Monday, August 30, 2010

Republicans Vs. Democrats: It Could Be Worse

Good morning, Clyde. Guess what? I finished another tome for my research on all things 1850s called Why The Civil War Came, edited by Gabor S. Boritt.

Sounds like a real page-turner.

No, this isn’t beach-reading material, but my next novel takes place just before the Civil War breaks out, so I need to paint a picture of the political atmosphere of the times. Clyde? Stop snoring and pay attention.

What? You lost me after after “No.”

Come on, this is good stuff. Hey, here’s something I bet you didn’t know . . .

Abraham Lincoln was an alien?

Ha, ha. Seriously, though. Abraham Lincoln was a Republican—the first candidate to win the presidency for a sectional party.

Neato. What’dya mean by ‘sectional’ party?

Before the Republicans, the political party opposing the Democrats was called the Whigs. Both the Whigs and the Democrats were national parties, but the Republicans, who first ran a candidate for the presidency in 1856, weren't national, but strictly northern.

Okay, Republicans in the north, Democrats all over. Dandy. Why’s that so fascinating?

The Republican Party was coming to power incredibly fast while the Democrats were falling apart. In many respects, the Civil War was a perfect storm. For decades before the first shot was fired, a small number of extremists on both sides of the slavery issue kept raising the public's awareness until moderate politicians were forced to choose on side or the other.

Do what now?

It's like this. Take two kids in a crowded cafeteria and start a food fight. Other kids will take notice; it's impossible not to. Eventually the whole room will take sides and join in. You can destroy the entire room based on one tossed spaghetti noodle.

Okay, but a perfect storm? You telling me they didn’t see the war coming?

Not exactly, but Lincoln and the Republicans weren't expecting four years of bloodshed and over a half-million casualties. For years, the southern minority slaveholders used secession as a threat whenever things weren't going their way in Congress. The Republicans were tired of the ploy. I love this 1856 quote from Ben Wade, a republican from Ohio: “We have had the Union saved five or six different times within my day, and is the only thing I ever knew to suffer by salvation.”

Hmmm, slightly witty, I guess. I still don't see why you're all fired up about this stuff. Where do politics fit into your book?

I’m thinking of the plantation owner and his son. I see the father as a politician, someone who loves a good debate and has trained his son since childhood the art of verbal jousting. I’m seeing the son as new generation: raised in the south, but schooled in the north. The son's adventurous, looking at the west, ready for travel and excitement. His father wants someone to take over the old family plantation. Their fights are going to be political, personal, and delicious to write.

Good luck with that.

Thanks, Clyde. I’ll need it.


  1. You probably learned a lot, dry read and all. And I didn't know Lincoln was the first Republican.

  2. Dry indeed, but I've slogged through worse. When I find things that might become fodder for dialog, it suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting.


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