The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era

The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era

Andrew L. Slap
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 306
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  • Book Info
    The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era
    Book Description:

    In the Election of 1872 the conflict between President U. S. Grant and Horace Greeley has been typically understood as a battle for the soul of the ruling Republican Party. In this innovative study, Andrew Slap arguesforcefully that the campaign was more than a narrow struggle between Party elites and a class-based radical reform movement. The election, he demonstrates, had broad consequences: in their opposition to widespread Federal corruption, Greeley Republicans unintentionally doomed Reconstruction of any kind, even as they lost the election. Based on close readings of newspapers, party documents, and other primary sources, Slap confronts one of the major questions in American political history: How, and why, did Reconstruction come to an end? His focus on the unintended consequences of Liberal Republican politics is a provocative contribution to this important debate.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4773-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxvi)

    The liberal republican movement doomed Reconstruction in 1872.* Given the background of the men who started the movement this is extremely ironic, for in the previous decade many of them had led efforts to reconstruct the South and help African Americans. For example, early in 1862 Massachusetts economist Edward Atkinson became secretary of the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society, an organization that assisted recently freed slaves in South Carolina. As the war ended in 1865, journalist William Grosvenor publicly argued that the Union needed a continued military presence in the South because “we cannot justly leave the rights of the...

  5. 1 Rehearsal in Missouri for the Liberal Republican Movement, 1865–1870
    (pp. 1-24)

    On December 15, 1870, Carl Schurz of Missouri rose before the U.S. Senate to “submit some observations upon the political movements in Missouri, which seem to have attracted unusual attention and have acquired more than local interest.” The country was focused on Missouri because Schurz had led a group of self-named “Liberal Republicans” against the Republican Party in the state during the fall elections to advocate amnesty for former Confederates, civil service reform, and free trade—all positions that were unpopular with the national Republican Party. The bolt was particularly interesting because it was successful; Liberal Republican candidate B. Gratz...

  6. 2 The Liberal Republican Conception of Party, 1848–1872
    (pp. 25-50)

    Years before the national phase of the liberal republican movement began, theSpringfield Republicananalyzed the future of the Republican Party. The paper considered political parties to be temporary coalitions organized for reform, but always vulnerable to corruption. “There are times and circumstances in which a thorough break-up of the old organizations is almost a condition-precedent of advance or reform. Parties become incurably corrupt, like cisterns which have accumulated so much filth that you might put in clean water, and take it out dirty, forever.” Because political parties naturally became corrupt, “It is often necessary of reform, that old parties...

  7. 3 Preserving the Republic while Defeating the Slave Power, 1848–1865
    (pp. 51-72)

    For two decades, the men who would create the liberal republican movement were in the vanguard of the antislavery fight. As noted in chapter 2, many of them had belonged to the short-lived Free Soil Party, including Free Soil vice-presidential candidate Charles Francis Adams, and they had been instrumental in forming the subsequent antislavery party, the Republicans, in the mid-1850s. Some of the liberal republicans had found political parties too slow in attacking slavery and took more radical steps. In 1856 twenty-nine-year-old Edward Atkinson helped raise over a thousand dollars to equip John Brown with rifles and ammunition; that same...

  8. 4 The Liberal Republican Dilemma over Reconstruction, 1865–1868
    (pp. 73-89)

    After enduring four years of war the liberal republicans, like most Northerners, were ready for peace and had no plans for a lengthy reconstruction of the South. Their objective during the Civil War had been to maintain republican government, and this remained their paramount goal during Reconstruction. Immediately after Appomattox most of the liberal republicans foresaw little difficulty in finally destroying the slave aristocracy of the South and reforming the Union. Carl Schurz wrote a friend in June 1865, “To restore the Union in political form is a trifling matter.” He insisted, however, that “our aim is not fulfilled by...

