Radical Republicans

From Ohio History Central

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Engraving of Governor John Brough, member of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party began in 1854 as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This legislation split Whig Party members along regional lines. Former Northern Whigs united with members of the Free Soil Party and the American Party to create the Republican Party.

Republican Party members generally opposed slavery, but many of these people also believed that the federal government could not end slavery where it already existed. Most Republicans initially opposed granting African Americans equal rights with whites when and if slavery ever ended.

During the American Civil War, a more extreme group of Republicans called the Radical Republicans became quite influential in the party. The radicals believed that the Civil War had to end slavery. They felt the South's agrarian economy centered on slave labor was ineffective. The South needed to adopt a free-labor economy so that the United States could emerge as one of the leading economic powers in the world. White Southerners also needed to end slavery for moral reasons. Radical Republicans believed that African Americans deserved immediate freedom from bondage and should receive the same rights as whites. Radical Republicans favored granting civil rights to African Americans for various reasons. Some radicals truly believed that African Americans were equals to the whites. Other Radical Republicans hoped to create a political base for the Republican Party in the South.

Radical Republicans in Ohio did have some political successes during and immediately following the Civil War. For example, most Ohioans supported the adoption of the Thirteenth Amendment. This amendment formally ended slavery in the United States in 1865. Only one of Ohio's representatives in Congress opposed the amendment's ratification. Governor John Brough encouraged the Ohio legislature to approve the amendment, and both houses did so with significant majorities. Despite their support for emancipation, many Ohioans did not necessarily believe that Ohio's African Americans deserved the same rights as whites.

The efforts of Radical Republicans to work for equal rights for African Americans, led to political conflict in Ohio. Many Ohioans initially approved the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted African Americans equal protection under the law. Members of the Union Party, a conglomeration of Ohio's Republican Party and pro-war Democrats, strongly supported the amendment. Former Peace Democrats usually objected to all parts of it. The Peace Democrats claimed that the amendment empowered African Americans, while it denied former white Confederates constitutional guarantees. While some of these people opposed slavery, many of them also believed that African Americans were inferior to whites. The Ohio General Assembly with Union Party members in control of both houses of the legislature approved the Fourteenth Amendment on January 4, 1867.

In the state elections of 1867, the Union Party lost control of the General Assembly to former Peace Democrats. The Democrats quickly moved to rescind Ohio's ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. On January 15, 1868, the Ohio legislature voted to reverse its earlier decision. Despite the Ohio legislature's action, the federal government continued to count Ohio as one of the three-fourths of the states necessary for the amendment's final approval. Ohio ratified the Fourteenth Amendment a second time on September 17, 2003.

Since the Civil War's conclusion, Ohio citizens had debated whether or not to permit African-American men to vote. Members of the Democratic Party, especially former Peace Democrats, generally opposed suffrage for black men. Republicans supported extending the right to vote to African-American men. When the United States Congress submitted the Fifteenth Amendment to the states for approval, Democrats controlled the Ohio legislature and refused to ratify the amendment. Governor Rutherford B. Hayes, a Republican, supported the amendment. In the state elections of 1869, Hayes retained his seat by a slim margin of 7,500 votes. The Republicans gained a slight majority in both houses of the General Assembly. The legislature ratified the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. The Ohio Senate approved it by a single vote, and the Ohio House ratified it with just a two-vote majority. Ohio's Republicans had expected an easy victory in the state elections of 1869. Many white Ohioans, however, objected to granting suffrage to African-American men.

Following the adoption of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, the power and influence of the Radical Republicans began to decline. Many radicals believed that they had accomplished their goals for African Americans. Other people became disenchanted with the federal government's inability to stop the violence toward African-Americans in the South. They saw no way to continue the struggle to secure the rights of African Americans and decided to move on to other issues.

See Also


  1. Bogue, Allan G. The Earnest Men: Republicans of the Civil War Senate. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.  
  2. Calhoun, Charles William. Conceiving a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869-1900. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.  
  3. Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.  
  4. Donald, David Herbert. The Politics of Reconstruction, 1863-1867. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.  
  5. Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1990.
  6. Jordan, Philip D. Ohio Comes of Age: 1874-1899. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1943.  
  7. Mantell, Martin E. Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1973.  
  8. Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
  9. Richardson, Heather Cox. The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.  
  10. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.  
  11. Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.  
  12. Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.  
  13. Slap, Andrew L. The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2006.