The 1860 Republican Platform Analyzed

The 1860 Republican party platform was artfully composed, not with a purpose to ameliorate the condition of Negro slaves, but to advance the financial interests of a coalition of individuals who wanted to get wealth by means of government rather than in the free market. These men wanted higher tariffs that would burden the trade of others and provide funds for internal improvements that would benefit their own industry.

A careful reading of the platform reveals nothing that would benefit existing slaves. In fact, the perverse effects of the higher taxes and spending contemplated in the platform would and did substantially worsen the condition of southern Negroes, first as slaves and later as freemen. Just a brief look at the relationship of cotton prices to tariff rates should make this abundantly clear. Moreover, the limitation on westward expansion would deprive the slaves along with their masters of the benefit of moving to fertile new western lands.

Several planks in the platform document relate to slavery. They are planks 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, and 10. The second plank insists on the preservation of the Constitution. That Constitution, of course, accommodated slavery and provided for the return of fugitive slaves (Art. II, Sec. 2). That plank also also insisted on the preservation of states rights.

Planks 5, 7, 8, 10 and 11 deal with the westward expansion of slavery. New slave states would give southern agriculture new senators that would vote against the tariff and continue to deprive northern manufacturers of the tariff protection monopoly they so ardently desired. Westward extension of slavery was the particular thing the Republicans feared most. Because of the narrow balance in the Senate, this was the key to power. They were willing to go to war rather than allow it to remain in southern hands.

Planks 12, 13, 15 and 16 were the real Republican "meat and potatoes" planks, the big money issues that would provide wealth to northerners, but impoverish southerners with their side effects. Hidden in the seemingly innocuous language of plank 12, the tariff plank, was the trade restriction mechanism that would devastate southern cotton and tobacco revenues. Plank 13 demanded that the government's land in the West be given away free to settlers. Those would provide markets for northern-manufactured goods and enhance northern voting power. The money to finance the government that would have come from the sale of the lands would now have to be obtained by raising the tariff rate, a double benefit for northern manufacturers.

Plank 15 would take the financial burden of river and harbor improvements from the shoulders of the citizens of many locations in the North, but the costs would be borne in multiple by losses in southern agricultural revenues. Plank 16 favored a Pacific Railroad financed by the federal money and government land given away free to railroad projects.

The Republican platform was a coherent and logical scheme designed to seize from the hands of southerners by democratic means the political control of the nation's taxing and spending apparatus. They used slavery as a propaganda tool, not with a view to benefiting the actual slaves, but as a tool to limit southern political power. Careful attention to the planks of the platform will make that clear.

The elements of the 1860 Republican platform are quoted below, in indented text. Following each Republican "principle" is an explanation of the real intent and purpose of the item.

The Republican Declarations

"Resolved, That we, the delegated representatives of the Republican electors of the United States, in convention assembled, in discharge of the duty we owe to our constituent and our country, unite in the following declarations:

The Causes Demand A Republican Triumph

1. That the history of the nation during the last four years has fully established the propriety and necessity of the organization and perpetuation of the republican party, and that the causes which called it into existence are permanent in their nature, and now more than ever before demand its peaceful and constitutional triumph.

The "causes which called it into existence" were the financial interests in tariff protection and expenditures for internal improvements and the desire to sway the political balance of power so the North could get, by means of government, these financial benefits that the free market would not provide.

Preserve the Constitution and the Union

2. That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Federal Constitution, "That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed," is essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions; and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the states, and the Union of the states, must and shall be preserved.

It is high-sounding language, but the plain fact is that the Constitution the Republicans said they wished to preserve itself expressly accommodated slavery. It was written by slave owners. It provided for the return of runaway slaves to their masters.

The Republican interest in preserving the Union was not to free the slaves but to enhance the flow of tariff revenue that was overwhelmingly dependent on southern agricultural exports. They hoped to gain the power of the majority to increase taxing and spending regardless of the lack of consent by a governed minority that would bear most of its burdens.

Republicans Abhor Disunion

3. That to the Union of the States this nation owes its unprecedented increase in population; its surprising development of material resources; its rapid augmentation of wealth; its happiness at home and its honor abroad; and we hold in abhorrence all schemes for disunion, come from whatever source they may; and we congratulate the country that no republican member of congress has uttered or countenanced the threats of disunion so often made by democratic members, without rebuke and with applause from their political associates; and we denounce those threats of disunion, in case of a popular overthrow of their ascendancy, as denying the vital principles of a free government, and as an avowal of contemplated treason, which it is the imperative duty of an indignant people sternly to rebuke and forever silence.

The denunciation of disunion threats takes no notice of the underlying economic desperation that caused the South to threaten disunion. The "rapid augmentation of wealth" must be viewed in light of the tariff effects on northern industry on the one hand and on southern agriculture on the other. From the first dollar of tariff revenue, northern manufacturing was enhanced and southern agriculture diminished. One would expect that, after seventy years of tariff revenue, there would be a large economic disparity between North and South.

