Unionist Party (United States)
Unionist was a political label adopted at various times in the United States by opponents of secession. It was used primarily by Southerners who did not want to affiliate with the Republicans, or wished to win over anti-secession Democrats.
The label first appeared 1850, during the dispute over the Compromise of 1850. Southerners who supported the Compromise (mainly Whigs) adopted the Unionist label to win over pro-Compromise Democrats and defeat anti-Compromise Democrats. The name change emphasized the Compromise issue, and implied that ordinary Whig political issues, such as the tariff, had been set aside.
By 1860, the Whig Party was defunct. A group of former Whigs formed the Constitutional Union Party, with John Bell as candidate for President. Also, as in 1850, ex-Whigs and anti-secession Democrats combined as "Unionists" to oppose secessionists in state elections, especially in Kentucky, Maryland. Missouri, and Virginia, where the Republican Party label was still toxic.
Bell's candidacy was ineffective, but the state strategy proved successful as the American Civil War began in 1861.
In Missouri, after Federal troops expelled pro-secession Governor Claiborne Jackson, the state legislature chose a new "Unionist" governor. "Unionist" candidates won state elections in Kentucky and Maryland. In Virginia, state legislators from western Virginia declared secession void, and chose a "Unionist" government; they subsequently elected "Unionist" U.S. Senators as well. When the state of West Virginia was created in 1863, its officeholders were elected as "Unionists".
Even in the North, Republicans and War Democrats used the Unionist label extensively, especially after 1862.
For the Presidential election of 1864, the "Unionist" label was adopted by the Republican Party. The Republicans were joined by many "War Democrats", including Andrew Johnson of Tennessee, who was the candidate for Vice President.
With the end of the war in 1865, the Unionist designation became obsolete. Some War Democrats became Republicans; others returned to the Democratic Party.
The lists below are of U.S. Senators and Representatives elected as "Unionist" during the Civil War.
Union Party Senators:
Union Party Representatives:
- United States. Congress. Biographical Directory of the United States 1774 - Present. Office of the Historian. http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp (accessed January 15, 2013).
- United States. Congress. Biographical Directory of the United States 1774 - Present. Office of the Historian. http://bioguide.congress.gov/biosearch/biosearch.asp (accessed January 14, 2013).
- Silbey, Joel H., A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War Era, 1860–1868. New York: W.W. Norton, (1977)