History of the Republican Party


You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.  We will preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we will sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.  If we fail, at least let our children and our children’s children say of us we justified our brief moment here.  We did all that could be done.

Ronald Reagan - Oct. 27, 1964 


Origins and Birth of the Party

Let us turn this government back into the channel in which the framers of the Constitution originally placed it. 

Abraham Lincoln - July 10, 1858 Speech at Chicago 

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 Missouri Compromise of 1820 had divided the country at the 36° 30’ parallel between the pro-slavery, agrarian South and the anti-slavery, industrial North, creating an uneasy peace which lasted for three decades.


This peace was finally shattered in 1854, where in Congress, debate raged over the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Its passage would leave the legal question of slavery to the residents of the Kansas and Nebraska territories and upset a ban on slavery in those areas imposed by the Missouri Compromise of 1820. This issue forced divisions within the existing Whig and Democratic-Republican parties. 

Northern leaders such as Horace Greeley, Salmon P. Chase and Charles Summer could not sit back and watch the flood of pro-slavery settlers cross northward over the parallel. In January 1854, Senator Chase issued his manifesto, The Appeal of Independent Democrats in Congress to the People of the United States. Chase called for the rejection of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, citing that its passage would essentially repeal the sacred pledge given in the Missouri Comprise that guaranteed slavery would not be expanded into any northern territories. Following its publication in major newspapers, spontaneous demonstrations occurred across the nation. A new party was needed. 

As early as 1852, Major Alvan Earle Bovay of Ripon, Wisconsin, a small farming community northwest of Milwaukee, began calling for a new political party to abolish slavery altogether. At that time, Bovay had visited New York and had a conversation with Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune about the topic. Bovay told him about his idea of a new party named the Republican Party, and Greeley, who had himself already proposed the name Republican, was enthusiastic. 

In 1854, because of the issue of the Kansas-Nebraska Act being considered by Congress, Bovay—a member of the Whig party—then thirty-six years old, called a meeting to be held on the evening of February 28, 1854, at the Congregational church. The men who met that night saw slavery as the great evil, and held the common belief that it was unconstitutional. A resolution was adopted that if the Nebraska bill would pass, they would "throw old party organizations to the winds and organize a new party on the sole issue of slavery”. 

Following the Senate passage of The Kansas-Nebraska bill on March 4, Bovay anticipated passage by the House (which it did on May 30), and called for another meeting for the purpose of organizing a local Republican Party. On March 20, fifty-three local citizens showed up at the local schoolhouse. They were anti-slavery activists, modernizers, exWhigs and ex-Free Soilers, which were a combination of four other political factions; the Liberty Party; Free-Soil Democrats; Barnburners; and Conscience Whigs. 

Following Bovay’s suggestion, the group decided to call themselves Republicans. They also linked their cause with the Declaration of Independence and professed to be political descendants of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party, and agreed with his view on the Constitution, including a limited Federal government. 

Bovay was also aware that when political parties first formed after the election of George Washington as our first President, although Washington was opposed to the creation of political parties fearing they would lead to factions within the citizenry, Jefferson had referred to Washington as a “Republican”, due to his desire to follow the Constitution’s blueprint for the Republic, and his staunch opposition to the new Federalist Party, which included Alexander Hamilton and others. The Federalist Party, who, similar to what’s referred to the “far left” today, opposed de-centralized authority of the States and wanted to expand the power of the new Federal government, so that it gained more power and control over the States and the People. 

When the people left that schoolhouse, they were in agreement that one unified front was crucial to the fight against slavery. After the meeting of March 20, Bovay declared, “We all entered as Whigs, Free Soilers and Democrat-Republicans, but all came out as Republicans, the first Republicans in the Union”. 

The first official Republican State meeting took place on July 6, 1854, in Jackson, Michigan. The crowd was so great that it could not be held in the town’s largest facility. Business had to be conducted outside in a grove of trees near the county racetrack. The name Republican was formally adopted at that convention. At the Jackson convention, the new party adopted a platform and nominated candidates for office in Michigan. Organizational meetings soon followed in Iowa, Ohio, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and other northern states. 

