The Constitutional Union party is a historical American political party with a relatively short history. Created in 1860, the party had already become irrelevant over the next few years as the country moved toward civil war. This political party emerged primarily as an attempt to avoid the issue of slavery, and prevent the conflicts that started the American Civil War.
The Constitutional Union party was also called the Bell-Everett party, named after its presidential and vice presidential candidates. The party was largely made up of conservative Whigs and another group called the Know-Nothings. These groups promoted this party as a return to constitutional purity, where other issues like slavery were to be avoided on a federal level. The party, according to its identifiers, was to “recognize no political principle…” besides the constitution.
When Southern states began to secede from the union, the aims of the Constitutional Union party became obsolete. Members of the party drifted toward either the Union or the Confederacy depending on their location and views on the abolition of slavery. It’s interesting to note that, in the last years before the American Civil War, this political party represented one of the last prominent challenges to the two-party system of Republican and Democrat candidates that has lasted for over a century in modern times.
Political analysts who identify the modern two-party system in different ways often focus on challenges to the two dominant parties. Although third parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party have challenged the two mainstreams parties in recent years on local government levels, the national electoral process has remained the province of the Republican and Democrat parties. Some grass-roots supporters of today’s third parties might look back to the history of parties like the Constitutional Union party to observe how historical third parties operated.
Historians also note that as a product of their times, the aims of the Constitutional Union party stood in the way of the progress toward civil rights that is now commonly preserved in modern American governments. To civil rights activists, the doctrines of this party represent insidious efforts to control the emergence of greater civil rights for minorities in America. Just like other political ideas of its era, the ideals of this party are still heavy with potential controversy. Today, the party of Constitutional Union is fundamentally part of a turbulent time in antebellum American politics.