Imagine Vermont as a stronghold of Republican ideals. You're kidding, right? Well, there was a time in the 19th and 20th centuries when the Green Mountain State welcomed members of the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan-a time when Vermont Republicans felt welcomed here; a time when liberal-minded residents didn't snub their noses at conservative neighbors (and vice versa). My, how times and partisan politics have changed. Today, GOP strongholds have moved to other states far to the west and south of Vermont.
Forgotten by most Vermonters is the true story of an enterprising attorney from the 19th-century Vermont cowtown of Cornwall; a man who made an indelible mark on the political landscape of Vermont and the nation in the early 1800s.
Solomon Foot, a Cornwall native and loyal Whig Party member, became a pioneer of the fledgling Republican political party in the mid-19th century.
The Whig Party, short for whiggamor-the nickname applied to 17th century Scottish rebels-was the sole party of America's revolutionaries during the 1770s and '80s. But after the demise of the Whigs in the mid 1800s, the party's political philosophy-a party that stressed the individual (not the collective) and free enterprise triumphing over a centralized, federal government-was quickly adopted by their replacements, the Republicans. Abraham Lincoln was a Whig until the party morphed into the GOP (Grand Old Party or Republican Party). Thus, Lincoln became the first Republican president in 1860.
In Vermont, Solomon Foot helped establish the state as a bastion for Whig-Republican ideals well into the mid-20th century-a far cry from the state's post-1960s role as a cradle of liberal Democrat "Blue State" politics.
Foot, born on Nov. 19, 1802 in Cornwall, was a brilliant thinker, eloquent speaker, and raconteur. He was an old-fashioned Vermont lawyer, state representative, and senator. He spent more than 25 years in elected offices.
After being admitted to the Vermont bar in 1831, Foot served as an Addison County state legislator in 1833; he was returned to state office from 1836 to 1838.
Spending just six years as a prosecuting attorney, Foot eyed a promising career in national politics.
His successful 1843 U.S. House campaign focused on 19th century conservative ideals and the call of Manifest Destiny in the frontier of the American West-although Foot, and fellow Whigs at the time, rejected the political catch phrase coined by Jacksonian Democrats.
Foot was elected as a Whig congressman from Vermont in 1843. And by 1850 he successfully transitioned his political machine to make a run for the U.S. Senate; he was elected to that post in 1850. Foot succeeded U.S. Sen. Samuel Phelps, another Whig, from Middlebury.
After the demise of the Whig Party in 1856 over the slavery question, Foote was reelected as a Republican senator; he served as senator from 1856 until his death.
Foote was president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate from 1861 to 1864 during the darkest days of the U.S. Civil War. He died, at age 63, in Washington, D.C., on March 28, 1866.