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Republican Party

From Ohio History Central
Taft, Bob with Martha Wheatcraft.jpg
Senator Bob Taft standing next to Republican Party worker Martha Wheatcraft and other supporters at a presidential campaign rally, 1950.

The Republican Party originated in 1854 as a result of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This piece of legislation split Whig Party members along regional lines and illustrated that the party could no longer function as a single entity. Former Northern Whigs united with the Free Soil Party and the American Party to create the Republican Party.

The first person elected president of the United States from the Republican Party was Abraham Lincoln in the election of 1860. Many white Southerners believed that Lincoln was an abolitionist and that he intended to end slavery as soon as he took office. Lincoln endorsed the official Republican philosophy that opposed slavery, but he, like the majority of other Republicans, firmly believed that the federal government could not end slavery where it already existed, but could exclude slavery from any new states or territories. Many white Southerners did not believe Lincoln and his fellow Republicans, and seven Southern states seceded from the Union, quickly followed by four additional ones. The Southern states leaving the Union resulted in the American Civil War.

The North triumphed in the Civil War, and the Republican Party emerged as the dominant political force in the United States for the next fifty years. Between 1860 and 1912, Republicans won every presidential election except for two. Northerners overwhelmingly supported the Republican Party. In the South, a majority of African Americans supported the Republican Party, while only a small percentage of whites did so. Most white Southerners objected to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, which granted African Americans their freedom, equal protection under the law, and the right to vote to African-American men. Republicans were the ones to amend the Constitution. As a result of this, most white Southerners joined the Democratic Party. They could not support the Republican Party, since in their view, it was the Republicans who had ended slavery and whose supporters had led the Union to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War.

While most people in the U.S. identified the Republican Party during the late 1800s by its opposition to slavery, other fundamental beliefs united Republicans together. Many of these ideas still dominate the Republican Party's ideology today. Traditionally, Republicans have supported a strong and centralized federal government that has supreme authority over states. At the same time, Republicans have historically favored a smaller government that played only minor roles in the lives of the U.S. public. During the 1860s and the 1870s, Republicans found support from primarily Northern residents, including farmers, factory workers, and businessmen. During the latter part of the 1800s, many people began to view the Republicans as the party of the upper class, as Republican leaders were often wealthier businessmen, and the party's actions tended to favor business over farming.

During the early late 1800s and the early 1900s, Republican support weakened among the working class. In addition, many people in the United States, including a sizable number of Republicans, believed that American society had lost its moral fiber. As a result of these factors, many Republicans became affiliated with the Progressive Movement, a reform movement designed to assist the working class attain better working conditions in the factories, as well as to instill Protestant values in all people in the United States. Progressives implemented Prohibition, banned the playing of professional baseball in many communities on Sundays, and other policies they believed would instill moral beliefs in Americans. During the Progressive Era, the Republican Party split into two groups: the Republicans interested primarily in reforming the United States and thr Republicans still favorable to business. This division permitted the Democratic Party to gain control of the presidency between 1913 and 1921, but Republicans reunited in time for the presidential election of 1920. The Republicans remained in control of the White House until 1933.

The principal reason the Republicans did not maintain control of the presidency during the 1930s was the Great Depression. People in the U.S. blamed the Republican presidents for causing this economic downturn. They also chastised the government for not responding to the needs of the people more quickly. The Democratic presidential candidate in the election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, easily defeated the Republican incumbent, Herbert Hoover. Because he tried to help U.S. citizens cope with the Great Depression by creating various government programs and because of his strong leadership during World War II, Roosevelt was elected to four consecutive terms. His presidency marked the beginning of the Democratic Party's resurgence. Between 1932 and 1980, the Republicans won only four presidential elections and enjoyed a majority in the United States Congress for only four years.

During the 1940s and 1950s more moderate Republicans gained control of their party. While they did not embrace all Democratic Party ideals, they did express a willingness to consider more liberal solutions to the problems gripping the United States during this era. Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States from 1953 to 1961, best symbolizes the moderation of the Republican Party. Eisenhower lobbied for equal rights for women and African Americans. A more conservative portion of the Republican Party objected to the moderate faction. Joseph McCarthy, a Republican senator from Wisconsin, gained power and influence in the government by conducting witch-hunts against suspected communists in the federal government. McCarthy destroyed the careers of numerous innocent people to advance his position and to reclaim the Republican Party for the conservatives. McCarthy ended up alienating many people in the U.S. against the Republican Party. Republican Richard Nixon, President of the United States from 1969 to 1974, also hurt his party's reputation by participating in the Watergate Scandal. Nixon paid hush money to a group of men who broke into the Democratic Party's National Headquarters, located at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 1972. These men hoped to discover the Democratic Party's campaign strategy for the presidential election that year. Nixon lied to Congress and the U.S. public. Facing impeachment, Nixon chose to resign his office instead, the only president to do so.

