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February 22, 1856; but no nominations were made. Subsequently a
call was issued for the Convention that met in Philadelphia on the
17th of June. This was the most spontaneous National Convention in
the history of American politics. The delegates were not chosen by
any settled rule. All the Free States w r ere represented, as were also
Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky. In this convention New York
cast 96 votes, Pennsylvania 81, and Ohio 69. The convention met in
Musical Fund Hall, and continued in session for three days. Col.
Henry S. Lane, of Indiana, was made President. Lane had been a
Representative in Congress from 1841 to 1843, but was not widely
known outside of his ow r n State. The delegates met as members of
the same party for the first time, and most of them were unknown



to each other. They represented all shades of anti-slavery opinion
the Abolitionist, the Free Soiler, Democrats who had supported the
Wilmot Proviso, and Whigs who had followed Seward, Weed, and
Greeley. Mr. Seward was the recognized head of the party, but as yet
he had no desire for the Presidential nomination. He believed that
his time had not yet come. Salmon P. Chase, who w r as then Governor
of Ohio, and was almost equally a favorite with these early Repub-
licans, was also averse to leading a forlorn hope. The Whig element
of the party w r as favorable to the nomination of Judge McLean of the
Supreme Court, but the younger men, who had accepted the issue pre-
sented by the South and w r ere unwilling to offer any compromise, de-
manded a younger, a more energetic, and a more attractive candidate.
Judge McLean was old, and belonged to the past. The party was
3 7 oung, and was looking to the
future. As it was a young men's
convention, it is not surprising
that John C. Fremont, of Cal-
ifornia, received 359 votes to 190
for John McLean, of Ohio.

Fremont was admirably fitted
for the part he was chosen to
perform. The party and the
man the cause and its stand-
ard-bearer were counterparts
of each other. His career had
the spice of adventure, his life
had a tinge of romance. As a
young lieutenant in the army,
he had eloped with Jessie Ben-
ton, the charming, piquant, and

brilliant daughter of the stern and majestic old Senator from Mis-
souri. In his" twenty-seventh year he had explored the South Pass,
and penetrated to the Rocky Mountains and the Great Salt Lakes.
Still later he unfolded the Alta California, the Sierra Nevada, and the
valleys of the San Joaquin and the Sacramento. At the age of thirty-
six he had come back to Washington as the first Senator from the
new State of California. He was now only 43. He was youthful in
figure and quiet in manner, with the reputation of a savant as well as
that of a hero. He was not only the " Pathfinder," who had opened
up one-half of a vast continent to civilization, but he now took the
lead in freeing the other half from slavery. The movement in his be-
half had been aided, if not originated, by Francis P. Blair, the elder.
Blair had been hostile to Calhoun, and although still a Democrat in



name, he was bitterly opposed to the Pro-Slavery Democracy. He was
the intimate and devoted friend of Colonel Benton, and it was hoped
that Benton would oppose Buchanan, whom he never liked, and sup-
port Fremont, whom he liked very much. But the claims of party
had a stronger hold upon the veteran than family ties, even though
it was certain that Buchanan's administration would be a continua-
tion of that of President Pierce, to which Benton had objected with
all the fierceness of his nature.

An informal ballot for a candidate for Vice-President was taken,
the men who were voted for being William L. Dayton, of New Jersey;
Abraham Lincoln, of Illinois; Nathaniel P. Banks, of Massachusetts;
David Wilmot, of Pennsylvania; Charles Simmer, of Massachusetts;

Jacob Collamer, of Vermont;
Preston King, of New York; S.
C. Pomeroy, of Kansas; Henry
Wilson, of Massachusetts;
Thomas H. Ford, of Ohio; Cas-
sius M. Clay, of Kentucky;
Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio;
William F. Johnston, of Penn-
sylvania, and William Penning-
ton, of New Jersey. Besides,
three votes for a Mr. Carey, of
New Jersey, whose given name
seems to have been lost, were
cast on this ballot. Dayton re-
ceived 259 votes and Lincoln 110,
while Banks had only 40 and
Wilmot 43. Eleven of the Penn-
sylvania votes went to Abraham
Lincoln. When the future