The great growth and "augmentation of wealth" of the United States was due in large measure of the freedom of trade between the states. The U.S. Constitution prohibited the states from taxing imports and exports. This allowed a large free market which made the nation, now free of interstate tax burdens, rich and prosperous. The Republicans now sought to deny to the South the freedom to trade its cotton and tobacco with the large markets abroad.

Preserve States' Rights, Including Slavery

4. That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state, to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends, and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any state or territory, no matter under what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

Here, the Republicans expressly approved of the states' rights to the continued existence of slavery. This flies directly in the face of the popular perception that the Republicans wanted to end slavery. Even in 1860, most observant and intelligent men knew that gradual emancipation was the only practical means for ending slavery. It was the only financially feasible way to dissipate the enormous wealth invested in slaves. The Republican platform failed to propose any scheme of gradual emancipation.

There was, however, a shrewd political benefit to the Republicans in maintaining slavery in the southern states. By keeping southern Negroes in slavery, they would count only only as three-fifths of their number as provided in Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, not the five-fifths as free men, for purposes of representation in the U.S. Congress. Keeping slavery would keep down southern political power in the House of Representatives and Electoral College (but not the Senate). The South would remain politically weaker than it would otherwise be if the slaves were free.

Keep Slavery Out of Kansas

5. That the present Democratic Administration has far exceeded our worst apprehension in its measureless subserviency to the exactions of a sectional interest, as is especially evident in its desperate exertions to force the infamous Lecompton constitution upon the protesting people of Kansas - in construing the personal relation between master and servant to involve an unqualified property in persons - in its attempted enforcement everywhere, on land and sea, through the intervention of congress and of the federal courts, of the extreme pretensions of a purely local interest, and in its general and unvarying abuse of the power entrusted to it by a confiding people.

Kansas represented the balance of national legislative power to control tariffs and spending. Opposition to the expansion of southern slave agriculture was a political tactic to shift the balance of national power. Tariff and internal improvement men abhorred the westward expansion of tariff-obstructing southern agriculture and invested heavily in the effort to stop it.

Desperate northern opposition to slavery in Kansas can be properly understood by recognizing that the tariff had been substantially reduced in 1846 by a one-vote margin in the U.S. Senate. Both senators from the newly admitted slave state of Texas voted for the reduction.

Democrats' Reckless Extravagance

6. That the people justly view with alarm the reckless extravagance which pervades every department of the Federal Government; that a return to rigid economy and accountability is indispensable to arrest the systematic plunder of the public treasury by favored partisans; while the recent startling developments of frauds and corruptions at the federal metropolis, show that an entire change of Administration is imperatively demanded.

This is standard political rhetoric of the party out of power, pointing to the corruption of the party in power. How ironic! Spending in the Lincoln Administration and ever thereafter was vastly increased.

Westward Expansion of Slavery is Heresy

7. That the new dogma that the Constitution of its own force carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy, at variance with the explicit provisions of that instrument itself, with contemporaneous exposition, and with legislative and judicial precedent, is revolutionary in its tendency and subversive of the peace and harmony of the country.

This is nothing more than an attempt to keep southern agriculture out in and effort to limit southern political power. Southerners insisted on the right to take their slaves into Kansas territory in order to keep the balance of national power for protection against tariff and spending legislation.

Slavery in the Territories is Unconstitutional

8. That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no "person should be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law," it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.

This is political rhetoric, using language of the Constitution, aimed to support the argument that slavery should not be permitted in Kansas. The language of liberty, nevertheless, was taken from the Constitution that was formed by slave owners and accommodated slavery. Desperation to sway the balance of national power is the motivation for this rhetoric.

Republicans Oppose Re-Opening African Slave Trade

9. That we brand the recent re-opening of the African Slave Trade, under the cover of our national flag, aided by perversions of judicial power, as a crime against humanity, and a burning shame to our country and age, and we call upon congress to take prompt and efficient measures for the total and final suppression of that execrable traffic.

The Democratic Party was also opposed to re-opening the African slave trade. Its candidate, Stephen A. Douglas had declared, "I am irreconcilably opposed to the revival of the African slave trade in any form and under any circumstances." No Democratic administration had taken any action or even remained quietly consenting to any such reopening of the slave trade. This was rhetoric designed to inflame the emotions in the North.

The Confederate States Constitution also prohibited the slave trade.

In any event, each new slave brought to the South increased southern political representation by three-fifths of a person. This enhancement of southern political power must be considered as a possible motive for the explicit objection to a renewal of the African slave trade.

Democrats Are Trying to Preserve Slavery in Kansas

10. That in the recent vetoes by the federal governors of the acts of the Legislatures of Kansas and Nebraska, prohibiting slavery in those territories, we find a practical illustration of the boasted democratic principle of non-intervention and popular sovereignty, embodied in the Kansas-Nebraska bill, and a demonstration of the deception and fraud involved therein.

Democratically appointed governors were trying desperately to maintain the hold on the balance of power for defense against the tariff and spending by a northern controlled Congress. The territorial population had been artificially enhanced by large expenditures by the northern tariff interests.

Admit Kansas to the Union Now

11. That Kansas should of right be immediately admitted as a state, under the constitution recently formed and adopted by her people, and accepted by the House of Representatives.