Despite the animosity McCarthy and Nixon created towards the Republican Party, Republicans made a tremendous comeback during the 1980s and the 1990s. In 1980, Republican Ronald Reagan, running on a platform of reducing the size of the federal government, won the presidency. He held office for the next eight years, and his policies helped the United States emerge triumphant over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Reagan and his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, emphasized foreign affairs during their presidencies. Domestically, the American economy began to weaken, and the people objected to the increasing federal debt. In 1992, the U.S. public elected the Democratic candidate, Bill Clinton, to the White House. The Republican Party still maintained sizable power in the federal government. The Republicans gained a majority in both houses of Congress in 1994. In 2000, George W. Bush, son of former President Bush, also regained control of the executive branch for the Republican Party.

The history of the Republican Party in Ohio mirrored the national scene. The Fusion Party, which originated in 1854, was the original name for the Republican Party in Ohio. Many Ohioans opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which allowed the Kansas and Nebraska territorial legislatures to decide whether or not to allow slavery within the borders of their respective territories. Kansas and Nebraska were part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Per the Missouri Compromise of 1820, slavery was to be illegal in both Kansas and Nebraska. The Kansas-Nebraska Act superseded the Missouri Compromise and allowed for the extension of slavery.

Many white Ohioans opposed slavery. Even more white Ohioans did not want to compete with slave owners for land in the West. As a result of this dislike for slavery and the potential extension of the institution under the Kansas-Nebraska Act, several white Ohioans met at a state convention on July 13, 1854. The abolitionists in attendance hoped that the conventioneers would condemn the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850; however, a majority of participants were more concerned with slavery's potential extension into Kansas and Nebraska. The delegates demanded that all future states admitted to the United States had to be free states.

Numerous other states in the United States held similar conventions during this period. Most of the participants in these other conventions adopted the name Republican to identify themselves. Ohio's conventioneers failed to adopt this moniker; instead, they become known as Fusionists, a name given to them by their opponents, because the meetings participants were a fusion of people from numerous different political backgrounds. Many of the participants were members of the Free Soil Party, the Conscience Whig Party, and the Know-Nothing Party. Numerous members of the Democratic Party opposed to slavery's expansion also joined the Fusion Party. The Fusionists made major gains in state government positions in the election of 1854. In 1855, the party's delegates met in Columbus to select a candidate to run for the governor's seat. It was at this convention that the Fusion Party formally became the Republican Party in Ohio.

During the Civil War, a majority of Ohioans supported the war effort, although there was a sizable minority, known as the Copperheads, who opposed the conflict. Following the war, Republicans dominated state government until modern day. Democrats gained control of the governor's seat on numerous occasions, but Republicans have generally enjoyed a majority in the Ohio legislature. Within Ohio, as the state began to industrialize and become more urban, most businessmen favored the Republican Party, while many working-class Ohioans preferred the Democratic Party. Historically, the Democratic Party has been strongest in the northeastern and southern sections of the state. The northeastern portion was the most heavily-industrialized portion of Ohio, thus a large number of working-class people resided there. In southern Ohio, industrial development occurred infrequently, causing many people to believe that the Republican-dominated government could have done more to assist them. Between the Civil War and the late 1950s, Republicans usually remained in control of state government, although the Democratic Party at times mounted a stiff challenge. The Democrats gained dominance in Ohio during the 1960s and the 1970s, but since the 1990s, Republicans have had firm control over state government offices.

See Also


  1. Bogue, Allan G. The Earnest Men: Republicans of the Civil War Senate. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1981.  
  2. Calhoun, Charles William. Conceiving a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869-1900. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2006.  
  3. Dee, Christine, ed. Ohio's War: The Civil War in Documents. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.  
  4. Donald, David Herbert. The Politics of Reconstruction, 1863-1867. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.  
  5. Engs, Robert F., and Randall M. Miller, eds. The Birth of the Grand Old Party: the Republicans' First Generation. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.  
  6. Foner, Eric. A Short History of Reconstruction. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1990.
  7. Jordan, Philip D. Ohio Comes of Age: 1874-1899. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1943.  
  8. Lause, Mark A. Young America: Land, Labor, and the Republican Community. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2005.  
  9. Lindley, Harlow. Ohio in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1938. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1942.  
  10. Mantell, Martin E. Johnson, Grant, and the Politics of Reconstruction. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1973.  
  11. Mason, Robert. Richard Nixon and the Quest for a New Majority. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.  
  12. Reid, Whitelaw. Ohio in the War: Her Statesmen, Generals and Soldiers. Cincinnati, OH: Clarke, 1895.
  13. Richardson, Heather Cox. The Death of Reconstruction: Race, Labor, and Politics in the Post-Civil War North, 1865-1901. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.  
  14. Roseboom, Eugene H. The Civil War Era: 1850-1873. Columbus: Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, 1944.  
  15. Simpson, Brooks D. Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.  
  16. Simpson, Brooks D. The Reconstruction Presidents. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.  
  17. Slap, Andrew L. The Doom of Reconstruction: The Liberal Republicans in the Civil War Era. New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2006.  
  18. Wagner, Steven T. Eisenhower Republicanism: Pursuing the Middle Way. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2006.