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The Honorable Opposition: Republican Party 1854-2016? (Part C)

Updated on August 7, 2016
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.


We are trying to explain how Donald Trump became the Republican nominee for President of the United States. This is one of those things that makes the MSNBC crowd, as I call them, mournfully shake their heads and say, "Whatever happened to the Party of Lincoln?" in reference to their opposite numbers, the Republicans; Republicans (or the Fox News crowd) tend to do the same thing, shaking their heads: "Whatever happened to the Party of Kennedy?"

I am trying to defend the position that the "Party of Lincoln," as such, never existed; and it is this void, in my opinion, which helps to explain the success of Donald Trump.

Once again, the reason I am spending so much time talking about the history of race relations in the United States, is because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation makes up so much of the "Party of Lincoln" mystique.


The Innocence Test (proving a negative)

I do not like being asked to prove a negative. I do not like asking people to prove a negative. The request seems unfair for obvious reasons. However, there is one singular exception I am willing to make.

As you know, there are people who say that the American Civil War of the 1860s, was NOT about slavery. They say that the vast majority of Confederate troops did not own a single slave. They point to that as proof and say, "See, therefore the Civil War could not have been about slavery.

It turns out that a white family did not have to own a single slave in order to directly benefit from slave labor. Slaves were rented out by the day, the month, or the year. The employer promised food, clothing, shelter, and medical care in addition to the stipulated wage. The annual contracts did not cover the period from Christmas to New Years Day. Hiring was January 1, or some other day early in the new year (1).

The hiring agent prepared the papers, collected the money, and performed other services. At times the agents were also slave traders. In some instances the agents were men without the resources to get into slave trading (2).

Small farmers rented slaves because they needed a few extra hands at harvest time. Slaves also worked in the forests as woodcutters and turpentine hands. They worked in factories and mines, on railroad construction and canal digging. Slaves worked in towns, serving as maids, porters, messengers, cooks, and the like (3).

The point: In this instance we have to demand that a negative be proven. No Confederate soldier can be considered innocent of participating directly in slavery, unless it can be shown that he never even rented a slave, not for one day, not for one hour.

You see, "[s]ome whites hired slaves because the purchase was, for the moment, beyond their means; others merely had a temporary need for the services of a slave and saw no need of purchasing one; still others reasoned that it was more economical in the long run to purchase services rather than titles, thereby escaping the responsibility that devolved on the owner during the slave's illness or old age" (4).

I have already mentioned that the Democrats of the nineteenth century were the pro-slavery party and that the Republicans were the abolitionist party. I have also already mentioned that:

  • even though the Republicans were the abolitionist party, I argue that they drew their abolitionist energy largely from the abolitionist-deportation school, not the abolitionist-integration school of thought.
  • and that this disposition was partially reflected by Washington's recognition of the refugee colony of Liberia, in 1862
  • as well as the formation of the American Colonization Society, set up in 1816 for the purpose of shipping blacks "back to Africa," which the U.S. Congress allocated $100,000 in funds for.

Therefore, during the run-up to the Civil War, when Southerners made the case to their Northern counterparts that there was not enough democracy to go around to include liberated blacks (I previously cited Paul Finkelman's introductory essay in Slavery & The Law), without the material condition of whites being adversely affected----Republicans did not disagree.

In effect, then, despite the Civil War, both major political parties broadly agreed that there was not enough democracy to go around to include liberated blacks. The Southern Democrats wanted to continue slavery and the Northern Republicans thought that shipping blacks out of the country might be the answer---and I include Abraham Lincoln in this category!

The Emancipation Proclamation and American Exceptionalism

If we are going to successfully disprove the existence of the "Party of Lincoln," as such, we are going to have to deal with the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is a component of American exceptionalism that turns upon self-congratulation. That self-congratulation focuses on the nobility of Lincoln who "freed the slaves."

I do not mean to say that Lincoln did not free the slaves. I affirm that his order did free the slaves. Its just that I think that the British should get credit for having attempted to do the same thing, eighty-eight years before during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. You see, Lincoln succeeded where the British failed nearly ninety years before.


The British tried to overthrow slavery, by force, on the North American mainland during the American Revolution of 1776.

I will say that again: During the American Revolution (1776-1783), the British tried to overthrow slavery, by force, on the North American mainland. But since the American Revolution succeeded, the British attempt to overthrow slavery by force of arms failed. But since the Southern Rebellion failed in the 1860s, the North's attempt to overthrow slavery by force succeeded.


Here's the story:

1772 The Somerset Case

James Somerset was a Boston slave transported to London by his master, Charles Stewart in 1770. Somerset escaped, then was recaptured, and ordered to be sold into slavery in Jamaica. A team of British abolitionists led by Granville Sharp, won a suit to prevent Somerset from being taken from England in June of 1772. The judge, Lord Chief Justice Mansfield ruled that Somerset could not be forced to return to slavery in the colonies (5).

