In the State of Illinois, the spring of the year 1856 saw an almost spontaneous impulse toward the formation of a new party. As already described, it was a transition period in politics. The disorganization of the Whig party was materially increased and hastened by the failure, two years before, to make Lincoln a Senator. On the other hand, the election of Trumbull served quite as effectively to consolidate the Democratic rebellion against Douglas in his determination to make the support of his Nebraska bill a test of party orthodoxy. Many of the Northern counties had formed “Republican” organizations in the two previous years; but the name was entirely local, while the opposition, not yet united, but fighting in factions against the Nebraska bill, only acknowledged political affinity under the general term of the “Anti-Nebraska” party.
In the absence of any existing party machinery, some fifteen editors of anti-Nebraska newspapers met for conference at Decatur on the 22d of February and issued a call for a delegate State convention of the “Anti-Nebraska party,” to meet at Bloomington on the 29th of May. Prominent leaders, as a rule, hesitated to commit themselves by their presence at Decatur. Not so with Mr. Lincoln. He could not attend the deliberations as an editor; but he doubtless lent his suggestion and advice, for we find him among the distinguished guests and speakers at the banquet which followed the business session, and toasts to his candidacy as “the next United States Senator” show that his leadership had suffered no abatement. The assembled editors purposely set the Bloomington Convention for a somewhat late day in the campaign, and before the time arrived the political situation in the State was already much more clearly defined.
[Sidenote] Davidson and Stuve, “History of Illinois,” p. 616.
One factor which greatly baffled the calculations and forecast of politicians was the Know-Nothing or American party. It was apparent to all that this order or affiliation had during the past two years spread into Illinois, as into other States. But as its machinery and action were secret, and as no general election had occurred since 1854 to exhibit its numerical strength, its possible scope and influence could only be vaguely estimated. Still it was clearly present as a positive force. Its national council had in February at Philadelphia nominated Fillmore and Donelson as a presidential ticket; but the preponderating Southern membership forced an indorsement of the Kansas-Nebraska act into its platform, which destroyed the unity and power of the party, driving the Northern delegates to a bolt. Nevertheless many Northern voters, indifferent to the slavery issue, still sought to maintain its organization; and thus in Illinois the State Council met early in May, ratified the nomination of Fillmore for President, and nominated candidates for Governor, and other State officers.