The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979 Page: 461
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party split along North-South lines, and the second party system broke
down. Holt insists, however, that the party system was already on the
verge of disintegration; a fact that developments in 1854 only demon-
strated rather than caused. The party system failed first because the
issues that had divided Whigs and Democrats lost their urgency in the
early fifties and no new national issues replaced them. Even slavery and
slavery extension appeared to have been compromised away in 1850.
The bankruptcy of the old parties led to wide-spread discontent among
voters and the fear that Whigs and Democrats could not be counted on
to secure republicanism. At this point sectional parties took shape. The
Republicans of the North relied on anti-southern issues and sentiment.
The Democrats of the deep South similarly appealed to voters of their
section on the basis of anti-northern issues and feelings. At the same
time both promised to keep alive republican values for their constitu-
ents. Thus, the national parties that had contained sectional conflict
were replaced with sectional parties, not so much because of the con-
flict over slavery, as because the two parties had not maintained viabil-
ity on the basis of issues as they had in the 183os and 1840s. Lincoln's
victory then became a signal for secession. The upper South did not
secede, Holt argues, because for several reasons the party system had
been able to remain strong there. Many voters in the upper South were
willing to accept a Republican victory in 186o as part of the game and
trust the political process to protect them.
Holt's thesis is presented clearly and forcefully. It seems likely, how-
ever, that in emphasizing the political dimensions of the sectional con-
flict he overstates his case. He admits that without slavery there would
have been no war, but his argument implies that had the party system
not failed (for reasons other than those associated primarily with dif-
ferences over slavery) the conflict could have been contained. Given the
moral issue involved, abolitionist agitation, the demands of southern
extremists, and the consequent build up of emotions, could the issue
really have been contained indefinitely? Could the political process
have overcome the fundamental issue of slavery? Maybe the party sys-
tem was weak in 1854, but the developments that finally destroyed it
concerned slavery, and that issue dictated much of the strategy of the
sectional parties of the late 185os. The role of party politics in first con-
taining sectionalism and then in helping build the sectional crisis to the
point of disunion should be remembered, but it seems that the "funda-
mentalists" still have the last word.
North Texas State University
RANDOLPH B. CAMPBELL
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 82, July 1978 - April, 1979, periodical, 1978/1979; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101206/m1/523/: accessed November 23, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.