Elizabeth Varon, Nelson Lankford, Jean Baker, Daniel Crofts
Context: The stability of a two-party system rested on shaky ground surrounding the nature of sovereignty. This gave rise to fears of secession and disunion that continued to escalate through the 1850s. By the mid-1850s the Whig Party became isolated over the issue of slavery – to survive they would have had to come out as a pro-slavery party. Whigs suffered from the loss of notable leaders (Webster and Clay) and they also lose some of their economic issues. Once they lose that focus they are unable to maintain their structure on a national level. The Democrats were the dominant national party, though the Buchanan Administration had been discredited owing to the prez’s weakness. The Whigs also suffered from the influx in new immigrants who aligned themselves to the Democratic Party – promised to treat them civilly for political purposes. This led to the formation of the American or Know-Nothing Party which focused on the dangers of immigration and the threat to national identity. By 1856 the Democratic Party appeared to be the party of the future. The Dems controlled both the House and the Senate as well as the Supreme Court. They have everything going their way. The problem is that the Party pledged itself to protect slavery. Kansas-Nebraska, however, presented a number of problems because the various factions in the party failed to support it. The leading Democrat in Illinois ended up in direct conflict with Buchanan.
This opened up an opportunity for a new political party. Republican Party benefited from the caning of Charles Sumner, which occured a few weeks before their convention. – Preston Brooks helped to create the Republican Party. The pervasiveness of conspiracies may have also benefited the early Republican Party given its assumptions about the ultimate goals of slaveowners. The Republican Party in 1856 looked to ending the control of the federal government by slaveowners. The 1856 election gave Republicans a great deal to be hopeful about. Republicans built a consensus around what they took to be a bloodless policy: they want to simply stop the spread of slavery west. They were committed to no longer making concessions to slaveholders. This non-expansion of slavery was heavily charged for slaveholders who believed that slavery could be utilized along a wide spectrum of landscapes.
Dred Scott: The decision was complicated in terms of who signed which part of it. Taney and the majority came down on the same side in ruling that he could not sue since he was not a citizen – blacks had no rights that whites had to support. This meant that free blacks could be sent back into slavery. For Republicans the sticking point was that Congress had no power to legislate on slavery and worked to support that there was a conspiracy. Republicans would have assumed tight control of the federal government which they needed to counteract. By Dred Scott the Republican Party had secured itslef as a solid regional party. Northern states command 170 electoral votes, however, Republicans must defend themselves from charges that they want to steer the nation down the road to emancipation.
Abraham Lincoln emerged out of a series of debates with Douglass. Republican managers targeted three states in the 1860 election; one of them was Illinois. John Brown’s raid prevented Upper South residual Whigs from communicating with Republicans.
Democrats need to hold on to states won in 1856. Jean Baker thinks that Dems should have nominated a northern Democrat. In 1857 Jefferson Davis argued that the Dems would never win unless they run a northerner like Franklin Pierce. He have been able to save Penn. Their biggest problem is that the most popular Dem was hated in the South. However, if you don’t nominate him they were likely not to hold the necessary states.
Republicans needed to deal successfully with the legacy of Brown and the image of an “Irrepressile Conflict”. Republicans need to present themselves as a conservative party.
Predictions: It can only be answered regionally. There is a middle group of states that are uncertain, but interested in the possibilities of a border state confederacy (KY, MO, DE – Va is the big player). People in the South will vote Democrat. If Republicans win Ill, IN, and PA they win. Seward was still the front-runner. It’s not clear that Lincoln will be the nominee though Lincoln is working hard to correct this by giving speeches and waiting in the wings.
Sorry for the poor summary but my hands are tired and I am exhausted.