Although, as before remarked, the Republican party was made up of a good many elements besides the Abolitionists, there was among them but little homogeneousness. They were indifferent, if not hostile, to each other, and, if left to themselves, would never have so far coalesced as to make a working party. They had no settled policy, no common ground to stand on. They would have been simply a rope of sand. But the Abolitionists supplied a bond of union. They had a principle that operated like a loadstone in bringing the factions together.
There was another inducement the Abolitionists had to offer. They had an organization that was perfect in its way. It was weak but active. It had made its way into Congress where it had such representatives as John P. Hale and Salmon P. Chase in the Senate, and several brilliant men in the Lower House. It had a complete outfit of party machinery. It had an efficient force of men and women engaged in canvassing as lecturers and stump orators. It had well managed newspapers, and the ablest pens in the country—not excepting Harriet Beecher Stowe’s—were in its service. All this, it is hardly necessary to say, was attractive to people without political homes. The Abolitionists offered them not only shelter but the prospect of meat and drink in the future. In that way their organization became the nucleus of the Republican party, which was in no sense a new organization, but a reorganization of an old force with new material added.
And here would seem to be the proper place for reference to the historical fact that the Republican party, under that name, had but four years of existence behind it when the great crisis came in the election of Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War—Lincoln’s election being treated by the South as a casus belli. The Republican party was established under that name in 1856 and Lincoln was elected in 1860.
Now, the work preparatory to Lincoln’s election was not done in four years. The most difficult part of it—the most arduous, the most disagreeable, the most dangerous—had been done long before. Part of it dated back to 1840. Indeed, the performance of the Republican party in those four years was not remarkably brilliant. With the slogan of “Free soil, free men, and Fremont” it made an ostentatious demonstration in 1856—an attempted coup de main—which failed. It would have failed quite as signally in 1860, but for the division of the Democratic party into the Douglas and Breckenridge factions. That division was pre-arranged by the slaveholders who disliked Douglas, the regular Democratic nominee, much more than they did Lincoln, and who hoped and plotted for Lincoln’s election because it furnished them a pretext for rebellion.