In the early 1850’s anti-slavery activists and a number of individuals believed government should grant settlers western soil – free of charge. An informal meeting took place in Ripon, a small town northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first official meeting took place July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan ~ taking the party name “Republican” because it was reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party and adopting a platform focused on equality for individuals.
By 1856, “Republican” became a national party when John C. Fremont was nominated for President under the slogan: “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont” even though they were considered a “third party.” At that time Democrats and Whigs represented the two-party system. Fremont received a substantial 33% of the vote. Only 4 years later, Abraham Lincoln would become the first Republican to win the White House.
Civil War erupted in 1861 and lasted four grueling years. During the war, against the advice of his cabinet, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. Republicans worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans.
In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women’s suffrage, playing a leading role in securing women’s right to vote. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917.
During most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, a number of Presidents were Republican. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, George H. and George W. Bush. Under Reagan and the first Bush, the United States became the world’s only superpower, winning the Cold War from the old Soviet Union and releasing millions from Communist oppression.
Behind all the elected officials and the candidates of any political party are thousands of hard-working staff and volunteers. Each state has its own Republican State Committee with a Chairman and staff. The Republican structure goes right down to the neighborhoods, where a Republican precinct captain every Election Day organizes Republican workers to get out the vote.
Republicans have a long and rich history with basic principles: Individuals, not government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home.
The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant. During the mid term elections back in 1874, Democrats tried to scare voters into thinking President Grant would seek to run for an unprecedented third term. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, depicted a Democratic jackass trying to scare a Republican elephant – and both symbols stuck. For a long time Republicans have been known as the “G.O.P.” and party faithfuls thought it meant the “Grand Old Party.” But apparently the original meaning in 1875 was “gallant old party.” When automobiles were invented it also came to mean, “get out and push.” And that’s still a pretty good slogan for Republicans who depend every campaign year on the hard work of volunteers to get out the vote and push constituents to support the causes of the Republican Party.