful) as well as those forcibly brought over in slave ships, sold away from their families and beaten for wanting "freedom." For many back then, those types of values and beliefs were reserved for white people. Many black people see this as being the same today.

      Excellent hub and voted up, up and away!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 6 years ago

      Another excellent hub Ms Dee.

      I agree that we need to go back to our orginial values and beliefs.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 6 years ago from Texas, USA

      SubRon, yes, we sure have a long ways to go :) Some I am seeing in our history is that we have to go back to our original values and beliefs. I also see in our history repeated attempts to pull our nation away from those. May America keep fighting to hold on to them and keep returning to that which has made America exceptional among all other nations.

      Pamela, I'm so thrilled that you join me in interest and fascination with our nation's history. I must say that I'm getting quite blown away by all these things I'd not realized before!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      Your hubs on the history of slavery laws is fascinating. I had no idea there were so many laws. This is an excellent history lesson and I am finding very interesting.

    • SubRon7 profile image

      James W. Nelson 6 years ago from eastern North Dakota

      Wow, the history of America. We have come a long way, but I believe we have a long way to go yet....