The increasing resistance to slavery ignited by Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Bill finally brought the opponents of slavery who were either former Whigs or Democrats together and coalesced into the Republican Party, formally established at a convention held in Pittsburgh on February 22, 1856. This group tasked each state to organize a State Republican Party, to be led by a Central Committee, in order to be able to call for a national Presidential Convention. Illinois’ convention was set to be held in Bloomington on May 29, 1856, with Ogden being named the delegate from the state’s Second District and Norman Judd named to the Committee on Resolutions. But three weeks before the convention, the Effie Afton, a steamboat owned by St. Louis businessman John Hurd, suspiciously “crashed” into Farnam’s bridge over the Mississippi within two weeks of its completion on May 6, 1856, setting the boat as well as a portion of the bridge on fire. Hurd filed a suit against the Chicago railroad and its bridge for damages (at that time Ogden was the Vice-President of the M&M that was the continuation of the C&RI on the other end of the bridge). St. Louis and its steamboat interests were simply not just going to lie down and surrender to Chicago’s railroads. The Mississippi River was St. Louis’ last line of defense and Farnum’s bridge at Rock Island was the first attempt to breech it. Having failed first to prevent its construction via the Federal government’s rather anemic efforts by Sec. of War Davis, St. Louis’ interests had no alternative but to destroy the bridge as soon as possible, and then enjoin in a litigation battle to prevent its replacement on the grounds that a bridge over the river interfered with the free navigation rights of the steamboat owners.
Hurd filed a suit against the Chicago railroad and its bridge for damages, while Farnum set out to repair the damaged bridge as quickly as possible. Judd, the bridge company’s president, however, had more immediate matters to attend to with the organizing of the “new” state Republican Party at its convention in Bloomington. Its closing address was delivered by forty-seven-year-old Springfield attorney Abraham Lincoln. Following his disappointing loss of not being named Commissioner of the Federal Land Office by Pres. Taylor in 1849, Lincoln had retired from politics and returned to his private law practice, focusing on transportation cases, eventually moving into the new arena of railroad law. By 1856 Lincoln had already made a name for himself in cases that dated back to 1851 that involved the railroad industry and its corresponding issues, his most recent client being the Illinois Central Railroad. Lincoln historians credit Douglas’ Kansas-Nebraska Act as the spark that had reinvigorated Lincoln’s political ambitions, in that he entered the 1854 campaign for Illinois’ U. S. Senate seat, then held by Douglas stalwart James Shields, with a series of speeches in which he laid out his opposition to Douglas’ support of “Popular Sovereignty.” Although Whig Lincoln had led at the start of the voting in the Illinois Senate, his support began to dwindle as the Democrats were forced to drop Shields and began to vote for Governor Joel Matteson. Lincoln eventually threw his support behind “Anti-Nebraskan” Democrat Lyman Trumbull, who ended up serving in the Senate for the next eighteen years. Nonetheless, Lincoln had quickly emerged as the state’s leading “Anti-Nebraskan” at the time of the Effie Afton’s crash into the Rock Island’s bridge.
Lincoln’s closing speech at the convention is known as Lincoln’s “Lost Speech” as there are no surviving accounts or transcripts. While all of the convention’s attendees attest to the power of the speech, some historians blame its power for its loss as reporters forgot to take notes while under its spell, while other historians posit that Lincoln’s supporters asked reporters to “lose” their notes as its strong denunciation of slavery was ahead of its time and might jeopardize Lincoln’s planned run against Douglas’ for his Senate seat in 1858. Although Ogden had been forced by other matters to decline to attend the state convention, Judd was so effective in organizing the entire proceedings that he was appointed to the powerful position of Chairman of the State Central Committee, from which he would influence future events that would steer Lincoln into the Presidency. Judd was an obvious choice as the Chairman of the Illinois delegation to the Party’s National Convention in Philadelphia on June 17-9, 1856, that nominated the great explorer John C. Frémont as its presidential candidate. (The previous year his father-in-law, Sen. Benton, had lost his last election as Missouri’s divided politics would no longer support his moderate and Unionist views.) With a party plank that called for a transcontinental railroad along St. Louis’ “compromise” central route, the convention slogan quickly became, “Freedom, Frémont, and the Railroad.” At the convention Lincoln was narrowly defeated as the party’s candidate for Vice-President. At the same convention, Judd was named to the Republican National Committee that would be responsible for choosing the site of the party’s 1860 national convention.
Meanwhile, as the two sides of the Hurd v. Rock Island Bridge Company case neared their day in court, slated for Sept. 1857, Farnum and Judd retained the rising star of the new Republican Party, Lincoln with only four weeks before the trial was to begin, to represent the companies in court. Lincoln set out to defend the railroad bridge against Hurd’s suit, in which he was successful in getting a favorable verdict that was appealed and not finally settled until 1872 in favor of the railroad. The Effie Afton, however, was by no means the only attempt by St. Louis steamboat interests to destroy the Rock Island bridge. Numerous boats were made to crash into the bridge, allowing their owners to sue the bridge company in hopes of having the courts force the demolition of the bridge. The low point in this tragic battle between Chicago and St. Louis came in June 1859, when a watchman had found a bomb constructed on the bridge’s roadbed.