Wednesday, May 13, 2020


Thomas Moran's watercolor of Old Faithful (1871).
His paintings were the first images of Yellowstone presented to the public.

[Part of Constituting America’s 90 Day Study - Days that Shaped America]

National Parks are the most visible manifestation of why America is exceptional.

America’s Parks are the physical touchstones that affirm our national identity.  Our historical Parks preserve our collective memory of events that shaped our nation.  Our natural Parks preserve the environment that shaped us.

National Parks are open to all to enjoy, learn, and contemplate.  This concept of preserving a physical space for the sole purpose of public access is a uniquely American invention.  It further affirms why America remains an inspiration to the world.

On March 1, 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant signed the law creating Yellowstone as the world’s first National Park. 

AN ACT to set apart a certain tract of land lying near the headwaters of the Yellowstone River as a public park. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the tract of land in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming ... is hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people; and all persons who shall locate, or settle upon, or occupy the same or any part thereof, except as hereinafter provided, shall be considered trespassers and removed there from ...

The Yellowstone legislation launched a system that now encompasses 419 National Parks with over 84 million acres.  Inspired by Grant’s act, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand established their own National Parks during the following years.

Yellowstone was not predestined to be the first National Park.

In 1806, John Colter, a member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery, joined fur trappers to explore several Missouri River tributaries.  Colter entered the Yellowstone area in 1807 and later reported on a dramatic landscape of “fire and brimstone”.  His description was rejected as too fanciful and labeled “Colter’s Hell”.

Over the years, other trappers and “mountain men” shared stories of fantastic landscapes of water gushing out of the ground and rainbow-colored hot springs.  They were all dismissed as fantasy.

After America’s Civil War formal expeditions were launched to explore the upper Yellowstone River system.  Settlers and miners were interested in the economic potential of the region. 

In 1869, Charles Cook, David Folsom, and William Peterson led a privately financed survey the region.  Their journals and personal accounts provided the first believable descriptions of Yellowstone’s natural wonders. 

Reports from the Cook-Folsom Expedition encouraged the first official government survey in 1870. Henry Washburn, the Surveyor General of the Montana Territory, led a large team known as the Washburn-Langford-Doan Expedition to the Yellowstone area. Nathaniel P. Langford, who co-led the team, was a friend of Jay Cook, a major investor in the Northern Pacific Railway.  Washburn was escorted by a U.S. Cavalry Unit commanded by Lt. Gustavus Doane. Their team, including Folsom, followed a similar course as Cook-Folsom 1869 excursion, extensively documenting their observations of the Yellowstone area.  They explored numerous lakes, mountains, and observed wildlife. The Expedition chronicled the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins.  They named one geyser Old Faithful, as it erupted once every 74 minutes.

Upon their return, Cook combined Washburn’s and Folsom’s journals into a single version. He submitted it to the New York Tribune and Scribner's for publication. Both rejected the manuscript as “unreliable and improbable” even with the military’s corroboration. Fortunately, another member of Washburn’s Expedition, Cornelius Hedges, submitted several articles about Yellowstone to the Helena Herald newspaper from 1870 to 1871.  Hedges would become one of the original advocates for setting aside the Yellowstone area as a National Park.

Langford, who would become Yellowstone’s first park superintendent, reported to Cooke about his observations.  While Cooke was primarily interested in how Yellowstone’s wonders and resources could attract railroad business, he supported Langford’s vision of establishing a National Park. Cooke financed Langford's Yellowstone lectures in Virginia City, Helena, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. 

On January 19, 1871, geologist Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden attended Langford’s speech in Washington, D.C.  He was motivated to conduct his next geological survey in the Yellowstone region. 

In 1871, Hayden organized the first federally funded survey of the Yellowstone region.  His team included photographer William Henry Jackson, and landscape artist Thomas Moran. Hayden’s reports on the geysers, sulfur springs, waterfalls, canyons, lakes and streams of Yellowstone verified earlier reports.  Jackson’s and Moran’s images provided the first visual proof of Yellowstone’s unique natural features.

