Modern Day Whigs and the rise of the Party of Lincoln and Reagan.
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General Taylor, popular as he was with many Whigs, was a slave owner. This was a bridge too far for some Whigs after the Texas controversy and the trickle of dissent that would become a Whig political tsunami a few years later had begun flowing in earnest. A number of incensed anti-slavery Whigs defected to a third party in 1848— the anti-slave Free Soil Party with anti-slavery Democrat, ex-President Martin Van Buren, at its head. Still, Taylor had enough Whig support to carry him over the finish line, becoming the second Whig president.
The victory was short-lived. Taylor died suddenly in 1850, leaving the White House to his Whig Vice President Millard Fillmore. Fillmore — and he would be the last Whig in the White House — signed onto the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise, its initial architect the legendary Whig Senator Henry Clay (who, dying, passed the baton of leadership to Illinois Democrat Stephen A. Douglas) exacerbated the split over slavery among Whigs. The Compromise admitted California to the Union as a “free state” — but used a clever Douglas mechanism known in the day as “popular sovereignty” to get around the slavery issue in other new states. The Compromise also enabled passage of the notorious Fugitive Slave Law, forcing states to assist in capturing and returning runaway slaves.
The Whig divide over slavery was now widening. In 1852, furious that a Whig president had signed on to the Compromise, anti-slavery Whigs defeated Fillmore for re-nomination. The “solution” to the Whig divide was thought to be General Winfield Scott, like Taylor a hero of the Mexican War. Hero or no, the Scott nomination in fact did nothing to repair the rapidly growing breach among Whigs over slavery, and Scott and his remaining Whigs got clobbered in the 1852 election by Franklin Pierce and his pro-slavery Democrats.
Two years later in 1854, the pressure on the Whigs ratcheted up as the demands rose to admit Kansas and Nebraska to the Union. The pro-slavery Douglas cleverly decided to get rid of the prohibition on slavery in these areas written into the Missouri Compromise of 1820. So Douglas played his ploy of “popular sovereignty” once again — trying to turn the issue on the right of Kansans and Nebraskans to decide for themselves whether they wanted to allow slavery in their prospective new states.
Once more — for the last time — the Whigs divided. The Kansas-Nebraska Act became law.
What does this have to do with Karl Rove? Stay with me.
In fact, there were two very precise descriptions of this division between Whigs.
• “Conscience Whigs” — The popular label applied to those Whigs who opposed slavery on constitutional and moral grounds, seeing slavery as a life or death issue for America itself. In terms of the issues of the day, Conscience Whigs specifically opposed the extension of slavery into territories that were applying for statehood. Over time this took in would-be states like Texas, California, Utah, New Mexico, Kansas and Nebraska.
• “Cotton Whigs” — The popular label applied to those Whigs who were not necessarily slavery supporters but were willing to make accommodations with both slavery itself as well as the idea of extending slavery into the territories and new states. The “cotton” in “Cotton Whigs” was symbolic of the fact that slaves were used to pick cotton — and that some Northern Whigs in the cotton textile manufacturing business made money off the backs of slaves in the South.
A leading “Conscience Whig” — Charles Francis Adams, the son and grandson of two presidents — scorned the Cotton Whigs as “thinking more of sheep and cotton than of man….truckling in expediency in everything, for the sake of slaveholding gold.” Briskly remarked a young Charles Sumner, another Conscience Whig (whose defiant anti-Cotton Whig leadership would eventually make him a Republican U.S. Senator from Massachusetts) of the differences with Cotton Whigs: “Let the lines be drawn. The sooner the better.” Said Sumner: “Thank God! The Constitution of the United States does not recognize men as property,” adding at another point “I am willing to be in a minority in support of our principles.”
Among those appalled at the idea of Whigs siding with the extension of slavery, not to mention slavery itself, was a former Whig Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln’s view, the Whig-led Compromise of 1850 was an outright defeat for those who, like himself, opposed slavery. The passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was the last straw.
In short order, with Conscience Whigs and Free Soilers and others streaming into a brand new anti-slavery party called the Republicans, Cotton Whigs chose at last to formally join up with pro-slavery Democrats, revealing their true ideological beliefs. At that point the Whig Party simply imploded. It collapsed and died.
To use the now familiar phrase, the Whigs went the way of the Whigs.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?