Often called the Grand Old Party or the GOP, the Republican Party is one of two major political parties in the United States. It was founded in 1854 as a coalition of citizens in opposition to extending the practice of owning slaves into the Western Territories. The GOP is regarded as being socially conservative and supporting lower taxes, less regulation, and less federal interference with the economy.
During the 1840s, the Democratic Party and the Whig Party were at odds over expanding slavery into the newly acquired Western Territories. The Democrats wanted to expand slavery, and the Whigs’ objective was to curtail the Democratic Party from stacking the deck in national politics with a dominant number of slaveholding states. They were not attempting, at the time, to abolish slavery – that came later.
It was the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which would permit slavery in U.S. territories by a referendum process, that ignited a fire under members of the Whig Party, Free-Soilers, and disgruntled Democrats, to create an anti-slavery party: That coalition became the Republican Party. This group held its first official meeting in Ripon, Wisconsin to hammer out a name and platform. Within 60 days, they met in Michigan and began the selection of candidates to run in statewide races.
The 1860 presidential election propelled the newly formed Republicans into the national spotlight. Their candidate, Abraham Lincoln, became the nation’s 16th president with only 40% of the popular vote. He didn’t win any support from the Southern states, but won decisively in the Electoral College due to support from the Northern and Western states.
Between November 1860 and March 1861 – the time of Lincoln’s inauguration — seven southern states seceded from the Union, an event that would be the catalyst to start the U.S. Civil War. While the conflict was, technically, over the issue of secession from the Union, the Republicans began to see the issue of slavery as a strategic stand and a way to help them, ultimately, end the war. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and with a Republican majority in Congress, passed the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery in the United States.
After the war, during the Reconstruction Era, the Republicans pushed legislation to ensure civil rights for Black Americans – including the right for black men to vote. But the party also began shifting towards big business and financial interests in the industrialized North. It was a time of expansion of the government.
The war and the Republican Party’s policies at the time solidified the southern states’ loyalty to the Democratic Party for decades.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Republicans increased their Protestant values with the temperance movement and the Prohibition of 1919. More progressive Republicans like President Theodore Roosevelt split and created another party, the Bull Moose.
After the stock market crash of 1929, many Americans blamed the Republicans as they were considered the elite, the wealthy, and not for the common man, until the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Between 1932 and 1980, Republicans held a congressional majority for only four years and elected only four presidential candidates.
The Republican Party eventually became popular again, gaining ground with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Reagan’s foreign policy helped bring the Cold War to an end, increased military power, spearheaded tax cuts, and promoted free markets. From 1980 until 2016, two Democrats and four Republicans have been elected president.
Some Famous Republicans
Abraham Lincoln: The first Republican president, Lincoln remained one of America’s most beloved presidents due to his role in abolishing slavery. Although he lacked much formal education, he was known as a frontiersman and delivered one of the most famous speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address. He was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.
Donald Trump: The current United States president, Trump is a controversial figure, to say the least. Previously a real estate business mogul, Trump became recognizable to the majority of Americans on his reality program The Apprentice, a televised contest that assigned business challenges to people who hoped to work as his protégé. It wasn’t until he became politically active and made a surprise bid for the presidency that Trump elicited strong political feelings from Americans.
Ronald Reagan: Originally pursuing a career as a Hollywood actor, appearing in movies like King’s Row and Dark Victory, Reagan was eventually drawn to politics. He became governor of California and was later elected the 40th U.S. president. Today he is most recognized for his role in ending the Cold War against the Soviet Union and his “Reaganomics” monetary policy, which promoted free-market economics.