The Beginning of the Republican Party
The Beginning of the Republican Party
From William Safire’s
New Language of Politics
Collier Books, NY 1972
“To do for the community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere.” – Abraham Lincoln
It is this simple philosophy on which the Republican Party was founded.
The year was 1854. The Democrats and Whigs were the leading political parties, and the Free Soilers had recently gained enough strength to place candidates for election. The issue was slavery. The emotions of the nation and its citizens rose as Congress debated the Kansas-Nebraska bill. Its passage would leave the legal questions of slavery to the residents of these new states and upset a quarter century ban on slavery in the remaining Louisiana Purchase territory.
On February 28, Maj. Alvan E. Bovay called a meeting in the Congregational Church in Ripon, Wisconsin. The men who met that night in that small farming community were the Democrats, Whig and Free Soilers. They were brought together by a common belief..SLAVERY was unconstitutional.Out of the meeting came a resolution. A new party, to be named the Republican Party, would be formed if the Kansas-Nebraska bill passed. It was only a short time before the Senate approved the bill. It was law – the extension of slavery was a real threat. Major Bovay called a second meeting.
On March 20, 53 local citizens gathered in the schoolhouse in Ripon. From their numbers they appointed a committee of five to form the new party. The local Free Soil and Whig organizations were dissolved. The Ripon meeting was only the first of many that year. In Michigan, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and other Northern states, citizens of similar persuasion met to form Republican organizations.
The first Republican convention was held in Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854. The crowd was so great it could not be held in the town’s largest hall. The business of the party had to be conducted in a grove of oaks near the county race track. These resolutions signaled the formal beginning of the new national party.
They resolved, that in view of the imminent danger that Kansas and Nebraska will be grasped by slavery and a thousand miles of slave soil will be thus interposed between the free states of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific, we will act cordially and faithfully in unison to avert and repeal this gigantic wrong and shame.
Resolved, that in the view of the necessity of battling for the first principles of Republican government and against schemes of an aristocracy, the most revolting and oppressive with which the earth was ever cursed or man debased, we will cooperate and be known as Republicans until the contest be terminated.
Under the Republican or anti-Nebraska, the party made significant inroads that fall in its first tests at the polls winning 11 United States senate seats. With the help of anti-Nebraskans the new party was able to control and organize the house.
Republican tickets were in office in Michigan and Wisconsin. By 1856 the Republican Party was organized nationally and state delegates appointed a national executive committee which was authorized to call a national nominating convention that June in Philadelphia.
The symbol of the party was born in the imagination of cartoonist Thomas Nast and first presented in Harper’s Weekly on Nov. 7, 1874. An 1860 issue of the Rails litter and an 1872 cartoon in Harper’s weekly connected elephants with republicans, but it was Nast who provided both parties with their Symbols.
Oddly, two connected events led to the birth of the republican elephant. James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald raised the cry of “caesarism” in connections with the possibility of a third term try for President Ulysses S. Grant. The issue was taken up by Democratic politicians in 1874, halfway through Grant’s second term and just before the midterm elections, and helped disaffect republican voters.
While the illustrated journals were depicting Grant wearing a crown, the Herald involved itself in another circulation-builder in an entirely different nonpolitical area. This was the Central Park Menagerie scare of 1874, a delightful hoax perpetrated by the Herald. They ran a story, totally untrue, that the animals in the zoo had broken loose and were roaming the wilds of New York’s Central Park in search of prey.
Cartoonist Thomas Nast took the two examples of Herald enterprise and put them together in a cartoon in Harper’s Weekly. He showed a donkey symbolizing the herald) wearing a lion’s skin 9 the scary prospect of ceasarism0 frightening away the other animals in the forest (central Park).
The caption quotes familiar fable. A donkey having put on a lion’s skin roamed about in the forest and amused himself by frightening all the foolish animals he met within his wanderings.
One of the foolish animals in the cartoon was an elephant , representing the republican vote. Not the party, the vote – which was being frightened away from its normal ties by the phone scare of cearism. In a subsequent cartoon on Nov.21, 18724, after the election in which republicans did badly, Nast followed up the idea by showing the elephant in a trap, illustrating the way the republican vote had been decoyed from its normal allegiance, other cartoonists picked up the symbol, and the elephant soon ceased to be the vote and became the itself, the donkey made a natural transition from representing the Heralds to representing the democratic Party hat had frightened the elephant.
- Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865)
- Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)
- Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
- James A. Garfield (1881)
- Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
- Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
- William McKinley (1897-1901)
- Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
- William Howard Taft (1909-1913)
- Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
- Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
- Herbert Hoover (1929-1933)
- Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961)
- Richard Nixon (1969-1974)
- Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
- Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
- George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
- George W. Bush (2001-2009)
- Donald Trump (2017 – present)