Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Golden Jubilee Celebration

On June 17, 18 & 19, 1906, Philadelphia played host to a celebration of the first 50 years of the Republican Party. Being that the first convention of the Republican Party was held in Pittsburgh, PA on February 22, 1856, the Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Republican Party in Philadelphia spotlighted the Grand Old Party’s first half-century and “the reminiscences of men who were present at the birth of the party in 1856.” Included in the three-day event was a general meeting at which historical addresses were made, along with “the annual convention of the National League of Republican Clubs; the Annual Convention of the Pennsylvania State League; a public meeting at the Academy of Music; a great street parade of Republican clubs and various excursions and entertainments for the visiting delegates.”

A full record of the proceedings and “stenographic report of the addresses” was compiled by author Addison Burk, with a 226-page volume published in 1906, accurately piecing together the many fragmentary contributions to the history of the Republican party which were detailed during the event. Burk’s complete Golden Jubilee Celebration of the Republican Party in turn presented a comprehensive picture of the GOP’s golden anniversary, which first officially nominated J. C. Fremont in 1856 but found its first presidential success story soon after with the election of Abraham Lincoln as commander-in-chief four short years later.

It is said the Republican Party was founded in 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin by anti-slavery expansion activists and modernizers, while the first official party convention was said to take place on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. Perhaps stoking the coals of debate, many of those Philadelphia attendees in 1906 actually recalled the earliest formation of the party as occurring in a small grocery store in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania in the years leading up to the 1856 convention in the city of Pittsburgh. At the gala three-day Golden Jubilee 50 years later, the shop’s owner, David Calhoun Herbst, was invited to address the Republican revelers, where he was introduced as “a man who was present at the birth of the Republican Party in Lafayette Hall, Pittsburgh.”

Herbst gave what was later reported in local papers as an impassioned historical perspective of the Republican Party, leading off his speech by saying “On an occasion like this on the anniversary of the Grand Old Republican Party, it seems appropriate and pertinent to present a kind of family tree to show the inception and reasons for its birth.” Herbst then went into a historical synopsis of the first hundred years of American politics, beginning with the unanimous election of George Washington in the 1700s and leading up to the death in office of Whig candidate President William Henry Harrison in the mid 1800’s, which Herbst said “left the helm of state in the hands of untrusty John Tyler.”

“Americans feeling keenly the loss of their loyal president, deemed it essential to gather their hosts and give battle again against the Free Trade Slave-holding Democracy” Herbst added, which he then explained had laid out the grounds for a new American movement.
“On a cold winter’s night a coterie of deep thinking men of all shades of politics, met at Herbst’s grocery store at the corner of Third and Cherry Alley, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, to formulate, if possible, a basis for a new political party upon which all political factions opposed to the free-trade pro-slavery Democracy, might unite for its overthrow.” According to Herbst, that winter was exceptionally cold, but he described “the cold blasts and heavy snow outside that little grocery did not chill the ardor of those inside. Besides, our debates got warm, especially when we sought a name for our new creation.”

In a 1921 article in the Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, it was said that all shades of political opinion were represented at those early rallies at the Herbst Grocery Store, with active participation from Whigs, Democrats, Abolitionists, Free Soilers, and Washingtonians. “Among them were a number who were active in politics” the magazine reported, adding “their object was to formulate a basis for a new political party upon which all the factions opposed to the pro-slavery Democracy.”

“Our selection of a name was a thorn in the flesh and threatened several times to break up our gathering,” Herbst told those in attendance at the Golden Jubilee. “One night, it was necessary to lock all in, and that night Captain Charles Naylor stood up on the counter of the grocery, with a wave of the hand said ‘peace be still’.” Naylor was a lawyer elected to the 26th Congress as a Whig, but he declined candidacy for renomination in 1840. Naylor had raised a company of volunteers known as the Philadelphia Rangers and served as captain in the Mexican-American War, settling back into law in Pittsburgh soon after.

Herbst continued, “Struck by his attitude and remark we were amazed and hushed. He smilingly remarked: ‘that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ and after a few words, he said, Spartan-like: ‘We have a great Republic as our nation, why not call our new party, Republican?” After Captain Naylor’s grand announcement, Herbst recalled the first moment of silence in the room as the name began to register in the minds of those in attendance. “And so it was, the word Republican went forth among all the people,” Herbst said at the Golden Jubilee, saying the first convention in Pittsburgh to follow in 1856 would be most logical, “Lafayette Hall was selected as an appropriate pace for the public christening of the new political child.”

The words of my great-great-great-grandfather David Calhoun Herbst can be found on page 148 of the Golden Jubilee of the Republican Party of 1906 by Addison Burk, contributed by the New York Public Library and preserved electronically at the Internet Archive, a non-profit group which offers permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.


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