Proceedings of the Democratic National Convention, Held at Baltimore, June, 1852 (Washington: Buell & Blanchard, Printers, 1852).

The Democratic Party was the party of white popular sovereignty in the North and plantation slavery in the South.  Democrats emphasized states’ rights and opposed a strong federal government and such institutions as a national bank.  They supported free trade, opposed protective tariffs, and considered any federal role in advancing internal improvements as unconstitutional.  They were the party of the Young America movement that championed U. S. expansion as “manifest destiny.”   Northern Democrats defended the interests of southern slavery, and a “solid South” sent the party’s “northern men with southern principles” to the White House four times between 1836 and 1856.  At its 1852 convention, the party reaffirmed its commitment to the South against the continued discussion of slavery.

“ . . . the Democratic Party will resist all attempts at renewing, in Congress or out of it, the agitation of the slavery question, under whatever shape or color the attempt may be made.”

Though committed to maintaining the political equilibrium between North and South — between freedom and slavery — elements of the northern party balked at the expansionist demands of the South.  Antislavery Democrats came to feel their party of the common man was becoming the party of the slave power.  Disaffected northern Democrats were a driving force in the creation of the Republican Party.



Nathaniel Hawthorne, Life of Franklin Pierce (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1852).

An official biography of a candidate was a staple of political campaigns, such as this account of the life of the Democratic Party’s successful presidential candidate in 1852.  Hawthorne tells us that Pierce regarded slavery “as one of those evils which divine Providence does not leave to be remedied by human contrivances, but which, in its own good time, by some means impossible to be anticipated, when all its uses shall have been fulfilled, it causes to vanish like a dream.”  Thus northerners were reassured that Pierce regarded slavery as an “evil” while southerners were equally assured he would do nothing about it.



Scott and Graham Melodies; Being a Collection of Campaign Songs for 1852.  As Sung by the Whig Clubs Throughout the United States (New York: Published by Huestis & Cozans, 1852).

Songsters were another staple of 19th-century political campaigns, published in abundance for free distribution.  This example for Whig presidential candidate Winfield Scott notes the local political club structure that carried out the national campaign in each region.  Most of the songs were the poetic creations of such club members, set to well-known tunes.

Scott, though Virginia born, was considered by many to be “soft” on the slavery question and lost the support of southern Whigs.  His defeat in 1852 led to the collapse of the Whig Party as a national organization, and many of its members helped organize a new political movement that became the Republican Party.  Many historians consider the Republican Party as the reincarnation of the Whig Party.



Horace Greeley, “Why I Am a Whig.  A Reply to an Inquiring Friend,” in The Whig Almanac for 1852 (New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1851).

In this exposition of basic Whig tenets, Greeley argues for a federal role in promoting national development and internal improvements, making the Whigs the party of “big government.”  He urged protective tariffs for fledgling American industries as advantageous to American workers and promoting the orderly development of manufacturing towns surrounded by farming communities, all together sustaining a home market and promoting mutual prosperity.  Though antislavery sentiment was rife among northern Whigs, including Greeley, he made no mention of the divisive issue of slavery extension to the territories that would tear his party apart.

Greeley was the editor and publisher of the New York Tribune, the best-known and most widely read newspaper of the time.  Circulation of its daily, semi-weekly, and weekly editions neared 300,000 through the 1850s, spreading Greeley’s antislavery sentiments and helping forge antislavery public opinion throughout the North.  He was an early supporter of the new Republican Party, and his presses were powerhouses of Republican political pamphleteering.



Know Nothing Platform: Containing an Account of the Encroachments of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy, on the Civil and Religious Liberties of the People in Europe, Asia, Africa and America, Showing the Necessity of the Order of Know Nothings.  With a Valuable and Interesting Appendix (Philadelphia: Published for the Author, [1854?]).

The Know Nothing movement began as secret societies in the 1840s and became a widespread political movement in the 1850s as the American Party.  The nickname came from their reply to queries about their organization—“I know nothing.” They were xenophobes who feared the loss of American values to the domination of immigrants and considered Catholicism as the tool of European despotism and American Catholics as agents of a hostile foreign power.  Their political demands in the 1850s included a twenty-one-year naturalization period for immigrants; restricting political offices to the native-born; and purging Catholic influences from government.

