March 20, 1854 birth of the GOP and the beginning of the end for slavery.
The Republican Party was founded this week by anti-slavery activists in 1854.
Alvan Bovay had been waiting, and now his time had finally arrived. Long a passionate advocate for halting the expansion of slavery, Bovay had been making plans for a new party as early as 1852. During the Whig Convention of 1852, at a dinner meeting in New York with Horace Greeley, editor at the New York Tribune, Bovay made his case. Greeley, and his newspaper, had long been supporters of the Whig party, and held much influence. While the two men discussed the likely nomination of General Winfield Scott as the Whig candidate for president (over the incumbent Millard Fillmore), telegrams were arriving every five minutes with data confirming their foresight. The real debate then turned to the upcoming Presidential election. Greeley thought Scott could win, Bovay was sure he couldn’t. And Bovay proved to be right—Democrat Franklin Pierce’s eventual victory over General Scott during the 1852 Presidential election devastated the Whig party and, to Bovay, signaled the end of the Whig Party’s ability to challenge the Democrats.
With the Whigs no longer able to assert enough political influence to challenge the Southern-controlled Democratic Party, Bovay realized the immediate need for a new party—one not interested in compromising, but fully opposing the expansion of slavery. While the Whig Party was weakening in 1850, new compromises were being enacted, allowing new territories the popular sovereignty to decide whether to be slave or free-states. Part of the Compromise of 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act deemed all runaway slaves captured in the North legally must be returned to their southern owners.
To Bovay, and many other northerners, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was a further example of southern slave policies expanding into the North—and with the weakening of the Whig party, who was to stop further expansion?
RIPON & THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
In January of 1854, Stephen A. Douglas, a Democratic Senator from Illinois, introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the political crossroads for which Bovay had been waiting finally arrived. Bovay, and others, viewed the Kansas-Nebraska Act as a direct assault on the Missouri Compromise of 1820 and a flaunting of unchecked political power by the Democrats. Bovay had had enough. In the months leading up to March of 1854, Bovay had discussions with others in Ripon (with prominent Whigs, Free-Soilers, and Democrats opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act) similar to the one he and Horace Greeley had two years earlier. In a letter to Greeley, dated February 26, 1854, Bovay states clearly:
“It seems to me you can no longer doubt, or remain passive. Every phase of the prophecy I made to you in New York two years ago has come to pass. The Nebraska Bill [Kansas-Nebraska Act] is sure to become a law. Slavery has been growing stronger instead of weaker, and as long as its opponents gather in little bands here and there, it will continue to increase in power and aggression…Now is the time to organize a great party to oppose it.”
Curious to how ripe the time was for political action, Bovay announced a meeting in the Ripon Herald for February 28, 1854 in the Congressional Church. The meeting was very well attended, as Bovay found that the people were ripe for any action whatsoever—Whigs, Free-Soilers, Free-Democrats, and Democrats alike. The meeting was held solely for the discussion of principles and comparison of views. A resolution was adopted that, according to Bovay, if the Nebraska Bill, then pending, should pass, they would throw old party organizations to the winds, and organize a new party on the sole issue of the non-extension of slavery:
“I set to work in the most systematic way that I could, to dissolve the Whig party, and to organize the Republican Party right here, fully convinced that others would do the like elsewhere.”
Bovay, and other Riponites, continued to organize, and printed the resolutions passed during the first meeting in Ripon Herald on March 8. Meanwhile, four days later in Milwaukee, captured runaway slave Joshua Glover was freed from a Milwaukee jail by a mob of abolitionists and anti-slavery supporters. The mob was acting in direct disobedience to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850—surely Bovay’s organizational efforts were boosted by the compassionate display in Milwaukee.