On this date in 1854, the Republican Party was originally formed in, of all places, Ripon, Wisc. The Republican Party emerged in 1854, growing out of a coalition of former Whigs (who favored the power of Congress over the power of the President) and Free Soil Democrats, a short-lived political party whose main purpose was opposing the expansion of slavery into the western territories, arguing that free men on free soil comprised a morally and economically superior system to slavery. They opposed slavery in the new territories and sometimes worked to remove existing laws that discriminated against freed African Americans in states such as Ohio. who mobilized in opposition to the possibility of slavery extending into the new western territories.
The new party put forward a vision of modernizing the United States—emphasizing free homesteads to farmers (“free soil”), banking, railroads, and industry. They vigorously argued that free-market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism— their ideology was “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men” ideology. The Republicans absorbed the previous traditions of its members, most of whom had been Whigs; others had been Democrats or members of third parties (especially the Free Soil Party and the American Party or Know Nothings).
The party organized in a little white schoolhouse in Ripon. John C. Frémont ran as the first Republican nominee for President in 1856, using the political slogan: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont.” Although his bid was unsuccessful, the party showed a strong base. It dominated in New England, New York and the northern Midwest, and had a strong presence in the rest of the North. It had almost no support in the South, where it was roundly denounced in 1856-60 as a divisive force that threatened civil war.
The election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 ended the domination of the fragile coalition of pro-slavery southern Democrats and conciliatory northern Democrats which had existed since the days of Andrew Jackson. Instead, a new era of Republican dominance based in the industrial and agricultural north ensued. Republicans sometimes refer to their party as the “party of Lincoln” in honor of the first Republican President.
With the election of Ulysses S. Grant in 1868, the Radicals had control of Congress, the party and the Army, and attempted to build a solid Republican base in the South using the votes of Freedmen, Scalawags and Carpetbaggers, supported directly by U.S. Army detachments. Republicans all across the South formed local clubs called Union Leagues that effectively mobilized the voters, discussed issues, and when necessary fought off Ku Klux Klan (KKK) attacks. Thousands died on both sides.
The Republicans lost much of its strength when Herbert Hoover lost to FDR in 1932. With Hoover, many Republican Congressmen and Senators were defeated. FDR’s socialist policies were quickly passed by Congress, though many of his appointments to the Supreme Court were radical even by Democrat standards.
The Republicans saw a hoped-for resurgence with Barry Goldwater’s conservative candidacy in 1964. But Kennedy’s assassination and liberal activism put an end to their hopes. Richard Nixon’s near-impeachment and resignation in 1974 was seen as the doom of the Republican Party. But a short six years later, Ronald Reagan, charismatic and confident, turned the tables on the Democrats. His presidency was dubbed “The Reagan Revolution,” inspiring generations of Conservatives.
We ask who is the next George Washington? We should also ask who will be the next Abraham Lincoln or Ronald Reagan. The class of 2006, responding to the Democrats’ disingenuous plea of “Can’t we all just get along?”, succumbed to every vice and corrupt practice in the book, handing the Democrats both houses of Congress.
Their victory wasn’t long-lived, though, thanks to the Tea Parties. Not all Republicans got the message and are still touting a left-of-middle message, which in political parlance is a central message. However, some daring Republicans are promoting the Conservative values message that made the GOP the party of Lincoln and Reagan, rather than Wilson and Nixon.
So, many happy returns, Grand Old Party!