Founded in the Northern states in 1854 by abolitionists, ex-Whigs, and ex-Free Soilers, the Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Democratic Party and the briefly popular Know Nothing Party. The party grew out of opposition to the Kansas–Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and opened Kansas Territory and Nebraska Territory to slavery and future admission as slave states. The Republicans called for economic and social modernization. They denounced the expansion of slavery as a great evil, but did not call for ending it in the Southern states. The first public meeting of the general anti-Nebraska movement, at which the name Republican was proposed, was held on March 20, 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin. The name was partly chosen to pay homage to Thomas Jefferson's Republican Party. The first official party convention was held on July 6, 1854 in Jackson, Michigan.
At the 1856 Republican National Convention, the party adopted a national platform emphasizing opposition to the expansion of slavery into U.S. territories. While Republican candidate John C. Frémont lost the 1856 United States presidential election to James Buchanan, he did win 11 of the 16 northern states.
The Republican Party first came to power in the elections of 1860 when it won control of both houses of Congress and its candidate, former congressman Abraham Lincoln, was elected President. In the election of 1864, it united with War Democrats to nominate Lincoln on the National Union Party ticket; Lincoln won re-election. Under Republican congressional leadership, the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution—which banned slavery in the United States—passed the Senate in 1864 and the House in 1865; it was ratified in December 1865.
The party's success created factionalism within the party in the 1870s. Those who believed that Reconstruction had been accomplished, and was continued mostly to promote the large-scale corruption tolerated by President Ulysses S. Grant, ran Horace Greeley for the presidency. The Stalwart faction defended Grant and the spoils system, whereas the Half-Breeds pushed for reform of the civil service. The Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act was passed in 1883.
The Republican Party supported hard money (i.e. the gold standard), high tariffs to promote economic growth, high wages and high profits, generous pensions for Union veterans, and (after 1893) the annexation of Hawaii. The Republicans had strong support from pietistic Protestants, but they resisted demands for Prohibition. As the Northern postwar economy boomed with heavy and light industry, railroads, mines, fast-growing cities, and prosperous agriculture, the Republicans took credit and promoted policies to sustain the fast growth.
The GOP was usually dominant over the Democrats during the Third Party System (1850s–1890s). However, by 1890 the Republicans had agreed to the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Interstate Commerce Commission in response to complaints from owners of small businesses and farmers. The high McKinley Tariff of 1890 hurt the party and the Democrats swept to a landslide in the off-year elections, even defeating McKinley himself. The Democrats elected Grover Cleveland in 1884 and 1892. The election of William McKinley in 1896 was marked by a resurgence of Republican dominance that lasted (except for 1912 and 1916) until 1932. McKinley promised that high tariffs would end the severe hardship caused by the Panic of 1893 and that Republicans would guarantee a sort of pluralism in which all groups would benefit.
The Republican Civil War era program included free homestead farms, a federally subsidized transcontinental railroad, a national banking system, a large national debt, land grants for higher education, a new national banking system, a wartime income tax and permanent high tariffs to promote industrial growth and high wages. By the 1870s, they had adopted as well a hard money system based on the gold standard and fought off efforts to promote inflation through Free Silver. They created the foundations of the modern welfare state through an extensive program of pensions for Union veterans. Foreign-policy issues were rarely a matter of partisan dispute, but briefly in the 1893–1904 period the GOP supported imperialistic expansion regarding Hawaii, the Philippines and the Panama Canal.
The 1896 realignment cemented the Republicans as the party of big business while Theodore Roosevelt added more small business support by his embrace of trust busting. He handpicked his successor William Howard Taft in 1908, but they became enemies as the party split down the middle. Taft defeated Roosevelt for the 1912 nomination and Roosevelt ran on the ticket of his new Progressive ("Bull Moose") Party. He called for social reforms, many of which were later championed by New Deal Democrats in the 1930s. He lost and when most of his supporters returned to the GOP they found they did not agree with the new conservative economic thinking, leading to an ideological shift to the right in the Republican Party. The Republicans returned to the White House throughout the 1920s, running on platforms of normalcy, business-oriented efficiency and high tariffs. The national party platform avoided mention of prohibition, instead issuing a vague commitment to law and order.
Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were resoundingly elected in 1920, 1924 and 1928 respectively. The Teapot Dome scandal threatened to hurt the party but Harding died and Coolidge blamed everything on him as the opposition splintered in 1924. The pro-business policies of the decade seemed to produce an unprecedented prosperity until the Wall Street Crash of 1929 heralded the Great Depression.