  9. 5 Legacies of the Civil War Threaten the Republic, 1865–1872
    (pp. 90-107)

    Five days after Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, with other Confederate armies still in the field, theCincinnati Commercial’s lead editorials were headlined “Reducing the War Establishment” and “Hints Toward Economy.” The newspaper declared that “it would, of course, be disastrous to put the sword in its scabbard before the time when it can safely be done, but may we not reasonably indulge a confidence that the heat of the war is over, and that its burdens ou[gh]t to be taken from our backs as fast as possible?” TheCommercial...

  10. 6 Grant and the Republic, 1868–1872
    (pp. 108-125)

    In their long struggle to preserve republican government, the liberal republicans initially embraced Ulysses S. Grant as a savior. From the late 1840s onward their classical republican ideology had led them to fight against various perceived forms of corruption and tyranny threatening the nation’s republican institutions. During the antebellum period, most of their focus had been on the dangerous effects of slavery. While battling the Slave Power during the Civil War, the liberal republicans increasingly expressed concerns about the measures being taken to ensure victory, such as protective tariffs and the growth of federal power. By 1868, they wanted to...

  11. 7 The National Phase of the Liberal Republican Movement, 1870–1872
    (pp. 126-163)

    The proceedings of the Liberal Republican Convention in Cincinnati upset the original liberal republicans. Carl Schurz wrote, “I cannot think of the results of the Cincinnati Convention without a pang,” and Edward Atkinson began a letter by simply stating, “I have just returned from Cincinnati where I left my scalp.” The reason for the liberal republicans’ pain was the unexpected nomination of Horace Greeley as the new party’s presidential candidate. In the weeks following the convention, they tried to determine how Greeley, an outsider who had agreed to attend the convention only a month earlier, had been nominated in place...

  12. 8 The Experience of a Third Party in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 164-198)

    Why did the Liberal Republican Party lose the election of 1872? Most historians have explained the Republican landslide victory as a predictable function of Grant’s popularity. Reducing the election to mere personalities, however, misses the significance of the 1872 campaign for nineteenth-century American politics. Contemporary expectations of party realignment in 1872—the Liberal Republicans, other disgruntled reformers, Republicans, and Democrats all expected that at least one of the major parties would disappear that year—demonstrate the fragility of the party system in the early Gilded Age. The Liberal Republicans had a chance to upset the existing parties, but they were...

  13. 9 The Lasting Effect of 1872 Campaign Rhetoric
    (pp. 199-221)

    After rejoicing that “the elections in North Carolina, Vermont and Maine have decided the Greeley campaign two months in advance,” Boston Postmaster William Burt lamented that “if they would only be content to accept the result it would save us much later, and much disagreeable political talking and writing.” As Burt feared, the Liberal Republicans did not concede the election in September, and the campaign increasingly degenerated into virulent personal attacks. According to Earle Ross, “The campaign of 1872 was primarily one of personalities. Probably no previous campaign had been conducted so largely on the basis of personal abuse and...

  14. 10 The Liberal Republicans Try Again, 1872–1876
    (pp. 222-237)

    Despite losing control of their movement and enduring an invective-filled campaign, most liberal republicans remained in surprisingly good spirits after Grant’s reelection in 1872. In postmortem correspondence, Schurz acknowledged to Horace White, “We designed it to be a campaign of ideas, and it became a campaign of personalities. We wanted it to become a fight for positive principles, and it became a mere fight against an Administration.” He explained, “We want the civil service and the revenue system reformed: we want economy and honest government secured; we want a policy of reconciliation adopted with regard to the South; we want...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 238-240)

    The liberal republicans had been involved in the “Southern question” for three decades by the time Hayes became president in 1877. After helping to start the Free Soil Party in 1848, many of them had then helped organize the Republican Party in the 1850s. The goal of the liberal republicans in both parties was to end slavery and the Slave Power, both of which they thought endangered the nation’s republican institutions. During the Civil War the liberal republicans fought against the Slave Power and for preservation of the Union’s republican form of government, while becoming increasingly concerned about the effects...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 241-278)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-294)
  18. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-308)