The Republican party is one of the two major POLITICAL PARTIES in the United States, the other being the DEMOCRATIC PARTY party. It is popularly known as the GOP, from its earlier nickname Grand Old Party. From the time it ran its first PRESIDENTIAL candidate, John C. Fremont, in 1856, until the inauguration of Republican George BUSH in 1989, Republican presidents occupied the WHITE HOUSE for 80 years. Traditionally, 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, after World War I the Republican party became the more conservative of the two major parties, with its support coming from the upper middle class and from the corporate, financial, and farming interests. It has taken political stances generally in favor of laissez- faire, free enterprise, and fiscal responsibility (at least until 1981) and against the welfare state.
The Founding of the Party
Scholars agree that the origins of the party grew out of the sectional conflicts regarding the expansion of slavery into the new Western territories. The stimulus for political realignment 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 That law repealed earlier compromises that had excluded slavery from the territories.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, Wis., on Feb. 28 and Mar. 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, Mich., on July 6, 1854.
The new party was a success from the beginning. In the 1854 congressional elections 44 Republicans were elected as a part of the anti-Nebraskan majority in the HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, and several Republicans were elected to the SENATE and to various state houses. In 1856, at the first Republican national convention, Sen. John C. Fremont was nominated for the presidency but was defeated by Democrat James BUCHANAN. During the campaign the northern wing of the KNOW-NOTHING PARTY split off and endorsed the Republican ticket, making the Republicans the principal antislavery party.
Two days after the inauguration of James Buchanan, the Supreme Court handed down the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, which increased sectional dissension and was denounced by the Republicans. At this time the nation was also gripped by economic chaos. Business blamed tariff reductions, and Republican leaders called for greater tariff protection. 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. One Republican who failed that year was Abraham LINCOLN, defeated in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat by Stephen A. Douglas.
Lincoln, the Civil War, and Reconstruction
At the second Republican national convention, in 1860, a hard- fought contest resulted in the presidential nomination of Abraham Lincoln. The Republican platform specifically 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–Douglas (Northern Democrat), John Cabell BRECKINRIDGE (Southern Democrat), and John Bell (Constitutional Union party). Lincoln collected almost half a million votes more than Douglas, his nearest competitor, but he won the election with only 39.8 percent of the popular vote.
Shortly thereafter, the Civil War began. Reverses on the battlefield, disaffection over the draft and taxes, and the failures of army leadership brought Lincoln and the Republicans into the 1864 election with small hope for victory. Party leaders saw the need to broaden the base of the party, and accordingly, they adopted the name National Union party. Andrew JOHNSON of Tennessee, a War Democrat, was nominated as Lincoln’s running mate. Significant military victories intervened before election day and contributed to Lincoln’s overwhelming reelection. After Lincoln’s assassination the Radical Republicans, led by Sen. Charles Sumner and Rep. Thaddeus Stevens, fought President Johnson’s moderate Reconstruction policies. Ultimately,