New Deal era
The New Deal coalition of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt controlled American politics for most of the next three decades, excepting the two-term presidency of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. Blacks moved into the Democratic Party during the New Deal era as they could vote in the North, but not in the South. After Roosevelt took office in 1933, New Deal legislation sailed through Congress and the economy moved sharply upward from its nadir in early 1933. However, long-term unemployment remained a drag until 1940. In the 1934 midterm elections, 10 Republican senators went down to defeat, leaving them with only 25 against 71 Democrats. The House of Representatives likewise had overwhelming Democratic majorities.
The Republican Party split into a majority "Old Right" (based in the Midwest) and a liberal wing based in the Northeast that supported much of the New Deal. The Old Right sharply attacked the "Second New Deal" and said it represented class warfare and socialism. Roosevelt was re-elected in a landslide in 1936, but as his second term began the economy declined, strikes soared and he failed to take control of the Supreme Court or to purge the Southern conservatives in the Democratic Party. Republicans made a major comeback in the 1938 elections and had new rising stars such as Robert A. Taft of Ohio on the right and Thomas E. Dewey of New York on the left. Southern conservatives joined with most Republicans to form the conservative coalition, which dominated domestic issues in Congress until 1964. Both parties split on foreign policy issues, with the anti-war isolationists dominant in the Republican Party and the interventionists who wanted to stop Adolf Hitler dominant in the Democratic Party. Roosevelt won a third and fourth term in 1940 and 1944. Conservatives abolished most of the New Deal during the war, but they did not attempt to reverse Social Security or the agencies that regulated business.
Historian George H. Nash argues:
Unlike the "moderate", internationalist, largely eastern bloc of Republicans who accepted (or at least acquiesced in) some of the "Roosevelt Revolution" and the essential premises of President Truman's foreign policy, the Republican Right at heart was counterrevolutionary. Anti-collectivist, anti-Communist, anti-New Deal, passionately committed to limited government, free market economics, and congressional (as opposed to executive) prerogatives, the G.O.P. conservatives were obliged from the start to wage a constant two-front war: against liberal Democrats from without and "me-too" Republicans from within.
The Democrats elected majorities to Congress almost continuously after 1932 (the GOP won only in 1946 and 1952), but the conservative coalition blocked practically all major liberal proposals in domestic policy. After 1945, the internationalist wing of the GOP cooperated with Harry S. Truman's Cold War foreign policy, funded the Marshall Plan and supported NATO, despite the continued isolationism of the Old Right.
The second half of the 20th century saw election or succession of Republican presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Eisenhower had defeated conservative leader Senator Robert A. Taft for the 1952 nomination, but conservatives dominated the domestic policies of the Eisenhower administration. Voters liked Eisenhower much more than they liked the GOP and he proved unable to shift the party to a more moderate position. Since 1976, liberalism has virtually faded out of the Republican Party, apart from a few Northeastern holdouts.
Ever since he left office in 1989, Reagan has been the iconic conservative Republican and Republican presidential candidates frequently claim to share his views and aim to establish themselves and their policies as the more appropriate heir to his legacy.
In 1994, the party, led by House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich campaigning on the "Contract with America", was elected to majorities in both Houses of Congress during the Republican Revolution. However, as House Speaker Gingrich was unable to deliver on much of its promises, including a balanced-budget amendment and term limits for members of Congress. During the impeachment and acquittal of President Bill Clinton, Republicans suffered surprise losses in the 1998 midterm elections; Gingrich's popularity sank to 17%; he took the blame and resigned.
The Senate majority lasted until 2001 when the Senate became split evenly, but it was regained in the 2002 elections. Both Republican majorities in the House and Senate were held until the Democrats regained control in the mid-term elections of 2006. The Republican Party has since been defined by social conservatism, a preemptive war foreign policy intended to defeat terrorism and promote global democracy, a more powerful executive branch, supply side economics, support for gun ownership and deregulation.
Former president George H. W. Bush was the father of former president George W. Bush. The son of a president has only been elected president twice in United States history (President John Quincy Adams
was the son of John Adams
, the second president of the United States).
A George W. Bush-Dick Cheney ticket won the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. In the presidential election of 2008, the John McCain-Sarah Palin ticket was defeated by Senator Barack Obama.
2010 was a year of electoral success for the Republicans, starting with the upset win of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts special Senate election for the seat held for many decades by the Democratic Kennedy brothers. In the November elections, Republicans recaptured control of the House, increased their number of seats in the Senate and gained a majority of governorships.