The various expeditions and reports built the case for preservation instead of exploitation.

In October 1865, acting Montana Territorial Governor Thomas Francis Meagher, was the first public official recommending that the Yellowstone region should be protected.  In an 1871 letter from Jay Cooke to Hayden, Cooke wrote that his friend, Congressman William D. Kelley was suggesting "Congress pass a bill reserving the Great Geyser Basin as a public park forever".

Hayden became another leader for establishing Yellowstone as a National Park. He was concerned the area could face the same fate as the overly developed and commercialized Niagara Falls area.  Yellowstone should, "be as free as the air or water." In his report to the Committee on Public Lands, Hayden declared that if Yellowstone was not preserved, "the vandals who are now waiting to enter into this wonder-land, will in a single season despoil, beyond recovery, these remarkable curiosities, which have required all the cunning skill of nature thousands of years to prepare".

Langford, and a growing number of park advocates, promoted the Yellowstone bill in late 1871 and early 1872.  They raised the alarm that “there were those who would come and make merchandise of these beautiful specimen”.

Their proposed legislation drew upon the precedent of the Yosemite Act of 1864, which barred settlement and entrusted preservation of the Yosemite Valley to the state of California. 
Park advocates faced spirited opposition from mining and development interests who asserted that permanently banning settlement of a public domain the size of Yellowstone would depart from the established policy of transferring public lands to private ownership (in the 1980s, $1 billion of exploitable deposits of gold and silver were discovered within miles of the Park).  Developers feared that the regional economy would be unable to thrive if there remained strict federal prohibitions against resource development or settlement within park boundaries.  Some tried to reduce the proposed size of the park so that mining, hunting, and logging activities could be developed. 
Fortunately, Jackson’s photographs and Moran’s paintings captured the imagination of Congress. These compelling images, and the credibility of the Hayden report, persuaded the United States Congress to withdraw the Yellowstone region from public auction.  The Establishment legislation quickly passed both chambers and was sent to President Grant for his signature.
Grant, an early advocate of preserving America’s unique natural features, enthusiastically signed the bill into law.
On September 8,1978, Yellowstone and Mesa Verde were the first U.S. National Parks designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Yellowstone was deemed a “resource of universal value to the world community”.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Froehlich Campaign - Mobile Headquarters, Wisconsin 1974
[Published on Newsmax]

Fifty years is a milestone.

It is an important measure of longevity. It marks the memory of a noteworthy event, or the continued existence of a marriage, organization, company, or movement.

Anything that lasts beyond two generations is useful to assess - what sustained it, and what can be learned from it.

On April 22, 1970, as a sixteen-year-old Junior at Wayzata High School, I stood before an assembly of students and faculty to kick-off the first Earth Day, introducing Dr. James Elder, a biologist who worked for my father. He spoke about environmental contaminants.

This was my first public political act. It began fifty years of political activism that led to serving in Congress, the White House, various federal agencies, two Republican National Conventions, three Republican State Executive Committees (Minnesota, Virginia, Wisconsin); and recruiting, managing, or advising 110 victorious candidates for offices at all levels.

I was well-prepared for these fifty years. My mother, Irene Faulkner, instilled a love of reading and a passion for conservative Republican politics. My father, Ki Faulkner, instilled a love of nature and taught me lessons of leadership. They both embedded honesty, integrity, a deep love for America, and the primary life driver being volunteerism - placing the community or a cause before oneself.

My career included superb bosses, who proved you can lead without ego or guile. Fortunately, there were amazing mentors. Brad Nash, Mayor of Harpers Ferry, provided insights about Washington politics from Coolidge to Eisenhower. Who did what to whom for what reason revealed and connected countless and invaluable elements on how things work and why.  Gene Hedberg, office mate in the Reagan-Bush national headquarters, provided similar insights from Truman through Ford. Over many meals at the University Club he connected dots and explained the psyches of Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Jim Baker, and other moderate Republicans.