President heard, at his Springfield home, of the votes cast for
" Lincoln " for Vice-President, he remarked, " That is probably
the distinguished Mr. Lincoln of Massachusetts." Singularly
enough, the distinguished Mr. Lincoln of Massachusetts is almost
beyond identification, while the obscure Mr. Lincoln of Illinois
enjoys a world-wide fame, and has a place in the hearts of his
countrymen second only to the veneration that is felt for the name of
Washington. " When you meet Judge Dayton present my respects,"
Lincoln wrote to John Van Dyke, one of the delegates, a few days
after the convention, " and tell him I think him a far better man than
I for the position he is in, and I shall support both him and Colonel
Fremont most cordially." Although Dayton had not received a ma-



jority of votes cast on the informal ballot, his nomination was never-
theless at once made unanimous.

A glance at the different candidates before the Convention for the
Vice-Presidency may not be inopportune, as affording an estimate of
the makers of the Republican party. Judge Dayton had had a distin-
guished career as a Senator in Congress. He was a graduate of
Princeton and a lawyer of eminence. Lincoln had served in the Illi-
nois Legislature, and had been a member of the 30th Congress. He
had gained prominence in the autumn of 1854 by his vigorous' speeches
in Illinois in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the skill
witli which he had met Senator Douglas in joint debate. As a lawyer
he occupied a noteworthy position at the Western bar. Banks was
serving his second term in the House of Representatives, of which he
had been elected Speaker after one of the most memorable contests
in the history of Congress. Wilmot, who was famous because of the
Proviso that bore his name, was President Judge of the Thirteenth
Judicial District of Pennsylvania. Sumner had beaten Robert C.
Winthrop for the United States Senate in 1850, and already occupied
a prominent position as an opponent of slavery. Collamer had been a
judge in Vermont, a member of Congress, Postmaster-General under
President Taylor, and was serving his first term in the United States
Senate. Preston King had served eight years in the House of Repre-
sentatives, and was then a Senator from New York. Both Wilmot
and King had been Democrats; Sumner was a Free Soiler, if not an
Abolitionist, and Collamer was a Whig. Pomeroy was one of the
champions of freedom, who emigrated to Kansas from Massachusetts
to aid in the work projected by Thayer and directed by Robinson.
Wilson was serving his first term in the United States Senate. Ford
was as yet almost unknown. Clay was conspicuous as a Kentucky
Free Soiler, who maintained the stand he had taken in his own State
by his fiery eloquence and determined courage. Giddings was the
famous Ohio Abolitionist. Johnston had been a Whig Governor of
Pennsylvania, and Pennington was, like Ford, as yet not widely

The platform devised by the Philadelphia Convention was un-
usually bold in its declarations. Not only did it " deny the authority
of Congress, or of a Territorial Legislature, of any individual, or asso-
ciation of individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any Terri-
tory of the United States," but it went further and resolved " that
the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign pow r er over the Ter-
ritories of the United States for their government, and in the exercise
of this power the right and duty of Congress to prohibit in the Terri-
tories those twin relics of barbarism polygamy and slavery." It


aimed a blow at Mr. Buchanan, the Democratic candidate, by de-
claring that " the highwayman's plea that might makes right, em-
bodied in the Ostend circular, was in every respect unworthy of
American diplomacy, and would bring shame and dishonor upon any
government of people that gave it their sanction." It further de-
manded the immediate admission of Kansas as a Free State, and in-
vited " the affiliation and co-operation of men of all parties, however
differing from them in other respects, in support of the principles

The platforms of all the other Conventions were essentially Pro-
Slavery. The " Americans " declared
themselves in favor of the unqualified
recognition and maintenance of the re-
served rights of the several States, and
the cultivation of harmony and frater-
nal good-will between the citizens of the
several States, and the non-interference
by Congress with questions appertain-
ing solely to the indi-
vidual States, and
non-intervention b y
each State with the
affairs of any other
State. The Whigs de-
clared their reverence
for the Constitution
and an unalterable attachment to the
Union, deplored the disordered condi-
tion of national affairs, and denounced
parties " founded only on geographical
distinctions." According to the Whig

CJ ^

platform, the restoration of Mr. Fillmore
to the Presidency would furnish the
best, if not the only, means of restoring
peace. The Democratic platform indorsed the repeal of the Missouri
Compromise, and recognized the right of the people of all the Terri-
tories to form a Constitution with or without domestic slavery.

