With the coming of war in 1861, the Ohio Republican Party officially disappeared until the war ended, replaced by a coalition with pro-war Democrats that went by the name Union Party.
The Mount Vernon Democratic Banner tried to spin this as the demise of the Republican Party; that it was so bereft of support and ideas that a new party had to emerge. This “new party” that the Banner dismissed so easily emerged in firm control of the state government in the 1861 election.
Today, history texts hardly mention the Union Party outside of noting the fact that Lincoln ran for re-election on the Union Party ticket and that his Republican vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, was replaced by Democratic Sen. Andrew Johnson.
In Ohio in 1861, the Union Party nomination and the election victory went to David Tod, a life-long radical Democrat. In the General Assembly, the Union Party won a 26-8 majority in the Senate and 74-23 in the House. In the previous Assembly, the Republicans held a 22-10 majority in the Senate and 61-44 majority in the House.
Born in 1805, Tod was elected to the Ohio Senate in 1838 from Warren County, a Whig stronghold in the Western Reserve. While in the Senate he helped pass a law to make it easier for escaped slaves to be returned to their masters in Kentucky. He was also instrumental in defeating anti-slavery Democrat Thomas Morris to the U.S. Senate, electing Benjamin Tappan instead.
President James K. Polk appointed Tod ambassador to Brazil from 1847 to 1851, and he lost a race for Congress in 1858.
In 1860, he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and when the northern wing of the party reconvened at Baltimore, he became chairman of the convention.
He stumped for Douglas in the General election, then, when war broke out, he came out in strong support of the president and prosecuting the war.
That was clearly the message of the Union Party: Whatever our differences, the important thing is to unite behind Lincoln and defeat the rebellion.
Tod defeated “regular” Democrat Hugh Judge Jewett of Zanesville by 50,000 votes. The vote in Knox County was 2,831 for Tod, 2,061 for Jewett.