One of my favorite Civil War movies is Santa Fe Trail (1940). It’s a deceptive title for a Civil War movie, and it is packed with all sorts of historical inaccuracies that make Gettysburg and Glory faithful-to-the-facts renditions of their subject matter.
Here’s the trailer:
The movie addresses the role of slavery and abolitionists in the coming of the sectional conflict as well as how that conflict divided West Point classmates Jeb Stuart and George Armstrong Custer (as well as classmates James Longstreet and Phil Sheridan). I warned you about the movie as history … 🙂
But the movie does tell us something about how Americans at the time viewed the coming of the Civil War. Overshadowed by Gone With the Wind, this movie nevertheless has much to tell us about … wait for it … Civil War memory. If you want to watch it, click here.
Why did the Republican party succeed where previous abolition/antislavery/antiSlavePower parties had failed?
Oh, yes, there were previous parties in the North that addressed the slavery issue. The Liberty Party ran presidential candidate James G. Birney in 1840 and 1844, but drew few voters (although scholars debate on whether the party drew from the Whig electorate, helping James K. Polk prevail over Henry Clay in 1844 by taking New York, where the Liberty Party enjoyed some popularity). There was also the Free Soil Party, which ran presidential candidates in 1848 and 1852, and which did attract support from some northern Democrats who resented southerners’ control of the party’s agenda. However, if you looked at northern politics in 1853, after the dismal performance of the Free Soilers in 1852, you would have wondered about the prospects of antislavery politics … and this was in the wake of the passage of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and the appearance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin in serial form. True, the Whig party seemed to stand on shaky ground, following its own poor showing in 1852, and with the passing of leaders such as Clay and Webster. But that did not necessarily bode well for antislavery politics. Moreover, if any movement excited northern voters in 1853, it was the growth of the Know Nothing movement, which was a response to increased immigration, especially Catholic immigrants from Ireland and central Europe, many of whom gravitated to Democratic ranks (sound familiar)? For all the talk of a slave power conspiracy, in 1853 more northerners seemed concerned about a papal conspiracy to subvert American liberties and make Americans slaves of Rome. Continue reading →