The RedState Department of History respects tradition — otherwise it wouldn’t exist. So it is that today we recognize the first day of the first convention held by the brand-new Republican Party in 1856, in Philadelphia.
The party originated in the North, in five states where slavery was illegal — Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Vermont — in part as an outgrowth of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
This agreement allowed the residents of the two territories to decide for themselves whether to allow slavery within their borders, and repealed the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which had prohibited slavery north of latitude 36⁰30’.
That resulted in a rush of pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers into both territories — and competing legislatures in Kansas, in which both sides won elections not recognized by the other. Eventually, the area became known as “Bleeding Kansas“, occasionally home to acts of unusual brutality as settlers fought each other.
The early Republicans saw the Kansas-Nebraska Act as a betrayal, and this was reflected in in the party platform, particularly as it pertained to Kansas:
Resolved: That while the Constitution of the United States was ordained and established by the people, in order to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty,” and contain ample provision for the protection of the life, liberty, and property of every citizen, the dearest Constitutional rights of the people of Kansas have been fraudulently and violently taken from them.
Their Territory has been invaded by an armed force;
Spurious and pretended legislative, judicial, and executive officers have been set over them, by whose usurped authority, sustained by the military power of the government, tyrannical and unconstitutional laws have been enacted and enforced;
The right of the people to keep and bear arms has been infringed.
Test oaths of an extraordinary and entangling nature have been imposed as a condition of exercising the right of suffrage and holding office.
The right of an accused person to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury has been denied;
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, has been violated;
They have been deprived of life, liberty, and property without due process of law;
That the freedom of speech and of the press has been abridged;
The right to choose their representatives has been made of no effect;
Murders, robberies, and arsons have been instigated and encouraged, and the offenders have been allowed to go unpunished;
That all these things have been done with the knowledge, sanction, and procurement of the present National Administration; and that for this high crime against the Constitution, the Union, and humanity, we arraign that Administration, the President, his advisers, agents, supporters, apologists, and accessories, either before or after the fact, before the country and before the world; and that it is our fixed purpose to bring the actual perpetrators of these atrocious outrages and their accomplices to a sure and condign punishment thereafter.
There was one other issue that particularly bothered the first Republicans: polygamy.
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism–Polygamy, and Slavery.
The polygamy issue put the Republicans directly at odds with Mormons. Brigham Young himself urged his followers to vote for Democrats in the first elections after the new party was formed. Many early Republicans saw polygamy as a form of slavery and as such were equally determined to end the practice. Eventually, the issue of polygamy was resolved and most Mormons became reliable allies of the Republican Party (I said MOST, Harry Reid.)
There then arose the issue of deciding the party’s first candidate for President. Eventually, the race narrowed down to several men:
Senator John C. Fremont – the California senator had led five expeditions to the West in the 1840s and had gained national fame as “The Pathfinder”. He would later go on to become a general in the Civil War, eventually dismissed from a post by President Abraham Lincoln for exceeding his authority by emancipating slaves in the area under his command.
Nathaniel Banks – Speaker of the House and Governor of Massachusetts (though not at the same time, obviously) – he would also go on to command troops during the Civil War.
John McLean – Associate Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, Congressman and later Postmaster General
Commodore Robert Stockton — notable for the capture of California from Mexico during the Mexican-American War
William F. Johnston – governor of Pennnsylvania, who had fought the institution of the Fugitive Slave Act in his state.
The nomination was initially offered to Banks, who declined it, and on the tenth ballot it was finally captured by Fremont, who went on to lose to James Buchanan in the general election but earning 114 electoral votes (out of 296 then available).
From its very earliest days, the Republican Party committed itself to “restoring the actions of the federal government to the principles of Washington and Jefferson” — and there are those who wish today’s Republican Party would act upon those early words. That’s a rich heritage, and one incumbent on all conservatives to support.
Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!