Ohio History Journal

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James M. Ashley and the Presidential

Election of 1856





When the name James M. Ashley of Toledo, Ohio is mentioned, one usually thinks

of the vindictive impeacher of President Andrew Johnson, but Ashley's contribu-

tions to the history of mid-nineteenth century America transcend this one event.

This becomes evident from studying his activities in connection with the 1856 presi-

dential election. Ashley played a prominent part in establishing the machinery for

a national Republican party, became a political aide to Salmon P. Chase, and in-

dicated that he was an ultra-radical Republican by becoming one of the first advo-

cates of Negro suffrage.

Ashley was originally a Democrat of what he liked to call the Jefferson and Jack-

son school.1 He believed in strict regulation of banks, specie currency, equitable tax

laws and rigid economy in a government devoid of pomp and special privilege. Al-

though he was in favor of economic growth, he looked upon corporations as per-

nicious institutions.2 In 1852 he supported and made speeches for Franklin Pierce

for President,3 but he broke with the Democrats in 1853, partially because of his dis-

illusionment with Pierce's proslavery, pro-southern views, and partially because of

his realization that the party would never be truly antislavery. His involvement




1. James M. Ashley-James B. Steedman Debate, September 24, 1860 at Toledo, Ohio, in Toledo Blade,

September 26, 1860; James M. Ashley to A. Sankey Latty, September 25, 1854, in ibid, September 27,

1854; James M. Ashley, interview, in Toledo Commercial, December 22, 1892; James M. Ashley Manu-

script, Chapter X, 1, University of Toledo Library. The Ashley manuscript is in the form of a "Mem-

oir." Ashley wrote it in July 1896. The "Memoir" concerns his early life and it contains one chapter on

his political campaigns. The pagination is confusing as to chapter and page numbers, necessitating some

unusual citations. The "Memoir" was for many years in the possession of Edward R. Hewitt, Ashley's

son-in-law. Upon Hewitt's death, his daughter, Mrs. Gordon Stevenson, gave the manuscript to Mr.

John Morgan, presently the research librarian at the University of Toledo, who was then thinking of

doing a study of Ashley. While the author was doing research in Toledo, Mr. Morgan showed him the

"Memoir" with the permission of the present Ashley family. In the summer of 1971 the manuscript was

placed in the University of Toledo Library. There are two copies of it, one hand written and the other

typed. They are exactly the same. The author read both copies, and the citations in this study come

from the typed copy.

2. Toledo Blade, July 3, 1854, October 18, 1858, September 17, 1860; Ashley to D. B. Smith, March

1866, in ibid., March 30, 1866; James M. Ashley, "Speech," Montpelier, Ohio, September 1856, in Ben-

jamin W. Arnett, ed., Duplicate Copy of the Souvenir from the Afro-American League of Tennessee to

Hon. James M. Ashley of Ohio (Philadelphia, 1894), 622 (hereafter cited as Orations and Speeches), Ash-

ley, "Speech," Fulton County, Ohio, November 1, 1859, ibid., 33-35.

3. Ashley-Steedman Debate, September 14, 1860 at Defiance, Ohio, in Toledo Blade, September 17,



Mr. Horowitz is an instructor in the History Department of Brooklyn College.