BIRTH OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTYIn the early 1850's, Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois attempted to convince his Senate colleagues from the South, notably Senator Andrew Butler of South Carolina, to embrace his idea of a railroad system that would bind the Union together. Senator Butler finally agreed to support Douglas, if Douglas would support an idea of Butler's. The consequences of this agreement proved to be enormous.KANSAS-NEBRASKA ACTThe continuing displacement of Indian tribes had now been extended to the Great Plains. Congress believed that time was ripe to open up to settlement a large chunk of land west of the Missouri River between 37 and 43 degrees N. The Committee on Territories in the Senate, chaired by Senator Douglas, was drafting a bill to organize two new territories, to be called Kansasand Nebraska. The original version of the bill designated these territories to be free of slavery. This provision was in line with an understanding reached at the time of the Missouri Compromisein 1820. Senator Andrew Butlerproposed a new version of the Kansas-Nebraska Billwhich provided for what Butler called a Popular Sovereignty Provision. According to this proposal, the two new territories would initially permit slavery, but prior to statehood a popular sovereignty referendumwould be held to decide whether slavery would be allowed or not in the State Constitution. Douglas agreed to accept Butler's revision, although this represented a dramatic abandonment of the previous commitment made in 1820. Douglas himself seemed to regard the change to be of little consequence. He believed that Kansas and Nebraska were too dry to ever support plantation agriculture, and were, therefore, destined to be free in the end. Douglas regarded the acceptance of Butler's version as a trivial concession to Southern feelings with no practical consequences since these areas were unsuitable for slave plantations in any case. The bill passed Congress in the revised form. President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law on May 30, 1854.THE REPUBLICAN PARTYFor years, many members of Congress had been motivated by the desire to placate Southern opinion and interests. Many political leaders seem to have assumed that Northerners had no opinions or interests at stake in the slavery debate which might motivate them to serious action. The South, after all, was defending its property, while the North was only defending abstract ideas. However, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act touched off a political explosion which Douglas and many of his colleagues had failed to anticipate. Across the North, anti-slavery supporters moving out of the Democratic and Whig Parties joined with Free Soilers to form a new political party of protest, which became known the Republican Party. In the Northern states, the Whig Party largely
disappeared within two years. By 1856, the Republicans had replaced the Whigs as the second largest political party in the United States. The Republicans were a sectional anti-slavery party. The search for compromise was finished.