Governor Wright continued
Returning to Governor Wright’s term: Wright was the first governor elected under the new 1851 Constitution. It expanded the term of office for a Governor from three years to four but provided that the Governor could not serve consecutive terms. There was a brief discussion about whether Wright was eligible, but because his first term was served under the old Constitution, he was permitted to run for a second. In the election of 1852, he beat a Whig and a Free Soiler and won a term from 1853-1857. Wright was a fierce, but ultimately unsuccessful, opponent of the General Assembly’s move to allow the Bank of Indiana to incorporate as a private institution. He raised allegations of fraud in the Bank’s methods for gaining the General Assembly’s support and, while some infractions were found and the process cast in some doubt, no action was ever taken to revoke the charter.
Election of 1854
The Indiana Democrats continued to struggle with the slavery question. By the election of 1854, the state Democratic leader, now Senator Jesse Bright — who owned slaves in Gallatin Kentucky — was steering Indiana’s Democrats to more of an alignment with the Southern Democrats (for example, supporting James Buchanan rather than Stephen Douglas). Bright was using support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (which would allow further expansion of slavery into the territories) as a litmus test for his supporters and making an effort to drive opponents out of the party. For example, in the convention of 1854, Oliver Morton was expelled when he attempted to use his influence to convince delegates to take a position against Kansas-Nebraska.
There was, during this time, a fractured opposition to the Democrats. The Whigs were in disarray, but still around. The Know-Nothings opposed the papacy and foreigners. (The Democrats were generally supportive of the often Catholic immigrants). The Free Soil Party was in opposition to expansion of slavery. The abolitionists weren’t exactly a party, but they were a political force. And there were many Democrats who opposed expansion of slavery and were disaffected with Bright’s control of the party. These opponents had an opportunity inasmuch as Democratic support of Kansas-Nebraska couldn’t be harmonized with the party’s position from previous years. Part of this mix was initially organized as the People’s Party of Indiana. Shortly thereafter, it would become the Republican Party. In 1854, the Fusion of anti-Democratic forces would win the House of Representatives and hold a substantial minority in the Senate. (The case of John Freeman, the free black man from Georgia accused of being a slave, was noted in one source as being an item of popular concern which helped the Fusion cause). The result was mostly gridlock for the next General Assembly.
As I wrote in an earlier post opposing modern efforts to repeal the 17th Amendment providing for direct election of U.S. Senators, following the election of 1854, the first order of business for the new General Assembly was selecting a United States Senator. However, rather than permitting the choice of a Fusionist, the Democrats refused to caucus. As a consequence, from 1855-1857, Jesse Bright was Indiana’s lone Senator.