The admission of free-state Kansas would shift the balance of power to the North on tariff and spending issues.

"Encourage" Industry with Tariffs

12. That while providing revenue for the support of the general government by duties upon imports, sound policy requires such an adjustment of these imposts as to encourage the development of the industrial interests of the whole country, and we commend that policy of national exchanges which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerating prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.

This is the foundation of the North-South differences. "Encouragement" of domestic industry can only be made through the imposition of taxes or other restrictions of trade. Each dollar of revenue obtained by the general government cost the South several dollars of agricultural revenues. High tariffs could, and eventually did, plunge the South into poverty.

Free Lands for Settlers in the West

13. That we protest against any sale or alienation to others of the public lands held by actual settlers, and against any view of the free homestead policy which regards the settlers as paupers or suppliants for public bounty, and we demand the passage by congress of the complete and satisfactory homestead measure which has already passed the house.

Giving away free the public land to private owners would deprive the federal government of revenue that it might otherwise obtain from the sale of that land, revenue that would otherwise have to be obtained by raising the tariff. Limited-size homesteads would preclude the western expansion of large-scale plantation southern slave-gang agriculture and shift the balance toward free, white, family subsistence farms.

Preserve Citizenship Rights for Immigrants

14. That the Republican Party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws, or any state legislation by which the rights of citizenship hitherto accorded by emigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.

This is the repudiation of "demonization" propaganda used against foreigners, Catholics, Irish, and whiskey drinkers. Many members employed these tactics in the days when they were Whigs or American Party members. Those were efforts to gain advantage in local political contests when most of the Irish voted Democratic. Now, the Republicans needed support of many foreigners such as the Germans of Cincinnati and Milwaukee. This plank assured them that the old enmity was forgotten and now friendship was offered. Silencing the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic and anti-liquor zealots was an important part of the strategy, for it avoided alienating important segments of the Republican coalition.

Appropriations for River and Harbor Improvements

15. That appropriation by Congress for river and Harbor improvements of a National character, required for the accommodation and security of an existing commerce, are authorized by the constitution and justified by the obligation of Government to protect the lives and property of its citizens.

Money for river and harbor improvements must necessarily be raised by an increase in the tariff rate. Each dollar of additional revenue by the tariff cost southern agriculture a loss of several dollars in agricultural revenues. This provision was designed to attract western farmers by the availability of cheaper transportation to get their produce to western markets. It would enable manufacturers to more cheaply obtain their raw materials and distribute their products. This was Abraham Lincoln's most important concern.

The Constitution provides for the "common Defense and general Welfare." It contains no provision providing for the construction of safer harbors and rivers. The chief architect of the Constitution, James Madison, was certain that the Constitution would have to be amended if the federal government was to provide for internal improvements. No such amendment was made. The expansion of powers was given by Congressional usurpation and creeping judicial interpretation.

Government Aid for a Railroad to the Pacific

16. That a railroad to the Pacific ocean is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country; that the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction; and that, as preliminary thereto, a daily overland mail should be promptly established.

Money for a railroad must come by an increase in the tariff rate. Each dollar of additional revenue cost southern agriculture a loss of several dollars. Speculators, in particular, were attracted by the opportunity to profit by the cheap federal land to be given away.

Others, Join Our Coalition!

17. Finally, having thus set forth our distinctive principles and views, we invite the co-operation of all citizens, however differing on other questions who substantially agree with us in their affirmance and support.

Even those citizens who were not against southern Negro slavery were welcome if they approved of the tariff and spending, the money issues.

Tears of Sympathy for the Expelled Anti-slavery Agitators

Supplementary Resolution. Resolved, That we deeply sympathize with those men who have been driven, some from their native States and others from the States of their adoption, and are now exiled from their homes on account of their opinions; and we hold the Democratic Party responsible for this gross violation of that clause of the Constitution which declares that the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States."

Northern agitators sent South by the tariff men to propagandize on slavery issue were not welcome, of course. The experience in Haiti (St. Domingue), where one-third of the population was killed, illustrate the deadly possibility of insurrection. The expression of "deep sympathy" was disingenuous but politically useful.

The elements of the Republican platform are wholly inconsistent with any reasonable plan for the amelioration of the condition of the southern slaves. No provision of the platform would free even a single slave.

The platform is completely consistent with a shrewd scheme to gain the balance of national legislative power to control the tariff and spending.

The protective tariff and spending for internal improvements contemplated by the platform would substantially diminish cotton and tobacco revenues, bankrupting planters, making them less able to provide food, clothing and shelter for the slaves. The cold justice of sheriff's auction sales of bankrupt plantations would sometimes necessarily break up slave families. These unavoidable ultimate consequences of the platform provisions were almost certainly completely absent from the minds of those who so eagerly sought the benefits of the tariff.

The Republican political platform of 1860 was, in its entirety, an evil package of seemingly plausible statements concealing an underlying purpose to seize control of the government to use it to lay heavy tax burdens on southern agriculture that would plunge it into desperate poverty, terribly oppressing the very persons it purported to help. Without an appreciation of the economic consequences, the evil creeps unseen.