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History of the Republican Party

On March 20, 1854, the first meeting of the Republican Party was held in Ripon, Wisconsin in a one-room schoolhouse. The founders were united in their opposition to slavery and were largely from the Whig Party which by then had collapsed, the Free-Soilers (a small but passionate party opposed to extending slavery into the Kansas-Nebraska territory,) and some former members of the Democratic Party who opposed slavery but could not persuade their party to that position.

On July 6, 1854, an anti-slavery state convention was held in Jackson, Michigan. The hot day forced the large crowd out-of-doors to the shade of a nearby grove of oak trees. At this “Under the Oaks” Convention, the first statewide candidates were selected for what would become the Republican Party.

United by a desire to abolish slavery, it was in Jackson that the Platform of the “Under the Oaks” Convention read: “…we will cooperate and be known as REPUBLICANS…” Prior to July, smaller groups had gathered in intimate settings like the schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin. However, the meeting in Jackson would be the first mass gathering of the Republican Party.

The name “Republican” was proposed by the journalist Horace Greely as a simple way of alluding to some of the original virtues of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party (today’s Democratic Party) but also asserting the “inalienable rights” of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens, regardless of race.

The Party’s first presidential nominee was John Charles Fremont, who lost in the 1856 general election to James Buchanan. Fremont did carry eleven of the sixteen northern states. The second presidential nominee of the Party was Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Lincoln won the presidency, and the Republican Party also won controlling majorities in both houses of Congress.

The Republican Party’s elephant symbol originated during the 1860 campaign as a symbol of Republican strength. It was later popularized in a cartoon by Thomas Nast in 1874. Republicans envisioned “free soil, free speech, free labor.” Under the leadership of President Abraham Lincoln, the GOP became the Party of the Union, as well.

The nickname “Grand Old Party” (GOP) originated with an article in the 1875 Congressional Record that referred to the Republican Party as “the gallant old party” which had led the successful military defense of the Union during the Civil War. A year later an article in the Cincinnati Commercial modified the phrase to the “grand old party.”

President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the parts of the nation which were in rebellion at the time, and the 1864 Republican National Convention called for the abolition of slavery throughout the nation.

Congressional Republicans passed the 13th Amendment unanimously, with only a few Democrat votes.

The early women’s rights movement was solidly Republican, as it was a continuation of abolitionism. They were careful not to be overly partisan, but as did Susan B. Anthony, most suffragists favored the Republican Party. The 19th Amendment was written by a Republican senator and garnered greater support from Republicans than from Democrats.

Republican Core Beliefs

Republican beliefs are declared in the Party Platform adopted at each National Convention. Platforms adopted in recent decades have affirmed the following as core beliefs of the Party:

  • Religious freedom

  • Limited government reach into the lives of individuals and the economy

  • Restraint of taxation and of the growth of government

  • Reduction of the public debt, the elimination of deficit spending by the federal and state governments, and responsible management of government funds

  • Promotion of free enterprise, private ownership of property, a strong capitalist private-sector economy, and free trade among nations

  • The right and responsibility of the individual to manage one’s life and solve one’s problems, with help from government agencies available as a last resort, and not continuing indefinitely


  • A culture of Life, including opposition to the practice of abortion as a means of birth control

  • The importance of the family as a fundamental unit of society

  • Support for the Second Amendment right of citizens “to keep and bear arms.”

  • The importance of education and independent thinking

  • Strong national defense and strong leadership in world affairs

  • Immigration regulated by law which is consistently enforced

  • Equal opportunity and protection for all citizens

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