In Ripon, Wisconsin, former members of the Whig Party meet to establish a new party to oppose the spread of slavery into the western territories. The Whig Party, which was formed in 1834 to oppose the “tyranny” of President Andrew Jackson, had shown itself incapable of coping with the national crisis over slavery.

With the successful introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854, an act that dissolved the terms of the Missouri Compromise and allowed slave or free status to be decided in the territories by popular sovereignty, the Whigs disintegrated. By February 1854, anti-slavery Whigs had begun meeting in the upper midwestern states to discuss the formation of a new party. One such meeting, in Wisconsin on March 20, 1854, is generally remembered as the founding meeting of the Republican Party.

The Republicans rapidly gained supporters in the North, and in 1856 their first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, won 11 of the 16 Northern states. By 1860, the majority of the Southern slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans won the presidency. In November 1860, Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected president over a divided Democratic Party, and six weeks later South Carolina formally seceded from the Union. Within six more weeks, five other Southern states had followed South Carolina’s lead, and in April 1861 the Civil War began when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire on Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor.

The Civil War firmly identified the Republican Party as the party of the victorious North, and after the war the Republican-dominated Congress forced a “Radical Reconstruction” policy on the South, which saw the passage of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens. By 1876, the Republican Party had lost control of the South, but it continued to dominate the presidency until the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Tokyo subways are attacked with sarin gas

Several packages of deadly sarin gas are set off in the Tokyo subway system killing twelve people and injuring over 5,000 on March 20, 1995. Sarin gas was invented by the Nazis and is one of the most lethal nerve gases known to man. Tokyo police quickly learned who had planted ...read more

Henry V ascends upon father’s death

King Henry IV, the first English monarch of the Lancastrian dynasty, dies after years of illness, and his eldest son, Henry, ascends to the English throne. In 1399, Henry Bolingbroke was crowned King Henry IV of England following the forced abdication of King Richard II, who was ...read more

LBJ sends federal troops to Alabama to protect a civil rights march

On March 20, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson notifies Alabama’s Governor George Wallace that he will use federal authority to call up the Alabama National Guard in order to supervise a planned civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery. Intimidation and discrimination had ...read more

"Uncle Tom’s Cabin" is published

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is published. The novel sold 300,000 copies within three months and was so widely read that when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe in 1862, he reportedly said, “So this is the little lady who made this big war.” ...read more

Black Death is created, allegedly

According to scholars at the University of Paris, the Black Death is created on March 20, 1345, from what they call “a triple conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars in the 40th degree of Aquarius, occurring on the 20th of March 1345″. The Black Death, also known as the Plague, ...read more

Nikita Khrushchev begins his rise to power

The Soviet government announces that Nikita Khrushchev has been selected as one of five men named to the new office of Secretariat of the Communist Party. Khrushchev’s selection was a crucial first step in his rise to power in the Soviet Union—an advance that culminated in ...read more

Willie and Tad Lincoln get the measles

On March 20, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln’s sons, Willie and Tad, are diagnosed with the measles, adding to the president’s many troubles. Few U.S. presidents worked as hard in office as Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War. Besides managing his generals and the war ...read more

King Louis XVI receives U.S. representatives

Benjamin Franklin, Silas Deane and Arthur Lee present themselves to France’s King Louis XVI as official representatives of the United States on March 20, 1778. Louis XVI was skeptical of the fledgling republic, but his dislike of the British eventually overcame these concerns ...read more