Henry Smith Lane (1811-1881)
On the morning of June 17, 1856, the first Republican national convention opened in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By 11:15 the galleries of the Musical Fund Hall had filled with two thousand energetic participants. By 4:30, with the hall temperature exceeding 100 degrees, attendance swelled further. At that hour a tall slim man in a blue jeans swallow tail suit ascended the speaker 's platform with a shaky limp. Immediately the audience noted his pale complexion peering through a graying beard. With a complete absence of front teeth and a cheek filled with chewing tobacco, several observers thought the man unfit to speak.
Henry S. Lane (c. 1856) Approximately one hour later, however, a fledgling party had been mesmerized by a dramatic address given in the spirit of Cicero. The classicist speaker was Henry Smith Lane, leader of the Indiana delegation. His keynote address secured the convention chairmanship for himself and guaranteed the Republican presidential nomination for the glamorous far western explorer John C. Fremont. Fremont did not prove an attractive candidate in the 1856 election, but Lane 's support of another political long shot four years later assisted in the nomination of the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln. Henry S. Lane would then follow the President 's path to Washington as a United States Senator.
In 1845 Lane married Joanna M. Elston, the young daughter of prominent Indiana businessman Isaac C. Elston. In the first year of their marriage Joanna personally directed the construction of an elegant southern style mansion on the wooded outskirts of the small town of Crawfordsville. Christened Lane Place, Henry hoped to make the home a quiet haven in which to settle down and concentrate on his law practice. Crawfordsville, located in Montgomery County in west central Indiana, had served as his residence since 1833 and suited his character well. It was a steadily growing, solidly Whig community with numerous businesses, a jail, and the county court house. The town even possessed a college, Wabash, and showed potential as a key commercial center.
Lane vehemently opposed the Mexican War. However, as a patriotic American the former congressman became overcome by nationalism. He offered his services and gave rousing patriotic speeches in Indianapolis and Crawfordsville, resulting in the organization of a group of volunteers for a military expedition with Lane as their captain. The volunteers met on the front lawn of Lane Place where Joanna presented them with a battle flag (made by the Montgomery County ladies organization). Armed with that battle flag, the volunteers made their way to war. The group assembled in Indianapolis on the 20th of June, 1846. To Lane 's dismay the Indiana volunteers were never allowed to take part in any actions. They spent a total of 10 months in Mexico.
In Madison, Ind., he gave one of his finest speeches, an honest address to the masses. Lane proclaimed neither the Whig nor Democratic party could mend the bureaucratic bungling that caused the inefficiency he witnessed while serving in Mexico and had contributed to the war 's cause. He then loudly, and clearly, called for the formation of a new political party.
Few details were given about such a new party. Ironically, the speech only spurred the formation of another group of innocent volunteers who were quickly sent off to the very horrors he denounced. However one thing was clear: Lane had made a dramatic and courageous break with the politics that had shaped America since its birth. He now no longer identified solely with the Whig party, and no longer intended to retreat from the world of politics.
Henry Lane became one of the founders of the Indiana Republican party. He became a key influence in the growth of the national Republican party and together with the incumbent governor from Pennsylvania, Andrew Curtin, served as the force behind the nomination of Abraham Lincoln at the 1860 Republican national convention. Lane then went on to be elected the first Republican governor of Indiana but was asked to leave that post by the state legislature to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate during the Civil War. There, Lane became a key supporter of the President 's war policies. Sadly, after Lincoln's assassination he served the President once more as pallbearer at his funeral. Lane himself died in 1881, one of Indiana 's most distinguished politicians.
Read about the Lane-Lincoln connection.
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