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 Upon parties, the sudden anger which swept the north in 1854 produced revolutionary effects. At the opening of the year the Democratic party controlled the federal government and most of the state governments north and south, and was loyally supported in each section: The opposing Whig party, though discouraged by defeat and conscious of sharp differences between its southern and northern wings, was still formidable in numbers and not without hope of recovering, as the Democrats had recovered after 1840. That the Free Democratic party should ever supplant it as the rival of the Democrats was beyond the bounds of probability, for the third party was weakened by its radicalism and discredited by its habit of coalitions in nearly every state for the sake of gaining office. 

All calculations based on previous experience were upset, however, by the craze of anger and excitement over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. The Whig party, paralyzed by differences between its northern and southern wings, could reap no advantage from the blunder of the Pierce administration, for most of its northern members, turning in despair from the old organization as something stale and inadequate, welcomed the opportunity to unite with anti-slavery Democrats and Free-Soilers in order to administer a stunning rebuke to the party in power. The more radical anti-slavery men favored a sectional northern party formed to combat the south and the extension of slavery. Others desired not so much a new anti-southern as a new anti-Democratic organization. It was an opportunity where a great leader, a man of the Clay or Webster stamp, was needed to assume control; or in default of such a personality, a group of men able to direct public action. No such leaders appeared, however, and the new forces worked themselves out at random in the several states, with the result that the political tornado which now blew the Whig party to fragments left chaos in its place.

The radicals acted first: even before the passage of the bill an outcry went up for a new party; in April the first steps were taken, and by June the newspapers throughout the north were filled with appeals for a union of all honest men to rebuke the broken faith and violated pledges of the south. The members of Congress who had opposed the bill joined in issuing an address calling for united action in the next congressional election, and a number of them fell in heartily with the new party idea. There was nothing, however, resembling any central control, and the leaders in the state elections were left untrammeled and unaided.

The region where the desire for a new anti-slavery organization proved strongest was the "Old Northwest." There Whiggery was less popular, for the party had been in a minority for years and the name had little of the social prestige which attached to it in the east and south. Consequently, the opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska bill were able in these states to form a coalition in the summer of 1854. In Michigan, a state mass convention at Jackson nominated, on July 6, a mixed ticket of Whigs, Democrats, and Free-Soilers, and adopted a new name, that of Republicans. Their resolutions, the first Republican party platform, placed the new body squarely on anti-slavery grounds by declaring slavery a "moral, social and political evil," denouncing the repeal of the Missouri Compromise as "an open and undisguised breach of faith," demanding the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the fugitive-slave law, and pledging the party to act under the name Republican "against the schemes of an aristocracy the most revolting and the most repressive the earth has ever witnessed."

In Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana similar "people's "conventions met on July 13, the anniversary of the Northwest Ordinance, brought about a union of anti-slavery elements, and organized for the fall campaign. Their enthusiasm, the vigor of their resolutions, and the promptness with which the Whig and Free Soil parties vanished in these states revealed the deep feeling aroused by the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. In the two other western states, the same result was attained by Whig and Free Soil fusion. In Iowa, the Free Democratic party withdrew its own ticket and endorsed Grimes, the Whig candidate for governor, who ran on an anti-Nebraska platform. 1 In Illinois, an attempt to form an anti-Nebraska party proved abortive, since the movement fell into the hands of radical Free-Soilers with whom Illinois Whigs had little in common, yet the elements of opposition finally managed to unite on a state ticket.

In congressional nominations the same process was carried through; in nearly every district in the north the opponents of the administration united upon a distinctively anti-Nebraska candidate. In this way there appeared the beginnings of a purely sectional northern party, whose controlling sentiment was indignation towards the south and a determination to oppose the extension of slavery by restoring the Missouri Compromise, or by some new means of effectual restriction.

