Site Content

Grand Old Party - History

The Republican party is popularly known as the GOP, from its earlier nickname of the Grand Old Party. From its first presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856, through Republican George W Bush in 2000, Republicans have occupied the White House for 84 years. Originally, Republican strength came primarily from New England and the Midwest. After World War II, however, it greatly increased in the Sunbelt states and the West. Generally speaking, the Republican party is the more conservative of the two major parties. The Founding of the Party - The Republican party grew out of the conflicts regarding the expansion of slavery into the new Western territories. 


The stimulus for its founding was provided by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. That law repealed earlier compromises that had excluded slavery from the territories. The passage of this act served as the unifying agent for abolitionists and split the Democrats and the Whig party. "Anti-Nebraska" protest meetings spread rapidly through the country. Two such meetings were held in Ripon, Wisconsin, on February 28 and March 20, 1854, and were attended by a group of abolitionist Free Soilers, Democrats, and Whigs. They decided to call themselves Republicans-because they professed to be political descendants of Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican party. 


The name was formally adopted by a state convention held in Jackson, Michigan, on July 6, 1854. The Republican party was a success from the beginning. In the 1854 congressional elections 44 Republicans were elected to the House of Representatives and several were elected to the Senate and various state houses. In 1856, at the first Republican national convention, Senator John C. Fremont was nominated for the presidency but was defeated by Democrat James Buchanan. Two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which was denounced by the Republicans. The split in the Democratic party over the issue of slavery continued, and in 1858 the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the first time. The Republican Era 1860-1932 - The second Republican national convention in 1860 resulted in the presidential nomination of Abraham Lincoln. The Republican platform pledged not to extend slavery and called for enactment of free-homestead legislation, prompt establishment of a daily overland mail service, a transcontinental railroad, and support of the protective tariff. Lincoln was opposed by three major candidates-Stephen Douglas (Northern Democrat), John Cabell Breckinridge (Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Union party). Lincoln received almost half a million votes more than Douglas, but won the election with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote. 


The defeat of the South in the Civil War left the Democratic party-closely allied with the Confederacy-in shambles. The Republicans,on the other hand, were in the ascendancy. With the election of Ulysses S. Grant, the Republicans began a period of national dominance that lasted for more than 70 years, only occasionally breached by a Democratic victory. The Republicans nominated Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio in 1876. The party was reunited as Hayes promised to remove the federal troops from the South and urged civil service reform. The Hayes administration was generally efficient. It ended Reconstruction, reformed the civil service, and espoused sound money policies. Hayes did not seek a second term. Instead, James A. Garfield was nominated as the Republican candidate in 1880. Chester A. Arthur of New York was nominated for vice-president. After a close win, Garfield was assassinated and Arthur became president of the United States. 


Arthur astonished many with his success in getting passed the Pendleton Act, creating a civil service based on the merit system. He was never able to gain control of his party, however, and was the only president denied renomination by his party's convention. James G. Blaine of Maine received the nomination instead and faced Democrat Grover Cleveland of New York in the 1884 election. In a campaign infamous as one of the dirtiest in history, Cleveland, aided by the mugwumps led by Carl Schurz, defeated Blaine by a narrow margin. Much of Cleveland's presidency was dominated by debate over the protective tariff. In 1888, after Blaine declined to run, Republicans chose Benjamin Harrison as their nominee. Campaigning strongly in favor of the protective tariff, Harrison defeated Cleveland by an electoral vote of 233 to 168. The Republicans passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, admitted several new states to the Union, and passed the highly protective McKinley Tariff Act. President Harrison, was renominated in 1892 but lost the election to Grover Cleveland. A generally lackluster Cleveland administration-provided hope for the Republicans. In 1896, William McKinley of Ohio became the Republican candidate. 


McKinley beat William Jennings Bryan by a substantial margin. McKinley received support from the industrial Northeast and the business community. Bryan received his votes from agricultural areas, the South, the West, and from the laboring man. McKinley's first term was dominated by the 10-week-long Spanish-American War (1898) and the subsequent acquisition of Guam, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and the annexation of Hawaii. These events increasingly thrust the United States into world politics. The only question regarding the Republican ticket in 1900 was who would replace Vice-President Garret Hobart who had died the previous year. Governor Theodore Roosevelt of New York was chosen. McKinley again defeated William Jennings Bryan but was assassinated in 1901. Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as president, inaugurating a remarkable era in American political history. Under Theodore Roosevelt the country saw reforms in economic, political, and social life. Republicans took the lead in conservation efforts and, to the dismay of some old stalwarts, began implementing Roosevelt's trust-busting ideas. Roosevelt's overwhelming reelection in 1904 inaugurated a new era of regulatory legislation and conservation measures. As he had promised, he chose not to run in 1908 and urged the party to nominate William Howard Taft of Ohio. Taft defeated Bryan, who was running for the third time. At the Chicago convention in 1912, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the nomination. Failing to win, Roosevelt bolted the party and ran as the Progressive party candidate. Thus split, the Republicans decisively lost the presidency to Woodrow Wilson.