The Presidential canvass that followed was one of the most ani-
mated since the Log Cabin and Hard Cider campaign of 1840. Evi-
dence of the enthusiasm with which the opponents of slavery en-
tered upon their work is found in the series of Fremont medals that
were distributed all over the North and W T est. One of these was
called " Jessie's Choice," a reference to Fremont's marriage with


Jessie Benton. Another represented a surveying party surveying a
mountain, on the top of which was the White House. Still another,
of white metal, is the largest campaign piece known. The obverse
shows a fine portrait of Fremont. On the reverse is a wreath inclos-
ing these inscriptions: " The Rocky Mountains echo back Fremont ";
"The People's Choice for 1856"; "Constitutional Freedom." Be-
neath the wreath is a scroll, with " Free " in the middle, and " Men "
and " Soil " at either end. The Buchanan medals w T ere few in number,
but one of them was especially noteworthy. It was a large, white
metal piece, showing on the obverse " a buck leaping over a cannon."
The Know-Nothings struck three medals one containing a portrait
of Millard Fillmore; one an American flag with three rents, with the
inscription " Our Flag Trampled Upon "; and one a reproduction of a
medal of the Old American party, that in 1844 had called upon Amer-
icans to " Beware of Foreign Influence." These medals, some of
which still exist, are interesting mementoes of the birth of the Re-
publican party, of its first campaign, and especially of its first ro-
mantic and accomplished candidate for the Presidency.

In the campaign Fremont was denounced as a sectional candidate,
whose election by Northern votes on an anti-Slavery platform would
dissolve the Union. This cry w r as supported by the fact that electoral
tickets were not presented by the Republicans in the Slave States.
On the other hand, Fillmore's support in the South was weakened
by his obvious inability to carry any of the Free States. Thus the
contest was soon narrowed to a battle between Buchanan and Fre-
mont in the North. The Democratic platform was differently under-
stood by the Democracy of the two sections. In the North it was con-
tended that slavery could not enter a Territory unless its inhabitants
desired and approved its introduction. The Democratic doctrine of
the South was that slavery was to be protected in the Territories un-
til State Governments were formed and admission to the Union se-
cured. This meant that in the Territorial Legislatures laws might
be passed to protect slavery, but not to exclude it. It was against
this construction of Mr. Douglas's doctrine of " Popular Sovereignty "
that the Republicans contended. They claimed that Freedom and not
Slavery w r as the normal condition of the Territories, and boldly as-
serted throughout the campaign the right and the duty of Congress
to exclude slavery, as enunciated in the Philadelphia platform. But
the cries of sectionalism and disunion were still more powerful with
a large part of the Northern people, especially the commercial classes,
then logical deductions in Constitutional interpretation, or hostility
to the extension of slavery as contemplated by the South. If the is-
sues presented by the platform had only been abstract questions,



there can be little doubt that the Republicans would have met with
overwhelming defeat, even in the Free States. Instead of being ab-
stractions, the canvass palpitated with life and energy, because of
the Kansas conflict and the attempt to fasten slavery upon Kansas
by force and fraud. Border ruffianism in the Territory and the arro-
gance of the leaders of the slave power in Congress, rather than the
principles of the Philadelphia platform, gave vitality to the Republi-
can party in the campaign of 1856.

Events that had occurred almost upon the eve of the meeting of the
Republican Convention were of the most exasperating character.
Not only had civil war been precipitated in Kansas, but the sanctity
of the Senate had been invaded. While the Republicans of the North
and West were preparing for the Convention at Philadelphia, Senator
Sumuer was stricken down in his seat in the Senate Chamber by

Preston S. Brooks, a Representative
from South Carolina. For two days
Sumner had stood in his place in the
Senate delivering a philippic of ex-
traordinary range and power, aimed
at the designs of the South in behalf
of slavery. This w T as the speech that
was sent broadcast over the land
during the campaign with the title
of the " Crime Against Kansas."
The audience before which it was
delivered was in keeping with the
character of the occasion and the
fame of the orator. The ladies' gal-
lery overflowed with the fashionable
and earnest women of the capital.
The lobbies were crowded with poli-
ticians from all parts of the country, and with members of the House.
With one or two exceptions the Senators were all in their seats. Few
of the slave champions failed to feel the shock of Sumner's lance. Two
Senators especially suffered from his merciless invective and bitter
sarcasm. These were Stephen A. Douglas and Arthur P. Butler.
One of them Sunnier called the Don Quixote, the other the Sancho
Panza of Slavery. Douglas listened with ill-concealed hate, and a
rage that he was scarcely able to repress. His reply showed how
keenly he felt the thrusts of his antagonist. He answered with vitu-
peration and personalities, asking with undignified vindictiveness, as
if Sumner was unworthy of the courtesy that one gladiator extends
to another, " Is it his object to provoke some of us to kick him, as we



