Liberty, the Fair Maid of Kansas__In the Hands of the “Border Ruffians.”  Lithograph.  (n. p., 1856).

            President Franklin Pierce and the Democratic Party leaders rape and plunder Kansas, shown here as a flag-draped woman.  “Border ruffians” was the term for pro-slavery Missourians who, in their effort to make Kansas Territory a slave state, rigged elections and attacked free state settlers.



“Address of the Independent Democrats in Congress; to the People of the United States.  Shall Slavery be Permitted in Nebraska?” in Facts for the People, Washington, D. C., March, 1854.

            This address of January 22 by two Senators and four Representatives is perhaps the earliest call for a new political movement to resist the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and is indicative of the fusion and merging of political tendencies that marked the birth of the Republican Party.  It is signed by, among others, Sen. Charles Sumner (upper left) of Massachusetts, a “Conscience Whig” turned Free Soiler; Rep. Joshua R. Giddings (lower left) and Sen. Salmon Portland Chase (upper right) of Ohio, a Whig and a Democrat; and Rep. Gerrit Smith (lower right) of New York, a radical Liberty Party abolitionist.

            Widely circulated in pamphlet editions and newspapers, the Address is shown here in Facts for the People, the monthly supplement to Gamaliel Bailey’s antislavery newspaper, The National Era.  Bailey’s newspaper actively promoted the rising Republican movement.  A few months earlier, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s antislavery classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, unfolded in weekly installments in this newspaper before its publication as a best-selling book.



“Map of Kanzas & Nebraska,” reproduced from Edward Everett Hale, Kanzas and Nebraska: the History, Geographical and Physical Characteristics, and Political Position of those Territories; and Account of the Emigrant Aid Companies, and Directions to Emigrants (Boston: Phillips, Sampson and Company, 1854).

            Hale’s book was the first to promote mass emigration of northern settlers to the new territory to ensure its eventual admission as a free state.  His map reproduced here shows the Missouri Compromise line in the lower right, just below Kansas’s southern border.  Included in this guidebook for settlers is an account of the emigrant aid societies in New England and New York formed to organize the migration of northerners and immigrants into the new territory.



New England Emigrant Aid Company, Charter.  An Act to Incorporate the New England Emigrant Aid Company [Boston, 1855].

            If “popular sovereignty” was to determine freedom or slavery in Kansas, then the solution was to flood the territory with free state settlers.  Such was the program of the New England Emigrant Aid Company.  This brief pamphlet outlines the objects of the Company to transport emigrants, secure land, and provide the material support for establishing communities.



Illinois Woman’s Kansas Aid and Liberty Association, Constitution and By-Laws (Chicago: Daily Tribune Book and Job Office, 1856).

Activist women of the free states were a driving force in reform efforts of the 1850s and indispensable in promoting the antislavery elements of the emerging Republican Party.  As the violent assaults of proslavery Missourians on free state settlers increased, Illinois women organized to provide money, clothes, and other aid to free state supporters. “All the horrors of a civil  war are now impending, for the purpose of steeping the generous soil of Kansas in the pollution and blood of slavery.”  This pamphlet was issued from the presses of Joseph Medill’s newspaper, The Daily Tribune, an important voice in the early Republican movement.



Henry Ward Beecher, Defence of Kansas (Washington, 1856).

            Beecher, of Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, and brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the best known of the abolition clergy who would rise to prominence in the Republican movement.  For him, free Kansas was a moral crusade pitting free labor northerners against the violence and tyranny of slavery in a war of contending civilizations.  “The Free State men come hither with books, newspapers, free schools, Lyceums, churches, and the whole retinue of beneficent institutions of Christian civilization.  The Slave State men come without books, without schools, or a wish for them.  They come with statutes framed for making free thought a sin, free speech a penitentiary offense, a free press punishable with death if it in the least loosens the bonds of oppression.”  He supported armed resistance to the pro-slavery forces; the rifles supplied to free state supporters in Kansas were known as “Beecher’s Bibles.



The Voice of Kansas, Let the South Respond.  Appeal by the Law and Order Party of Kansas Territory to Their Friends in the South, and to the Law-Abiding People of the North (New Orleans? 1856). 

            David R. Atchison and other proslavery leaders urge southerners to come to the aid of slavery in Kansas against the violent aggression of abolitionist free state forces.  The proslavery forces had recently attacked the free state town of Lawrence, and John Brown had begun his bloody campaign against proslavery settlers.  Atchison and his comrades agreed with Henry Ward Beecher that they were engaged in a war of contending civilizations.  “Kansas they [free state settlers] justly regard as the mere outpost in the war now being waged between the antagonistic civilizations of the North and the South; and winning this great outpost and stand-point, they rightly think their march will be open to an easy conquest of the whole field.”


