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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard
» PART VI. NATIONAL GROWTH AND WORLD POLITICS
» CHAPTER XVII

«·Railways and Industry · The Growth of Opposition to Republican Rule·»


The Supremacy of the Republican Party (1861-85)

Business Men and Republican Policies.—Most of the leaders in industry gravitated to the Republican ranks. They worked in the North and the Republican party was essentially Northern. It was moreover—at least so far as the majority of its members were concerned—committed to protective tariffs, a sound monetary and banking system, the promotion of railways and industry by land grants, and the development of internal improvements. It was furthermore generous in its immigration policy. It proclaimed America to be an asylum for the oppressed of all countries and flung wide the doors for immigrants eager to fill the factories, man the mines, and settle upon Western lands. In a word the Republicans stood for all those specific measures which favored the enlargement and prosperity of business. At the same time they resisted government interference with private enterprise. They did not regulate railway rates, prosecute trusts for forming combinations, or prevent railway companies from giving lower rates to some shippers than to others. To sum it up, the political theories of the Republican party for three decades after the Civil War were the theories of American business—prosperous and profitable industries for the owners and “the full dinner pail” for the workmen. Naturally a large portion of those who flourished under its policies gave their support to it, voted for its candidates, and subscribed to its campaign funds.

Sources of Republican Strength in the North.—The Republican party was in fact a political organization of singular power. It originated in a wave of moral enthusiasm, having attracted to itself, if not the abolitionists, certainly all those idealists, like James Russell Lowell and George William Curtis, who had opposed slavery when opposition was neither safe nor popular. To moral principles it added practical considerations. Business men had confidence in it. Workingmen, who longed for the independence of the farmer, owed to its indulgent land policy the opportunity of securing free homesteads in the West. The immigrant, landing penniless on these shores, as a result of the same beneficent system, often found himself in a little while with an estate as large as many a baronial domain in the Old World. Under a Republican administration, the union had been saved. To it the veterans of the war could turn with confidence for those rewards of service which the government could bestow: pensions surpassing in liberality anything that the world had ever seen. Under a Republican administration also the great debt had been created in the defense of the union, and to the Republican party every investor in government bonds could look for the full and honorable discharge of the interest and principal. The spoils system, inaugurated by Jacksonian Democracy, in turn placed all the federal offices in Republican hands, furnishing an army of party workers to be counted on for loyal service in every campaign.

Of all these things Republican leaders made full and vigorous use, sometimes ascribing to the party, in accordance with ancient political usage, merits and achievements not wholly its own. Particularly was this true in the case of saving the union. “When in the economy of Providence, this land was to be purged of human slavery … the Republican party came into power,” ran a declaration in one platform. “The Republican party suppressed a gigantic rebellion, emancipated four million slaves, decreed the equal citizenship of all, and established universal suffrage,” ran another. As for the aid rendered by the millions of Northern Democrats who stood by the union and the tens of thousands of them who actually fought in the union army, the Republicans in their zeal were inclined to be oblivious. They repeatedly charged the Democratic party “with being the same in character and spirit as when it sympathized with treason.”

Republican Control of the South.—To the strength enjoyed in the North, the Republicans for a long time added the advantages that came from control over the former Confederate states where the newly enfranchised negroes, under white leadership, gave a grateful support to the party responsible for their freedom. In this branch of politics, motives were so mixed that no historian can hope to appraise them all at their proper values. On the one side of the ledger must be set the vigorous efforts of the honest and sincere friends of the freedmen to win for them complete civil and political equality, wiping out not only slavery but all its badges of misery and servitude. On the same side must be placed the labor of those who had valiantly fought in forum and field to save the union and who regarded continued Republican supremacy after the war as absolutely necessary to prevent the former leaders in secession from coming back to power. At the same time there were undoubtedly some men of the baser sort who looked on politics as a game and who made use of “carpet-bagging” in the South to win the spoils that might result from it. At all events, both by laws and presidential acts, the Republicans for many years kept a keen eye upon the maintenance of their dominion in the South. Their declaration that neither the law nor its administration should admit any discrimination in respect of citizens by reason of race, color, or previous condition of servitude appealed to idealists and brought results in elections. Even South Carolina, where reposed the ashes of John C. Calhoun, went Republican in 1872 by a vote of three to one!

Republican control was made easy by the force bills described in a previous chapter—measures which vested the supervision of elections in federal officers appointed by Republican Presidents. These drastic measures, departing from American tradition, the Republican authors urged, were necessary to safeguard the purity of the ballot, not merely in the South where the timid freedman might readily be frightened from using it; but also in the North, particularly in New York City, where it was claimed that fraud was regularly practiced by Democratic leaders.