 

In 1916 the Republicans nominated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, but Wilson's domestic record, his personal popularity, and his pledge to keep the United States out of the war in Europe were obstacles too great for Hughes to overcome. Despite Wilson's promises, the United States was drawn into World War I, and party politics gave way to bipartisan prosecution of the war. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 1918 elections. The Republican ticket of Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge won the 1920 election by a landslide. Harding's administration was plagued by scandals which were inherited by Coolidge after Harding's death in 1923. In a politically astute move, Coolidge appointed two special prosecutors to deal with the scandals, one from each party. Nominated in his own right in 1924, Coolidge was reelected by a large margin. In 1928, Coolidge declined to run again, and the Republicans turned to Herbert Hoover of California. Hoover won by an unprecedented landslide against Alfred E. Smith. Republicans also won control of both houses of Congress. Hoover was renominated in 1932 in the depths of the Depression of the 1930s, but Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated him in one of the great landslide victories in U.S. history. The 70-year era of Republicanism was at an end. One of Roosevelt's major accomplishments was wooing the black vote away from the Republicans. The Eisenhower Era - In 1952 the Republican national convention nominated Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to head its ticket. Although the party was split over the defeat of conservative senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio for that nomination, its ticket went on to win a landslide victory, carrying 39 states. 


The 1956 ticket of Eisenhower and Nixon won another decisive victory, due in part to Eisenhower's moderate course in foreign policy, his successful ending of the Korean War, and his great personal popularity. Democratic control of both houses, however, won in 1954, was continued. In 1960, Vice-President Nixon won an easy victory for nomination but lost the election to John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts by the smallest popular margin in the 20th century-a difference of only about 113,000 votes out of more than 68 million cast. After a bitter internal party struggle prior to the 1964 Republican convention, Sen. Barry M. Goldwater of Arizona wrested the presidential nomination and control of the Republican party away from the Eastern moderates and began an attempt to convert the party into an ideologically pure conservative party. His landslide defeat by Lyndon B. Johnson, however, left the party organization in shambles. The Nixon-Ford Years - In 1968, Richard Nixon reappeared to win the party's nomination and selected Maryland governor Spiro T. Agnew as his running mate. Nixon went on to win the election over Democrat Hubert H. Humphrey, who was unable to bring his party together after divisions brought on by U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. President Nixon's first term was marked by many successes, including improved relations with China, a more cooperative relationship with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, an improved economy, and what appeared to be significant steps toward peace in Vietnam. In 1972 the Democrats nominated a prominent antiwar senator, George S. McGovern of South Dakota. Nixon was reelected by an enormous popular-vote margin, carrying every state except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. Even so, the Democrats continued to control both houses of the Congress. The campaign, however, carried the seeds of the political destruction of Richard Nixon. A burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex during the campaign led to revelations of widespread civil and criminal misconduct within the campaign organization, administration, and White House; impeachment hearings were held, and eventually Nixon resigned in 1974. An earlier scandal involved Vice-President Agnew, who was forced to resign in 1973 after being convicted of income-tax evasion.


Nixon was succeeded by Vice-President Gerald R. Ford, who had been appointed to the office after the resignation of Agnew. Ford faced a serious economic situation-high unemployment, rising inflation, high interest rates, and huge budget deficits. He was criticized by moderates for doing too little to allay the nation's economic ills and by conservatives for offering amnesty to Vietnam-era draft evaders and for appointing Nelson Rockefeller to the vice-presidency. After a difficult primary contest against conservative Ronald Reagan of California, Ford lost the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter. The Reagan and Bush Administrations - By 1980 the apparent inability of the Carter administration to control the economic situation, coupled with a perception of U.S. impotence abroad (exemplified by the Iranian seizure of U.S. hostages), favored a Republican resurgence.


Reagan easily won the party's presidential nomination and went on to overwhelm Carter, taking 489 electoral votes (against Carter's 49) and 51 percent of the popular vote. At the same time, the Republicans won 12 additional seats in the U.S. Senate, taking control of that body for the first time in 25 years. This Republican resurgence, however, was only partially confirmed in the 1984 elections. Although in his reelection bid Reagan routed Walter F. Mondale, taking 59% of the popular vote and a record-breaking 525 electoral votes (to Mondale's 13), the Republicans lost two Senate seats, while retaining a majority.


Democrats continued to control the House. The pattern of Republican presidential triumphs and Democratic gains in Congress continued in 1986, when the Democrats regained a majority in the Senate, and 1988, when George Bush won the presidency by a large margin. President Bush's approval rating reached an impressive 89% in 1991 after the international coalition he forged against Iraq achieved victory in the Persian Gulf War. However, a recession that began in 1990, combined with the electorate's growing concern with domestic issues in the aftermath of the cold war and public impatience with "gridlock" in the government, counted against him in his reelection bid. Led by Bill Clinton, the Democrats in 1992 captured the presidency (with 370 electoral votes to Bush's 168) and solid majorities in both houses of Congress. In 1994, having blocked Clinton's legislative agenda, the Republicans mounted an aggressive midterm election campaign and seized control of both houses of Congress. In 1996, however, the Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole failed to unseat Clinton.

image1