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The History of the Republican Party
The Republican Party was born in the early 1850's by anti-slavery activists and
individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers
free of charge. The first informal meeting of the party took place in Ripon,
Wisconsin, a small town northwest of Milwaukee.
The first official Republican meeting took place on July 6th, 1854 in Jackson,
Michigan. The name "Republican" was chosen because it alluded to equality and
reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party. At the
Jackson convention, the new party adopted a platform and nominated candidates
for office in Michigan.
In 1856, the Republicans became a national party when John C. Fremont was
nominated for President under the slogan: "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free
men, Fremont." Even though they were considered a "third party" because the
Democrats and Whigs represented the two-party system at the time, Fremont
received 33% of the vote. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln became the first
Republican to win the White House.
The Civil War erupted in 1861 and lasted four grueling years. During the war,
against the advice of his cabinet, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that
freed the slaves. The Republicans of their day worked to pass the Thirteenth
Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth, which guaranteed equal
protection under the laws, and the Fifteenth, which helped secure voting rights for
The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to
vote. In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women's suffrage.
When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state
legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. The first
woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in
Presidents during most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the
twentieth century were Republicans. While the Democrats and Franklin Roosevelt
tended to dominate American politics in the 1930's and 40's, for 28 of the forty
years from 1952 through 1992, the White House was in Republican hands - under
Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. Under the last two, Reagan and Bush, the United States became the world's only superpower, winning the Cold
War from the old Soviet Union and releasing millions from Communist oppression.
Behind all the elected officials and the candidates of any political party are
thousands of hard-working staff and volunteers who raise money, lick the
envelopes, and make the phone calls that every winning campaign must have. The
national structure of our party starts with the Republican National Committee. Each
state has its own Republican State Committee with a Chairman and staff. The
Republican structure goes right down to the neighborhoods, where a Republican
precinct captain every Election Day organizes Republican workers to get out the
Most states ask voters when they register to express party preference. Voters don't
have to do so, but registration lists let the parties know exactly which voters they
want to be sure vote on Election Day. Just because voters register as a Republican,
they don't need to vote that way - many voters split their tickets, voting for
candidates in both parties. But the national party is made up of all registered
Republicans in all 50 states. For the most part they are the voters in Republican
Presidential primaries and caucuses. They are the heart and soul of the party.
Republicans have a long and rich history with basic principles: Individuals, not
government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights;
and decisions are best made close to home.
The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant. During the mid term elections
way back in 1874, Democrats tried to scare voters into thinking President Grant
would seek to run for an unprecedented third term. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for
Harper's Weekly, depicted a Democratic jackass trying to scare a Republican
elephant - and both symbols stuck.
For a long time Republicans have been known as the "G.O.P." And party faithfuls
thought it meant the "Grand Old Party." But apparently the original meaning (in
1875) was "gallant old party." And when automobiles were invented it also came to
mean "get out and push." That's still a pretty good slogan for Republicans who
depend every campaign year on the hard work of hundreds of thousands of
volunteers to get out and vote and push people to support the causes of the
From The Beginning Republicans Stood For Freedom
Abolishing slavery. Free speech. Women's suffrage. In today's stereotypes, none of
these sounds like a typical Republican issue, yet they are stances the Republican
Party, in opposition to the Democratic Party, adopted early on.
Reducing the government. Streamlining the bureaucracy. Returning power to the
states. These issues don't sound like they would be the promises of the party of
Lincoln, the party that fought to preserve the national union, but they are, and
logically so. With a core belief in the idea of the primacy of individuals, the Republican Party, since its inception, has been at the forefront of the fight for
individuals' rights in opposition to a large, bloated government.
The Republican Party has always thrived on challenges and difficult positions. Its
present role as leader of the revolution in which the principles of government are
being re-evaluated is a role it has traditionally embraced.
At the time of its founding, the Republican Party was organized as an answer to the
divided politics, political turmoil, arguments and internal division, particularly over
slavery, that plagued the many existing political parties in the United States in
1854. The Free Soil Party, asserting that all men had a natural right to the soil,
demanded that the government re-evaluate homesteading legislation and grant
land to settlers free of charge. The Conscience Whigs, the "radical" faction of the
Whig Party in the North, alienated themselves from their Southern counterparts by
adopting an anti-slavery position. And the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed
territories to determine whether slavery would be legalized in accordance with
"popular sovereignty" and thereby nullify the principles of the Missouri
Compromise, created a schism within the Democratic Party.
A staunch Anti-Nebraska Democrat, Alvan E. Bovay, like his fellow Americans, was
disillusioned by this atmosphere of confusion and division. Taking advantage of the
political turmoil caused by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Bovay united discouraged
members from the Free Soil Party, the Conscience Whigs and the Anti-Nebraska
Democrats. Meeting in a Congregational church in Ripon, Wis., he helped establish
a party that represented the interests of the North and the abolitionists by merging
two fundamental issues: free land and preventing the spread of slavery into the
Western territories. Realizing the new party needed a name to help unify it, Bovay
decided on the term Republican because it was simple, synonymous with equality
and alluded to the earlier party of Thomas Jefferson, the Democratic-Republicans.
