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A Brief History of the Republican Party

This document was taken from Republican Party publications of the 1990s.

A Brief History of the Republican Party.

A Brief History of the Republican Party

The Republican Party evolved during the 1850’s when the issue of slavery forced divisions within the existing Whig and Democratic Republican parties. Faced with political turmoil, a new party — dedicated to states rights and a restricted role of government in economic and social life — began making history.

Alan Earl Bovay, one of the founders of the Republican Party, believed that a new party should be formed to represent the interests of the North and the abolitionists. He decided to call that party “Republican” because it was a simple, yet significant word synonymous with equality. Moreover, Thomas Jefferson had earlier chosen “Republican” to refer to his party, which gave the name respect borne of historical significance.

The first stirrings of the Republican Party came in February, 1854, when Whig Party defectors met privately in Crawfordsville, Iowa, to call for the creation of a new political party. The first public meeting was held one month later at a small church in Ripon, Wisconsin, when Alan Bovay rallied anti-slavery forces and adopted resolutions opposing the Kansas Nebraska Act.

A second meeting was held in a one story schoolhouse in Ripon on March 20, 1854. Fifty-four citizens, including three women, dissolved their local committees and chose five men to serve as the committee of the new party: Alan Bovay, Jebediah Bowen, Amos Loper, Abram Thomas, and Jacob Woodruff. Said Mr. Bovay: “We went into the little meeting Whigs, Free Soilers, and Democrats. We came out Republicans and…were the first Republicans in the Union.”

In July of the same year, when the meeting hall was too small, the “Anti-Nebraska Convention” met in a grove of oak trees in Jackson, Michigan, to write a national platform and concentrate its efforts to counter the Democrats plan to extend slavery to new territories joining the Union. The new party adopted a platform, nominated candidates for state offices, and produced two anti-slavery resolutions, one of which stated, “Resolved…in view of the necessity of battling against the schemes of an aristocracy, the most revolting and oppressive with which the Earth was ever cursed or man debased, we will cooperate and be known as Republicans.”

In 1856, “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Freemont!” was the slogan of the Republican Party. At its first national convention in Philadelphia, the party nominated John C. Freemont for president (Abraham Lincoln was proposed for vice-president, but Senator William L. Dayton won the nomination). Although the party lost the election to the Democrats, it captured a third of the total vote, boosting its optimism for the 1860 elections.

President Lincoln

The Republican Party had existed for only six years when Lincoln displaced the Democrats and gave the Republicans their first presidential victory. Immediately following his election, Lincoln was confronted with secession of one of the seven Southern states followed by the outbreak of civil war. Barely one month after the inauguration, the first shots were fired on Fort Sumter, launching the bloodiest war in the nation’s history. Preserving the Union was Lincoln’s greatest challenge – and no doubt his greatest achievement – but by no means his only accomplishment. During his presidency, the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and a national banking system were established. Lincoln also signed the Homestead Act, opening the American frontier to settlement through public land grants, and the Land Grant College Act, donating land to the states for agricultural and technical colleges. In 1 865, Lincoln submitted to the states the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution which, coupled with his Emancipation Proclamation, dealt the death blow to slavery. Shortly afterward, on April 14, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington. He died several hours later across the street at Petersen House.

Under the rules of the Constitution, Vice President Andrew Johnson assumed the presidency. He proposed the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights regardless of race, creed, or previous servitude. Additionally, it was during Johnson’s presidency that U.S. continental expansion was completed when his Secretary of State, William H. Seward, bought Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million.

In 1868, Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant was nominated for president by the Republican Party, won easily and was re-elected in 1872. The Grant Administration continued the Republican commitment to sound monetary policies, and established the Department of Justice and the Weather Bureau. President Grant was not considered for reelection in 1876 because Republicans, embracing a tradition established by George Washington, had gone on record opposing a third term for any president.