During the Reagan Transition and early White House, Bill Wilson and Joe Coors, leaders of the President’s “Kitchen Cabinet”, took me under wing. They made me an honorary member of the Cabinet and shared insights into Ronald Reagan going back into the 1950s.

Other mentors proved that being right is more important than being popular. “Bud” Robb was the only Republican Commissioner of Hennepin County, Minnesota. His lone voice and vote were inspirational. Rep. John Ashbrook (R-OH) proved that expertly using procedural rules could grind the wheels of liberal government to a halt and expose waste and wrongdoing. Gerry Carmen, General Services Administrator, proved that common sense and total commitment to doing the right thing can change everything forever, overwhelming institutional inertia and corruption.

During these fifty years, I went from the youngest in the room to one of the oldest. Learning from others, and from experience, instilled life lessons worth sharing on this anniversary.

Be true to yourself.
Many politicians lose their way when the enticements of power swirl around them. Remember why you entered the “arena” in the first place. No short-term fling is worth risking a lifelong reputation.

Remain outcomes oriented.
The goal should remain incontrovertible while the means to achieving it should be flexible. The effort should always be worth the effort. Strategic success comes from extensive preparation, mastering situational awareness, and deconstructing large actions into integrated tactical achievements.

Think holistically.
Success comes from understanding that everything and person is connected to everything else. Persuading people, mobilizing resources, winning campaigns, implementing substantive and sustainable change, comes from pursuing diverse and sometimes unconventional actions. Allies as well as opponents may arise from the most unlikely places. Doing things that have never been done before may be the most effective means of achieving things that have never happened before.

People equal policy.
Who you work with is the root cause of success or failure. Success comes surrounding oneself with trusted, loyal, capable people. Those who do not make personnel their primary focus will suffer leaks, treachery, and failure.

Check your ego.
You should always think beyond yourself. Fixating on personal gain can be the road to riches, but also ruin. A true leader is comfortable surrounding themselves with subject matter experts who are far brighter and more experienced in their selected disciplines. A successful leader fosters collaboration among these experts, gives them inspirational direction, provides the resources critical for success, and flies cover and buffers their activities from petty politics.

Be nonpartisan.
Neither party has a monopoly on honesty, corruption, intelligence, or stupidity. The greatest achievements transcend partisanship. If the goal is large and important enough, common ground can be found across the political spectrum. Finding those of integrity who aspire to the greater good is the winning edge.

Brad Nash, neighbor and mentor, passed at age 97, actively affecting public policy to the end.

That is my goal as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2020


[Part of Constituting America’s 90 Day Study - Days that Shaped America]

America’s bloodiest day was also the most geopolitically significant battle of the Civil War.

On September 17, 1862, twelve hours of battle along the Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Maryland, resulted in 23,000 Union and Confederate dead or wounded. Its military outcome was General Robert E. Lee, and his Army of Northern Virginia, retreating back into Virginia. Its political outcome reshaped global politics and doomed the Southern cause.

The importance of Antietam begins with President Abraham Lincoln weighing how to characterize the Civil War to both domestic and international audiences. Lincoln choose to make “disunion” the issue instead of slavery. His priority was retaining the border states (Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, and Missouri) within the Union. [1]

The first casualties of the Civil War occurred on April 19, 1861 on the streets of Baltimore. The 6th Massachusetts Regiment was attacked by pro-South demonstrators while they were changing trains. Sixteen dead soldiers and citizens validated Lincoln’s choice of making the Civil War about reunification. Eastern Maryland was heavily pro-slave. Had Maryland seceded, Washington, DC would have been an island within the Confederacy. This would have spelled disaster for the North.