Obama won re-election in 2012, defeating a Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket. The campaign focused largely on the Affordable Care Act and President Obama's stewardship of the economy, as the country still faced high unemployment numbers and a rising national debt stemming from the Great Recession. While Republicans lost 7 seats in the House in the November congressional elections, they still retained control. However, Republicans were not able to gain control of the Senate, continuing their minority status with a net loss of two seats. In the aftermath of the loss, some prominent Republicans spoke out against their own party. A post-2012 post-mortem report by the Republican Party concluded that the party needed to do more on the national level to attract votes from minorities and young voters.
After the 2014 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of the Senate by gaining nine seats. With a final total of 247 seats (57%) in the House and 54 seats in the Senate, the Republicans ultimately achieved their largest majority in the Congress since the 71st Congress in 1929.
, 45th and current President of the United States (2017–present)
After the 2016 elections, Republicans maintained a majority in the Senate, House, Governorships and elected Donald Trump as President. The Republican Party controlled 69 of 99 state legislative chambers in 2017, the most it had held in history; and at least 33 governorships, the most it had held since 1922. The party had total control of government (legislative chambers and governorship) in 25 states, the most since 1952; the opposing Democratic Party had full control in only five states.
As of 2019, there have been a total of 19 Republican Presidents (the most from any one party in American history). Republicans have won 24 of the last 40 presidential elections. Following the results of the 2018 midterm elections, the Republican Party controls the bulk of the power in the United States as of 2019, holding the presidency (Donald Trump), a majority in the United States Senate, and a majority of governorships (27) and state legislatures (full control of 30/50 legislatures, split control of two). As of 2019, the GOP holds a "trifecta" (control of the executive branch and both chambers of the legislative branch) in a plurality of states (22 of 50). Five of the nine current justices of the Supreme Court were appointed by Republican presidents.
For most of the post-World War II era, Republicans had little presence at the state legislative level. This trend began to reverse in the late 1990s, with Republicans increasing their state legislative presence and taking control of state legislatures in the South. From 2004 to 2014, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) raised over $140 million targeted to state legislature races, while the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLSC) raised less than half that during that time period. Following the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans controlled 68 of 98 partisan state legislative houses (the most in the party's history) and controlled both the executive and legislative branches of government in 24 states (Democrats had control of only seven).
With the inauguration of Republican George W. Bush as President, the Republican Party remained fairly cohesive for much of the 2000s as both strong economic libertarians and social conservatives opposed the Democrats, whom they saw as the party of bloated, secular, and liberal government. The Bush-era rise of what were known as "pro-government conservatives"—a core part of the President's base—meant that a considerable group of the Republicans advocated for increased government spending and greater regulations covering both the economy and people's personal lives as well as for an activist, interventionist foreign policy. Survey groups such as the Pew Research Center found that social conservatives and free market advocates remained the other two main groups within the party's coalition of support, with all three being roughly equal in number. However, libertarians and libertarian-leaning conservatives increasingly found fault with what they saw as Republicans' restricting of vital civil liberties while corporate welfare and the national debt hiked considerably under Bush's tenure. In contrast, some social conservatives expressed dissatisfaction with the party's support for economic policies that conflicted with their moral values.
In March 2013, National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus gave a stinging report on the party's electoral failures in 2012, calling on Republicans to reinvent themselves and officially endorse immigration reform. He said: "There's no one reason we lost. Our message was weak; our ground game was insufficient; we weren't inclusive; we were behind in both data and digital, and our primary and debate process needed improvement". He proposed 219 reforms that included a $10 million marketing campaign to reach women, minorities and gays as well as setting a shorter, more controlled primary season and creating better data collection facilities.
With a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents under the age of 49 supporting legal recognition of same-sex marriages versus the opposition remaining from those over 50, the issue remained a divisive one within the party. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich remarked that the "[p]arty is going to be torn on this issue". A Reuters/Ipsos survey from April 2015 found that 68% of Americans overall would attend the same-sex wedding of a loved one, with 56% of Republicans agreeing. Reuters journalist Jeff Mason remarked that "Republicans who stake out strong opposition to gay marriage could be on shaky political ground if their ultimate goal is to win the White House" given the divide between the social conservative stalwarts and the rest of the United States that opposes them. In 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled bans on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional, thus legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. In 2016, after being elected President, Republican Donald Trump stated that he was "fine" with same-sex marriage.