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#100 A Norwich Alumnus Founded the Republican Party

Jeff Dobbin 200 Things about Norwich, Leaders & Legacy

Alvan Bovay graduated from Norwich in 1841 and went on to become a lawyer, educator, and political luminary. He settled in Ripon, Wisconsin, where he helped found Ripon College in 1851 and, in 1854, is credited with founding the first of several small groups that would eventually become the Republican Party.

Bovay was a prominent member of the Whig Party, but he began to grow disillusioned with the party over its pro-slavery stance. He decided to start a new party on an anti-slavery platform, motivated in large part by the upcoming vote in Congress over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which would have opened the door to legal slavery in the western territories.

In a meeting at the Ripon Congregational Church in February of 1854, Bovay and his compatriots resolved to form their new anti-slavery party in the event that the Kansas-Nebraska Act became law, which it did in May of that year. With the help of newspaperman Horace Greeley and sympathetic groups in other states, Bovay’s vision for a national party became reality. The first national meeting took place in July 1854, and the Republicans nominated their first presidential candidate in 1856. The Whig party dissolved, and many prominent Whigs joined Bovay’s new party, including future president and icon Abraham Lincoln.

Alumni of Norwich University have long played an important role in our national, state, and local civic life, with numerous governors, senators, congressmen, and judges counted among their ranks.

Contact the Norwich University Archives to learn more.