History of Ontario Co. & Its People
Vol. 1, Pub. 1911 Pg. 108 - 117
Thanks to Deborah Spencer for transcription of these pages.
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XI. THE FIRST FREE
The New Coalition of Free Soilers Adopt
the Name Republican--Men Identified with the Movement--A Tangled Local
Campaign--Union Ticket Put in the Field by Republicans and Democrats--Opposing
Know Nothing Candidates for County Offices Win at the Election.
With the opening of the State campaign of
1855, the Free Soil coalitionists became a distinct political organization.
The names with which they had been popularly christened, in entire
disregard of their old-time party affiliations as Whigs or Democrats, were
dropped. Barnburners, Hard Shells, Woolly Heads, Sewardites, and Anti-Hindoos
The work of party organization under the
Republican name, began the year before in the West and in Maine, extended
rapidly throughout the North during 1855. The
struggle in which the emigrants from the Free States had engaged to save Kansas
from slavery, the fight which the obscure rail splitter of Illinois was making
against Douglas and squatter sovereignty, his proclamation of the truth that
this Nation could not exist ˝ slave and ˝ free, and the success of the
Anti-Nebraskans at the opening of the 34th Congress in electing
Nathaniel P. BANKS, Speaker of the House of Representatives, were under the
In New York State, steps were taken early in
the summer to organize the new party. The first Republican State convention was called to meet in
Syracuse, September 26, to nominate a ticket for State offices to be filled at
the November election. Each
Assembly district was to be represented by two delegates. The Whig party, dominated by its Seward or Free Soil wing,
called its convention for the same date and city.
In the Ontario county districts, the same
plan was pursued--the Republican and Whig conventions being called for the same
date, with the evident intention of merging one in the other.
The calls for the Republican district
conventions read as follows:
First District Republican
The electors of the Eastern Assembly
District of Ontario county, who are in favor of the Republican organization,
will meet at the Town Hall in the Village of Phelps, on Saturday, September 8th,
at 2 o’clock, p. m., for the purpose of selecting two delegates to represent
said district in the Republican State Convention, to be held at Syracuse on the
26th September next, and to transact such other business as may
legitimately come before the convention.--August 25, 1855.
V. V. DRAPER,
J. A. WADER,
W. W. WOODWORTH,
M. B. BANNISTER,
H. K. CONNELL,
H. H. HOPKINS,
Rial V. WHEELER,
Second District Republican
The Independent Electors of the several
towns, in the Second Assembly District of Ontario county, who are opposed to the
further subjugation of our government to the interests of Slave Power, to the
extension of Slavery into our National domain, and to any further strengthening
of the Slave Power by the admission of Slave States into the Confederacy, are
requested to meet in their several towns, irrespective of former party
associations, and select twice the usual number of Delegates to a District
Convention, to meet at Hick’s Hotel in Bristol on Saturday, the 22d of
September, for the purpose of selecting two Delegates to the State Republican
Convention to meet at Syracuse on the 26th inst., and to transact
such other business as may be found necessary.
By Order of the Committee.
September 6, 1855.
The calls of three Republican town caucuses
appeared in the September 13 issue of the local Free Soil organ.
That for Canandaigua was called to meet in the town hall and to it were
invited “all citizens who are opposed to the aggressions of the slave power,
and in favor of political action with reference to that question.”
That for Bristol was held at the house of S. C. HICKS and included
electors who were “in favor of the Republican organization.”
That for Richmond was held at Hazen’s tavern in Honeoye, and included
all who were “in favor of forming a Republican party, in opposition to the
extension of slavery on free soil and also opposed to secret societies for
The only report we have of these first
gatherings of men who were willing to be known as Republicans is the following
from The Times of September 20, 1855:
At a meeting of the Republicans of the Town
of Canandaigua, announced at the Town Hall on Monday, the 17th inst.,
according to previous notice.
The following gentlemen were elected
Delegates to the district convention to be held at Bristol on the 22d inst.:
Stephen PARRISH, 2d,
E. S. GREGORY,
H. C. LUCAS,
W. W. McCLURE,
R. B. JOHNSON,
E. W. GARDNER,
Joel M. HOWEY,
On motion, Resolved that the delegates be
authorized to appoint substitutes, in case of their inability to attend.
On motion, Col. W. MILLOR, E. W. GARDNER,
and Joel M. HOWEY were appointed Town Committee for the ensuing year.
