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 That law repealed earlier compromises that had excluded slavery from the territories.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.
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, relations between Johnson and CONGRESS deteriorated, culminating in impeachment of the president; he was acquitted by a single vote.
The Republican Era
The defeat of the South 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 and was only occasionally breached by a Democratic victory. Between 1860 and 1932 the Democrats controlled the White House for only 16 years. Grant’s administration, with its support from the northern industrialists who had made fortunes in the Civil War, became riddled with scandal and corruption–the worst in the nation’s history. Grant was not personally involved, however, and was renominated in 1872. A split among the Republicans ensued: the more liberal elements, opposed to the harshness of the Radical Republicans on the Reconstruction issue and the scandals of the administration, broke away and took the name Liberal Republican party. They, along with a faction of the Democratic party, nominated Horace Greeley for president. Despite this opposition, Grant was reelected by a substantial margin. A continuation of the scandals along with the panic of 1873 caused the Republicans to lose control of the Congress in 1874 in one of the greatest turnovers in history. The Republicans did, however, emerge from that election with a new party symbol, the elephant, after it first appeared in a newspaper cartoon by Thomas Nast.
In 1876 the Republicans nominated a virtual unknown, Rutherford B. HAYES of Ohio. The warring factions of the party were reunited as Hayes promised to remove the federal troops from the South and urged civil service reform. The Democratic candidate, Samuel J. TILDEN of New York, received the greatest number of popular votes, but widespread charges of electoral irregularities led to the appointment of a congressional electoral commission to review the results and decide who should receive disputed votes in four states. The commission, controlled by Republicans, granted all the votes to Hayes, thereby giving him the election by an electoral-college margin of 185 to 184.
The Hayes administration was tarnished by the means in which it came to office but was generally efficient. Hayes ended Reconstruction, reformed the civil service, and espoused sound money policies. All these actions were unpopular with the old- guard Republicans led by Roscoe Conkling, and 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 winning a close election, Garfield was assassinated and Arthur became president. In spite of a past record as a “spoilsman,” one who placed the party faithful in government jobs, 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 that became infamous as one of the dirtiest in history, Cleveland, aided by the Mugwups 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, the Republicans chose Benjamin HARRISON of Indiana as their nominee. Campaigning strongly in favor of the protective tariff, Harrison defeated Cleveland by an electoral vote of 233 to 168, although he received 100,000 fewer popular votes. For the first time in years the Republicans also captured both houses of Congress. The Republicans passed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, admitted several new states to the Union, and passed the highly protective McKinley Tariff Act.
In the congressional elections of 1890 the party suffered its worst defeat since 1874. President Harrison, although not popular within his party, was renominated in 1892 but lost the election to Grover Cleveland. This defeat was the worst the Republicans had suffered since the party’s birth. A severe depression and the panic of 1893–and a generally lackluster Cleveland administration–provided hope for the Republicans. The advent of a surprisingly strong Populist party in 1892 siphoned off votes from the Republicans in the border states and from the Democrats in the South. Even so, the Populist thrust was relatively short-lived. By tying themselves too closely to Free Silver as a major issue the Democrats weakened themselves.
In 1896, William MCKINLEY of Ohio became the Republican candidate after a campaign orchestrated by Mark Hanna, a Cleveland politician-businessman who feared the rise of populism and a decline in business prosperity. In what many political historians believe was the most significant election since 1860, 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. These alliances presaged those that were ultimately to shape the political coalitions of the first half of the 20th century. The Republicans had committed themselves to conservative economics–a stance that they consistently retained thereafter.
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.
Theodore Roosevelt and Progressivism
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; Taft’s style, however, and his conservatism alienated the liberals within the Republican party. Those liberals, led by Robert M. La Follote of Wisconsin, organized (1911) the National Progressive Republican League as a means of wresting party control from the conservatives. 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 and, at the end of the war, prevented the United States from joining the League of Nations by rejecting ratification of the Versailles Treaty.
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. Many believed that another era of Republican hegemony was dawning, but a rapidly escalating worldwide economic depression brought Hoover and his party to their knees. Although the Hoover administration took steps to stop the decline of the economy, its remedies were generally thought to be ineffectual and too late. 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 Republicans in the Minority: 1932-52
The Republicans were unable to find a candidate who could match Roosevelt’s popular appeal. Alf Landon and Wendell L. WILLKIE failed in 1936 and 1940, respectively. Mostly isolationist before World War II, the Republicans backed the war effort, a stance that was to lead to support–enunciated by Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg–for bipartisan foreign policy after the war. The 1944 elections came at a critical time in the midst of World War II, and New York governor Thomas E. DEWEY became the fourth Republican candidate to be overwhelmed by Roosevelt. In 1948, Dewey again was the Republican nominee, this time against Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. TRUMAN. He conducted a lackluster campaign, lulled into complacency by polls and expert opinions that forecast a landslide Republican victory. Truman, however, defeated Dewey in a great upset.
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. Eisenhower’s running mate was California senator Richard M. NIXON. 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 USSR, 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.
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 (his most liberal opponent, John Anderson, subsequently ran as an independent) 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 percent 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 percent 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 and mounted an aggressive counterattack in that year’s mid-term election campaign, Republicans seized control of both houses of Congress.
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