To affirm the “war between the states” nature of the Civil War, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward, issued strict instructions to American envoys to avoid referencing slavery when discussing the Civil War. [2]

Explaining to foreign governments that the conflict was simply a “war between the states” had a downside. England and France were dependent on Southern cotton for their textile mills. “Moral equivalency” of the combatants allowed political judgements to be based on economic concerns. [3]

On April 27, 1861, Lincoln and Seward further complicated matters by announcing a blockade of Southern ports.  While this was vital to depriving the South of supplies, it forced European governments to determine whether to comply. There were well established international procedures for handling conflicts between nations and civil wars. Seward ignored these conventions, igniting fierce debate in foreign governments over what to do with America. [4]

England and France opted for neutrality, which officially recognized the blockade, but with no enforcement. Blockade runners gathered in Bermuda, and easily avoided the poorly organized Union naval forces, while conducting commerce with Southern ports. [5]

Matters got worse. On November 8, 1861, a Union naval warship stopped the Trent, a neutral British steamer travelling from Havana to London. Captain Charles Wilkes removed two Confederate Government Commissioners, James Mason and John Slidell, who were on their way for meetings with the British Government. [6]

The “Trent Affair” echoed the British stopping neutral American ships during the Napoleonic Wars. Those acts were the main reason for American initiating the War of 1812 with England.

British Prime Minister, Lord Henry Palmerston, issued an angry ultimatum to Lincoln demanding immediate release of the Commissioners. He also moved 11,000 British troops to Canada to reinforce its border with America. Lincoln backed down, releasing the Commissioners, stating “One war at a time”. [7]

While war with England was forestalled, economic issues were driving a wedge between the Lincoln Administration and Europe.

The 1861 harvest of Southern cotton had shipped just before war broke out. In 1862, the South’s cotton exports were disrupted by the war. Textile owners clamored for British intervention to force a negotiated peace.

In the early summer of 1862, bowing to political and economic pressure, Lord Palmerston drafted legislation to officially recognize the Confederate government and press for peace negotiations. [8]

During the Spring of 1862, Lincoln’s view of the Civil War was shifting. Union forces were attracting escaped slaves wherever they entered Southern territory. Union General’s welcomed the slaves as “contraband”, prizes of war similar to capturing the enemy’s weapons. This gave Lincoln a legal basis for establishing a policy for emancipating slaves in the areas of conflict.

Union victories had solidified the Border States into the North. Therefore, disunion was not as important a justification for military action. In fact, shedding blood solely for reunification seemed to be souring Northern support for the war.

Lincoln and Seward realized emancipating slaves could rekindle Northern support for the war, critical for winning the Congressional elections in November 1862. Emancipation would also place the conflict on firm moral grounds, ending European support for recognition and intervention. England had abolished slavery throughout its empire in 1833. It would not side with a slave nation, if the goal of war became emancipation. Lincoln embraced this geopolitical chess board, “Emancipation would weaken the rebels by drawing off their laborers, would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition”. [9]

On July 22, 1862, Lincoln called a Cabinet meeting to announce his intention to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. It was framed as an imperative of war, “by virtue of the power in me vested as Commander-in-Chief, of the Army and Navy of the United States in time of actual armed rebellion against the authority and government of the United States, and as a fit and necessary war measure for suppressing said rebellion.” [10]

Seward raised concerns over the timing of the Proclamation. He felt recent Union defeats outside of the Confederate Capital of Richmond, Virginia might make its issuance look like an act of desperation, “our last shriek, on the retreat.” [11] It was decided to wait for a Northern victory so that the Emancipation could be issued from a position of strength.

Striving for a game-changing victory became the priority for both sides. The summer of 1862 witnessed a series of brilliant Confederate victories. British Prime Minister Palmerston agreed to finally hold a Cabinet meeting to formally decide on recognition and mediation. [12]

General Lee wished to tip the scales further by engineering a Confederate victory on northern soil. [13] Lee wanted a victory like the 1777 Battle of Saratoga that brought French recognition and aid to America. [14]

The race was on. General Stonewall Jackson annihilated General John Pope’s Army in the Second Battle of Manassas (August 28-30, 1862).  Lee saw his opportunity, consolidated his forces, and invaded Maryland on September 4, 1862.

