It has been claimed that Maine holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the Republican Party. It’s said that the honor relates to a meeting on Aug. 7, 1854, in the small Franklin County town of Strong, 11 miles north of Farmington.

While interpretation of historical events and their significance over the years is seldom clear-cut, that gathering of men in Porter Hall on Main Street in Strong certainly played a major part in solidifying a new movement in this country.

The 100th anniversary of that day in 1854 was the occasion for longtime Lewiston Evening Journal City Editor L.A. Lemieux to write about the Maine connection in the newspaper‘s Magazine Section of July 31, 1954. Lemieux, known as Lal, reported that research by the Maine Council of Young Republicans supported the “birthplace” assertion.

“In neighboring Franklin County the most momentous step was taken,” he quoted from the Young Republicans research. The three political parties that were aligned against the repeal of the Missouri Compromise — the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854 had repealed the Compromise and opened the territory to slavery — had called for presidential nominating conventions to be held to choose delegates.

Members of three like-minded political parties in Franklin County met in three locations in Strong. The Whigs met at the Congregational Church; the Morrill Democrats, which referred to candidate Anson P. Morrill, met at the Methodist Church; the Free-Soilers, who were opposed to slavery, met in Porter Hall.

“Committees chosen by each convention repaired to the law office of P.M. Stubbs to compare notes,” Lemieux wrote. “They found that on the two great issues of the day, the temperance issue in the state, and the slavery issue in the nation, they saw eye to eye and they could work together.”

The next question was, “What name should they take?”

Mayor John H. Willard of Wilton proposed the name Republican. The three groups merged into one at Porter Hall with Col. Benjamin F. Eastman presiding.

“Thus, the Franklin County folks did what seemed logical to do, in an orderly manner and without fanfare,” the Young Republicans researchers wrote. “Thus, on August 7, 1854, was held the first convention of delegates chosen under a definite apportionment to take the name Republican, adopt a platform, and nominate candidates for office.”

The proceedings at Strong didn’t make big headlines. For several days, there was no mention of it in the newspapers. However, Lemieux said, “the results of the initial campaign became a rallying cry for Republicans in the nation.”

The ticket nominated at Strong won the Maine election in September, becoming the first candidates to be both nominated and elected as Republicans in the nation.

Eventually, there would be challenges to Maine’s claim as the GOP’s birthplace, particularly by Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa. That was brought out in a meeting of anti-slavery groups in New York as John P. Hale, who had taken part in the Maine campaign, also urged formation of a Republican Party in New York.

“In frosty Maine the fetters of Democracy and Whiggery have fallen down and regenerated manhood has rallied to the polls,” Hale exclaimed. “I had fondly hoped that the time had come for New York to respond to the call of freedom’s champions. Must Maine be captain and Iowa lieutenant? Let us do our duty and the future will be auspicious.”

Lemieux pointed out that, “Of overall importance … is the fact that Hale recognized Maine’s captaincy at a time when the issue of the Republican Party birthplace was not clouded by the years.”

Earlier sessions similar to Maine’s took place, and a February 1854 meeting at Ripon, Wis., is often cited as the beginning of the Republican Party, although interpretations and comparisons of the conventions vary from state to state.

There’s also a Lewiston connection to the scholarly debate about the birth of the Grand Old Party. William P. Frye, a former mayor of Lewiston and a member of the U. S. Senate (1881 to 1911) wrote an introduction to “ The Republican Party,” a two-volume history by Francis Curtis published in 1904. Frye didn’t mention the Maine claim as the party’s birthplace, but he said the Republican Party “does not owe its parentage to any single individual, or to any single band of men.”

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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