The militant Protestantism of the Know Nothings was shared by many reformist groups, including abolitionists, and its ardent nationalism was attractive to many Whigs who later became Republicans.  Republicans in several states in the mid-1850s forged local alliances with many Know Nothing groups.



The True Holy Alliance.  Lithograph (New York: G. Daelly, ca. 1855).

To the nativists, Catholicism was the agent of European despotism in the struggle against democracy, as captured in this cartoon wherein the Pope and the Austrian Empire join hands over a fallen America.  The Pope pledges: “I swear to employ all the arts of Catholicism in order to crush in this manner the liberties of the New World as I have done those of the old.”



The Liberator. Boston, Friday, October 25, 1850. (Reduced reproduction).

For William Lloyd Garrison and his many abolitionist colleagues, slavery was the great moral issue of the times.  They championed immediate and unconditional emancipation and full citizenship rights for African Americans.  They rejected political action, including voting, in favor of moral agitation.  Many were disunionists, seeking to purge the North from any association with slavery, and denouncing the Constitution as a pro-slavery document binding the North to an association with southern slavery.  The box on the upper right of the masthead captures their feelings and temper—“No Union with Slaveholders!  The U.S. Constitution ‘a Covenant with death and an agreement with Hell.’ ” Tireless agitators, Garrison and his comrades, though small in number, kept up the moral agitation against slavery through rallies, lectures, and an ambitious publication program.

Though reviled and denounced by respectable public opinion for most of his career, he lived to see his moral arguments become commonplace among Republicans during the Civil War.



Free Soil Party, Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men (Philadelphia, 1852).

Political abolitionists of the time included the Free Soil Party, which gathered about 150,000 votes in the 1852 election.  Political abolitionists had been active as an independent movement since 1840 with the formation of the antislavery Liberty Party.  Unlike the Garrisonians, the free soilers believed the Constitution was not a proslavery document — slavery is never mentioned in it.  Slavery could have no national recognition, it was purely a creature of local creation, and the national government should pursue policies to promote liberty and restrict slavery. 

Though sometimes regarded as the successor to the antislavery Liberty Party, many free soilers were antiblack as well as antislavery, opposed to slavery because it meant the presence of black people.  Free soilers emphasized restriction of slavery and passage of homestead legislation giving land in the territories to white settlers.  Both its candidates in the 1852 election, John P. Hale of New Hampshire (top) and

George Julian of Indiana (bottom) were founding members of the Republican Party.



Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York & Auburn: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1855).

In his second autobiography Douglass, the former fugitive slave and best-known African American spokesman, wrote of his break with the apolitical and pacifist Garrisonians and his embrace of political abolition.  He was a supporter of the early Republican movement and during the Civil War helped mobilize northern blacks and freed slaves for the Union cause.  He campaigned extensively to recruit black regiments for the Union Army and agitated the northern public to support emancipation and civil rights for blacks. 



“Map Showing the Extent of Prohibition in the United States,” in

Henry S. Clubb, The Maine Liquor Law: its Origin, History, and Results,

Including a Life of Hon. Neal Dow  (New York: Fowler and Wells, 1856).

Temperance was perhaps the most popular reform movement of the period.  Driven largely by activist women’s energy, local societies spread throughout the nation and in the mid-1850s became politically active in many states.  This book charts the growth of state and local societies, with an account of Maine prohibitionist Henry S. Clubb.  The “Maine Law” outlawed the sale of liquor, but the term became shorthand for any form of control, from outright prohibition to mild restriction.  As the map shows, the movement was widespread throughout what became the Republican heartland, and early Republican state and local organizations could not ignore its influence. 



Proceedings of the Seventh National Woman’s Rights Convention . . .

(New York: Edward O. Jenkins, 1856).

The woman’s rights movement organized at the Seneca Falls Convention in1848 was rooted in the antislavery movement.  Many of its leaders, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton (top), Susan B. Anthony (middle), and Lucy Stone (bottom), were antislavery activists.  The activist women argued the connection between the oppression of black slaves and women, both subjected to laws and customs denying their rights as citizens.  For these first generation woman’s rights activists, abolition of slavery and the liberation of women went hand in hand.  Years of lobbying lawmakers for expanding American freedom made them look upon political developments with a jaundiced eye.

“While the Republican and Democratic Parties deny our political existence,” they declared at this gathering, “they must not expect that we shall respond to their calls for aid.”