After entering Frederick, Maryland, Lee divided his forces to eliminate the large Union garrison in Harpers Ferry, which was astride his supply lines. Lee planned to draw General George McClellan and his “Army of the Potomac” deep into western Maryland. Far from Union logistical support, McClellan’s forces could be destroyed, delivering a devastating blow to the North. [15]

A copy of Special Orders No. 191, which outlined Lee’s plans and troop movements, was lost by the Confederates, and found by a Union patrol outside of Frederick. [15] On reading the Order, McClellan, famous for his slow and ponderous actions in the field, sped his pursuit of Lee.

Now there was a deadly race for whether Lee and Jackson could neutralize Harpers Ferry and reunite before McClellan’s army pounced. This turned the siege of Harpers Ferry (September 12-15, 1862), the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862), and Antietam (September 17, 1862) into the Civil War’s most important series of battles.

While Antietam was tactically a draw, heavy losses forced Lee and his army back into Virginia. This was enough for Lincoln to issue his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, five days after the battle, on September 22, 1862. When news of the Confederate retreat reached England, support for recognition collapsed, extinguishing, “the last prospect of European intervention.” [17] News of the Emancipation Proclamation launched “Emancipation Meetings” throughout England. Support for a Union victory rippled through even pacifist Anti-Slavery groups who asserted abolition, “was possible only in a united America.” [18]

There were many more battles to be fought, but Europe’s alignment against the Confederacy sealed its fate. European nations flocked to embrace Lincoln and his Emancipation crusade. One vivid example was Czar Alexander II, who had emancipated Russia’s serfs, becoming a friend of Lincoln. In the fall of 1863, he sent Russian fleets to New York City and San Francisco to support the Union cause. [19]

Unifying European nations against the Confederacy, and ending slavery in the South, makes America’s bloodiest day one of the world’s major events.


[1] McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988) pp. 311-312.

[2] Foreman, Amanda, A World on Fire; Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War (Random House, New York, 2010) p.107.

[3] Op. cit., McPherson, p. 384.

[4] Op. cit., Foreman, page 80.

[5] Op. cit., McPherson, pages 380-381.

[6] ibid., pages 389-391.

[7] ibid.

[8] Op. cit., Foreman, page 293.

[9] Op. cit., McPherson, page 510.

[10] Carpenter, Francis, How the Emancipation Proclamation was Drafted; Political Recollections; Anthology - America; Great Crises in Our History Told by its Makers; Vol. VIII (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chicago, 1925) pages 160-161.

[11] Op. cit., McPherson, page 505.

[12] Op. cit., Foreman, page 295.

[13] Op. cit., McPherson, page 555.

[14] McPherson, James, The Saratoga That Wasn’t: The Impact of Antietam Abroad, in This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), pages 65-77.

[15] Sears, Stephen W., Landscape Turned Red (Ticknor & Fields, New York, 1983) pages 66-67.

[16] Ibid., pages 112-113.

[17] Op. cit., Foreman, page 322.

[18] ibid., page 397.

[19] The Russian Navy Visits the United States (Naval Historical Foundation, Annapolis, 1969)

Monday, April 13, 2020


[Part of Constituting America’s 90 Day Study - Days that Shaped America]

On the evening of Oct. 16, 1859, John Brown and his raiders unleashed 36 hours of terror on the federal armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia).

Brown's raid marked a cataclysmic moment of change for America and the world. It ranks up there with Sept. 11, the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the shots fired on Lexington Common and Concord Bridge during the momentous day of April 19, 1775. Each of these days marked a point when there was no turning back. Contributing events may have been prologue, but once these fateful days took place, America was forever changed.

Americans at the time knew that the raid was not the isolated work of a madman. Brown was the well financed and supported "point of the lance" for the abolition movement.

He was a major figure among the leading abolitionists and intellectuals of the time. This included Gerrit Smith, the second wealthiest man in America and business partner of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Among other ventures, Smith was a patron of Oberlin College, where Brown's father served as a trustee. Thus was born a 20-year friendship.