Rutherford B. Hayes, successful three-term governor of Ohio and Civil War General, won the presidency by a one-electoral-vote margin in 1 876 against Samuel J. Tilden in the most bitterly disputed election in American history. Cooperation between the White House and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives was nearly impossible after the election. Nevertheless, Hayes managed to keep his campaign promises to withdraw federal troops from the South, take measures to reverse inequalities suffered by women, and adopt the merit system within the civil service.

In 1880, the party won the last of six successive presidential elections with the election of another Civil War hero, James A. Garfield. A few months after his inauguration, Garfield was assassinated and Vice President Chester A. Arthur succeeded him. Among Arthur’s accomplishments were the rebirth of the Navy and the Pendleton Act, which set up a bipartisan Civil Service Commission, established written examinations for certain government positions, and protected employees from being fired for political reasons.

In 1884, the Republicans lost the White House for the first time in 24 years. However, the party had become a permanent force in American politics. The Republican Party had preserved the sanctity of the Union, and had led the nation through Reconstruction.

In 1888, Republican candidate Benjamin Harrison was elected to the presidency, heralding a new era for the common man, industry, and a strong America with a growing international reputation for military power. Rapid industrialization prompted the Harrison Administration to check excessive profiteering with the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. But, adverse reaction to policies of high protective tariffs – the main campaign issue in 1892 – led the country to elect Democrat Grover Cleveland to another term.

A New Century

Promising a national rebuilding effort and sound money policies, the party regained the presidency with William McKinley in 1896. Republican leadership continued through four successive presidential terms: McKinley (1896-1901); Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1908); and William Taft (1908-1912).

Under these Republican Administrations, America adopted the gold standard, won the Spanish-American War, introduced the open-door policy with China, purchased and resumed construction of the Panama Canal, and established the United States as a world military power. Americans welcomed Teddy Roosevelt’s strong stand on protecting wildlife and public lands, accepted his creation of the Department of Labor, and applauded his legal action against corporate trusts. America’s foreign policy was accurately portrayed by his motto: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Discord struck the Republican Party in the 1912 election as Teddy Roosevelt led his supporters on the “Bull Moose” ticket against President Taft. Playing to the advantage of a split Republican vote, the Democrats won the election with Woodrow Wilson, who promised to keep the U.S. out of World War 1. Shortly after his re-election in 1916 the U.S. entered the war. By Mid-1918, the Republican Party won control of Congress and Wilson’s popularity began to wane as World War I dragged on.

Women’s Rights

Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of the Republican- controlled Congress was the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. Responsive to the role of women in both party politics and government, Republicans were the first to recognize women in their platform: “The Republican Party is mindful of its obligations to the loyal women of America for their noble devotion to the cause of freedom. Their admission to wider fields of usefulness is viewed with satisfaction, and the honest demand of any class of citizens for additional rights should be treated with respectful consideration.” (1872)

During the Roaring Twenties, three successive Republican Presidents kept a lid on government spending and taxes: Warren G. Harding (1920-1924); Calvin Coolidge (1924-1928); and Herbert Hoover (1928-1932). While Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, the U.S. economy expanded as free enterprise stimulated business and industry. The Republicans’ sound money policies brought growing prosperity and steadily cut the federal debt.

In 1929, the Wall Street crash signaled disaster for the Republicans as President Hoover emerged as the scapegoat for the Great Depression. Hoover’s anti-Depression solutions went unheeded as people turned to the Democrats for a “New Deal.”

Under Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” the federal government gained power and size while deficit spending rose as a result of increased government involvement in the economy.

The next 20 years were a time of rebuilding for the Republican Party. The effort included establishing a greater role for women. In 1937, Miss Marion E. Martin was named first assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee, launching a tradition that the RNC chairman and co-chairman be of opposite sex.

