Summary Edit

This book examines Republican ideology before the Civil War. At the center of the Republican ideology was the notion of “free labor.” The Republican Party believed that free labor was economically and socially superior to slave labor and that the distinctive quality of Northern society was the opportunity it offered wage earners to rise to property-owning independence. Republicans drew on Adam Smith, who insisted that slavery was far more costly and inefficient means of obtaining labor then the payment of wages. It prevented the laborer’s self interest from being harnessed for the public good. By he 1850s, the Republican party would hammer home Smith’s anti-slavery message: freedom meant prosperity and slavery retarded economic growth. Thus, this concept involved not merely an attitude toward work, but a justification of antebellum northern society, which appeared both different and superior to the South.  From this creed flowed Republicans’ determination to arrest the expansion of slavery and place the institution on what Lincoln called the road to “ultimate extinction.” Republicans believed in a conspiratorial “Slave Power” which had seized control of the federal government and was attempting to pervert the Constitution for its own purpose (Salmon P. Chase). Foner argues that in the two decades prior to the Civil War, the North and the South developed irreconcilable ideologies of their respective ways of life. He writes, “As southerners were coming more and more consciously to insist on slavery as the very basis of civilized life, and to reject the materialism and lack of cohesion in northern society, northerners came to view slavery as the antithesis of the good society as well as a threat to their own fundamental values and interests.” (9) The existing political system, Foner ultimately contends, could not accommodate both ideologies, leading to the disintegration of national Parties – Whigs, Know-nothings, and the Democrats – and to the secession of the South.

See also: Walter Johnson, James Oakes, Chandra Manning, Thomas Bender; Also (market revolution): Charles Sellers, Christopher Clark