Through Smith, Brown moved among America's elite, conversing with Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, journalists, religious leaders and politicians.

Early on, Brown deeply believed that the only way to end slavery was through armed rebellion. His vision was to create a southern portal for the Underground Railway in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The plan was to raise a small force and attack the armory in Harpers Ferry. There Brown would obtain additional weapons and then move into the Blue Ridge to establish his mountain sanctuary for escaping slaves.

Brown anticipated having escaped slaves swell his rebellious ranks and protect his sanctuary. He planned to acquire hundreds of metal tipped pikes as the weapon of choice.

The idea of openly rebelling against slavery was an extreme position in the 1850s. Abolitionist leaders felt slavery would either become economically obsolete or had faith that their editorials would shame the federal government to end the practice.

For years Brown remained the lone radical voice in the elite salons of New York and Boston. He looked destined to remain on the fringes of the anti-slavery movement when a series of events shook the activists' trust in working within the system and shifted sentiment toward Brown's solution.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 forced local public officials in free states to help recover escaped slaves. The federally sanctioned intrusion of slavery into the North began tipping the scales in favor of Brown's agenda.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 destroyed decades of carefully crafted compromises that limited slavery’s westward expansion.  The Act ignited a regional civil war as pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers fought each other prior to a referendum on the state’s status – slave or free.  Smith enlisted the help of several of the more active abolitionists to underwrite Brown's guerilla war against slavery in Kansas in 1856-57. This group, including some of America’s leading intellectuals, went on to become the Secret Six, who pledged to help Brown with his raid.

The Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision in 1857, and its striking down of Wisconsin's opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act in March 1859, set the Secret Six and Brown on their collision course with Harpers Ferry.

Today, Harpers Ferry is a scenic town of 300 people, but in 1859 it was one of the largest industrial complexes south of the Mason Dixon Line. The Federal Armory and Rifle Works were global centers of industrial innovation and invention. The mass production of interchangeable parts, the foundation of the modern industrial era, was perfected along the banks of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers.

Brown moved into the Harpers Ferry area on July 3, 1859, establishing his base at the Kennedy Farm a few miles north in Maryland. The broader abolitionist movement remained divided about an armed struggle. During August 19-21, 1859, a unique debate occurred. At a quarry outside Chambersburg, Pa., Frederick Douglass and Brown spent hours debating whether anyone had a moral obligation to take up arms against slavery. Douglass refused to join Brown but remained silent about the raid. Douglass’ aide, Shields Green, was so moved by Brown’s argument, he joined Brown on the raid, was captured, tried, and executed.

The American Civil War began the moment Brown and his men walked across the B&O railroad bridge and entered Harpers Ferry late on the evening of Oct. 16, 1859. Brown's raiders secured the bridges and the armories as planned. Hostages were collected from surrounding plantations, including Col. Lewis W. Washington, great grandnephew of George Washington. A wagon filled with “slave pikes” was brought into town.  Brown planned to arm freed slaves with the pikes assuming they had little experience with firearms. 

As Brown and his small force waited for additional raiders with wagons to remove the federal weapons, local militia units arrived and blocked their escape. Militia soldiers and armed townspeople methodically killed Brown’s raiders, who were arrayed throughout the industrial complexes. 

Eventually, the surviving raiders and their hostages retreated into the Armory’s Fire Engine House for their last stand.  Robert E. Lee and a detachment of U.S. Marines from Washington, DC arrived on Oct. 18.  The Marines stormed the Engine House, killing or capturing Brown and his remaining men, and freeing the hostages.  The raid was over.

Brown survived the raid. His trial became a national sensation as he chose to save his cause instead of himself. Brown rejected an insanity plea in favor of placing slavery on trial. His testimony, and subsequent newspaper interviews while awaiting execution on Dec. 2, 1859, created a fundamental emotional and political divide across America that made civil war inevitable.

