Constitutional Union party

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CONSTITUTIONAL UNION PARTY. Late in 1859, with growing dissatisfaction in the southern states over excessive protective tariffs and failures to enforce fugitive slave laws, old-line Whigs and members of the American (Know-Nothing) Party, alarmed at excesses of partisanship and sectionalism and fearing secession, formed a new party under the leadership of Kentucky Senator John J. Crittenden. Meeting in convention on 9 May 1860 in Baltimore, delegates chose John Bell of Tennessee and Edward Everett of Massachusetts as candidates for president and vice president. Affection for the Union was reflected in the meager platform, which disregarded sectional issues and sought to rally moderate men to support "the Constitution, the Union and the Laws." Bell trailed the Republican candidate, Abraham Lincoln, and the two Democratic nominees, Stephen A. Douglas and John C. Breckinridge. He obtained 591,658 popular votes (12.6 percent of the total) and carried the states of Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee with their thirty-nine electoral votes. The party there by temporarily disrupted the secession movement, and perhaps contributed later to keeping Kentucky in the Union. In the ensuing months, party leaders called for reconciliation of the sections through compromise, but without success. With the coming of the Civil War, the party dissolved.


Rhodes, James F. History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850 to the Final Restoration of Home Rule at the South in 1877. Reprint of the 1892–1919 edition. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1967.

Allen E.Ragan


See alsoPolitical Parties ; Secession .

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Constitutional Union party, in U.S. history, formed when the conflict between North and South broke down the older parties. The Constitutional Union group, composed of former Whigs and remnants of the Know-Nothings and other groups in the South, was organized just before the election of 1860. Delegates from 20 states attended the party convention at Baltimore in May, 1860, and John Bell, of Tennessee, and Edward Everett, of Massachusetts, were nominated for President and Vice President. The party recognized "no political principle but the Constitution of the country, the union of the states and the enforcement of laws." The party carried Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia in the election.