The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979

The Constitutional Union Party in Texas

JAMES ALEX BAGGETT*
IN THE MID-185OS MANY CONSERVATIVE SOUTHERN WHIGS FOUND THEM-
selves adrift without a political haven. The American party with its
platform of nativism and nationalism, which many of them had sup-
ported, crashed on the same rock that had earlier destroyed the Whig
coalition: the controversy over slavery's expansion. Yet from the political
wreckage of the American party (commonly called the Know-Nothing
party), spokesmen emerged demanding another national party. These
leaders desired to provide a political home for a group isolated from the
Democratic party by tradition and doubtless by the fact that they lacked
influence or opportunity within the Democratic party. Still, the builders
of the new party did have an ideological rationale as well as a pragmatic
reason for the founding of another party. While differing on many mat-
ters, these leaders generally feared sectional political parties and they
had, for the most part, reached a consensus regarding slavery in the ter-
ritories: the institution of slavery had reached its natural geographical
limits. Therefore, its extension was a pseudo-issue being exploited by
self-serving politicians who were impeding debate on the more impor-
tant matters of industry, agriculture, and commerce.
A recent article by John V. Mering has provided some balance to
earlier accounts of southern politics in 1860. Mering contends that "the
Constitutional Union party's reputation for distinctive antisecessionism
... derives from a fallacious interpretation of the campaign of 186o as
#James Alex Baggett is associate professor of history at Union University, Jackson, Ten-
nessee.
1John B. Stabler, "A History of the Constitutional Union Party: A Tragic Failure"
(Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 1954), 29-30, 222, 728-729; Allan Nevins, The
Emergence of Lincoln (2 vols.; New York, 1950), II, 58-64; Roy Franklin Nichols, The
Disruption of American Democracy (New York, 1948), 340. Not a single book has been
published on the Constitutional Union party, and only Stabler has written a dissertation
dealing exclusively with the party and giving a description of the party's origin and de-
velopment. For a detailed defense of the geographical limits of slavery position see Charles
W. Ramsdell, "The Natural Limits of Slavery Expansion," Mississippi Valley Historical
Review, XVI (Sept., 1929), 151-171. Some of the rationale for the founding of the new
party was doubtless a carry-over from its Whig and Know-Nothing antecedents. For exam-
ple, the 1856 Texas Know-Nothing party platform expressed "opposition to the formation
or encouragement of sectional or geographical parties...." Ernest William Winkler (ed.),
Platforms of Political Parties in Texas (Austin, 1916), 69.

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101206/. Accessed October 1, 2014.