Alvan E. Bovay
He was born in Adams, New York. He later attended Norwich University, in the mountains of Vermont, where he also received military training. After he finished his studies, he taught mathematics and Languages at several eastern institutions including academies at Oswego and Glens Falls and the military college at Bristol, Pennsylvania. He was admitted to the bar at Utica, New York in July, 1846 and four months later, in St. Luke's Episcopal church in New York city, he married the daughter of Ransom Smith. He lived with his wife in New York practicing law and additionally teaching mathematics at the New York Commercial institute.
Creating the Republican Party
Four years later, Bovay moved with his family to Ripon, Wisconsin. Ripon was then a new community—less than a year old—of only thirteen houses. He opened an office as an attorney and became a very respected and important member of the community, creating "Bovay's addition" to the town and helping to create Ripon College—which to this day has a wing called "Bovay Hall"—among other contributions to the town. The community of Ripon flourished and gained many new members from different walks of life, turning the town into a hotbed of politics. Settlers in Ripon on the hill were for the most part Whigs; those in the valley were Democrats and Free soilers. In-depth debates in the post-office or store of the town, often led by Alvan Bovay, were a common feature of life in Ripon.
As early as 1852, Bovay was calling for a new party to form with a platform to stop slavery. At that time, Bovay visited New York and had a conversation with Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York tribune about the topic. Bovay told him of his idea of a new party named the Republican party, and Greeley who had himself already proposed the name "Republican" was enthusiastic.
In 1854, because of the issue of the Kansas-Nebraska Act being considered by congress, Bovay—a member of the Whig party—then thirty-six years old, called a meeting to be held on the evening of February 28, 1854, at the Congregational church. A resolution was adopted that if the Nebraska bill would pass, they would "throw old party organizations to the winds and organize a new party on the sole issue of slavery."
Right at that time, there was another incident in Wisconsin that strengthened the momentum of abolitionism in the state. A slave named Glover had found his way to the outskirts of Racine Wisconsin. On March 9, his Missouri master obtained a warrant from the United States district court for the apprehension of his slave. Glover was brought to the Milwaukee jail. That night, led by Sherman Booth, citizens stormed the jail and rescued Glover.
After Congress passed the controversial bill, another meeting was held the evening of March 20 in a small frame school house where the new party was officially formed. Bovay and 16 others attended. They came out of the schoolhouse in agreement that one unified front was crucial to the fight against slavery and thus began the Republican Party. "We went into the little meeting held in a school house Whigs, Free Soilers, and Democrats. We came out of it Republicans and we were the first Republicans in the Union," he would say. Although Oconomowac newspaper editor Edwin Hurlbut was credited with naming the Republican Party, Bovay later wrote that he was the one to name the party "Republican". He said he chose this name because it was a simple, yet significant word synonymous with equality. Moreover, Thomas Jefferson had earlier chosen "Republican" to refer to his party, which gave the name respect borne of historical significance. It was his friend, Horace Greeley, who boosted the name of the Republicans to national prominence. Bovay later wrote, "The actors in that remote little eddy of politics realized at the time that they were making history by that solitary tallow candle in the little white schoolhouse on the prairie."
When Abraham Lincoln was elected, Alvan Bovay was a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly, representing the first district of Fond du Lac county. In the American Civil War, he served as major of the nineteenth Wisconsin volunteer infantry from 1861 to 1865. After the Civil War, Major Bovay again took up the practice of law.
Bovay denounced the Republican Party in 1874—just as he had condemned his own Whig party and started the Republican party twenty years earlier—declaring: "The mission of the Republican party had ended with the overthrow of slavery and the reconstruction of the old slave states on a free basis... Its place should be taken by a new party with prohibition as its central idea." He became chairman of the first state central committee of the Prohibition party of Wisconsin.
He died at 85, January 13, 1903, in Santa Monica, California.
- Mark A. Lause. Young America, Land, Labor, and the Republican Party. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005, p. 50.
- "Bovay, Alvan E[arl] 1818 - 1903". Wisconsin Historical Society.
- Founders of Ripon College Archived 2012-03-23 at the Wayback Machine
- "Milwaukee man one of seventeen who christened Republican party; Jay Gould's playmate". December 1, 1906.
- R. F. Howard. "Edwin Hurlbut of Oconomowoc claims to be the founder of the Republican Party". September 14, 1903.
- Pedrick, Samuel M. The life of Alvan E. Bovay: Founder of the Republican Party in Ripon, Wisconsin, March 20, 1854. (a booklet published around 1950)