Panel discusses political parties' impact in time of slavery

Ideology: Professors talk about reasoning behind civil war era politics

By Sawyer Ricard
On February 16, 2012

Speaking at Fort Concho Commissary in a panel discussion, an ASU professor said that, contrary to popular belief, "Lincoln was happy to let slavery be contained in the area where it already existed."

This panel discussion, "Emancipation, 1862", is just one of many in a series being held in celebration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

The main point both Assistant Professor of History Dr. David Dewar and Assistant Professor of History Dr. Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai spoke about was the impact the political parties had on the United States at this point in time.

The parties faced many issues, but the most debated issue leading up to the election of 1860 was slavery, Dewar said.

The parties were widespread on their views on slavery.

Democrats were in favor of slavery while Republicans only wanted to stop slavery from spreading to the new territory in the west, because that would throw the balance in politics off, he said.

"They wanted the West to be even playing field while the East was not," he said.

Another party, the Abolitionists, wanted to do away with slavery completely, he said.

Every party had an ideology about the issues of the time and in order to gain support of the people they tried to add a "moral component," Dewar said.

In the end, it was these ideologies and arguments that would lead to the beginning of the war, he said.

Wongsrichanalai spoke about the parties and their impact as well.

The issue of slavery had become so controversial it split the Democratic Party right before the election of 1860.

The split allowed the Republican Party to win the election, he said.

Once the election was over and the war had started, parties continued to make an impact on the politics, Wongsrichanalai said.

One of these impacts was the abolitionists and the role they played in creating the Emancipation Proclamation.

The abolitionists saw the war as a chance to end slavery for good, he said

However, they had a difficult time with Lincoln, who was at first not in support of abolition, as President, Wongsrichanalai said.

"Every chance to end slavery was thwarted by the President himself," he said.

However, the party was not giving up.

The abolitionists published books revealing the evils of slavery in order to gain support, he said.

"The Abolitionists made use of new technologies," Wongsrichanalai said. "When canals and railroads came up they traveled far and wide to spread their message."

This message caused the ideal of the party to spread and spawned creations such as the Underground Railroad, which was one of many ways to help slaves.

"It's not known how many people exactly were rescued by the Underground Railroad," he said. "Perhaps several hundred each year headed to the North."

Despite this, eventually abolitionists were able to provide an argument that convinced Lincoln to end slavery in order to damage the Confederacy and ultimately help win the war.

Both speakers, in addition to speaking on the impact of the political parties, spoke of important figures and their actions both before and during the Civil War.

Dewar spoke about people such as Abraham Lincoln and Fredrick Douglas and their views on slavery during the Lincoln Douglas debates.

"Neither of them was an absolute abolitionist," he said.

The professors also mentioned people other than politicians.

Wongsrichanalai spoke about William Garrison, writer of the Liberator which was an anti-slavery newspaper.

Garrison was against the continuation of slavery and wanted the "Northern states to leave" and form a separate country before the Civil War, he said.

Garrison said he believed slavery was a mockery of "American freedom."

"He advocated the separation of the Union before the Civil War," He said. "He wanted the free states to leave and form a pure constitution, in his words, so there would be no slavery."

The final point in the speakers' discussions was the problem with ending slavery in the United States.

"No more than 10 percent of the population" supported the idea of emancipation, Wongsrichanalai said.

Along with a high rate of support, slavery had been around since the beginning of the nation and was a staple part of the economy.

"Like it or not the United States was a slave-holding nation from the start of the Constitution in 1787," he said, "and although the Constitution does not explicitly address the issue, it did acknowledge that slavery existed in many different ways."

At the end of the session both speakers answered questions from the audience.

The next discussion, "Civil War/Total War" is scheduled to be held on March 20. 

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