A Great Anti-Slavery Party~Origin of the Republican Party

The real story from a man who was there.


“The convention which met in Pittsburgh [Pennsylvania] on the 22nd of February, 1856, for the purpose of organizing a national Republican party, was called together by the chairmen of the Republican state committees of Ohio, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin. It was not a convention of delegates selected by constituent assemblies of the people, but a mass convention of men who favored the formation of a great national anti-slavery party and who volunteered their services in the undertaking. It was in session two days, and its purpose was fully accomplished, but the report of its proceedings in the newspapers of the time was meager and inadequate. They were published in pamphlet soon after the convention, but they covered only a few pages, being a mere skeleton of what happened and even less satisfactory than the newspaper reports, while they gave the reader no conception of the spirit and character of the gathering. No roll of the members was preserved, while the several histories of political parties and conventions which have since appeared contain little more than a mere reference to the subject. Since the writer is one of the very few survivors of the convention, and was officially and somewhat actively connected with its proceedings, and since there is always a natural curiosity to know something of the beginnings of a great historic movement, perhaps a brief paper on the subject may prove timely and not entirely without value as a contribution to the literature of politics. . . .


The convention assembled at eleven o’clock in La Fayette Hall, a building which disappeared years ago to make room for a larger structure. It was called to order by Hon. Lawrence Brainerd, of Vermont, who read the call upon which it had convened and asked John A. King, of New York, a son of Rufus King, to act as temporary chairman. After brief and appropriate remarks, Mr. King called on the Rev. Owen Lovejoy, who was present as a representative from Illinois, to open the proceedings with prayer. The name of Lovejoy was an inspiration, for it recalled the murder of his brother by a mob at Alton in 1837, for merely exercising his constitutional right of free speech in a free state in talking about slavery. The heart of the people was manifestly and fervently with him, and there was a suppressed murmur of applause when he asked God to enlighten the mind of the President of the United States, and turn him from his evil ways, and if this was not possible, to take him away, so that an honest and God-fearing man might fill his place. A committee on permanent organization was then appointed, and while it was engaged in its work in an adjoining room the people seemed to be hungry for speeches. When Horace Greeley, with his earnest, kindly face and long white coat, was seen in the audience, he was enthusiastically called for. On taking the platform, he was received with prolonged cheers. . . . .

[The meeting’s declaration:] ‘We therefore declare to the people of the United States as the objects for which we unite in political action: 1. That we demand and shall attempt to secure the repeal of all laws which allow the introduction of slavery into territory now consecrated to freedom, and will resist by every constitutional means the existence of slavery in any of the territories of the United States; 2. We will support by every lawful means our brethren in Kansas in their constitutional and manly resistance to the usurped authority of their lawless invaders; and we will give the full weight of our political power in favor of the immediate admission of Kansas to the Union as a free, sovereign and independent state; 3. Believing the present national administration has shown itself to be weak and faithless, and as its continuance in power is identified with the progress of the slave power to national supremacy, with the exclusion of freedom from the territories, and with unceasing civil discord, it is a leading purpose of our organization to oppose and overthrow it.’ . . . .

Their devotion to the cause and singleness of purpose kept them steadfast. They could have had no conception of the magnitude of the work which they were beginning. They did not dream of the civil war which was to result from the splendid courage of the new party in standing by its principles, nor of the magnificent part it was to play in crushing a great slaveholders’ rebellion. As little did they dream of the total extirpation of slavery in the United States in less than nine years, and its abolition throughout the civilized world which was to follow. They were building better than they knew. This was strikingly illustrated by Mr. Greeley’s account of the convention in the Tribune, in which he said, ‘its moral and political effect will be felt for a quarter of a century.’ He did not see the greatness of the work which had been inaugurated, because the angle of his vision left it outside of his horizon; but he lived to see the curtain lifted, and to realize that the movement in which he had shared involved the life of the Republic, the emancipation of a race, and the grand march of democratic government towards its world-wide triumph.”

From an article by George Washington Julian in The American Historical Review, Vol. 4, No. 2 (January, 1899), pp. 313-322.


George Washington Julian


George Washington Julian was born near Centerville, Wayne County, Indiana, on May 5, 1817. He studied law, became a practicing lawyer, served in the state legislature and write newspaper articles attacking slavery. In due course he joined the Free Soil Party and was elected to the U S Congress in 1848 where he worked with other anti-slavery men and opposed Henry Clay’s Compromise of 1850. In 1852 he was the Free Soil Party’s candidate for vice-president. As he relates in his article he associated himself with the new Republican Party at its inception. He won a seat in Congress as a Republican in 1860 and won re-election four times after his initial victory.

His first wife Anne Elizabeth Finch Julian died in November, 1860, shortly after his election. December of 1863 saw him marry for the second time, taking as his wife Laura Giddings, the daughter of the radical abolitionist Joshua Giddings. Giddings served in the House of Representatives from 1838 to 1842 and again from 1843 to 1859. Julian and Giddings became close friends.

Julian was the author of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution which extended voting rights to African-American males. He believed that all citizens should be allowed to vote. His original draft of the Fifteenth Amendment would have given women the right to vote. He also wrote legislation which extended voting rights to African-American males in the District of Columbia and the territories, such as the Dakota Territory, the New Mexico Territory, and Utah. As ratified by a sufficient number of states by February 3, 1870, the Amendment says: “Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

In 1872 Julian split from the Republican Party to join the Liberal Republicans who favored civil service reform and, appalled by the Republican abandonment of reform issues in the presidential election of 1876, he became a Democrat and gave a speech in favor of Samuel J Tilden. This speech, entitled The Gospel of Reform, was used by the Democrats as a campaign brochure, of which two million copies were distributed. Julian remained a Democrat for the rest of his life. When accused of changing sides, Julian maintained that the “sides changed” and that he remained true to his principles. President Grover Cleveland appointed Julian as Surveyor General of New Mexico where he served from July,1885 to September,1889. He returned to Indiana in 1889 and spent much of his remaining years writing, including a biography of his father-in-law, Joshua Giddings. George Washington Julian died in Irvington, Indiana, on July 7, 1899, and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

julian grave-3421376679

Does the Republican Party of 2016 have a candidate with the personal integrity and commitment to reform of George Washington Julian? Apparently not. Will any Republican candidate acknowledge the heritage of Mr Julian? Definitely not. People like him and Abraham Lincoln scare the pants off of the current Republican herd.

For more information on the life of Julian, see George W Julian by his daughter, Grace Julian Clarke (1923); George Washington Julian, Radical Republican; a Study in Nineteenth-century Politics and Reform by Patrick Riddleberger (1966).


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