The Republican Party Founded: July 6th, 1854

Article excerpt

THE PARTY WAS born of hostility to slavery. Back in 1820, the US Congress had agreed the Missouri Compromise, under which Missouri entered the Union as a slave state, but slavery was forbidden anywhere else in the Louisiana Purchase north of 36[degrees] 30'. However, in 1854 the principle was threatened by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, under which the white inhabitants of the two territories were to decide by referendum whether slavery would be allowed there or not. There were numerous Americans in the northern states who disapproved of slavery, including many northern Whigs and Democrats as well as the Free Soilers, who had sprung from concern over the possible introduction of slavery in territory acquired from Mexico in the 1840s. With the slogan 'Free soil, free speech, free labor and free men', the Free Soil Party had run Martin Van Buren unsuccessfully for president in 1848.

Free Soilers now joined Whigs and northern Democrats to form a new, completely northern political party. The original impetus came from impromptu 'anti-Nebraska' meetings in the north-western states of Wisconsin and Michigan to discuss what to do if the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed. The meetings were not only opposed to slavery, but demanded the opening up of the West by small homesteaders and the building of railroads. In February a gathering in Ripon, Wisconsin, resolved to form a new party and a local lawyer named Alvan E. Bovay suggested the name Republican for its echoes of Thomas Jefferson. In Michigan there were meetings in Kalamazoo, Jackson and Detroit, and after the Act had passed in May, the new party was formally founded in Jackson in July. A leading figure was Austin Blair, a Free Soiler lawyer who was prosecuting attorney of Jackson County. …