Introduction

Political parties pass platforms at their quadrennial conventions as they prepare to nominate presidential candidates. Such platforms, as old as such conventions in the United States, convey a party’s principles and policies, in the hopes that voters will know what each party stands for and rally to its pledged approach. Party platforms also must take into account political realities, so to a certain extent they gauge public opinion – or the direction in which public opinion is tending or can be led by party leadership. The presidential election of 1868 was the first held after the war, and each party laid out its principles and policies especially concerning Reconstruction. The Republican Party nominated General U.S. Grant (1822–1885) at its party convention in Chicago, and it generally set out to defend the Radical approach to Reconstruction contained in the Reconstruction Acts and to condemn the approach President Andrew Johnson had taken. The Democratic Party nominated former New York Governor Horatio Seymour (1810–1886) in New York City six weeks later. The Democrats appealed to what they called the “conservative” element in the country – those who would keep the Constitution as it was. Grant won a sweeping electoral victory in 1868, winning 214 electoral votes to Seymour’s 80 and winning over 300,000 votes more than Seymour.


Source: Republican Party Platform of 1868, May 20, 1868. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, https://goo.gl/ncuoou; 1868 Democratic Party Platform, July 4, 1868. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project, https://goo.gl/eHM8id.


Republican Platform of 1868

The National Union Republican Party of the United States, assembled in National Convention, in the city of Chicago, on the 20th day of May, 1868, make the following declaration of principles:

First – We congratulate the country on the assured success of the reconstruction policy of Congress, as evinced by the adoption, in the majority of the States lately in rebellion, of constitutions securing equal civil and political rights to all, and regard it as the duty of the Government to sustain those constitutions, and to prevent the people of such States from being remitted to a state of anarchy or military rule.

Second – The guaranty by Congress of equal suffrage to all loyal men at the South was demanded by every consideration of public safety, of gratitude, and of justice, and must be maintained; while the question of suffrage in all the loyal States properly belongs to the people of those States.

. . .

Eighth – We profoundly deplore the untimely and tragic death of Abraham Lincoln, and regret the accession of Andrew Johnson to the Presidency, who has acted treacherously to the people who elected him and the cause he was pledged to support; has usurped high legislative and judicial functions; has refused to execute the laws; has used his high office to induce other officers to ignore and violate the laws; has employed his executive powers to render insecure the property, the peace, the liberty, and life of the citizen; has abused the pardoning power; has denounced the National Legislature as unconstitutional; has persistently and corruptly resisted, by every means in his power, every proper attempt at the reconstruction of the States lately in rebellion; has perverted the public patronage into an engine of wholesale corruption; and has been justly impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and properly pronounced guilty thereof by the vote of thirty-five senators.1

. . .

Thirteenth – We highly commend the spirit of magnanimity and forgiveness with which men who have served in the rebellion, but now frankly and honestly co-operate with us in restoring the peace of the country, and reconstructing the Southern State Governments upon the basis of impartial justice and equal rights, are received back into the communion of the loyal people; and we favor the removal of the disqualifications and restrictions imposed upon the late rebels, in the same measure as the spirit of disloyalty will die out, and as may be consistent with the safety of the loyal people.

Fourteenth – We recognize the great principles laid down in the immortal Declaration of Independence as the true foundation of Democratic Government; and we hail with gladness every effort toward making these principles a living reality on every inch of American soil.

Democratic Platform of 1868

The Democratic party in National Convention assembled, reposing its trust in the intelligence, patriotism, and discriminating justice of the people; standing upon the Constitution as the foundation and limitation of the powers of the government, and the guarantee of the liberties of the citizen; and recognizing the questions of slavery and secession as having been settled for all time to come by the war, or the voluntary action of the Southern States in Constitutional Conventions assembled, and never to be renewed or reagitated; does, with the return of peace, demand,

First. Immediate restoration of all the States to their rights in the Union, under the Constitution, and of civil government to the American people.2

Second. Amnesty for all past political offenses, and the regulation of the elective franchise in the States, by their citizens.

. . .

Sixth. Economy in the administration of the government, the reduction of the standing army and navy; the abolition of the Freedmen’s Bureau; and all political instrumentalities designed to secure negro supremacy; . . . the repeal of all enactments for enrolling the State militia into national forces in time of peace. . . .

