Israel Washburn (American National Biography)

Heather Cox Richardson, "Washburn, Israel, Jr.," American National Biography Online, February 2000,
Washburn began his congressional career as a champion of Maine interests. He sponsored, for instance, a bill for aid to the European and North American Railway, which, by constructing a railroad from Canadian ports to American railroad lines, would have made Maine a corridor for European immigration. The slavery question, however, quickly propelled Washburn into a national role. Morally opposed to slavery and increasingly convinced that a slave power threatened northern economic progress, Washburn worked hard to prevent the 1852 Whig National Convention from endorsing the Compromise of 1850. In 1854 Washburn helped lead the fight in the House against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Its passage convinced him that only a new northern party could check slave power aggression. With popular meetings throughout the North condemning the new law, Washburn took action to unite opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Act into a national coalition. In late May 1854 he called a meeting of approximately thirty antislavery congressmen of all parties and suggested they form a new political organization called the Republican party. Shortly after he had launched the new party among politicians, Washburn publicly called for all northerners to join together as Republicans against the slave power. Washburn was an important congressional Republican leader for the rest of the decade, acting, for instance, as a member of the inner circle that elected Nathaniel P. Banks Speaker of the House in 1856. Quick-tempered and an authority on House rules, Washburn was a sound strategist with rigid integrity and wide influence.
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