Opposition Party

The Opposition Party was a political identification embraced by many northerner anti-slavery politicians in the 1850s. This movement arose during a transitional period in American politics. Passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act shattered the fragile unity of the Northern and Southern wings of the Whig Party, leading to the party’s demise on the national political scene. The Kansas-Nebraska Act appalled many anti-slavery Democrats, diminishing the power and support of the Democratic Party in the Northern states. The collapse of the Democrat-Whig party system and disaffection with the Democratic Party in the North created confusion over party affiliation and allegiance with respect to candidates running against Democrats in the federal election of 1854. Some opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Democrats in the North coalesced to form new Republican parties, while others gravitated to the American Party. Fusion tickets became common, as disaffected Whigs and Democrats banded together with Free Soilers, Nativists, and temperance advocates to run slates of candidates. Former Whigs in the South adopted the “Opposition” label, and as the election unfolded, and all candidates opposing the Democrats and not aligning explicitly with the Know-Nothings came to be identified as the Opposition. Opposition candidates performed well in the congressional elections of 1854, with Opposition candidates gaining a majority of the seats in the House of Representatives during the Thirty-Fourth Congress. Opposition to the administration of Franklin Pierce and its handling of the Kansas crisis pushed more politicians into the anti-slavery camp, and by 1856, most of the Opposition politicians identified with the Republican Party.

Michael F. Holt, The Rise and Fall of the American Whig Party: Jacksonian Politics and the Onset of the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 836-908; Kenneth C. Martis, The Historical Atlas of Political Parties in the United States Congress, 1789-1989 (New York: MacMillan, 1989), 32-34, 108-10; James Alex Baggett, The Scalawags: Southern Dissenters in the Civil War and Reconstruction (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 32.