            The Republican Party quickly began to emerge in what one commentator called “the confusion of fusion,” as the politically various opponents of the Pierce Administration’s pro-slavery policies sought to find common ground.  Though Horace Greeley took credit for the party name, it seems to have arisen spontaneously among many westerners seeking to reclaim the Jeffersonian heritage from the Democrats.  Exact origins of the party are unclear. The earliest gathering to take the name may have been a convention in Ripon, Wisconsin, in early 1854.  In July, in Jackson, Michigan, Zachariah Chandler (left) helped organize the state Republican Party that sent Kingsley Bingham (right) to the statehouse as a Republican Governor, and launched Chandler on his twenty-year stint in the Senate in 1857.


            In Illinois, Stephen Douglas’s home state, Free Soiler Owen Lovejoy (left) spearheaded an unsuccessful effort to organize a state Republican Party in 1854.  Whigs and anti-Nebraska Democrats, reluctant to abandon their parties, organized an opposition movement that sent Democrat Lyman Trumbull (right) to the House in 1854 and next year to the Senate.  He became a Republican in 1857.  Lovejoy won a House seat as a Republican in 1856.


            In Indiana the Republican movement was initially a fusion of anti-administration Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers, temperance advocates, and Know Nothings organized in 1854 as the People’s Party.  Schuyler Colfax, a Whig editor, and at one time a Know Nothing supporter, rode the fusion movement to the House in 1854, and again in 1856 as a Republican.  He served six consecutive terms and was later vice-president under Ulysses S. Grant.



United States Congress, House of Representatives, Report of the Special Committee Appointed to Investigate the Troubles in Kansas; With the Views of the Minority of Said Committee (Washington D. C.: Cornelius Wendell, Printer, 1856).

Though Ohio was home to dedicated antislavery men such as Salmon P. Chase, Ben Wade, and Joshua Giddings, the July convention that marked the beginnings of the Republican Party was dominated by moderates like John Sherman.  From the conglomeration of Free Soilers, Whigs, opposition Democrats, and Know Nothings emerged a movement that variously called itself the People’s Ticket, the Anti-Nebraska Ticket, and, in a few cases, Republican.  Running on a platform limited to resisting the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the opposition swept the state in the 1854 elections.  In 1856, Congressman Sherman headed this massive investigation exposing proslavery violence and electoral fraud in the Kansas Territory.



The Whig Almanac and United States Register for 1855 (New York: Greeley & McElrath, 1854). 

            The fall elections in 1854 saw a resounding vote of no confidence in the Pierce administration’s Kansas policy as opponents took control of the House of Representatives.  Forty-eight of them – from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Maine, Michigan, and Pennsylvania – called themselves Republicans.  In this tabulation of election returns opponents of the Kansas policy of all political tendencies are noted in roman type. 

            In 1855 the 34th Congress was rocked by three months of angry debate over the Speakership of the House of Representatives.  Finally, Massachusetts Republican Nathaniel Banks was selected as Speaker.  Pierce administration opponents stymied further administration efforts to support slavery in Kansas.


In Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, the Know Nothing movement advanced as rapidly, if not more so, than the Republican movement.  Fusion efforts were partially successful, but it soon became a question of whether the Know Nothings would consume the Republicans, or vice-versa.  Who would form the national political party to compete with the Democrats?

When the Know-Nothings’ American Party assembled in a national organizing meeting in Philadelphia in July, 1855, Henry Wilson, a Massachusetts Republican and Know Nothing member, led an effort to put the party on record opposing the extension of slavery — essentially to graft Republican politics onto the Know Nothing movement.  Fearing loss of southern support, the Convention refused, and anti-slavery nativists were increasingly driven into the Republican fold.


In New York early Republican fusion efforts were overrun by the rapidly growing Know Nothing movement and temperance supporters.  “Anti-Rome” and “Anti-Rum” eclipsed antislavery.  Whig leaders Senator William H. Seward (left) and newspaper publisher Thurlow Weed (right) resisted efforts to dilute Republicanism and opposed the fusion movement.  Among the early Republicans, Seward was one of the most outspoken opponents of the Know Nothing movement. 



Republican Party, Address of the Republican Convention, Convened at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, On the 22nd of February, 1656 [sic.] (Washington: Published by the Republican Association, Buell & Blanchard, Printers, 1856).

            The American Party’s refusal to adopt any position opposing the extension of slavery underscored for Republicans the necessity of forming a new national political party.  At their organizing convention in Pittsburgh the delegates adopted this statement by New York Times editor Henry Raymond condemning the Democrats for becoming the tool of slavery expansion:  “Believing that the present National Administration has shown itself to be weak and faithless, and that its continuance in power is identified with the progress of the slave power to national supremacy . . . it is a leading purpose of our organization to oppose and overthrow it.”  Republicans prepared for their national convention in Philadelphia in June to  select candidates for the coming presidential campaign.