would a dog in the street, that he may get sympathy upon the great
chastisement?" But Butler was not impaled as Douglas had been;
he was, however, treated with contemptuous and scathing references
to " the loose expectoration of his speech/' and as one who " touches
nothing which he does not disfigure with error, sometimes of prin-
ciple, sometimes of fact," while Butler's State, South Carolina, was
not spared in Sumner's arraignment. " Has he read the history of
the State which he represents? " the Massachusetts Senator asked.
" He can not surely have forgotten its - shameful imbecility from
slavery, continued throughout the Revolution, followed by its more
shameful assumption for slavery since." Butler was absent and, per-
haps, ill; and Brooks came over from the House, the next day, to be-
come his avenger and the avenger of his State. A few men knew of
his purpose to chastise Sumner, among them Keitt, one of Brooks's
colleagues from South Carolina, and Edmondson, a member of the
House from Virginia. Keitt was an accessory to the assault. Among
the Senators who witnessed it were Douglas, who had talked of kick-
ing Sumner only the day before, and three sorry figures from
the South in the subsequent Rebellion Toombs, Mason, and
Slidell. The Senate had adjourned, but Sumner was still at his desk
absorbed in the letters he was writing to catch the mails for the
North. " I have read your speech twice over carefully," said Brooks,
coming up behind Sumner. " It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr.
Butler, who is a relative of mine Sumner heard no more, for

the blows were raining thick and fast upon him, and he was unable
to rise because his long legs were under his desk. James W. Simon-
ton, the agent of the New York Associated Press, attempted to inter-
fere, but Keitt rushed in, saying, " Let them alone, G d d n you."
Sumner was beaten to the floor. Only the thick mass of hair that
covered his scalp saved him, probably, from a fatal fracture of the
skull. It was many months before he fully recovered from the effects
of the blows. The Senate made a lame complaint to the House, and
in anticipation of expulsion Brooks resigned. The Knight of the
Bl.udgeon was not only re-elected, but was treated as a hero in South
Carolina. Some of his admirers presented him with a cane inscribed
" Use knock-down arguments," and others gave him another cane
bearing the classical legend, " Hit him again." But in the North a
wave of indignation swept over the country. In the Senate Senator
Wilson characterized the assault upon his colleague as " brutal, mur-
derous, and cowardly," whereupon Senator Butler exclaimed, " You
are a liar." Brooks challenged Wilson, and Wilson, of course, de-
clined the challenge. Anson Burlingame denounced the assault in
the House, and was challenged by Brooks, but did not decline the


challenge. Burlingame named rifles as the weapons, and the Clifton
House, Canada, as the place of meeting; but as the Massachusetts
Representative was a dead shot with the rifle, Brooks objected to the
meeting place and the duel never came off. Brooks was afterward
tried for the offense in the courts of the District of Columbia, and
fined $300. The outrage and its consequences w r ere worth many votes
to the Republicans in November, 1856.

