Most early Americans agreed that western expansion was crucial to the well being of our fledgling nation. However, incorporation of new western territories into the Union was accompanied by the controversial concern of how to deal with the institution of slavery. For three decades, a contentious, uneasy peace had existed between the agrarian, pro-slavery South and the industrial, anti-slavery North. This brittle state of peace was made possible by the congressional composition being equally represented; eleven free states and eleven slave.
This delicate accord would meet with fatal disruption when, in 1820, Missouri petitioned to join the Union as a slave state. By 1854 the territories of Nebraska and Kansas were proposed for statehood requesting that the issue of slavery be determined on the basis of popular sovereignty in each territory. Many Northern leaders including Horace Greenley, Salmon Chase and Charles Sumner could not allow this arrangement to stand; after all, such an institution as slavery was not consistent with the newly established American principles of rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Some formidable resistance had to be established. A publication of “Appeal of Independent Democrats” hit major newspapers and by early 1854, the first organized meeting of anti-slavery advocates took place in Ripon, Wisconsin. By midyear a second meeting known as “Under the Oaks” in the outskirts of Jackson, Michigan drew upwards of 10,000 people.
Right around the time of the “Under the Oaks” convention, one of the pillars of the movement, Horace Greenley offered the name for members in an editorial published in the New York newspaper (June 1854). He wrote:
“We should not care much whether those thus united (against slavery) were designated ‘Whig’, and ‘Free Democrat’ or something else; though we think some simple name like ‘Republican’ would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champignon and promulgator of Liberty rather then propagandist of slavery.”
The name “Republican” stuck and the party went on to defeat the institution of slavery in the United States. The elephant did it.
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