In the post-Depression era, five presidential terms were shared by only two presidents. The Democrats ignored the two-term tradition upheld by the Republican Party and handed the presidency to Roosevelt for an unprecedented four terms. Following Roosevelt’s death, Vice President Harry S. Truman became president. It was not until 1946. with the 80th Congress, that Republicans won a majority in both the Senate and the House. Notably, it was this Congress that produced the first balanced federal budget in 17 years.

In 1950, the Republican Party made strong gains in Congress, while the Truman Administration was held responsible for failing to arbitrate a crippling steel strike, escalating inflation and the Korean War.

President Eisenhower

In 1952, World War ll hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president. Ike’s popularity and success as former Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces helped him win an overwhelming majority among both Democrats and Republicans, carrying the party to its first presidential victory in almost 25 years.

During Eisenhower’s two terms, the nation quickly recovered from the economic strain of the war. His administration took strong measures to enforce the 1954 Supreme Court decision declaring “separate but equal” school accommodations unconstitutional. The Eisenhower Administration also cultivated foreign relations, established the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, established the Interstate Highway System, and began America’s space exploration program.

Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy by the narrowest margin in history. Four years later, Senator Barry Goldwater, despite losing the presidential election to Lyndon B. Johnson, emerged as a standard bearer of the Republican Party, revitalizing the grass roots strength of the GOP with his laissez-faire principles.

In 1968, Nixon led the party to victory in a hard-fought presidential contest. Four years later he was re-elected in one of the greatest landslides in American political history, carrying every state except Massachusetts.

President Nixon made significant contributions to American foreign and domestic policies in the midst of dramatic social changes. His administration was credited with establishing relations with mainland China, overseeing the first manned flight to the moon and ending U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

In 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned while under investigation for corruption during his term as County Executive of Baltimore County, Maryland, in the 1 960’s. Using provisions of the 25th Amendment, President Nixon appointed House Republican Leader Gerald R. Ford to the vice presidency. When Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, selecting former governor Nelson Rockefeller as vice president.

Under the Ford Administration, the U.S. regained confidence in politics and in the integrity of national government. At the same time, America’s double digit inflation rate was cut by more than half, taxes were cut significantly, and the role of municipal and state governments was enhanced by reducing federal government expansion. However, the country’s first appointed president was denied election to the office by Jimmy Carter in a narrow loss in 1976.

Both the past and the future of the Republican Party were represented in Ronald Reagan’s election to the presidency in 1980. In his 1984 reelection, President Reagan received the largest Republican landslide victory in history. Under the leadership of President Reagan and his successor President Bush, the U.S. experienced the longest economic expansion period in its history. Reaching milestones economically and diplomatically, President Reagan, “The Great Communicator,” earned his place in history among our greatest presidents.

In 1988, Americans elected George Bush to the presidency, continuing the Republican legacy. Tempered by many years of service to his country as the youngest Naval aviator in World War II, Congressman, envoy to China, ambassador to the UN, director of the CIA, and vice president under Ronald Reagan, President Bush showed steadfast leadership as he presided over both the collapse of communist regimes around the world and the end of the Cold War. President Bush’s leadership was also proven when he brought together an unprecedented coalition to maintain the forces of law in the Persian Gulf Region. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, President Bush’s popularity with Americans soared to record levels. As a result of President Bush’s leadership after the war, a delegation from Israel sat face to face with Palestinians to discuss peace for the first time in thousands of years.

Unfortunately, President Bush was blamed for a worldwide economic slowdown in mid-1991 which was triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and involved the transition of the global economy from an industrial manufacturing base to a high technology base. He was unsuccessful in his bid for reelection in
1992. Democrat Bill Clinton, who won, received less than half the vote and third candidate Ross Perot received almost 20 percent of the vote.

The Future

Until the Congressional elections in 1994 and the presidential election in 1996, the Republican Party will play the role of the loyal opposition, which includes critiquing Democratic proposals. But more importantly, the Republican Party will continue to lead, offering fresh ideas and Republican-principled approaches to national problems. As Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has stated, “Our first goal will be to regain our position as a party of principles and a party of ideas.”