Fearing that abolitionists were planning additional raids or slave revolts, communities across the South formed their own militias and readied for war. There was no going back to pre-October America.

Edmund Ruffin, one of Virginia's most vocal pro-slavery and pro-secession leaders, acquired several of Brown's "slave pikes." He sent them to the governors of slave-holding states, each labeled "Sample of the favors designed for us by our Northern Brethren."  Many of the slave pikes were publicly displayed in southern state capitols, further inflaming regional emotions. 

On April 12, 1861, Ruffin lit the fuse on the first cannon fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.  The real fuse had been lit months earlier by Brown at Harpers Ferry.

Thursday, April 9, 2020


[Part of Constituting America’s 90 Day Study - Days that Shaped America]

In the 1850s, America’s civic culture was crumbling. Decades of political compromise and avoidance on the issue of slavery had maintained an uneasy peace. The Mexican-American War (1846-47) added over 500,000 square miles to the U.S. and rekindled sectional competition. Ralph Waldo Emerson prophesied, “The United States will conquer Mexico, but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic, which brings him down in turn. Mexico will poison us.” [1]

The carefully orchestrated balance between Northern/Free states and Southern/Slave states in the U.S. Senate had only been maintained by tightly controlling the admission of new states to the Union. In 1820, Missouri was ready to be admitted as a “slave” state. Their Senate votes were to be off-set by separating the northern part of Massachusetts into the new “free” state of Maine. A key part of this Missouri Compromise of 1820 was to limit expansion of “slave states” to below a line, parallel 36°30′ north. However, after the Mexican War, Texas, California, and many other potential states, clamored for admission into the Union, reawakening the slumbering sectional strife and the “free” versus “slave” state controversy.

In 1850, a new Compromise was approved. This was a package of five separate bills that maintained the North/South balance in the Senate by allowing California to join the Union as a free state, even though its southern border dipped below the 1820 slave demarcation line. This was balanced by admitting Texas as a slave state. Other provisions balanced ending the slave trade in Washington, DC with establishing the Fugitive Slave Act, which required local officials in the North to aid in the capture and return of escaped slaves..

The Compromise of 1850 was the last great moment for the Whig Party. This party rose as a counter to the Jacksonian Democrats in the late 1830s. It thrived by broadly promoting westward expansion without a conflict with Mexico, supporting transportation infrastructure projects, and protecting fledgling American businesses with tariffs. The Whigs also benefited from having stellar leaders in the U.S. Senate, like Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, and attracting popular war heroes to run as their presidential candidates. The reawakening of sectional competition ended their brief moment of political ascendancy.

In 1848, the Whig Party split on slavery with pro-freedom/anti-Mexican War "Conscience Whigs" and pro-slavery "Cotton Whigs" ("lords of the lash" allied with "lords of the loom"). [2] They still stumbled across the 1848 Presidential finish line with Mexican War hero Zachery Taylor. Unfortunately, food poisoning led to Taylor’s death on July 9, 1850 ushering in the Presidency of anti-immigrant Millard Filmore and his “No-nothing” nativist movement. In 1852, the highly divided Whig Party needed 53 roll call votes to nominate another war hero, Winfield Scott, only to lose in a landslide to Pro-slavery Democrat Franklin Pierce. Rep. Alexander Stephens, a “Cotton Whig” pronounced, “the Whig Party is dead.” [3]

The implosion of the Whigs, and the new sectional rivalry, launched new parties, and factions within parties. These reflected the wide range of opinions on slavery from zealous support of slavery everywhere possible to immediate abolition everywhere possible. In the middle were factions that wanted to maintain the Union through various forms of compromise, allowing slavery some places, but not others.

This cauldron of factionalism came to a boil in 1854 with consideration of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was intended to void the carefully crafted Compromises of 1820 and 1850.

Anti-slavery “Free Soil” party activists along with anti-slavery “Conscience Whigs” and “Barn Burner” Democrats held anti-Nebraska meetings and rallies across the north. One of the organizers of these anti-Nebraska protests was Alvan E. Bovay.