On July 6, 1854, in Jackson, Mich., the Republican Party formally organized itself by
holding its first convention, adopting a platform and nominating a full slate of
candidates for state offices. Other states soon followed, and the first Republican
candidate for president, John C. Frémont, ran in 1856 with the slogan "Free soil,
free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont."
Even though he ran on a third-party ticket, Frémont managed to capture a third of
the vote, and the Republican Party began to add members throughout the land. As
tensions mounted over the slavery issue, more anti-slavery Republicans began to
run for office and be elected, even with the risks involved with taking this stance.
Republican Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts experienced this danger
firsthand. In May 1856, he delivered a passionate anti-slavery speech in which he
made critical remarks about several pro-slavery senators, including Andrew F.
Butler of South Carolina. Sumner infuriated Rep. Preston S. Brooks, the son of one
of Butler's cousins, who felt his family honor had been insulted. Two days later,
Brooks walked into the Senate and beat Sumner unconscious with a cane. This
incident electrified the nation and helped to galvanize Northern opinion against the
South; Southern opinion hailed Brooks as a hero. But Sumner stood by his principles, and after a three-year, painful convalescence, he returned to the Senate
to continue his struggle against slavery.
The First Republican
With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republicans firmly established
themselves as a major party capable of holding onto the White House for 60 of the
next 100 years. Faced with the first shots of the Civil War barely a month after his
inauguration, preserving the Union was Lincoln's greatest challenge--and no doubt
his greatest achievement. But it was by no means his only accomplishment.
Amid the fierce and bloody battles of the Civil War, the Lincoln administration
established the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and a
national banking system. Understanding the importance of settling the frontier, as
well as having a piece of land to call your own, Lincoln passed the Homestead Act,
which satisfied the former Free Soil members by offering public land grants. Hoping
to encourage a higher level of education, Lincoln also donated land for agricultural
and technical colleges to the states through the Land Grant College Act, which
established universities throughout the United States.
Fully sensitive to the symbolism of their name, the Republicans worked to deal the
death blow to slavery with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the passage, by
a Republican Congress, of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Hoping to
permanently turn back the Democratic advance in the South, immediately after the
Civil War the Republican Congress continued to push through legislation to extend
the full protection of civil rights to blacks.
During Reconstruction, the mostly Democratic South, which had seceded from both
the Union and Congress, struggled to regain its footing. Meanwhile, the Republicans
took advantage of their majority and passed several measures to improve the
quality of life for blacks throughout the entire Union. First the Republicans passed a
Civil Rights Act in 1866 recognizing blacks as U.S. citizens. This act hoped to
weaken the South by denying states the power to restrict blacks from testifying in a
court of law or from owning their own property.
Continuing to take advantage of their majority, Republicans proposed the 14th
Amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1868, stating: "All persons
born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are
citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall
make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens
of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or
property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction
the equal protection of the laws."
That same year the Republican Congress also passed the National Eight Hour Law,
which, though it applied only to government workers, brought relief for overworked
federal employees by limiting the work day to eight hours The Bull Moose
Assuming the presidency when McKinley was assassinated in 1901, President
Theodore Roosevelt busied himself with what he considered to be the most pressing
issue, ensuring the Republican principle of competition in a free market. To do so,
Roosevelt used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890 under Republican
President Benjamin Harrison, to successfully prosecute and break up several large
In 1903, Roosevelt became involved with foreign policy, supporting revolutionaries
who then formed the Republic of Panama. His actions in Panama resulted in the
treaty that permitted construction of the Panama Canal. In 1905, Roosevelt--who
popularized the West African phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" to explain
his view on foreign policy--successfully negotiated the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending
the conflict between Russia and Japan. Roosevelt's accomplishments as a
peacemaker earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the distinction of being the first
American to receive this award.
Roosevelt easily won a second term and proceeded to continue to stand by his
principles. Roosevelt, who was constantly bucking public prejudice, appointed the
Cabinet's first Jewish member, Oscar Strauss. Then, in 1906, after reading Upton
Sinclair's The Jungle, Roosevelt instructed Congress to pass laws concerning meat
inspection and pure food and drug legislation. Two years later he placed 150 million
acres of forest land into federal reserves and organized a National Conservation
Conference. Believing in the importance of work, Roosevelt was also responsible for
creating the Department of Labor.
Although his immense popularity almost guaranteed that he could be elected to a
third term, following precedent, Roosevelt retired, allowing William Taft to become
the next Republican to hold the presidential office.