This movement, however, although the logical outcome of the crisis, failed in the eastern states owing to two obstacles, one foreseen and one utterly unexpected. As was apprehended from the start, the conservative elements of the Whig party in the states east of Ohio refused to abandon their ranks. The Whig state convention of Massachusetts, while declaring itself "unalterably opposed to the extension of slavery over one foot of territory now free," resolved "that the Whig party of Massachusetts, ever true to liberty, the Constitution, and the Union, needs not to abandon its organization or change its principles." With many anti-slavery Whigs, the position of Senator Seward was decisive. He was, without doubt, the leader of anti-slavery sentiment in the party in the greatest state in the Union, and his political weight was such that, had he chosen, he could have decided the immediate formation of a strong northern organization. But Seward and Weed, his mentor, were thorough-going, practical politicians, and hesitated to leave the safe shelter of the regular Whig organization for the doubtful advantages of a tumultuous popular movement. In the Nebraska debate, Seward had been careful to speak always as the Whig, and now he concerned himself mainly with securing his reelection as senator. In two eastern states, New York and Vermont, the anti-Nebraska men adopted the Whig ticket; elsewhere they let it alone. The only eastern state where the Republican party as such was successfully formed was Maine, where a coalition of Free-Soilers and Temperance Democrats adopted the name. In Massachusetts, a convention was called to form the party but it proved almost a fiasco.

These hesitating movements of undecided Whigs were rendered unimportant by a totally unexpected political phenomenon which suddenly burst upon the scene. In the spring of 1854, it began to be rumored that a new secret political society was spreading everywhere, and by summer it was evident that this body, whose members affected ignorance of its name, principles, or officers, was going to play a strong part in the coming elections. The "Order of the Star-Spangled Banner" had been in existence since 1850 as one of several societies opposed to the influence of foreigners and Catholics in politics. The presence of immigrants of alien speech and clannish habits, visibly controlled by their priests, was resented by American-born working men as early as 1843 when Native American parties were formed in municipal elections in some of the large cities. This movement died down, but after 1850 the rapid influx of Irish and Germans, who stayed in the cities, and seemed to be debasing local politics besides competing with native working men, led to a revival of alarm.

At the same time, a number of incidents in the United States joined to the known reactionary policy of Pope Pius IX., rendered the Roman church offensive to radicals. Archbishop Hughes, an aggressive prelate, attacked the New York public school system, objecting especially to the use of the Bible. Then, in 1853, when Bedini, a papal nuncio, came to America to settle a question of the ownership of church property at issue between the bishop of Buffalo and the trustees of the church, his decision in favor of the bishop was regarded as unfriendly and his mission was resented as an attempt at dictation. In 1853 and 1854 agitators began to appear who denounced Jesuits, the pope, the Catholic clergy, and Catholicism as dangerous to the state. Prominent among these was Alessandro Gavazzi, an ex-priest who had been active in the revolution of 1848 and now made tours of England and the United States, stirring great public interest by his savage attacks upon the papacy and the Catholic church. Soon riots began between the Catholic Irish and the "Know-Nothings," as the members of the secret orders were commonly called, and the year 1854 was marked by tumults of alarming proportions in New York and other large cities, where an agitator styling himself "the angel Gabriel" followed in Gavazzi's track.

Of course, this movement had no connection with the Kansas-Nebraska excitement; yet it was undeniably hostile to the party which contained within its ranks the Germans and Irish. Accordingly, when the wrath over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise spread like wildfire over the north, thousands of men who burned to rebuke the Pierce administration, but saw no hope in the conservative Whig organization, found this new, aggressively American order ready to receive them. Secrecy and the charm of novelty had for the moment a powerful effect; and the "Order of the Star-Spangled Banner" suddenly grew to double, triple, and finally a hundredfold. Other similar orders flourished, and by the end of the summer of 1854, the anti-Nebraska excitement was paralleled by a new and unexpected anti-foreign agitation.

The order was well suited for sudden expansion, for its guidance lay in the hands of a few men, the initiates of the highest of the three "degrees" conferred, who alone knew the order's name and were eligible for its dignities. The local councils were united by a grand council for each state, and, after 1854, by a national council, whose decisions were binding upon the whole body. Since the men who directed this new institution were, as a rule, little known in public life, the Whig and Democratic leaders were at first contemptuous and indifferent. Later, as the craze spread, the old-line politicians became alarmed but could exert no influence. Some, seeing a chance for personal advantage, joined the order, but more waited to see what the outcome would be.