Bovay (July 12, 1818 – January 13, 1903) was a successful New York lawyer and an early abolitionist.  He and his wife moved to Ripon, Wisconsin, in 1850, where he helped establish Ripon College. [7]

Bovay was an active Whig, but was disappointed in the Party’s disarray over slavery.  He felt Party leaders had lost their way.  Only a new party, uniting anti-slavery factions across the political spectrum would resolve the divisiveness facing America. In 1852, Bovay visited his friend, Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, discuss a new party.  They agreed a new party deserved a new name - Republican. [8] Launching this new party would have to wait until the Nebraska bill ignited wide-spread calls for strategic political change.

On March 1, 1854, Bovay announced an anti-Nebraska protest meeting in the local Ripon newspaper:

NEBRASKA. A meeting will be held at 6:30 o’clock this Wednesday evening at the Congregational church in the village of Ripon to remonstrate against the Nebraska swindle. [9]

After the meeting, Bovay posted in newspapers:

THE NEBRASKA BILL. A bill expressly intended to extend slavery will be the call to arms of a Great Northern Party, such as the country has not hitherto seen, composed of Whigs, Democrats, and Freesoilers; every man with a heart in him united under the single banner dry of “Repeal!” “Repeal!” [10]

Wisconsin anti-slavery activists became further inflamed when, March 9, 1854, protesters, led by abolitionist Sherman Booth, stormed a Milwaukee, Wisconsin jail to rescue Joshua Glover.  Glover was an escaped slave awaiting extradition under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  A federal judge had refused to hear his appeal. [11]
Bovay then organized a second protest meeting:

The Nebraska bill.  A bill expressly intended to extend and strengthen the institution of slavery has passed the Senate by a very large majority, many northern Senators voting for it and many more sitting in their seats and not voting at all.  It is evidently destined to pass the House and become law, unless its progress is arrested by a general uprising of the north against it.

Therefore, We, the undersigned, believing the community to be nearly quite unanimous in opposition to the nefarious scheme, would call upon the public meeting of citizens of all parties to be held at the school house in Ripon on Monday evening, March 20, at 6:30 o’clock, to resolve, to petition, and to organize against it. [12]

Bovay and sixteen others met at the schoolhouse and decided to organize a Wisconsin state convention to endorse candidates for state and federal office.  Bovay worked with anti-slavery Democrat, Edwin Hurlbut, to develop a platform for the “Republican Party”. They organized and managed a state convention in Madison, Wisconsin on July 13, 1854. That convention nominated the first slate of Republican candidates for that fall’s local elections. [13].

The Republican Party spread across America, coalescing diverse factions into a new political movement that would dominate American politics for the next 76 years, winning 14 of the next 19 Presidential elections. It also signaled the end of 36 years of political obfuscation on the issue of slavery in America, ultimately leading to the Civil War.

[1] McPherson, James, Battle Cry of Freedom (Oxford University Press, New York, 1988) page 51.

[2] Ibid., page 60.

[3] Ibid., page 118.

[4] Mayer, George H., The Republican Party 1854-1966 Second Edition (Oxford University Press, New York, 1966) page 25.

[5] Julian, George Washington, Political Recollections; Anthology - America; Great Crises in Our History Told by its Makers; Vol. VII (Veterans of Foreign Wars, Chicago, 1925) page 212.

[6] Op. Cit., McPherson, page 124.

[8] Pedrick, Samuel M. , The life of Alvan E. Bovay, founder of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wis., March 20, 1854. (Commonwealth Partners, 1950).

[9] Unity Weekly; Unity Publishing Company, Chicago, Illinois; Volume LXI, Number 16, June 18, 1908, pages 245-246.

[10] Ibid. 

[11] Legler, Henry E., Leading Events of Wisconsin History. Milwaukee: Sentinel, 1898. Pages 226-229.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Op. Cit., Mayer, page 26.