Discord struck the Republican Party in the 1912 election as Teddy Roosevelt,
dissatisfied with President Taft, led his supporters on the "Bull Moose" ticket against
the president. Playing to the advantage of a split Republican vote, as they would
again 80 years later, the Democrats won the election with Woodrow Wilson. When
Wilson ran for re-election in 1916, he promised to keep the United States out of
World War I. Yet shortly after his re-election, the United States stepped onto the
European battleground and entered the war. By mid-1918 the Republican Party won
control of Congress as Wilson's popularity began to wane because World War I
Leading the way on the issues
Some people have argued that Republicans fought to give blacks equal rights and
then the vote as a way of wresting control of the South away from the Democrats. While it is true that almost all blacks voted Republican, these were very dangerous
and controversial issues at the time. For whatever reason, many Republican
politicians risked their careers on that period's "third rail" of politics and managed
to not only abolish slavery, but eventually even established a black's right to vote
as well. In fact, many blacks even held elected office and were influential in state
legislatures. And, in 1869, the first blacks entered Congress as members of the
Republican Party, establishing a trend that was not broken until 1935 when the first
black Democrat finally was elected to Congress.
Meanwhile, Republicans continued being elected to the White House. In 1868, Civil
War hero Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency easily and was re-elected in 1872.
Although he seemed a bit bewildered by the transition from the military life of a
general to being president, under Grant the Republican commitment to sound
money policies continued, and the Department of Justice and the Weather Bureau
were established. The Republicans in Congress continued to boldly set the agenda,
and in 1870 they proposed and passed the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed
voting rights regardless of race, creed or previous condition of servitude. Setting
another precedent two years later, the Republican Congress turned its sights
toward women's issues and authorized equal pay for equal work performed by
women employed by federal agencies.
It was around this time that the symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party
was created by Thomas Nast, a famous illustrator and caricaturist for The New
Yorker. In 1874, a rumor that animals had escaped from the New York City Zoo
coincided with worries surrounding a possible third-term run by Grant. Nast chose
to represent the Republicans as elephants because elephants were clever, steadfast
and controlled when calm, yet unmanageable when frightened.
But, embracing a tradition established by George Washington and the Republican
Party, which had gone on record opposing a third term for any president, President
Grant did not run for re-election in 1876. Instead, in one of the most bitterly
disputed elections in American history, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the
presidency by the margin of one electoral vote. After the election, cooperation
between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives
was nearly impossible. Nevertheless, Hayes managed to keep his campaign
promises. He cautiously withdrew federal troops from the South to allow them to
shake off the psychological yoke of being a conquered land, took measures to
reverse the myriad inequalities suffered by women in that period and adopted the
merit system within the civil service.
Not surprisingly, the Republican appeal held in 1880 when the party won its sixth
consecutive presidential election with the election of the Civil War hero James A.
Garfield and also managed to regain small majorities in both the House and the
Senate. Following Garfield's assassination, Chester A. Arthur succeeded to the Oval
Office and, in 1883, oversaw the passage of the Pendleton Act through Congress.
This bill classified about 10 percent of all government jobs and created a bipartisan
Civil Service Commission to prepare and administer competitive examinations for these positions. As dreary as this bill sounds, it was important because it made at
least part of the government bureaucracy a professional work force.
Suddenly the Republicans' fortunes changed, and embarking on a decade-long
period of quick reversals, the Republicans lost the 1884 election. But by this time
the party had firmly established itself as a permanent force in American politics by
not only preserving the Union and leading the nation through the Reconstruction,
but by also striking a chord of greater personal autonomy within the national
psyche. Yet while the presidency was regained for one term with the 1888 election
of Benjamin Harrison, with the re-emergence of the South from the destruction of
the Civil War the Republicans were shut out for the first time since the Civil War in
the election of 1892, as the Democrats won control of the House, the Senate and
Republican voters returned to their party with the 1896 election, electing William
McKinley to the White House. His term was the start of a consecutive four-term
Republican possession of the White House.
Standing in sharp contrast to the two existing political parties' present stereotypes
regarding minorities and women, once again the Republican Party was the
vanguard in relation to women. In 1917, Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican,
became the first woman to serve in the House. Committed to her pacifist beliefs,
she was the only member of Congress to vote against entry into both World War I
and World War II.
Shortly after Ms. Rankin's election to Congress, the 19th Amendment was passed in
1919. The amendment's journey to ratification had been a long and difficult one.
Starting in 1896, the Republican Party became the first major party to officially
favor women's suffrage. That year, Republican Sen. A. A. Sargent of California
introduced a proposal in the Senate to give women the right to vote. The proposal
was defeated four times in the Democratic-controlled Senate. When the Republican
Party regained control of Congress, the Equal Suffrage Amendment finally passed
(304-88). Only 16 Republicans opposed the amendment.
When the amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified
it had Republican-controlled legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against
ratification, eight were controlled by Democrats. Twelve states, all Republican, had
given women full suffrage before the federal amendment was finally ratified.
Currently in 2012: Mitt Romney is the Republican Presidential Candidate who will face elections against the Current President Barack Obama.
Who will you vote for?
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