Tonight we host a lively discussion about the origins of the Republican Party, the most violent peace-time election in American history, and the dawn of African Americans and women being engaged in a presidential election.
The 1856 presidential race was the most violent peacetime election in American history. War between proslavery and antislavery settlers raged in Kansas; a congressman shot an Irish immigrant at a Washington hotel; and another congressman beat a US senator senseless on the floor of the Senate. But amid all the violence, the campaign of the new Republican Party, headed by famed explorer John C. Fremont, offered a ray of hope: a major party dedicated to limiting the spread of slavery. For the first time, women and African Americans actively engaged in a presidential contest, and the candidate's wife, Jessie Benton Fremont, played a central role in both planning and executing strategy, and was a public face of the campaign. Even enslaved blacks in the South took hope from Fremont's crusade.
John Bicknell is the author of America 1844: Religious Fervor, Westward Expansion, and the Presidential Election that Transformed the Nation. He has written and edited for Watchdog.org, Congressional Quarterly, and Roll Call, and was senior editor of 2016 and 2018 Almanac of American Politics. He lives in Virginia.