Written by Lillie Murdock – RNC Information Services 3-93

Origin of “Republican”

The origin of the term “Republican” goes back to the time of Thomas Jefferson and was tied in with the use of the term “Democrat.” But the term was not used to refer to one of the modern political parties until 1854.

Originally, “republican” was a vague, neutral term, because the Constitution had guaranteed each state “a republican form of government.” In his first inaugural address in 1801, Jefferson said, “We are all Federalists; we are all Republicans.” On the other hand, since the Federalist Party (the party of President John Adams) had been accused of being aristocratic, “Democrat” was offered as the opposing term.

However, many people objected to being called “Democrats” because the word brought up visions of mob rule in Revolutionary France. Thus, the Federalists used the term “Democrat” in a derisive and negative sense to throw at their “Republican”” rivals. Jefferson’s followers therefore preferred to be called Republicans, although the official name of his party was “Democratic-Republican.”

With the decline of the Federalists, political affiliations became a matter of personalities rather than parties. It must have been especially confusing to voters in 1824, when all four candidates for President were members of the Republican Party. When Andrew Jackson won the election four years later, his wing of the party decided to end all the confusion and reintroduce “Democrat” as a partisan label.

Origin of “G.O.P.”

A favorite of headline writers, “G.O.P.” dates back to the 1 870’s and 80’s. The abbreviation was cited in a New York Herald story on Oct. 15, 1884: “The G.O.P Doomed,” shouted the Boston Post: “The G.O.P. is in position to inquire…

But what G.O.P stands for has changed with the times. In 1875, there was a citation in the Congressional Record referring to “this gallant old party,” and according to Harper’s Weekly, a reference in the Cincinnati Commercial in 1876 to “Grand Old Party.”

Perhaps the use of the “G.O.M.” for Britain’s Prime Minister William E. Gladstone in 1882 as “the Grand Old Man” stimulated the use of GOP in the United States soon after.

In early motorcar days, GOP took on the meaning of “get out and push.” During the 1964 presidential campaign, “GO-Party” was used briefly, and during the Nixon Administration, frequent references to the “generation of peace” had happy overtones. In line with moves in the 70’s to modernize the party, Republican leaders took to referring to the “grand open party,” harkening back to a 1971 speech by President Nixon at the dedication of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Republican Center in Washington, D.C.: “The Republican Party must be the Party of the Open Door.”

Indeed the “Grand Old Party” is an ironic term since the Democrat Party was organized some 22 years earlier in 1832.

Origin of the Republican Elephant

In the spring of 1874, the New York Herald printed an editorial raising the cry of Caesarism against President Ulysses S. Grant. The Herald falsely believed that Grant would attempt to run for an unprecedented third term in 1876.

Herald editorial writers apparently felt this would have overthrown the unwritten rule that presidents served only two terms, making Grant a dictator. Despite its falseness and rumors that the Herald had printed the editorial only to gain publicity, the idea was used by Democrats that year to scare Republican voters away from the party in Congressional elections.

About the same time, the New York Herald concocted another scheme to increase its circulation. The paper printed a fabricated story that wild animals had escaped from the Central Park Zoo and were roaming the city looking for prey.

Seeing an opportunity to use both the Caesarism charge and the animal scare, cartoonist Thomas Nast produced a cartoon which appeared in Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874. Nast drew a donkey (the symbol of the Democratic Party for which Nast was also responsible) clothed in a lion’s skin, scaring away the other animals in the park.

Among the animals in the cartoon is an elephant, labeled “The Republican Vote.” Nast chose the elephant because it was believed that elephants were clever, steadfast, and easily controlled, but unmanageable when frightened.

The election soon afterwards proved all of these to be true. Nast’s post-election cartoon depicted an elephant having walked into a Democratic trap.

Soon, other cartoonists began using elephants to symbolize Republicans, and eventually, the Elephant came to symbolize the Republican Party.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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