In my opinion, as I have previously argued elsewhere, this is a big deal; because it means that England refused to "extradite" a "fugitive" back to the jurisdiction of the North American colonies. My use of the term "fugitive" is significant because in the 1790s, something called the Fugitive Slave Act would come into law in America, which obliged Northern states to return runaway slaves to the South.

Countries often refuse to "extradite" fugitives back into countries that have legal, political, or social situations that run counter to their own public policy. For example, there are many countries in the world that do not have the death penalty, as we do in the United States. Country X, then, will refuse to let the U.S. have its fugitive back without a specific promise that the death penalty will not be pursued in his or her particular case.

In any event, on the strength of that decision many people thought that Britain had abolished slavey (6).

Slaves in Britain, especially London, just walked away from their masters; and even more significantly, many masters, also believing that slavery had just been legally ended, "made little protest." Some American slaves had even become aware of the judicial decision and acted on it (7).

There is a historian and African-American studies scholar called Gerald Horne (Counter Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America), who actually argues that the Thirteen American Colonies revolted against British rule because the former feared the coming of abolition of slavery-----in other words, for the same reason the Southern states revolted against the Union in the 1860s: the fear that their preferred way of life based on slavery would be destroyed, voted out of existence, with the election of Abraham Lincoln, who won the Presidency without any Southern electoral votes.

The British "emancipation proclamation" was issued by Lord Dunemore, the last royal governor of Virginia in November of 1775. He issued a proclamation offering freedom and a small payment to all slaves and (indentured) servants who would fight for the British. Hundreds of slaves joined Dunemore's so-called "Ethiopian Regiment" (8).

Perhaps as many as one-hundred-thousand slaves ultimately took Lord Dunemore up on his offer. Planters in South Carolina and Georgia were convinced that at least twenty-thousand slaves would join Dunemore 'in a fortnight.' By 1778 Thomas Jeffferson had estimated that at least 30,000 Virginia slaves had run away to the British; at least 30 had come from Jefferson's own Monticello plantation (9).

Now, I know that the idea that the American Revolution (1776-1783) was about the colonists wanting to hang on to the institution of slavery, is a bizarre idea to the vast majority of you reading this. This certainly is not an idea that is circulated in popular discourse. However, in the scholarship there is a steady process of de-romanticizing the American Revolution. The scholarly view is inching closer and closer to Dr. Gerald Horne's seemingly radical thesis.

Historian Felipe Fernanddez-Armesto has this to say about the pragmatic grounds on which the American colonists revolted against British rule. In one of his books he writes:

"It became increasingly obvious, moreover, that in the early 1770s that British rule threatened two vital colonial interests. In 1772 a British judge declared slavery illegal on English soil, in a judgment that caused much premature anticipation among black people in America.

"Vermont rapidly adopted the ruling into its own laws, but it was unwelcome in the slave-dependent economies of much of British America. It seemed only a matter of time before colonial slave-owners clashed with an elite in Britain taht increasingly favored abolishing both the slave trade and slavery itself.

"Moreover, the British government was determined to attempt to keep the peace on the 'Indian' frontier, and to preserve Native American buffer states between the British and Spanish empires in the interior of North America. This was precisely the region to which American colonists were looking for expansion" (10).

The Wrap Up

I'm going to leave it there for Part C. In Part D I am going to continue to deal with a notion that some people on the Left have: again, namely that slavery ultimately had to be destroyed in order to open up room for the economic opportunity of white males. I am arguing that this is not so, is in fact contrary to the evidence. However, my remarks will not be definitive and conclusive; I will suggest that further research needs to be done on the issue of urban slaveryin America.

I am contending that slave labor was never in any "competition" with white males. In Part B I have already said something about what state legislatures were doing in the nineteenth century: insulating free white male labor from competition even from free blacks. I have already told you about the pressure state legislatures were putting on the very status of free blacks, in many cases actually passing explicit legislation facilitating the re-enslavement of free blacks.

Blacks, free or slave, were no more "competing" in any way, against free white male labor than migrant undocumented Mexican workers are "taking away American jobs" today. But I will develop that in Part D.

When that is done, we will be set up to look at the international context in which slavery was ended in the United States of America. Don't worrry, you will see what I mean by the end of Part D.

Thank you for reading!


1. Franklin, John Hope & Moss, Jr., Alfred A. From Slavery To Freedom: A History of Negro Americans. (sixth edition, paperback). Alfred A. Knopf, 1988. 109

2. ibid

3. ibid

4. ibid

5. Horton, James Oliver & Horton, Lois E. Slavery And The Making Of America. Oxford University Press, 2005. 56

6. ibid

7. ibid, 56-57

8. ibid, 59

9. ibid, 60

10. Fernandez-Armesto, Felipe. Our America: A Hispanic History of the United States. W.W. Norton & Company, 2014. 105


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