One thing became steadily clearer, that thousands of anti-slavery men were rushing into this secret society as the best way to strike at the administration, regardless of the utter absence of relation between the anti-Catholic issue and the Kansas-Nebraska act. By the autumn, in spite of the profound mystery attached to the movements of the Know-Nothings, it was known that they had nominated tickets in Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania, and all were curious to see how the experiment would turn out.

Against this storm of angry but confused attack, the Democratic party, too firmly committed to avoid the issue, made a sullen though stubborn fight. In the south, neither the anti-Nebraska nor the "Know-Nothing" movements had any effect this year, but in the north, the party found itself at a great disadvantage with no effective reply to its opponents. Few of the Democratic newspapers defended the Kansas-Nebraska act in more than a perfunctory way, yet the party stood unflinchingly by Douglas's "principle of non-intervention" with slavery in the territories, and raised the cry of intolerance against the new Native Americans. The campaign went on with great fury. Congressional and state candidates thundered on the stump against the administration, ringing the changes on the "Nebraska swindle," "perfidy," "enormity," and "outrage." Douglas was the target for unmeasured abuse, hailed as Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot, insulted in public speeches and private letters, and burned in effigy from Maine to Illinois. When he appeared before the people of Chicago to defend his work, he was howled down and threatened with stones and pistols until, having faced his opponents with unbending courage for hours, he yielded to his friends and abandoned the effort. The North had known no such campaign since the days of "Tippecanoe and Tyler too."

When the elections came off, the results of the year of excitement became visible. In the northwest, where the opposition was united in an anti-Nebraska or Republican fusion, it carried every state except Illinois; but in the eastern states, the confusion of parties almost defied description. Voters were confronted with three or even four tickets: Republican, anti-Nebraska, Peoples', Fusion, Know-Nothing, Free Soil, Whig, Democratic, "Hard" and "Soft" Democrat, anti-Maine Law or "Rum" Democrat, and Temperance candidates. The Republican or Whig-Free-Soil-Temperance fusion carried Maine, Vermont, and, by a narrow margin, New York; but these successes were cast into the shadow by the astoundingly sudden rise of the Know-Nothings. This hitherto unknown party, with no public campaign at all, cast over one-quarter of the total vote in New York, more than two-fifths in Pennsylvania, and nearly two-thirds in Massachusetts, electing every state officer and nearly every member of the legislature. In other states, great numbers of the candidates elected as Republicans or anti-Nebraska men were also Know-Nothings, and the effect of the rebuke to the Pierce administration was almost lost sight of in the general amazement over the rise of the new order. Douglas did not hesitate to claim that the whole anti-Nebraska campaign had miscarried.

There could be no doubt, however, that the Democrats suffered a severe defeat. Nine states had been taken from their control, and among the congressmen elected up to January 1855, there was an actual loss to the administration of sixty-two seats. Moreover, the legislatures of a number of northern states chose senators in the winter of 1855, all of whom, whether Know-Nothing or not, were undoubtedly anti-slavery in principles. Prominent among those reelected were Seward from New York and Hale from New Hampshire; among new senators, Collamer, a Seward Whig from Vermont, and Lyman Trumbull, an anti-slavery Democrat from Illinois. The verdict here was unmistakable

At the end of 1854, the future of politics seemed all guesswork, for the tempest over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise was dying down and the Know-Nothings occupied for the moment the place of chief public interest. The last session of the thirty-third Congress was tame and uninteresting, with some discussion of the anti-foreign craze and slight reference to the slavery question. There seemed to be nothing pressing for an Anti-Nebraska party to do but to await the actual working of affairs in the territory; and, meanwhile, it looked as though the result of the whole episode was to be the creation of a national party on the anti-Catholic issue. Nothing in American political history is more remarkable than the way in which the voters of the northern states responded to the excitement of 1854. Except in the northwest, their action was so far from being what anyone would have predicted that it seemed scarcely credible. The diversion of the fierce anti-southern anger of the eastern states into the construction of a party whose professed principles were absolutely unrelated to the measures which caused the upheaval seemed utterly inexplicable on rational grounds. The outcome remained to be seen.