CHAPTER IV. POLITICAL AND INTELLECTUAL BACKGROUND OF THE NEW ISSUES
Powerful as economic forces were from 1865 to 1890, they did not alone determine the direction of American progress during those years. Different individuals and different sections of the country reacted differently to the same economic facts; a formula that explained a phenomenon satisfactorily to one group, carried no conviction to another; political parties built up their platforms on economic self-interest, and yet they sometimes had their ideals; theories that seemed to explain economic development were found to be inadequate and were replaced by others; and practices that had earlier been regarded with indifference began to offend the public sense of good taste or morals or justice, and gave way to more enlightened standards. Some understanding is necessary, therefore, of the more common theories, ideals, creeds and practices, because they supplemented the economic foundations that underlay American progress for a quarter century after the war.
Since the Republican party was almost continuously in power during this period, its composition, spirit and ideals were fundamental in political history. Throughout the North, and especially in the Northeast, the intellectual and prosperous classes, the capitalists and manufacturers, were more likely to be found in the Republican party than among the Democrats. In fact such party leaders as Senator George F. Hoar went so far as to assert that the organization comprised the manufacturers and skilled laborers of the East, the soldiers, the church members, the clergymen, the school-teachers, the reformers and the men who were doing the great work of temperance, education and philanthropy. The history of the party, also, was no small factor in its successes. Many northerners had cast their first ballot in the fifties, with all the zeal of crusaders; they looked back upon the beginnings of Republicanism as they might have remembered the origin of a sacred faith; they thought of their party as the body which had abolished slavery and restored the Union; and they treasured the names of its Lincoln, its Seward, its Sumner and Grant and Sherman. The Republican party, wrote Edward MacPherson in 1888, in a history of the organization, is
both in the purity of its doctrines, the beneficent sweep of its
measures, in its courage, its steadfastness, its fidelity, in its
achievements and in its example, the most resplendent political
organization the world has ever seen.
Senator Hoar declared that no party in history, not even that which inaugurated the Constitution, had ever accomplished so much in so short a time. It had been formed, he said, to prevent the extension of slavery into the territories, but the "providence of God imposed upon it far larger duties." The Republican party gave "honest, wise, safe, liberal, progressive American counsel" and the Democrats "unwise, unsafe, illiberal, obstructive, un-American counsel." He remembered the Republican nominating convention of 1880 as a scene of "indescribable sublimity," comparable in "grandeur and impressiveness to the mighty torrent of Niagara."
During the generation after the war the recollection of the struggle was fresh in men's minds and its influence was a force in party councils. The Democrats were looked upon as having sympathized with the "rebellion" and having been the party of disunion. In campaign after campaign the people were warned not to admit to power the party which had been "traitor" to the Union. Roscoe Conkling, the most influential politician in New York, declared in 1877 that the Democrats wished to regain power in order to use the funds in the United States Treasury to repay Confederate war debts and to provide pensions for southern soldiers. As late even as 1888 the nation was urged to recollect that the Democratic party had been the "mainstay and support of the Rebellion," while the Republicans were the "party that served the Nation."
At a later time it was pointed out that the party had not been founded solely on idealism; that the adherence of Pennsylvania to the party, for example, was due at least in a measure to Republican advocacy of a protective tariff; that Salmon P. Chase and Edwin M. Stanton, two of the leading members of Lincoln's cabinet had been Democrats; and that Lincoln's second election and the successful outcome of the war had been due partly to the support of his political opponents. As time went on, also, some of the leaders of the Republican party declared that its original ideals had become obscured in more practical considerations. They felt that abuses had grown up which had been little noticed because of the necessity of keeping in power that party which they regarded as the only patriotic one. They asserted that many of the managers had become arrogant and corrupt. All this helped to explain the strength of such revolts as that of the Liberal Republican movement of 1872. Nevertheless, during the greater part of the twenty-five years after the war, hosts of Republicans cherished such a picture as that drawn by Senator Hoar and Edward MacPherson, and it was that picture which held them within the party and made patriotism and Republicanism synonymous terms.