The young Republican party of 1860 was a polyglot of radical Jacobins and abolitionists, ex-Whigs, Free Soilers, Know Nothings, anti-slavery Democrats, protective tariff demanding Eastern manufacturers, free-trade Western farmers, hardened machine politicians of the North, as well as myriad visionary reformers. A war against the South was seen as the only way to save the party from post-election disintegration.
Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865
The War to Save the Republican Party
“Just as politics had helped determine the outcome of the [sectional] compromise struggle it also played its part, openly or covertly, in shaping the final decision to fight for the Union. Sooner or later the Republicans were obliged to recognize that violence was the logical consequence of their rejection of [compromise with the South]. Some faced that fact realistically from the beginning; others tried to dodge it for a time with a course of “masterful inactivity,” or to disguise it with soothing words like “defense” or the “enforcement of the laws.”
But one thing the Republicans knew for certain: The acceptance of peaceful secession would demolish their party as surely as would the betrayal of its platform.
They realized, as one Democrat predicted, that Southern independence would cause the North to “look upon . . . [Republicans] as the destroyers of the Union of our fathers.” That would arouse “an agitation . . . that would know no rest, day or night, until Black Republicanism . . . should be effectually destroyed.” Accordingly, Republicans fully understood that the Union must be saved to make their future secure.
Some of Lincoln’s followers evidently believed that a war for the Union promised other political benefits. It appeared to many, in fact, as the only program that could hold their organization together. For what other purpose could the diverse elements of Republicanism cooperate?
[Salmon P.] Chase wrote apprehensively that the most dangerous disunion threat he perceived was “the disunion of the Republican party.” No sooner was the election over than many Democrats waited expectantly for the disintegration of their rivals. [A Stephen Douglas supporter noted that] “It is morally impossible for any man . . . to distribute his patronage and shape the policy of his administration as to gratify and keep together such a heterogenous combination of discordant materials as that of which the “Republican” party is composed.”
Here was a solution to the Republican problem: A stand for the Union would certainly bind all the factions together. More, it would provide an appeal which, properly stated, few in the opposition would be able to resist. With that in mind, one Republican urged his political friends to “drop the slavery question . . . & appeal to the national feeling of the North” so that Democrats would be “swayed to our side.” Republicanism and loyalty were soon to become synonymous.
It is impossible to determine precisely how prominent the political motive was in the calculations of Republican leaders. Simply to prove that the Civil War saved their party from disintegration, as it may well have done, would not be to prove that Republicans deliberately started the war for that purpose. Yet the evidence is conclusive that politics was at least one factor, and often a surprisingly conscious one, which directed some of Lincoln’s friends toward war.”
(And the War Came, the North and the Secession Crisis of 1861, Kenneth M. Stampp, pp. 205-208)