For Republicans, the “Free Soil, Free Labor,
Free Man” ideology came to represent a Northern and western economy that was
prosperous, commercial, and modern, and that resonated with the classical
republican virtues of equality, liberty, self-government, and labor.
Mainstream Republicans were not an abolitionistfaction. Rather, they simply opposed the spread of slavery into western
territories and new states.
One of the two major contemporary political parties in the United
States, along with the Democratic Party. It was founded in 1854 following the
dissolution of the Whig and Free Labor Parties.
Realignment of the Party System in the 1850s: The Republicans
Following the collapse of the Whigs during the
election of 1852, a major realignment of the American political party system
occurred with former Whigs splintering into various political factions.
Anti-immigration and temperance movements formed the platform of the emerging
American ("Know-Nothing") Party, while those interested in the
economic development of finance and business in the West and North were
attracted to the Republican Party. By 1858, the Republicans enjoyed majorities
in every Northern state and therefore controlled the electoral votes in 1860
The driving ideological forces of the Republican Party were commercial
expansion, modernization, and agricultural development in the West. Republicans
were opposed to the perceived "anti-modernity" of the Southern slave
culture and rallied behind the slogan of “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men,”
which they argued was representative of classical American republicanism.
Republicans sponsored bills, such as the homestead program, that would give western lands to individual (non-slave owning) farmers, and supported internal
improvements designed to facilitate commercial travel to the frontier and
develop infrastructure. Republicans argued that the North and the West were
models of economic development, autonomy, and production in contrast to the
South's limited industry and slave-labor system. Republicans portrayed
themselves as the party of economic opportunity and advancement, offering
individuals the chance for work, land, and success.
that end, Republicans supported various railroad- and steamboat-building
projects, approved the construction of new canals and roads, wrote legislation
for higher tariffs as entrepreneurial incentives for financiers and
industrialists, and passed homestead acts that enabled thousands of families to
move west to establish productive farms and form larger communities. The “Free
Soil, Free Labor, Free Man” ideology came to represent a Northern and western
economy that was prosperous, commercial, and modern, and that resonated with the
classical republican virtues of equality, liberty, self-government, and labor.
This ideology cast the Republicans as the true heirs of the Jeffersonians.
it is important to note that mainstream Republicans were not inherently
antislavery or abolitionist. Instead, they opposed the extension of slavery
into western territories and new states, believing that the institution of
slavery should be restricted to its traditional Southern boundaries. Opponents
of the expansion of slavery included those who resented Southern political power, were committed to free labor as
the future of American industry, or were morally opposed to slavery itself (for
example, abolitionists from the more radical wings of the Republican Party).