An Early History of the Republican Party in Detroit
by Silas Farmer
The Republican party, organized at Jackson in 1854, was the first to make use of regularly officered political companies. They were uniformed in caps and capes, and being well drilled, presented an attractive appearance. Many thousands of them came together in Detroit on October 2 to attend a State Republican meeting, which was held on a vacant lot now occupied by the Central Methodist Episcopal Church.
These were the days of bonfires and fireballs, and often several cords of wood were burned on the Campus Martius, whole barrels of rosin giving brilliancy to the flames. The active help of mischievous boys could always be counted upon to add fresh fuel to the pile; and woe to the unlucky merchant who had left boxes or barrels in sight, for they were confiscated at once, and the huge pyramids and the hopes of many candidates went up in smoke together. Both parties eventually availed themselves of drilled torch-bearers, whose manœuvres enlivened the campaign, as they marched to “ranch” or “wigwam.”
During the campaign of 1860, when Lincoln was running for his first presidential term, there was a great Republican meeting, held on September 4, at which thirty-five hundred Wide-Awakes were on parade. In the evening the multitude listened to a speech from Hon. William H. Seward. On the fifteenth of the following month, an immense Democratic throng gathered to hear an address from Hon. Stephen A. Douglass, the “Little Giant” of Illinois, and candidate for the presidency.
So great was the desire for harmony, in the early days of the war with the South, that a union political convention, held on October 26, 1861, composed of members of both political parties, decided to nominate but one city ticket.
During the campaign of 1864 a grand Union and Republican demonstration was held on the first of November. Thirty thousand strangers were present. Orations were delivered by Hon. Salmon P. Chase and others, and an immense procession took place at night. In the election of this year the soldiers in camp and field were allowed to vote, commissioners being appointed by the State to afford them the opportunity of so doing.
On October 28, 1866, just prior to the State election, General B. F. Butler made a speech at the D. & M. R. R. Depot; and on November 1 following, Hon. Schuyler Colfax spoke in Young Men's Hall.
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Author Silas Farmer was a compiler of history, and eventually became Detroit's official Historiographer from 1882 until 1902.