Unionist Party (United States)

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This article is about the 1850s and 1860s political party. For the 1864 presidential political party, see National Union Party (United States). For the 1936 political party, see Union Party (United States).
Unionist Party
Leaders John S. Carlile
Francis Preston Blair Jr.
Claiborne Fox Jackson
Thomas Swann
John P. Kennedy
Founded 1861 (1861)
Dissolved 1866 (1866)
Ideology American Unionism
Pro-Compromise (pre-1861)
Abolitionism (post-1861)

A Unionist, later Unconditional Unionist, was a political label, started after Compromise of 1850, to define politicians who supported the Compromise. Members included Southern Democrats who were loyal to the Union, as well as elements of the old Whig Party and other factions opposed to a separate Southern Confederacy.

It was used primarily by Southerners who did not want to affiliate with the Republicans, or wished to win over anti-secession Democrats.

History[edit]

Origins[edit]

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.

During Civil War[edit]

Following the splintered presidential election of 1860, it became apparent that much of the South would not abide by the election of Abraham Lincoln. In Missouri, Francis P. Blair, Jr. began consolidating that state's adherents of Lincoln, John Bell, and Stephen A. Douglas into a new political party, the Unconditional Union Party, which would lay aside antebellum partisan interests in favor of a single cause, the preservation of the Union. Blair and his supporters' primary goal was "to resist the intrigues of the Secessionists, by political action preferably, by force if need were."[1]

Another faction in Missouri also supported restoration of the Union, but with conditions and reservations, including granting the extension of slavery westward. Others believed that once the Southern states should be allowed to leave the Union peaceably, as they would soon realize their mistake and petition for restoration to the Union. Blair worked to form an alliance with these so-called "Conditional Unionists" to bolster his numbers.[1]

The first formal convention of the Missouri Unconditional Union Party was held February 28, 1861, in St. Louis. No avowed secessionists were invited; only those political leaders who had openly supported Bell, Lincoln, or Douglas were allowed to participate. The delegates passed a series of resolutions including formally declaring "at present there is no adequate cause to impel Missouri to dissolve her connection with the Federal Union," a move that swiftly was repudiated by the pro-secession faction as having no constitutional validity. As a compromise to the Conditional Unionists, the convention also entreated "the Federal government as the seceding States to withhold and stay the arm of military power, and on no pretense whatever bring upon the nation the horrors of civil war."[1]

Missouri's secessionists failed to garner enough statewide support to dissolve the Union, so they, under the leadership of Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, broke away and formed a separatist government and eventually took up arms against the Union Army. Pro-Union politicians consolidated their control over Missouri politics as the war progressed and Jackson and his pro-Confederacy Missouri State Guard were forced out of the state. Unconditional Unionist Benjamin Franklin Loan was elected to the 38th United States Congress.

Diffusion and decline[edit]

A similar movement was underway in Maryland, where its leaders also advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the state without compensation to the slave owners. With the help of the Federal government and its troops, Maryland's secessionist voices were stilled. The party was not formalized until the summer of 1863 when adherents worked to elect pro-Union candidates at the state and local level, particularly in Western Maryland. Because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in those states in rebellion, and did not include border states such as Maryland, the party shifted its emphasis to the question of freeing slaves locally. The Conservative Union State Central Committee, led by Thomas Swann and John P. Kennedy, met in Baltimore on December 16, 1863. It passed a resolution supporting immediate emancipation "in the manner easiest for master and slave." Supporters included the local military commander, Robert C. Schenck. When the Federal government failed to respond, the Unconditional Union policy held a second similar meeting on April 6, 1864, and again overwhelmingly supported immediate emancipation. General Schenk's replacement, Lew Wallace, supported the resolution.[2]

Following the war, the radical wing of the Unconditional Union Party remained active in pushing its agenda of not allowing former slaves or former Confederates to vote. In their convention in Baltimore in 1866, the radicals pledged to the maintenance of the state constitution of 1864, "which expressly and emphatically prohibits both rebel suffrage and negro suffrage." Henry Winter Davis, a leading voice within the party's radicals, was elected to the 38th United States Congress as a candidate of the UCP.[3]

Lists of Unionists[edit]

The lists below are of U.S. Senators and Representatives elected as "Unionist" during the Civil War.

Union Party Senators:[4]

Union Party Representatives:[5]

Electoral history[edit]

Presidential elections[edit]

Election year Result Nominees
President Vice President
1864 Won Abraham Lincoln Andrew Johnson

Congress elections[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Harding, pp. 308-10.
  2. ^ Willoughby, pp. 360-63.
  3. ^ Small, p. 12.
  4. ^ United States. Congress. Biographical Directory of the United States 1774 - Present. Office of the Historian. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 23, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2010.  (accessed January 15, 2013).
  5. ^ United States. Congress. Biographical Directory of the United States 1774 - Present. Office of the Historian. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on April 23, 2010. Retrieved April 15, 2010.  (accessed January 14, 2013).

Notes[edit]

  • Silbey, Joel H., A Respectable Minority: The Democratic Party in the Civil War Era, 1860–1868. New York: W.W. Norton, (1977)
  • Harding, Samuel B., Life of George R. Smith, Founder of Sedalia, Mo. Sedalia, Missouri: Privately printed, 1904.
  • Small, Albion W., "The Beginnings of American Nationality." Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Eighth Series. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1890.
  • Willoughby, William F., "State Activities in Relation to Labor in the United States," Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Vol. XIX. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1901.