About Us

The Republican Party was born in the early 1850’s by anti-slavery activists and individuals who believed that government should grant western lands to settlers free of charge. The first informal meeting of the party took place in Ripon, Wisconsin, a small town northwest of Milwaukee. The first official Republican meeting took place on July 6th, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan. The name “Republican” was chosen because it alluded to equality and reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. At the Jackson convention, the new party adopted a platform and nominated candidates for office in Michigan.

In 1856, the Republicans 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” because the Democrats and Whigs represented the two-party system at the time, Fremont received 33% of the vote. Four years later, Abraham Lincoln became the first Republican to win the White House.

school The 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. The Republicans of the day worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery, the Fourteenth, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws, and the Fifteenth, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans.

The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to vote. In 1896, Republicans were the first major party to favor women’s suffrage. 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.

Presidents during most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were Republicans. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. reaganUnder the last two, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. 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 who raise money, lick the envelopes, and make the phone calls that every winning campaign must have. The national structure of our party starts with the Republican National Committee. 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.

Most states ask voters when they register to express party preference. Voters don’t have to do so, but registration lists let the parties know exactly which voters they want to be sure vote on Election Day. Just because voters register as a Republican, they don’t need to vote that way – many voters split their tickets, voting for candidates in both parties. But the national party is made up of all registered Republicans in all 50 states. They are the heart and soul of the party. 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 way 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.” And when automobiles were invented it also came to mean, “get out and push.” That’s still a pretty good slogan for Republicans who depend every campaign year on the hard work of hundreds of thousands of volunteers to get out and vote and push people to support the causes of the Republican Party.

Republicans fought to abolish slavery, give blacks equal rights and then the vote. Many Republican politicians risked their careers on that period’s “third rail” of politics. In fact, many blacks even held elected office and were influential in state legislatures. And, in 1869, the first blacks entered Congress as members of the Republican Party, establishing a trend that was not broken until 1935 when the first black Democrat finally was elected to Congress.

Meanwhile, Republicans continued being elected to the White House. In 1868, Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant won the presidency easily and was re-elected in 1872. Although he seemed a bit bewildered by the transition from the military life of a general to being president, under Grant the Republican commitment to sound money policies continued, and the Department of Justice and the Weather Bureau were established. The Republicans in Congress continued to boldly set the agenda, and in 1870 they proposed and passed the 15th Amendment, which guaranteed voting rights regardless of race, creed or previous condition of servitude. Setting another precedent two years later, the Republican Congress turned its sights toward women’s issues and authorized equal pay for equal work performed by women employed by federal agencies.

lincolnIt was around this time that the symbol of the elephant for the Republican Party was created by Thomas Nast, a famous illustrator and caricaturist for The New Yorker. In 1874, a rumor that animals had escaped from the New York City Zoo coincided with worries surrounding a possible third-term run by Grant. Nast chose to represent the Republicans as elephants because elephants were clever, steadfast and controlled when calm, yet unmanageable when frightened.

But, embracing a tradition established by George Washington and the Republican Party, which had gone on record opposing a third term for any president, President Grant did not run for re-election in 1876. Instead, in one of the most bitterly disputed elections in American history, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the presidency by the margin of one electoral vote. After the election, cooperation between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives was nearly impossible. Nevertheless, Hayes managed to keep his campaign promises. He cautiously withdrew federal troops from the South to allow them to shake off the psychological yoke of being a conquered land, took measures to reverse the myriad inequalities suffered by women in that period and adopted the merit system within the civil service.

Not surprisingly, the Republican appeal held in 1880 when the party won its sixth consecutive presidential election with the election of the Civil War hero James A. Garfield and also managed to regain small majorities in both the House and the Senate. Following Garfield’s assassination, Chester A. Arthur succeeded to the Oval Office and, in 1883, oversaw the passage of the Pendleton Act through Congress. This bill classified about 10 percent of all government jobs and created a bipartisan Civil Service Commission to prepare and administer competitive examinations for these positions. As dreary as this bill sounds, it was important because it made at least part of the government bureaucracy a professional work force.

Suddenly the Republicans’ fortunes changed, and embarking on a decade-long period of quick reversals, the Republicans lost the 1884 election. But by this time the party had firmly established itself as a permanent force in American politics by not only preserving the Union and leading the nation through the Reconstruction, but by also striking a chord of greater personal autonomy within the national psyche. Yet while the presidency was regained for one term with the 1888 election of Benjamin Harrison, with the re-emergence of the South from the destruction of the Civil War the Republicans were shut out for the first time since the Civil War in the election of 1892, as the Democrats won control of the House, the Senate and the presidency.
Republican voters returned to their party with the 1896 election, electing William McKinley to the White House. His term was the start of a consecutive four-term Republican possession of the White House.