Who Were The Radical Republicans?

The Radical Republicans were Yankees


In his book Reconstruction, Eric Foner observes that the Radical Republicans were ethnic Yankees, descendants of New England settlers in the Deep North:

“With the exception of Stevens they represented constituencies centered in New England and the belt of New England migration that stretched across the rural North through upstate New York, Ohio’s Western Reserve, northern Illinois, and the Upper Northwest.

Here lay rapidly growing communities of family farms and small towns, where the superiority of the free labor system appeared self-evident, antebellum reform had flourished, and the Republican party, from the moment of its birth, commanded overwhelming majorities.”

Thaddeus Stevens was originally from Vermont.

In 1865, referendums on negro suffrage were defeated in Wisconsin (47 percent), Minnesota (45 percent), Connecticut (43 percent) and later in Kansas, Ohio, New York, and Nebraska Territory. Iowa and Minnesota granted negro suffrage in 1868. The question of negro citizenship was far more controversial in the Lower North where the Yankee influence was the weakest.

“Moderates generally represented districts outside the belt of New England migration where Radicalism flourished, or states of the Lower North internally divided (like the nation itself) into northern and southern sections, each with distinct political traditions. Occupying the middle ground in politics was the key to victory in states like Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, and well before 1865, moderates had sought to limit Radicalism’s influence there.”

The “Lower North” (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey) was distinct from the “Deep North.” Below the New England band of settlement, there were fewer Yankees in the region, and more Scots-Irish, Germans, and Irish Catholics.

In American Nations, Colin Woodward argued that “Midlands” and “Greater Appalachia” stretched through the Lower North. The “Midlands” is the band of settlement below Yankeedom that attracted German immigrants. “Greater Appalachia” is the Scots-Irish borderlands in the Ohio River Valley where the Butternuts and Copperheads were predominant.

We have already seen how Scots-Irish women in Southern Indiana who supported the Democratic Party carried banners before elections that said, “Fathers, save us from nigger husbands.” This is the sentiment that made Indiana the premiere Klan state and also made Illinois and Indiana strongholds of the “sundown town” in the “Nadir of the Negro” between 1890 and 1940.

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