On this day in 1854, around 50 or so abolitionists met in Ripon, Wisconsin to call for the creation of a new political group. Within a few weeks, the Republican Party was born. Such remarkably noble beginnings, no? But how did it all start? you might be wondering. Luckily I happen to know someone who wrote a school reference book about abolitionism, so I can give you the basics.
We need to go back to 1820, though, and the Missouri Compromise, which was not really a compromise at all, but more like a way for Congress to keep stalling on the issue of slavery. At this point, every time new territory was acquired or a territory wanted to become a state, Congress had to debate whether or not slavery should be allowed there. One of the most significant parts of the Missouri Compromise was that it set a boundary for the extension of slavery into the newly acquired territories in the west. All the territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri, except Missouri, would be free, and all the territory below that line could allow slavery. A proverbial and literal line in the sand was drawn.
This “compromise” lasted until 1854, when some of the western territories applied for statehood. Now shit was getting real. Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, allowing for “popular sovereignty” in the territories, which meant that the settlers there could decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery (three years later, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had no authority to allow or prohibit slavery in any state, so that was that for the Missouri Compromise or any other compromise).
But anyway, it was this passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that led abolitionists to form a new political party. The Republican Party believed that Congress had the right to prohibit slavery in the territories and ought to do so. This new party was made up of members from the former Whig and Free-Soil parties, as well as antislavery Democrats in the North and West.
It was a success pretty much from the start, as Republicans soon won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives. Things got a bit heated, however. In 1856, Republican Senator Charles Sumner from Massachusetts gave a passionate speech on the Senate floor, criticizing several pro-slavery Senators. This infuriated South Carolina Representative Preston S. Brooks who, two days later, beat Sumner unconscious with a cane on the Senate floor. Brooks was declared a jerk, or the 19th century equivalent, and even more Northerners began to support the Republican cause.
Later that year, Western explorer John C. Freemont ran as the first Republican candidate for President. He won about a third of the popular vote, but lost the election to James Buchanan. Four years later, the Republican Party nominated Abraham Lincoln for President. You probably know the rest.
I mention all of this because I think it’s important to see just where the Republican Party came from and how devastatingly it has fallen. You know, I’m not one to advocate violence, but if someone beat, say, Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz with a cane on the Senate floor right now, I’d probably just, you know, shake my head (SMH). Or perhaps just take a walk on this lovely day and try not to panic about pretty much everything that is going on in this country, even though all I can do is panic. The Republican party, with such noble beginnings, once stood for essentially the opposite of what it stands for now. Maybe (hopefully) it’s time for it to come to an end.