Scholars agree that the origins of the
party grew out of the sectional conflicts regarding the expansion
of slavery into the new Western territories. The stimulus for
political realignment was provided by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska
Act of 1854. That law repealed earlier compromises that had excluded
slavery from the territories. The passage of this act served as
the unifying agent for abolitionists and split the Democrats and
the Whig party. "Anti-Nebraska" protest meetings spread
rapidly through the country. Two such meetings were held in Ripon,
Wis., on Feb. 28 and Mar. 20, 1854, and were attended by a group
of abolitionist Free Soilers, Democrats, and Whigs. They decided
to call themselves Republicans--because they professed to be political
descendants of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic- Republican party.
The name was formally adopted by a state convention held in Jackson,
Mich., on July 6, 1854.
The new party was a success from the beginning. In the 1854 congressional elections 44 Republicans were elected as a part of the anti-Nebraskan majority in the House of Representatives, and several Republicans were elected to the Senate and to various state houses. In 1856, at the first Republican national convention, Sen. John C. Fremont was nominated for the presidency but was defeated by Democrat James Buchanan. During the campaign the northern wing of the KNOW-NOTHING PARTY split off and endorsed the Republican ticket, making the Republicans the principal antislavery party.
Two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan, the Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which increased sectional dissension and was denounced by the Republicans. At this time the nation was also gripped by economic chaos. Business blamed tariff reductions, and Republican leaders called for greater tariff protection. The split in the Democratic party over the issue of slavery continued, and in 1858 the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the first time. One Republican who failed that year was Abraham LINCOLN, defeated in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat by Stephen A. Douglas.
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