Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men

September 2nd, 2011 - by Elise

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the Republican Party? Well, I have. I am dismayed at some of the things the Republican Party is doing, and being affiliated with the Republican Party for my entire life as a registered voter, I decided to do a little research on what it was all originally about.

Step 1 of my research took me to how the party was formed and what the original Party Platform said. The Republican Party officially began in 1856. Prior to that, the grass roots meetings first began in Wisconsin and moved quickly to Michigan. Lincoln was elected as President of the United States on the Republican Party ticket just four years later. I find it amazing that a political party could grow that much in so short a time.

The official platform as set forth at the first Republican Party Convention–in Philadelphia–was primarily an anti-slavery document. The slogan that they advertised was “Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men,” free labor meaning no slave labor, free land meaning no slave plantations, and free men meaning, well, free men. (Wikipedia: Republican Party)

The opening paragraph of the official platform established the main ideals of the new party as being anti-slavery. The Republican Party declared that they were opposed to the Missouri Compromise, opposed to the present administration’s policies (Democratic President Franklin Pierce), opposed to the expansion of slavery, in favor of admitting Kansas to the Union as a free State, and in favor of restoring the Federal Government “to the principles of Washington and Jefferson.” (Republican Platform 1856)

There were a few things that surprised me. First was this: “it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery” (ibid). I’m guessing that their feelings toward polygamy were partially tied to their ideas about Mormons. (Just a guess.)

The next thing that surprised me was that the Republican Party was eager for federal funds to build a railroad clear out to the Pacific Ocean as well as funds to improve the canal and harbor systems throughout the States.

There were very few things in the platform that hinted at the small-government ideals for which the Republican Party is known (or supposedly was once known). I’m anxious to learn just when the Republican Party began espousing those beliefs. So to summarize the original platform:
#1. NO TO SLAVERY
#2. NO TO POLYGAMY
#3. YES TO FEDERAL FUNDS FOR THE RAILROAD
#4. YES TO FEDERAL FUNDS FOR BUILDING CANALS AND SUCH

I can only confidently say that I agree with them on #1.

The next step in my research is the platform of 1872. Maybe in there I’ll find something more substantial that makes me feel like I belong in the Republican Party.

2 Responses to “Free Labor, Free Land, Free Men”

  1. Quincy says:

    Interesting stuff; I can’t say I’m too surprised though. Unfortunately political parties are less about values and ideas and more about organizing voters, but the Republican party has a history of abandoning principles of liberty in favor of popular “moral” positions. I once watched a debate among several republicans seeking the party’s nomination for U.S Senate. The debate moderators asked whether the candidates believed the U.S. should continue to support Israel’s military by providing money, weapons, and training. One candidate said no, favoring non-intervention; the others each had different reasons for saying yes. The surprise came when one of the candidates said that he believed the U.S. should support and defend Israel because as a Christian nation we had to protect God’s chosen people. The crowd fervently applauded. I was baffled.

  2. Quincy says:

    I apologize for the length of this comment, but here is Lincoln’s summary of the Republican party platform with respect to the issue of slavery, from the sixth debate he had with Stephen Douglas:

    We have in this nation this element of domestic slavery. It is a matter of absolute certainty that it is a disturbing element. It is the opinion of all the great men who have expressed an opinion upon it, that it is a dangerous element. We keep up a controversy in regard to it. That controversy necessarily springs from difference of opinion; and if we can learn exactly—can reduce to the lowest elements—what this difference of opinion is, we shall perhaps be better prepared for discussing the different systems of policy that we would propose in regard to that disturbing element. I suggest that the difference of opinion, reduced to its lowest terms, is no other than the difference between the men who think slavery a wrong and those who do not think it wrong.

    The Republican party think it wrong; we think it is a moral, a social, and a political wrong. We think it is a wrong not confining itself merely to the persons or the States where it exists, but that it is a wrong in its tendency, to say the least, that extends itself to the existence of the whole nation. Because we think it wrong, we propose a course of policy that shall deal with it as a wrong. We deal with it as with any other wrong, in so far as we can prevent its growing any larger, and so deal with it that in the run of time there may be some promise of an end to it. We have a due regard to the actual presence of it amongst us, and the difficulties of getting rid of it in any satisfactory way, and all the constitutional obligations thrown about it. I suppose that in reference both to its actual existence in the nation, and to our constitutional obligations, we have no right at all to disturb it in the States where it exists, and we profess that we have no more inclination to disturb it than we have the right to do it

    We go further than that; we don’t propose to disturb it where, in one instance, we think the Constitution would permit us. We think the Constitution would permit us to disturb it in the District of Columbia. Still, we do not propose to do that, unless it should be in terms which I don’t suppose the nation is very likely soon to agree to,—the terms of making the emancipation gradual, and compensating the unwilling owners. Where we suppose we have the constitutional right, we restrain ourselves in reference to the actual existence of the institution and the difficulties thrown about it. We also oppose it as an evil, so far as it seeks to spread itself. We insist on the policy that shall restrict it to its present limits. We don’t suppose that in doing this we violate anything due to the actual presence of the institution, or anything due to the constitutional guarantees thrown around it

    We oppose the Dred Scott decision in a certain way, upon which I ought perhaps to address you a few words. We do not propose that when Dred Scott has been decided to be a slave by the court, we, as a mob, will decide him to be free. We do not propose that, when any other one, or one thousand, shall be decided by that court to be slaves, we will in any violent way disturb the rights of property thus settled; but we nevertheless do oppose that decision as a political rule which shall be binding on the voter to vote for nobody who thinks it wrong, which shall be binding on the members of Congress or the President to favor no measure that does, not actually concur with the principles of that decision. We do not propose to be bound by it as a political rule in that way, because we think it lays the foundation, not merely of enlarging and spreading out what we consider an evil, but it lays the foundation for spreading that evil into the States themselves. We propose so resisting it as to have it reversed if we can, and a new judicial rule established upon this subject. I will add this, that if there be any man who does not believe that slavery is wrong in the three aspects which I have mentioned, or in any one of them, that man is misplaced, and ought to leave us. While, on the other hand, if there be any man in the Republican party who is impatient over the necessity springing from its actual presence, and is impatient of the constitutional guarantees thrown around it, and would act in disregard of these, he too is misplaced, standing with us. He will find his place somewhere else; for we have a due regard, so far as we are capable of understanding them, for all these things. This, gentlemen, as well as I can give it, is a plain statement of our principles in their enormity.

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