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In the years leading up to the Civil War, Pennsylvania was as divided over the issues of slavery and secession as was the nation as a whole. Republican and Democratic newspapers in most of the Commonwealth’s communities wrote scathing and venomous attacks against each other, an act that continued throughout the war with anti-slavery Radical Republicans on one side and “Copperheads”—northern Democrats who were sympathetic to the South and opposed to the war with the Confederacy—at the other extreme.
Pennsylvania played a key role in the formation of the Republican Party and the 1860 election of President Lincoln. A coalition of anti-slavery political parties joined forces to form the Republican Party in 1854. On Feb. 22, 1856, the first national organizational convention of the new Republican Party was held in Pittsburgh, and the first national nominating convention was held six months later in Philadelphia, where John C. Fremont was selected as the party’s first presidential candidate. Fremont would later lose the election to Pennsylvania’s only president, Democrat James Buchanan.
In recent elections, news commentators have focused on the sharp divisions between Democrats and Republicans and the labeling of states as either red or blue. Pennsylvania has often been characterized as a swing state in close elections. Now, as in the 19th century, Pennsylvania has lived up to its name as the Keystone State by embracing characteristics of both parties and playing a key role in determining the outcome of presidential elections.