This Day in History: 1854

Even if you aren't into politics, you're probably aware of the turmoil in the Republican Party right now, which finds itself mired in a civil war as we draw ever closer to the general election.

Still, you might not know how the Republican Party started in the first place, which is the subject of this timely post.

On March 20, 1854, former members of the Whig Party met in Ripon, Wisconsin, to establish a new party to oppose the spread of slavery into the western territories. Created in 1834 to oppose the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party had been unable to cope with the national crisis over slavery.

The party derailed as a result of the successful introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, an act that dissolved the terms of the Missouri Compromise and allowed slave or free status to be decided in the territories by popular sovereignty.  By February 1854, anti-slavery Whigs had begun convening in the upper midwestern states to consider the formation of a new party. One such meeting, in Wisconsin on March 20, 1854, is generally considered the founding meeting of the Republican Party.

The Republicans quickly gained supporters in the North, and in 1856 their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, won 11 of the 16 Northern states. By 1860, most of the Southern slave states warned they'd secede if the Republicans won the presidency. In November 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president and six weeks later South Carolina formally seceded from the Union. Within six more weeks, five other Southern states had followed suit, and in April 1861 the Civil War commenced when Confederate shore batteries led by General P.G.T. Beauregard attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Bay.

The Civil War firmly identified the Republican Party as the party of the victorious North, and after the war the Republican-dominated Congress imposed a “Radical Reconstruction” policy on the South, which saw the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution as well as the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens. By 1876, the Republican Party had lost its grip on the South, but it continued to dominate the presidency until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

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