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Opposition Party (United States): Wikis

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This entry describes a particular political group in the 19th century. For the generic term "Opposition party," see Opposition (parliamentary).

The Opposition Party was the name adopted by several former Whig politicians in the period 1854-1858. In 1860, the party was encouraged by the remaining Whig leadership to effectively merge with the Constitutional Union Party.[1]

It represented a brief but significant transitional period in American politics from approximately 1854 to 1858. For the preceding 80 years, one of the major political issues had been the battle between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions in the United States, which had been fought more on the basis of regional and class affiliations than strictly along party lines. However, in 1854, the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act fractured the Whig Party along pro- and anti-slavery lines, and led ultimately to the formation of the Republican Party, which strongly attracted the abolitionist Whigs and Democrats. For many, the Opposition Party served as a successor to, or a continuation of, the Whig Party.

The party was seen as offering a compromise position between the Southern Democrats and Northern Republicans.[2]

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National electoral success

In the Congressional election of 1854 for the 34th United States Congress, the new Republican Party was not fully formed, and significant numbers of politicians, mostly former Whigs, ran for office under the Opposition label. This label was likely used because the Whig name had been discredited and abandoned, but former Whigs still needed to advertise that they were opposed to the Democrats. Following the election, the Opposition Party actually was the largest party in the U.S. House of Representatives, with the party makeup of the 234 Representatives being 100 Oppositionists, 83 Democrats, and 51 Americans (Know Nothing). That was a very dramatic shift from the makeup of the 33rd United States Congress (157 Democrats, 71 Whigs, 4 Free Soilers, 1 Independent, 1 Independent Democrat). Being the largest party did not lead to control of Congress; the new Speaker of the House was Nathaniel Prentice Banks, a former Democrat from Massachusetts who campaigned as a Know Nothing in 1854 and as a Republican in 1856.

By the 1856 elections, the Republican Party had formally organized itself, and the makeup of the 35th United States Congress was 132 Democrats, 90 Republicans, 14 Americans, 1 Independent Democrat.

In 1858, 19 candidates were elected to the 36th United States Congress as members of the Opposition Party from several states, including North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky. After 1858, the party did not win seats in Congress and effectively ceased to exist.

In North Carolina, a Republican organization did not develop until after the Civil War, and many former Whigs such as John Pool called themselves either the Whig Party or the Opposition Party through the election of 1860. This "new" Whig Party was actually just the state's affiliate of the American (Know-Nothing) Party with a new name, according to Folk and Shaw's W.W. Holden: a Political Biography. This party ceased to exist after the onset of the Civil War, but many of its members joined the loosely organized "Conservative Party" of Zebulon B. Vance.

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