America in the 1850s

The Emergence of John Brown

Who formed the Republican Party, and where did they do it?

This question cannot be answered with one hundred percent surety because so many people in so many places laid claim to the honor. What we can say for certain is that the Whig Party and the Know-Nothing Party had both evaporated by 1854, and there was a power vacuum in American politics. Many people in the Western states favored the new Free-Soil Party, but when it lost the presidential election of 1856, they turned their allegiance to the even newer Republican Party.

Perhaps it was in a Wisconsin log cabin on a cold winter night; then again, it may have been alongside a riverbed on a warm Ohio evening. What matters is that the Republicans—basing their political philosophy on the life of the early Republic—became a political force during the mid-1850s. They were not as adamantly antislavery as the Free-Soil men, at least not at first. But as they grew in number, the Republicans gained attention on the East Coast, and it was the combination of the two groups (Western farmers and Northern men of commerce) that made the party so formidable. Then, too, it helped that the party had stalwarts such as the rising Abraham Lincoln.


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