The History of the Republican Party

Impartial - A VotingSmarter Blog
5 min readOct 23, 2020


Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president (Photo:

The Republican Party is one of the two major political parties in the US, the other being the Democratic Party. In recent years, the party has supported limited government involvement, lower taxes, and conservative social policies. For a party that is now so closely associated with conservatism, it may be a surprise for some to learn that the GOP was originally founded to pursue what was then a progressive goal — preventing the spread of slavery. Here is a timeline of the Republican Party’s evolution from its origins to the present day:

March 20, 1854 - The Republican Party is formed in Ripon, Wisconsin:

Former members of the Whig Party — including Zachariah Chandler, Horace Greeley, and Charles Sumner — came together to form a new party that would oppose the spread of slavery.

November 1860 - The Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln is elected president

The Republican Party candidate Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 election with strong support from the Northern States.

April 1861 - The Civil War begins

The Republican Party aligned with the Union, referring to itself as the National Union Party.

January 1, 1863 - President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation

The Emancipation Proclamation declared that if the Southern States failed to cease their rebellion, all persons held as slaves within the rebellious states would be free. The Southern States refused to surrender, and on January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

December 6, 1865 - The 13th Amendment is passed

At the end of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment was passed to abolish slavery nationwide. The Republican Party had overachieved its initial goal of preventing the spread of slavery and would continue to push for the rights of African Americans in the following years, including passing the country’s first civil rights bill in 1866.

1870 - The Republican Party takes on the initials “GOP”

After the Republican Party’s success in preserving the Union in the Civil War, many news outlets began to refer to the party as the “GOP”, which stands for “grand old party.”

1874 - The elephant becomes the official symbol for the Republican Party

1870–1877 - Nationwide support for the Republican Party leads to the Reconstruction period

Initially introduced by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, the Reconstruction attempted to reintegrate the newly-freed slaves and Southern states into the U.S.

Following the Civil War, the Northern States and almost all of the Southern States were under Republican control. Republican President Ulysses Grant served two terms from 1868 to 1876 and fought for the protection of voting rights of African Americans, in addition to creating the Department of Justice and Yellowstone National Park.

Nearing the end of President Grant’s second term, the attitude towards Reconstruction turned negative, and President Grant lost popularity (his association with multiple scandals did not help). The Republican Party lost control over all but three Southern States, and in the 1876 election, to win the election, Republican President Rutherford Hayes agreed to recognize Democratic control over the Southern States. This halted previous Republican efforts to protect African Americans from discrimination by white political leaders and effectively ended the Reconstruction era.

Despite this setback, the Republican Party retained almost uninterrupted control of the Oval Office until 1932, only losing to two Democrats: Grover Cleveland (1884–1888, 1892–1896) and Woodrow Wilson (1912–1920)

September 1901 - President William McKinley is assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt becomes president.

Republican President Theodore Roosevelt was well known for his progressive policies, as well as his activism to protect wildlife and nature.

Often referred to as the “three Cs ”, conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection were the main focuses of President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic legislation.

1930 - The Great Depression adds pressure to the Republican President Herbert Hoover’s administration (1928–1932)

In response to the Great Depression, President Hoover avoided using government spendings and instead attempted using private organizations’ efforts to help with unemployment. His plans to stimulate the economy failed to yield success, and with Democratic candidate Franklin D. Roosevelt promising a “New Deal” — a series of government programs to bring Americans out of the Great Depression — the Republican Party lost popularity and their seven-decade-long hold on American politics.

President Hoover’s reluctance to use federal power redefined the Republican Party’s stance against government involvement.

1938 - The Republican Party works with Southern conservatives to form the conservative coalition

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s second term in office began, Southern conservatives from the Democratic Party joined the Republican Party to oppose the New Deal.

This coalition could be considered the beginning of the present-day Republican Party and the beginning of the end of liberalism in the Republican Party.

1968 - Republican candidate Richard Nixon is elected president

President Richard Nixon (1968–1974) is remembered for many of his achievements in U.S. foreign policy — winding down U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war and solidifying international relations with the U.S.S.R. and China — as well as his ultimate resignation following the Watergate scandal.

The Watergate scandal had an effect on all aspects of American politics and made voters much more wary and suspicious of their political leaders.

1980 - Republican candidate Ronald Reagan is elected president

President Reagan’s time in office is sometimes referred to as the “Reagan Revolution,” due to the big conservative changes he made in the tax system, federal government, and popular culture.

President Ronald Reagan was highly influential due to his popularity. He was a well known radio sports announcer and Hollywood actor before turning to politics, and his quick recovery from an attempted assasination only two months after his inauguration quickly grew the public’s opinion of him.

President Reagan left a lasting impact on the Republican party, and many Republican candidates seeking nomination in future elections would claim to follow in President Reagan’s footsteps if elected.

Sep. 11, 2001 - The 9/11 terrorist attack transforms Republican President George W. Bush into a wartime president

Following the events of 9/11, President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security, initiated the War on Terror, and sent American troops into Afghanistan and Iraq.

Present - Where are they now?

The Republican Party continues to solidify its ideologies as socially conservative, and support lower income taxes, free-market capitalism, and deregulation.

In 2016, incumbent President Donald Trump was voted into office. As a well-known businessman entering politics for the first time, President Trump went into office with a lot of controversy regarding his policies that have continued throughout his presidency.

Today, the Republican Party retains the majority of political power in the U.S. with the presidency, the senate majority, a governorship majority, and a majority of state legislatures.

It’s important to note that aligning oneself with a party does not mean there must be support for all individuals or ideologies associated with that party. Within the Republican Party, there are many branches that each emphasize different issues and therefore have differing opinions.

To learn more about how your political ideologies compare to that of the current presidential, senate, and gubernatorial candidates, take the VotingSmarter #CandidateMatchmaker

(Contributed by Breanna Guo, Marketing Intern at VotingSmarter)



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