In an editorial written by New York newspaper magnate Horace Greeley in June 1854, he helped to solidify the name of the new Party when he wrote, “We should not care much whether those thus united (against slavery) were designated ‘Whig’, ‘Free Democrat’ or something else, though we think some simple name like ‘Republican’ would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery”. 

The elections of 1854 saw the Republicans take Michigan and make advances in many states. It quickly became the main opposition to the Democratic Party, and the short-lived Know Nothing Party. Forty-four Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives, and eleven were elected to the Senate. 

By 1855, the Republican Party controlled a majority in the House of Representatives. The new Party decided to hold an organizing convention in Pittsburgh in early 1856, leading up to the first national nominating convention in Philadelphia on June 17, 1856, Senator John C. Fremont was nominated for President, under the slogan: Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont. He received 33% of the popular vote, and was defeated by Democrat James Buchanan for the presidency. 

Two days after Buchanan's inauguration, the Supreme Court issued the Dred Scott decision which was denounced by Republicans and split the Democrat party. As a result, in 1858 the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives. 

The second Republican national convention in 1860 resulted in the nomination of Abraham Lincoln for president. The platform pledged not to extend slavery, called for the construction of a transcontinental railroad, and supported a protective tariff.  

Lincoln’s major opponents were Northern Democrat Stephen Douglas, Southern Democrat John C. Breckinridge, and Constitutional Union Party candidate John Bell. Lincoln won with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. 

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 the 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 African-Americans. 

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 1917. 

Presidents during most of the late Nineteenth century and the early part of the Twentieth century were Republicans. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. Under Ronald Reagan and George H.W. 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. 


Today, under the leadership of President Donald J Trump, the Republican Party is facing new challenges against the threats to our Constitution and our freedoms and liberties.  We are fighting the opposition’s desire to transfer even more power away from the States and the People to the Federal Government.  We disagree and oppose their desire for unprecedented Federal spending and high taxes which stifles economic growth and free-enterprise, discourages individual entrepreneurship, and results in an unsustainable national debt.  



Origin of the term GOP

I am a Republican, a black, dyed-in-the-wool Republican.  And I never intend to belong to any other party other than the party of freedom and progress.

Frederick Douglass

The use of the term GOP dates back to the 1870’s and 1880’s. The abbreviation was cited in a New York Herald story on October 15, 1884: “The G.O.P. is Doomed shouted The Boston Post. The Grand Old Party is in condition. .. .” 

But what GOP 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, 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 term "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 '70s to modernize the party, Republican leaders took to referring to the "grand old party," harkening back to a 1971 speech by President Nixon at the dedication of the Eisenhower Republican Center in Washington, D.C. 


The Elephant

The Elephant

This symbol of the party was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first appeared in Harper's Weekly on November 7, 1874. 

An 1860 issue of Railsplitter and an 1872 cartoon in Harper's Weekly connected elephants with Republicans, but it was Nast who provided the party with its symbol. 

Oddly, two unconnected events led to the birth of the Republican Elephant. James Gordon Bennett's New York Herald raised the cry of "Caesarism" in connection with the possibility of a third term try for President Ulysses S. Grant. The issue was taken up by the Democratic politicians in 1874, halfway through Grant's second term and just before the midterm elections, and helped disaffect Republican voters. 

While the illustrated journals were depicting Grant wearing a crown, The Herald involved itself in another circulation-builder in an entirely different, nonpolitical area. This was the Central Park Menagerie Scare of 1874, a delightful hoax perpetrated by The Herald. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York's Central Park in search of prey. 

Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of The Herald enterprise and put them together in a cartoon for Harper's Weekly. He showed a jackass, symbolizing the Herald, wearing a lion's skin, the scary prospect of Caesarism, frightening away the animals in the forest (Central Park). The caption quoted a familiar fable: An ass having put on a lion's skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings. 

One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant, representing the Republican vote, not the party. The Republican vote was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phony scare of Caesarism. In a subsequent cartoon on November 21, 1874, after the election in which the Republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the Republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance. Other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the party itself. 

The jackass, now referred to as the donkey, made a natural transition from representing The Herald to representing the Democratic Party that had frightened the elephant.