. . .

In demanding these measures and reforms we arraign the Radical party for its disregard of right, and the unparalleled oppression and tyranny which have marked its career.

After the most solemn and unanimous pledge of both Houses of Congress to prosecute the war exclusively for the maintenance of the government and the preservation of the Union under the Constitution, it has repeatedly violated that most sacred pledge, under which alone was rallied that noble volunteer army which carried our flag to victory.

Instead of restoring the Union, it has, so far as in its power, dissolved it, and subjected ten States, in time of profound peace, to military despotism and Negro supremacy.

It has nullified there the right of trial by jury; it has abolished the habeas corpus, that most sacred writ of liberty; it has overthrown the freedom of speech and of the press; it has substituted arbitrary seizures and arrests, and military trials and secret star-chamber inquisitions, for the constitutional tribunals; it has disregarded in time of peace the right of the people to be free from searches and seizures; it has entered the post and telegraph offices, and even the private rooms of individuals, and seized their private papers and letters without any specific charge or notice of affidavit, as required by the organic law;3 . . . it has established a system of spies and official espionage to which no constitutional monarchy of Europe would now dare to resort. . . . [I]t has stripped the President of his constitutional power of appointment, even of his own Cabinet. . . . 4

And we do declare and resolve, That ever since the people of the United States threw off all subjection to the British crown, the privilege and trust of suffrage have belonged to the several States, and have been granted, regulated, and controlled exclusively by the political power of each State respectively, and that any attempt by Congress, on any pretext whatever, to deprive any State of this right, or interfere with its exercise, is a flagrant usurpation of power, which can find no warrant in the Constitution; and if sanctioned by the people will subvert our form of government, and can only end in a single centralized and consolidated government, in which the separate existence of the States will be entirely absorbed, and an unqualified despotism be established in place of a federal union of co-equal States; and that we regard the reconstruction acts so-called, of Congress, as such an usurpation, and unconstitutional, revolutionary, and void. . . .

That the President of the United States, Andrew Johnson, in exercising the power of his high office in resisting the aggressions of Congress upon the Constitutional rights of the States and the people, is entitled to the gratitude of the whole American people; and in behalf of the Democratic party, we tender him our thanks for his patriotic efforts in that regard.

Upon this platform the Democratic party appeals to every patriot, including all the Conservative element, and all who desire to support the Constitution and restore the Union, forgetting all past differences of opinion, to unite with us in the present great struggle for the liberties of the people; and that to all such, to whatever party they may have heretofore belonged, we extend the right hand of fellowship, and hail all such co-operating with us as friends and brethren. . . .

Study Questions

A. What goals do the Republicans embrace for Reconstruction? How do their goals compare to the Democrats’ goals? What things are present in the Republicans’ goals that are absent in the Democrats’ goals? What things are absent in the Republicans’ goals but present in the Democrats’ goals? How do the two parties judge President Johnson’s tenure in office? What picture do the respective parties paint of the South as eventually reconstructed? What is the role of blacks in that new order each party envisions?

B. To what extent is the Republican Party platform a continuation of the Reconstruction Acts? To what extent is it an extension of Lincoln’s policy of Amnesty and Reconstruction? To what extent is the Democratic Party’s platform a continuation of President Johnson’s approach (See Proclamation on Reorganizing Constitutional Government in Mississippi, Johnson’s First Annual Address, and Veto of the First Reconstruction Act)? How would each platform deal with problems that might arise from violent private organizations, operating without interference from the state, such as the Ku Klux Klan?

Footnotes

  1. The House of Representatives approved the articles of impeachment March, 1868. The Senate voted for impeachment 35-19, but this fell one vote short of the two-thirds vote required for conviction.
  2. When the Democratic Party passed its platform, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and Virginia had not yet been re-admitted into the Union, though South Carolina, Alabama and Louisiana would be re-admitted later in July 1868.
  3. the fundamental set of laws and principles governing a country
  4. Congress had passed the Tenure in Office Act, which prevented the President from removing cabinet members before Congress had confirmed a successor. In this context, Congress passed such an act to keep Lincoln’s pro-emancipation cabinet in place to secure the goals of Reconstruction against the wishes of Johnson. When Johnson disobeyed the act, he was impeached and nearly removed.