The Democrats, on their side, indignantly denied the charges, replying that the force bills were nothing but devices created by the Republicans for the purpose of securing their continued rule through systematic interference with elections. Even the measures of reconstruction were deemed by Democratic leaders as thinly veiled schemes to establish Republican power throughout the country. “Nor is there the slightest doubt,” exclaimed Samuel J. Tilden, spokesman of the Democrats in New York and candidate for President in 1876, “that the paramount object and motive of the Republican party is by these means to secure itself against a reaction of opinion adverse to it in our great populous Northern commonwealths.... When the Republican party resolved to establish negro supremacy in the ten states in order to gain to itself the representation of those states in Congress, it had to begin by governing the people of those states by the sword.... The next was the creation of new electoral bodies for those ten states, in which, by exclusions, by disfranchisements and proscriptions, by control over registration, by applying test oaths … by intimidation and by every form of influence, three million negroes are made to predominate over four and a half million whites.”

The War as a Campaign Issue.—Even the repeal of force bills could not allay the sectional feelings engendered by the war. The Republicans could not forgive the men who had so recently been in arms against the union and insisted on calling them “traitors” and “rebels.” The Southerners, smarting under the reconstruction acts, could regard the Republicans only as political oppressors. The passions of the war had been too strong; the distress too deep to be soon forgotten. The generation that went through it all remembered it all. For twenty years, the Republicans, in their speeches and platforms, made “a straight appeal to the patriotism of the Northern voters.” They maintained that their party, which had saved the union and emancipated the slaves, was alone worthy of protecting the union and uplifting the freedmen.

Though the Democrats, especially in the North, resented this policy and dubbed it with the expressive but inelegant phrase, “waving the bloody shirt,” the Republicans refused to surrender a slogan which made such a ready popular appeal. As late as 1884, a leader expressed the hope that they might “wring one more President from the bloody shirt.” They refused to let the country forget that the Democratic candidate, Grover Cleveland, had escaped military service by hiring a substitute; and they made political capital out of the fact that he had “insulted the veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic” by going fishing on Decoration Day.

Three Republican Presidents.—Fortified by all these elements of strength, the Republicans held the presidency from 1869 to 1885. The three Presidents elected in this period, Grant, Hayes, and Garfield, had certain striking characteristics in common. They were all of origin humble enough to please the most exacting Jacksonian Democrat. They had been generals in the union army. Grant, next to Lincoln, was regarded as the savior of the Constitution. Hayes and Garfield, though lesser lights in the military firmament, had honorable records duly appreciated by veterans of the war, now thoroughly organized into the Grand Army of the Republic. It is true that Grant was not a politician and had never voted the Republican ticket; but this was readily overlooked. Hayes and Garfield on the other hand were loyal party men. The former had served in Congress and for three terms as governor of his state. The latter had long been a member of the House of Representatives and was Senator-elect when he received the nomination for President.

All of them possessed, moreover, another important asset, which was not forgotten by the astute managers who led in selecting candidates. All of them were from Ohio—though Grant had been in Illinois when the summons to military duties came—and Ohio was a strategic state. It lay between the manufacturing East and the agrarian country to the West. Having growing industries and wool to sell it benefited from the protective tariff. Yet being mainly agricultural still, it was not without sympathy for the farmers who showed low tariff or free trade tendencies. Whatever share the East had in shaping laws and framing policies, it was clear that the West was to have the candidates. This division in privileges—not uncommon in political management—was always accompanied by a judicious selection of the candidate for Vice President. With Garfield, for example, was associated a prominent New York politician, Chester A. Arthur, who, as fate decreed, was destined to more than three years’ service as chief magistrate, on the assassination of his superior in office.

The Disputed Election of 1876.—While taking note of the long years of Republican supremacy, it must be recorded that grave doubts exist in the minds of many historians as to whether one of the three Presidents, Hayes, was actually the victor in 1876 or not. His Democratic opponent, Samuel J. Tilden, received a popular plurality of a quarter of a million and had a plausible claim to a majority of the electoral vote. At all events, four states sent in double returns, one set for Tilden and another for Hayes; and a deadlock ensued. Both parties vehemently claimed the election and the passions ran so high that sober men did not shrink from speaking of civil war again. Fortunately, in the end, the counsels of peace prevailed. Congress provided for an electoral commission of fifteen men to review the contested returns. The Democrats, inspired by Tilden’s moderation, accepted the judgment in favor of Hayes even though they were not convinced that he was really entitled to the office.


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