It is a matter to be much regretted that the
reporter did not give more of the details of this first Republican caucus in the
town of Canandaigua, that we have no list of the voters present, or record of
the speeches made. We have been informed by one of those who was present that
there was a very small attendance, barely enough for officers of the meeting and
to forward its business. Not all of
those elected delegates to the district convention were present at the caucus,
but it is fair to presume it was known that they were in sympathy with the
movement. Perhaps no speeches were
made. Not always do the men meet to
initiate a movement of such far-reaching significance make much noise.
They act rather than talk.
The only survivor of the delegates elected
at this historic gathering is Elisha W. GARDNER, of Canandaigua.
Joel M. HOWEY, an honored agriculturist, survived until 1909, when he
died at the ripe age of 91 years. Evander
SLY, who headed the delegation, was then and for many years afterward one of the
most prominent business men of the village.
Stephen PARRISH was superintendent of the Canandaigua Gas Light Company
and later became a resident of Jersey City.
Edwin HICKS, who had only been a resident of the village since the
preceding January, was a young attorney, whose anti-slavery sentiments, imbibed
as a boy among the Bristol hills, naturally led to his identification with the
new party at its very beginning.
E. S. GREGORY had been the partner of Myron
H. CLARK in the hardware business and later engaged in banking.
H. C. LUCAS was for many years prominently identified with the produce
business. Stephen SAXTON was a lumber merchant. R. B. JOHNSON was a farmer living at Centerfield.
Henry WILLSON, son of Jared WILLSON, later met his death as a soldier
while fighting in support of the principles which he espoused at this caucus.
Charles HALL was a prominent farmer of Cheshire, and the father of
Lorenzo C. and John B. HALL. Chauncey
REMINGTON was a leading druggist and M. REMINGTON, his nephew, was a farmer. W. W. McCLURE was for a long time a leading stone mason.
Willson MILLOR was the man to whom “in an evil hour,” as Mr. MILLIKEN
later told readers of the paper, the latter sold The Times in the summer of
1854, and who remained its proprietor until February of the next year, when the
office was burned out. The paper was reestablished by Mr. MILLIKEN in May, 1856.
The first “Republican” convention in the
county was that called as above noted for the First or Eastern Assembly district
and held at Phelps on September 8. E.
W. FRISBIE acted as its chairman, and Edward W. HENDERSON, and B. H. BARLETT as
its secretaries. Thomas McLOUTH,
formerly a Whig, and Lyman CATLIN, an ex-Democrat of the Hard Shell school, were
elected delegates to the State convention.
Delegates to district conventions were elected as follows:
Senatorial--Robert ROYCE, of Hopewell;
Thomas M. TERRY, of Farmington; John McKAY, of Seneca; R. N. FERGUSON, of
Phelps; J. DEWEY, Jr., of Manchester, and H. METCALF, of Gorham; C. BANNISTER,
A. J. SHANNON, and T. POMEROY, at large.
Judicial--G. W. DUESBURY, Jacob WADER, and
The Whig convention for the First district
elected J. M. Bradford, of Geneva, as its representative to the Whig State
The Republican convention for the Second
Assembly district was held, pursuant to the call, at the home of S. C. HICKS in
Bristol, on the 22nd of September, 1855.
The convention organized by the election of
Josiah PORTER, of East Bloomfield, as chairman, and Zoroaster PAUL, of Richmond,
and Edwin HICKS, of Canandaigua, as secretaries.
The towns were represented by these
Canandaigua--Edwin HICKS, Stephen PARRISH, 2nd.,
M. REMINGTON, Charles HALL, Joel M. HOWEY, and Willson MILLOR (not all those
elected at the caucus above reported being present).
Richmond--Zoroaster PAUL, D. L. HAMILTON,
Hiram ASHLEY, W. A. REED, Willard DOOLITTLE, Alfred FRANKLIN.
Victor--B. B. TRASK, L. DEWEY.
East Bloomfield--J. PORTER, Myron ADAMS, C.
W. HIGBY, H. GAINS, Thayer GAUSS.
West Bloomfield--O. WADE, Silas C. BROWN, E.
F. LEECH, G. A. WENDELL, Henry L. TAFT, Sireno FRENCH.
Bristol--John MASON, W. S. HICKS, Stephen A.
CODDING, Arunah JONES, W. Scott HICKS, Orestus CASE.
