With the election of Franklin Pierce, the Democratic nominee for President, in 1852, the Whig party disappeared from national politics, never to reappear. In Kentucky, for several years longer, it continued to exist as a distinct organization, under the leadership of John J. Crittenden. But a disruption had occurred in its ranks. Some of its member, more extreme in one direction, had gone off with the abolition movement; while others, of the opposite tendency, had united with the Democratic forces.
In the unsettled, agitated condition of the nation it was inevitable that new parties should arise to embody the various opinions the times inspired. The American or Know-Nothing party, as it was commonly called, appeared like a meteor only to fall like a meteor. It existed from 1853 to 1856. In the Kentucky elections of 1855 for State officers and members of Congress this ticket was mainly successful. Charles S. Morehead, a former Whig, became governor.
But the variations in the politics of the State were like the waverings of a newly started pendulum before it finally assumes its regular beat. The hour of Democratic supremacy was at hand. In 1856, John C. Breckenridge of Kentucky, the Democratic nominee for Vice President, was elected, with James Buchanan as President. Young Breckenridge was peculiarly fitted to become the leader of the Democratic forces of his State. He was brave, with a winning manner and a ready oratory. His sympathies went out ardently toward the South in the question which was now before the nation. In the ensuring State elections, the Democrats were victorious. In 1859, Beriah Magoffin, Democrat, was elected governor, and a majority of Democrats was obtained in both houses of the legislature.
Although the Democracy held the scepter of power, yet there still existed in the State that old conservative element whose influence has been repeatedly noted. This element has been known to us most recently under the appellation Whig. Left now without a party name, the men of that policy became designated for a time simply as the "Opposition." But they were soon to make for themselves a name which is expressive of the work they did for their State and the nation - Conservative Union party.
This body was composed of some of the purest and most patriotic men the State has ever produced. In their number will be found the names of such able judges as L.W. Andrews, R. A. Buckner, C. F. Burnam, W. B. Kinkead, Joseph R. Underwood, and Nathaniel Wolfe; of such distinguished statesmen as Joshua F. Bell and James Guthrie; and of such brilliant editors as George D. Prentice of the Louisville Journal, John H. Harney of the Louisville Democrat, and D. C. Wickliffe of the Lexington Observer and Reporter. And there were many others who, in the legislature, in public speeches to the citizens of the State, and in newspaper editorials, likewise labored to avert the threatened dissolution of the nation. Of these men, John J. Crittenden stood as the representative type in the Federal Congress. All hopes were now turned to him to save the Union.