You’ll often hear, in reference to current events, that the Republican Party has its origins in the anti-slavery movement of the mid-19th century.
This is, strictly speaking, true, but bowdlerized.
The best an abolitionist Liberty Party candidate ever did for president was 2.3 percent of what was then the popular vote in 1844.
The Free Soil Party was anti-slavery but only in so much as it disliked enslaved people. It got 10.1 percent in 1848.
The Know Nothing Party didn’t care for slavery but what really got it going was anti-immigrant nativism, contemporarily aimed at Irish and German Catholics. In 1856, it got 21.5 percent of the vote, still only good for third. By then, the Republican Party was competing on a slogan of “Free soil, free silver, free men.”
Abraham Lincoln won the presidency as a Republican with less than 40 percent of the popular vote four years later.
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