South Bristol--S. COLLINS, C. L. CRANDALL,
O. H. SHELDON, S. POWELL, L. LINCOLN, Isaac TREMBLY.
A committee, consisting of Messrs. BROWN,
ASHLEY, JONES, HAMILTON, HIGBY, CODDING, and FRENCH, reported resolutions
declaring that “we have to require of public servants only intelligence,
honesty and fidelity in the discharge of the duties confided to their care,
without reference to the stars predominating at their birth, or the distance
between their own and the natal place of their neighbors:” that “to
proscribe any of our fellow citizens on account of their religious faith and
make a polemical doctrine the test of citizenship, is to attack the fundamental
elements of our Republican form of government,” and that the members of the
convention, as Republicans, asserted unequivocally: “1st, That no more slave states shall be
admitted into the Union; 2nd, That no slavery shall be permitted
under any pretence in any territory in the United States;
3d, That slavery shall be abolished in all
places within the jurisdiction of the Federal Government; 4th, That
the Fugitive Slave law shall be repealed; 5th, That the influence of
the general government shall, under all circumstances, be exerted to
discountenance and restrain slavery, and to extend and promote the blessings of
The resolutions were adopted, and Willson
MILLOR and Zoroaster PAUL were elected delegates to the State convention, and
Edwin HICKS, Elnathan W. SIMMONS, and Hiram ASHLEY delegates to the Judicial
convention. Colonel MILLOR, Sireno
FRENCH, and Orestus CASE were appointed as the central committee.
The Republican and Whig conventions at
Syracuse, September 26, through conference committees, united upon resolutions
and upon a ticket of candidates for State offices, and the Whig convention
dissolved and repaired in a body to the hall where the Republicans held their
meeting. The Republican ticket thus
nominated was headed by Preston KING, of St. Lawrence county, as a candidate for
Secretary of State.
But not all of those identified with the
Free Soil movement had yet enrolled themselves in the new party.
Not all of those who expressed themselves as in sympathy with its
purposes cared yet to commit their political fortunes to its keeping.
Not all of those who were destined to engage in its cause and participate
in its early triumphs were yet fighting under its banner.
Old party ties were then, as they are now, difficult to throw off.
It was not until the next year that party lines finally adjusted
themselves to the new conditions.
It required the hot fires of a Presidential
contest to bring the men, who believed that the time for temporizing with the
monstrous evil of human slavery had passed, to see that they must make open
profession of the faith that was in them, and, sinking personal differences,
pushing aside considerations of selfish interest, and forgetting past political
associates, give to the cause of Freedom, as represented by the Republican
party, the support of their names and votes as well as of their consciences.
So through the later campaign, that for the
nomination and election of county and district officers, as had been the case in
that for the election of delegates to the State convention, the Whig leaders
kept up their organization and many of the Free Soil Democrats continued in
active affiliation with the party to which they had so long acknowledged
allegiance. The local campaign,
therefore, was a tangled one, and it is difficult, after this length of time, to
follow its turnings.
Both the Republican and Democratic county
conventions were held on October 13, with a view to bringing about a union
between the Republicans and Democrats in the nomination of a ticket of
candidates for county offices. Upon
recommendation of a conference committee, it was decided that each convention
should nominate a full ticket and then appoint another committee of conference,
with power to make up from the two sets of candidates a union ticket.
The Republican convention thereupon
nominated the following candidates, constituting
the first ticket put in the field by the Republican organization of
Ontario county: For county judge,
Samuel A. FOOT, of Geneva; for county clerk, Nathan J. MILLIKEN, of Canandaigua;
for sheriff, William A. WILLSON, of Manchester; for district attorney, Emory B.
POTTLE, of Naples; for county treasurer, John MOSHER, of Canandaigua; for
justice of sessions, Arunah JONES, of Bristol; for superintendent of the poor,
George DUNKLE, of Hopewell.
The Democratic convention first nominated
Charles J. FOLGER as county judge, but he peremptorily declined, and the ticket
was made up as follows: For county judge, Albert LESTER; for county clerk, Elnathan
W. SIMMONS; for sheriff, Dexter H. HAWKS; for district attorney, Elisha W.
GARDNER; for county treasurer, Jacob J. MATTISON; for surrogate, John N.
WHITING; for superintendent of poor, George GOODING; for justice of sessions,
George W. STEARNS.
