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Constitutional Union Party (United States)

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Title: Constitutional Union Party (United States)  
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Subject: United States presidential election, 1860, Whig Party (United States), National Union Party (United States), United States House of Representatives elections, 1850, William Appleton (politician)
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Constitutional Union Party (United States)

Constitutional Union Party
Founded 1859 (1859)
Dissolved 1865 (1865)
Preceded by Whig Party (part), Know-Nothing Party or American Party
Succeeded by National Union Party
Ideology American nationalism
Gag rule
Colors Orange
Politics of United States
Political parties
A Constitutional Union campaign poster for the 1860 election. Shown are John Bell (left), the presidential nominee, and Edward Everett, the vice presidential nominee.

The Constitutional Union Party (also known as the "Bell-Everett Party" in California) was a political party in the United States created in 1860. It was made up of conservative former Whigs who wanted to avoid secessionism over the slavery issue. These former Whigs (some of whom had been under the banner of the Opposition Party in 1854–58) teamed up with former Know-Nothings and a few Southern Democrats who were against secessionism to form the Constitutional Union Party. Its name comes from its extremely simple platform, a simple resolution "to recognize no political principle other than the Constitution of the country, the Union of the states, and the Enforcement of the Laws". They hoped that by failing to take a firm stand either for or against slavery or its expansion, the issue could be pushed aside.


A predecessor of the Constitutional Union Party was founded in 1850 by Mississippi, and Alabama, and had dissolved by the end of 1851.[1]

The 1860 incarnation of the Constitutional Union Party united Whigs and Know-Nothings who were unwilling to join Democrats or the Republicans. Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, Henry Clay's successor in border-state Whiggery, set up a meeting among fifty conservative, pro-compromise congressmen in December 1859, which led to a convention in Baltimore the week of May 9, 1860, one week before the Republican Party convention.

1860 presidential election

The convention nominated John Bell of Tennessee for President and Edward Everett of Massachusetts for Vice President.

In the 1860 election, the Constitutional Unionists received the great majority of their votes from former southern Whigs or Know-Nothings. A few of their votes were cast by former Democrats who were against secession. Although the party did not get 50% of the popular vote in any state, they won the electoral votes of three states, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, largely due to the split in Democratic votes between Stephen A. Douglas in the North and John C. Breckinridge in the South. California and Everett's home state of Massachusetts were the only non-slave states in which the party received more than 5% of the popular vote.

After 1860

The party and its purpose disappeared after 1860 as the southern states began to secede, though the party remained active in Congress until the end of the Civil War. Bell and many other Constitutional Unionists later supported the Confederacy during the Civil War, but backers of the party from north of the Carolinas tended to remain supporters of the Union. Constitutional Unionists were influential in the Wheeling Convention, which led to the creation of the Union loyalist state of West Virginia, as well as in the declaration of the Kentucky General Assembly for the Union and winning Congressional elections in Kentucky and Maryland in June. In Missouri, many of the party joined the new Unconditional Union Party headed by Francis P. Blair, Jr. and remained active in that state's efforts to remain in the Union by overthrowing the elected government of Claiborne Jackson. Everett supported the Union and in 1863 gave a speech at Gettysburg before Lincoln's famous Gettysburg Address.

See also


  1. ^ Schott, Thomas (1996). Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia: A Biography. LSU Press. pp. 129–132. 


  • Blum, John M.; William S. McFeely, Edmund S. Morgan, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Kenneth M. Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward (1985). The National Experience: A History of the United States (6th ed.). New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. pp. 344–345.  

External links

  • Newly Formed Party
  • Party Platform of 1860
  • OurCampaigns overview of Constitutional Union Convention 1860
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