Since the inception of the Second Party System in the 1830s, both the Whig party and Democratic party had run successful national campaigns avoiding any sectional issues of contentions and at the same time distinguishing themselves from their opponents. While the Whig party stood for internal improvement, infrastructure projects, industrialization, and protection of infant industry against foreign competition, the Democratic party embraced a small government state centered approach to politics. With the sectional tension in the early 1850s increasing, southern Whig struggled to appease their voters about the growing anti-slavery rhetoric among northern Whig. By the 1852 presidential election southern Whig could not provide their voters with assurances anymore that the party stood for the defense of slavery. The result was the party’s disappearance. Initially the nativist American Party seemed like the most likely successor of the Whigs, since nativism was a national issue. But with the emergence of conflict in Kansas, the American Party seemed out of touch with reality.

Between 1854 and 1856 a new party emerged in the northern states; a coalition of nativists, reformers, homeless Whigs, disgruntled Democrats, new immigrants, anti-slavery advocates, and free soiler, the Republican party. The party initially stood simply opposed to all expansion of slavery into the western territories and embraced the slogan: “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Man, Free Speech.” The party in their first national run came within two state of winning the presidency. The growing strength of the party, continued coalition building, and growing tensions over slavery and southern oppression, created hope for the election of 1861. With a moderate candidate in Abraham Lincoln and an expanded program that emphasized no farther expansion of slavery, internal improvements, tariff protection of domestic industry, a transcontinental railroad, and homestead legislation, the Republican Party complete the realignment of the political system in the United States and defeated the Democratic party in 1860.

Image: 1856 Republican Campaign Poster of John C. Frémont and William Dayton, N. Currier, Library of Congress.