Myron H. PECK, Elbridge G. LAPHAM, William
C. DRYER, Elisha W. GARDNER and Henry O. CHESEBRO, appointed to confer with a
similar committee from the Republican convention as to a union ticket, reported
that they could not reach a satisfactory agreement as to the matter.
But the effort to unite on a ticket was not
given up and finally, when only one working day remained before election, there
was a compromise effected by which the following union ticket was agreed upon:
For county judge, Emory B. POTTLE (Rep.); for sheriff, Nathan J. MILLIKEN
(Rep.); for county clerk, Elnathan W. SIMMONS (Dem.); for district attorney,
Dolphin STEPHENSON (Rep.); for surrogate, John WHITING (Dem.); for county
treasurer, Jacob J. MATTISON (Dem.); for superintendent of poor, Henry MOTT
(Dem.); for justice of sessions, Arunah JONES (Rep.).
The opposing Know Nothing ticket was made up
as follows: For county judge, Peter
M. DOX, of Geneva; for sheriff, Henry C. SWIFT, of Phelps; for county clerk,
John J. LYON, of Canandaigua; for county treasurer, George WILLSON, of
Canandaigua; for district attorney, T. O. PERKINS, of Canandaigua; for
superintendent of poor; J. Q. GROESBECK; for surrogate, Samuel SALISBURY, of
Canandaigua; for justice of sessions, James M. PULVER, of Gorham.
There was also a “Hard Shell” ticket, on
which Thomas M. HOWELL ran as a candidate for county judge; Edgar W. DENNIS, for
district attorney; Nathaniel K. COLE, for county clerk; Justus H. DAWLEY, for
sheriff, and William H. PHELPS, for county treasurer.
The county election resulted in the success
of the entire Know Nothing ticket, excepting its candidates for county treasurer
and surrogate, to both of which offices the coalition candidates (both of them
Democrats) were elected by small majorities.
At the Eastern or Second Assembly district
Republican convention, held at the Canandaigua hotel, October 13, 1855, and at
which Silas C. BROWN, of West Bloomfield, acted as chairman, and Arunah JONES,
of Bristol, as secretary, Judge Henry W. TAYLOR, of Canandaigua, was nominated
to the office of member of Assembly.
At an adjourned meeting of the First
district Republican convention, held at Clifton Springs, October 6, Samuel A.
FOOT, of Geneva, was placed in nomination for the Assembly.
Judge FOOT was elected over his Know Nothing
opponent, Corydon WHEAT, by 48 plurality, while Stephen H. PARKER, the Hard
Shell candidate, received 745 votes. Judge TAYLOR was defeated by Oliver CASE, renominated by the
Know Nothings, by 197 plurality. The
Hard Shell candidate, Myron H. PECK, received 202 votes.
For Senator of the 29th district,
the Republicans had presented John WILEY and the Know Nothings Sidney SWEET.
The latter was elected. For
Justice of the Supreme Court, E. Darwin SMITH, the Know Nothing nominee,
defeated Addison T. KNOX, Republican.
Preston KING, who headed the Republican
ticket as a candidate for Secretary of State, was defeated by a small plurality
by Joel T. HEADLEY, the Know Nothing or American party candidate.
The other nominees were Aaron WARD, National Democrat, and Israel T.
HATCH, Soft Shell Democrat.
Notwithstanding these successes in State and
local elections, the day of Know Nothingism had ended.
Many of those who had voted its tickets had never become members of the
order, and had no sympathy with its secret purposes.
They had used it as a weapon with which to wreak vengeance on the old
leaders. That accomplished, there
was another shift of the political kaleidoscope.
Even in New York State hope of resuscitating the Whig party was
abandoned. The various movements
that had masqueraded under the guise of Anti-Nebraskaism, People’s convention,
Anti-Hindooism, etc., had become Republican in name-- “Republican, no prefix,
no suffix; but plain Republican.” But
by one of those strange mutations that occur in politics, not all those who had
identified themselves in the various independent and protesting movements were
to join the new party--some of those who opposed those movements were to become
active and influential in its councils.
In these imperfect sketches of the movements
out of which was organized the Republican party in Ontario county, the writer
has gone into particulars as far as possible as to the members and officers of
conventions and committees, realizing that such details may not be interesting
to the general reader, but believing that in them is contained the most valuable
record of the party’s beginnings here. They
embrace the names of some, not all by any means, of those to whom belong the
honor of guiding and uniting the anti-slavery sentiment of the time, and to whom
should go the credit for organizing and setting in motion the party machinery.
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