Jefferson Davis provides the following commentary in his two-volume work The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government on the names and nature of the various major political parties prior to Southern secession and US invasion, including the Federalists, the Democrats, the Whigs, the Know-Nothings and the Republicans:
The names adopted by political parties in the United States have not always been strictly significant of their principles. The old Federal party inclined to nationalism, or consolidation, rather than federalization, of the States. On the other hand, the party originally known as Republican, and afterward as Democratic, can scarcely claim to have been distinctively or exclusively such in the primary sense of these terms, inasmuch as no party has ever avowed opposition to the general principles of government by the people. The fundamental idea of the Democratic party was that of the sovereignty of the States and the federal, or confederate, character of the Union. Other elements have entered into its organization at different periods, but this has been the vital, cardinal, and abiding principle on which its existence has been perpetuated. The Whig, which succeeded the old Federal party, though by no means identical with it, was, in the main, favorable to a strong central government, therein antagonizing the transatlantic traditions connected with its name. The “Know-Nothing,” or “American,” party, which sprang into existence on the decadence of the Whig organization, based upon opposition to the alleged overgrowth of the political influence of naturalized foreigners and of the Roman Catholic Church, had but a brief duration, and after the Presidential election of 1856 declined as rapidly as it had arisen.
At the period to which this narrative has advanced, the “Free-Soil,” which had now assumed the title of “Republican” party, had grown to a magnitude which threatened speedily to obtain entire control of the Government. Based, as has been shown, upon sectional rivalry and opposition to the growth of the Southern equally with the Northern States of the Union, it had absorbed within itself not only the abolitionists, who were avowedly agitating for the destruction of the system of negro servitude, but other diverse and heterogeneous elements of opposition to the Democratic party. In the Presidential election of 1856, their candidates (Fremont and Dayton) had received 114 of a total of 296 electoral votes, representing a popular vote of 1,341,264 in a total of 4,053,967. The elections of the ensuing year (1857) exhibited a diminution of the so-called “Republican” strength, and the Thirty-fifth Congress, which convened in December of that year, was decidedly Democratic in both branches. In the course of the next two years, however, the Kansas agitation and another cause, to be presently noticed, had so swollen the ranks of the so-called Republicans, that, in the House of Representatives of the Thirty-sixth Congress, which met in December, 1859, neither party had a decided majority, the balance of power being held by a few members still adhering to the virtually extinct Whig and “American,” or Know-Nothing, organizations, and a still smaller number whose position was doubtful or irregular. More than eight weeks were spent in the election of a Speaker; and a so-called “Republican” (Mr. Pennington, of New Jersey) was finally elected by a majority of one vote. The Senate continued to be decidedly Democratic, though with an increase of the so-called “Republican” minority.