Class Close-Up: The Rise of the Republican Party

Teacher: Matthew Karp, assistant professor of history

Focus: America’s politically tumultuous years 1848–1860, during which the new anti-slavery Republican Party rose from the periphery of the national political scene to win the presidency with Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election. Students learn about key figures and events that allowed the Republicans to gain power quickly and the issues that were important to them.

On the reading list: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1854–1960); Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men by Eric Foner; selected writings of Frederick Douglass

How the Republicans gained traction: “Instead of calling for the immediate abolition of slavery everywhere, they developed a series of arguments about how they could get rid of slavery constitutionally and how the real enemy was not just slavery but what they called ‘the Slave Power’ — the aristocratic slave owners who were threatening not only because they mistreated slaves, but also because they threatened democracy itself,” Karp said.

Key takeaway: “I hope [students] come away thinking that politics matters,” Karp said, “and that this sort of back-and-forth contestation can produce real change and meaningful transformations of American political culture.”