The Unconditional Union Party was a loosely organized political entity during the American Civil War and the early days of Reconstruction. First established in 1861 in Missouri, where secession talk was strong, the party fully supported the preservation of the Union at all costs. Members included Southern Democrats who were loyal to the Union, as well as elements of the old Whig Party and other factions opposed to a separate Southern Confederacy.
Missouri's Unconditional Union Party
Following the splintered presidential election of 1860, it became apparent that much of the South would not abide by the election of Abraham Lincoln. In Missouri, Francis P. Blair, Jr. began consolidating that state's adherents of Lincoln, John Bell, and Stephen A. Douglas into a new political party, the Unconditional Union Party, which would lay aside antebellum partisan interests in favor of a single cause, the preservation of the Union. Blair and his supporters' primary goal was "to resist the intrigues of the Secessionists, by political action preferably, by force if need were."
Another faction in Missouri also supported restoration of the Union, but with conditions and reservations, including granting the extension of slavery westward. Others believed that once the Southern states should be allowed to leave the Union peaceably, as they would soon realize their mistake and petition for restoration to the Union. Blair worked to form an alliance with these so-called "Conditional Unionists" to bolster his numbers.
The first formal convention of the Missouri Unconditional Union Party was held February 28, 1861, in St. Louis. No avowed secessionists were invited; only those political leaders who had openly supported Bell, Lincoln, or Douglas were allowed to participate. The delegates passed a series of resolutions including formally declaring "at present there is no adequate cause to impel Missouri to dissolve her connection with the Federal Union," a move that swiftly was repudiated by the pro-secession faction as having no constitutional validity. As a compromise to the Conditional Unionists, the convention also entreated "the Federal government as the seceding States to withhold and stay the arm of military power, and on no pretense whatever bring upon the nation the horrors of civil war."
Missouri's secessionists failed to garner enough state-wide support to dissolve the Union, so they, under the leadership of Governor Claiborne F. Jackson, broke away and formed a separatist government and eventually took up arms against the Union Army. Pro-Union politicians consolidated their control over Missouri politics as the war progressed and Jackson and his pro-Confederacy Missouri State Guard were forced out of the state. Unconditional Unionist Benjamin Franklin Loan was elected to the 38th United States Congress.
The Unconditional Union Party in other border states
Similar efforts to Blair's sprang up in other states south of the Mason-Dixon Line where the populations and political leaders were split in their loyalty to the Union. In Kentucky, the Unconditional Union Party emerged as a counter to the pro-secession views of several of the state's more outspoken leaders.
A similar movement was underway in Maryland, where its leaders also advocated the immediate emancipation of all slaves in the state without compensation to the slave owners. With the help of the Federal government and its troops, Maryland's secessionist voices were stilled. The party was not formalized until the summer of 1863 when adherents worked to elect pro-Union candidates at the state and local level, particularly in Western Maryland. Because Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation only applied to slaves in those states in rebellion, and did not include border states such as Maryland, the party shifted its emphasis to the question of freeing slaves locally. The Conservative Union State Central Committee, led by Thomas Swann and John P. Kennedy, met in Baltimore on December 16, 1863. It passed a resolution supporting immediate emancipation "in the manner easiest for master and slave." Supporters included the local military commander, Robert C. Schenck. When the Federal government failed to respond, the Unconditional Union policy held a second similar meeting on April 6, 1864, and again overwhelmingly supported immediate emancipation. General Schenk's replacement, Lew Wallace, supported the resolution.
Following the war, the radical wing of the Unconditional Union Party remained active in pushing its agenda of not allowing former slaves or former Confederates to vote. In their convention in Baltimore in 1866, the radicals pledged to the maintenance of the state constitution of 1864, "which expressly and emphatically prohibits both rebel suffrage and negro suffrage." Henry Winter Davis, a leading voice within the party's radicals, was elected to the 38th United States Congress as a candidate of the UCP.
- Harding, Samuel B., Life of George R. Smith, Founder of Sedalia, Mo. Sedalia, Missouri: Privately printed, 1904.
- Small, Albion W., "The Beginnings of American Nationality." Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Eighth Series. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1890.
- Willoughby, William F., "State Activities in Relation to Labor in the United States," Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science, Vol. XIX. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1901.
- Harding, pp. 308-10.
- Willoughby, pp. 360-63.
- Small, p. 12.