The Kansas conflict was, of course, an important element in the
campaign. The Territory swarmed with the minions of the slave
pow r er, intent on its subjugation. Outrages and murders, even, were
frequent. On the 21st of May, 1850, Lawrence was surrounded by
armed bands of " border ruffians " under General Atchison, who, with
the " Platte County Rifles " and two pieces of artillery, approached
from Lecompton on the w r est. On the east the town was beleaguered
by a regiment of wild young men, mainly recruited in South Carolina
and Georgia, who had come to Kansas in the spring under Colonel Bu-
ford, armed, in military array, and with the avowed purpose of making
Kansas a slave State. This force bristled with weapons obtained
from the Federal officers in charge of the United States Armory, and
it w r as commanded by a formidable array of colonels Colonel Titus, of
Florida; Colonel Wilkes, from South Carolina, and Colonel Boone, from
Westport, Missouri; and one General General String-fellow, a Vir-
ginian. The people of Lawrence were unprepared to resist, and
agreed to surrender their artillery, which consisted of a twelve-pound
howitzer and four smooth-bore pieces, that had been buried some days
before, and were now dug up and turned over to the invaders. Then
the Free State Hotel and two Free State printing offices were de-
stroyed at the instigation of Atchison. The house of Charles Robin-
son, who had been elected Governor by the Free State settlers, was
next set on fire, but the flames were extinguished before the building
was finally consumed. In June Osawatomie was attacked by a force
under General Whitfield. The town of Leavenworth, on the border,
was taken possession of by a large force, mainly Missourians, on the
1st of September. One of the incidents of this " Kansas War " was
the so-called " battle of Black Jack," when twenty-eight Free State
men, led by old John Brown, fought and defeated, on the open prairie,
fifty-six border ruffians, headed by H. Clay Pate, from Virginia. All of
this band that had not run away or been killed were captured, be-
sides their horses, mules, wagons, provisions, and campaign equipage.
A Legislature, chosen under a Free State Constitution previously
adopted by the settlers, met at Topeka on the 4th of July, but its mem-
bers were dispersed by a force of regulars under Colonel Sumner. by
order of President Pierce. In spite of the persecution and discourage-


ments the emigration to Kansas continued, and, supported by Repub-
lican oratory in the campaign throughout the North, was maturing
and hardening into the bones and sinew of a Free State. The South
gained nothing by these usurpations and outrages, while the North
was consolidated and strengthened in support of the Republican

The Republican canvass increased in animation as it progressed.
There were great political meetings in all of the great cities, as there
always are, and smaller meetings in the towns and villages, and rustic
gatherings in the schoolhouses everywhere. It was a young man's
campaign, and the young men were the orators and the makers of the
party. Somehow the leaders who were ambitious by nature, and
politicians by instinct, had little real share in a movement that was
too spontaneous for their cautious methods. Indeed, many of those
who were in the front in the later years, and claimed their full share
of the glory, were still coquetting with their own consciences as half-
hearted followers of Fillmore, or too hopeful and confiding adherents
of Buchanan. Although Seward was proclaiming the " irrepressible
conflict," that made him an object of hatred to the South, he was es-
sentially a man of conservative and conciliatory temper, and had
little real sympathy with a candidate whom he could only regard as
an expression of youthful enthusiasm in the creation of the party.
Chase's support of Fremont w as in a measure perfunctory, and was
extended to the platform rather than to the candidate. Wade was
more hearty, as was to be expected from a man of his rugged and
sometimes vindictive nature. Sumner was disabled for the work of
the campaign, and was scarcely able to do more than to go home to
vote for Fremont and Dayton and his gallant and devoted friend,
Anson Burlingame. The real workers were the men of whom Bur-
lingame was a type. He was a man of brawn and brain, stalwart and
handsome, and brave to the verge of recklessness. Among the others
were Banks, whose election as Speaker gave him great prominence;
John Sherman, who, like Banks, was in his second term in Congress;
Eli Thayer, whom " Sunset " Cox described as " a living steam en-
gine"; Roscoe Conkling, then only beginning a career that was to
prove exceptionally brilliant; Galusha A. Grow, saucy in bravado, but
as ready to give a blow as to provoke one; John A. Bingham, a man of
unusual eloquence and ardor; and Thaddeus Stevens, tenacious,
courageous, bitter of speech, inflexible in the resistance of wrong.
There was a still younger generation in popular recognition if not in
years, which embraced such men as James G. Blaine, Andrew G.
Curtin, Austin Blair, Schuyler Coif ax, and Oliver P. Morton; and one
still younger, that was just leaving college to begin careers scarcely


less distinguished with the year of the formal organization of the
Republican party. It is unnecessary to name in this place the men
who still cherished the traditions of the party of Clay and Webster,
or lingered with the Democracy, deluding themselves with the hope
that Buchanan would reverse the policy of Pierce in the Kansas sur-

The result of the election was what had been foreseen. Buchanan
and Breckinridge carried every Slave State, except Maryland. Fill-

Online LibraryGeorge Oberkirsh SeilhamerHistory of the Republican party (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 61)