Antebellum American politics witnessed the rise and fall of numerous anti-slavery political parties. Few of these parties succeeded in the long-term. In the mid-1850s, however, the various anti-slavery parties united into a single political party called the Republican Party. Winning the presidency with Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republican Party was the only political party dedicated to stopping the spread of slavery.
At an 1840 meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society in New York, the famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison won control of the organization. Garrison, however, was a radical, and opposed church membership and called the U.S. Constitution a "covenant with death." Other members of the Anti-Slavery Society disagreed with Garrison, so they walked out of the 1840 meeting and created the Liberty Party. This anti-Garrison offshoot of the AASS was the nation's first political party expressly opposed to slavery. The party ran James G. Birney for president that year, but won only 7,100 votes.
The Mexican-American War agitated anti-slavery abolitionists, because the war resulted in the the acquisition of territory that could make slavery legal. After the Wilmot Proviso -- which would have banned slavery in all new territory -- failed, supporters of the Proviso united to form the Free Soil Party in 1848. Running on a slogan of "free soil, free speech, free labor and free men," the Free Soil Party ran Martin Van Buren for president. While the party lost the election, it succeeded in electing numerous members of Congress.
In 1854, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act further aggravated anti-slavery Americans. The Act overturned the Compromise of 1820, which banned slavery north of the 36° 30' latitude line, and instead allowed the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide the fate of slavery based on popular sovereignty. For abolitionists, this meant that a territory where slavery was previously prohibited could now become a slave-holding state. Opponents of the law organized into an "Anti-Nebraska Coalition." The coalition consisted of members of the former Free Soil and Liberty Parties, as well as anti-slavery Whigs and Democrats. It eventually became the Republican Party.
Birth of the Republican Party
The anti-Nebraska Coalition rapidly coalesced into the Republican Party. In early 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin, anti-slavery forces met in a small schoolhouse to unite into a single party. According to the Republican Party's official history, they chose the name "Republican" because the name alluded to Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party, which was committed to liberty. Over the next two years, anti-slavery forces gradually joined the Republicans, and won elections such as Ohio governorship. By 1856, the party went national with its first party convention in Philadelphia. In 1860, having adopted the Free Soil Party's mantra of "free soil, free speech, free labor," the party won the presidency with Abraham Lincoln.
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