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Republican Party

Timeframe: 1884 - 1884

The Republican Party had been created, seizing the opening given to them by the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which invalidated the Missouri Compromise by splitting the Missouri territory into free-soil and slave states. Many northern Whigs, who had no power or national party began to cooperate with the "Anti-Nebraska" Democrats to form the Free-Soil Party. They began to organize a new party in 1854, building on the name Republican, reviving the old term employed by the Jeffersionians. They emphasized absolute opposition to the expansion of slavery into any new territory. In the coming elections, they cooperated with the northern Know-Nothings, most of whom were former Whigs, as the anti-Catholic nativism would add to an appealing platform of the new party.

Together, the Republicans and Know-Nothings won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives in 1854, and became a threat to the ideas put out by the Democrats. In 1856, they nominated John C. Freemont for the Presidency, with the slogan "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Frémont." He won about a third of the popular vote, and the Republican party began to grow, although alienating potential supporters by his failure to oppose immigration.

As tensions mounted over the slavery issue, more anti-slavery Republicans began to run for office and be elected, even with the risks involved with taking this stance. Republican Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts experienced this danger firsthand. In May 1856, he delivered a passionate anti-slavery speech in which he made critical remarks about several pro-slavery senators, including Andrew F. Butler of South Carolina. Sumner infuriated Rep. Preston S. Brooks, the son of one of Butler's cousins, who felt his family honor had been insulted. Two days later, Brooks walked into the Senate and beat Sumner unconscious with a cane. This incident electrified the nation and helped to galvanize Northern opinion against the South; Southern opinion hailed Brooks as a hero. But Sumner stood by his principles, and after a three-year, painful convalescence, he returned to the Senate to continue his struggle against slavery.

In 1860, their candidate, Lincoln, was elected to the presidency; the southern states reacting by seceding from the Union, and the country was plunged into a civil war. The Civil War and the Reconstruction period following the war gave the Republican Party a solid core of strength and permanence. Because of connections of the Democrats to the south, fully exploited and created by the Republican Party’s propaganda, Republicans controlled most elective offices in the northern states during the war, and for a generation afterward the used this patriotic fervor to denounce Democrats as traitors. This was an effective campaign tactic; in "waving the bloody shirt" against the South and the Democrats, Republicans were united being the crusade of the Civil War.

Although this was true, the Republican party was also troubled by internal dissension. In the 1860s, moderate and radical Republicans debated bitterly over war aims, and the aims of the Reconstruction period. The moderates agreed with the radicals on the abolition of slavery, but rejected the attempt to reshape the South’s social and economic structure and imposing racial equality. President Lincoln was able to play one faction against another, and after his death the party continued until the radicals’ failure to oust President Johnson from office. Then, the party began to nominate increasingly moderate candidates.

Republicans tried to appeal to the South by appealing to Whig groups there to join with newly enfranchised blacks; arguing that they had a common belief in the need for a strong government action in society. Their efforts were ineffective due to massive racist campaigns by the southern Democrats, intimidating all voters in the South. The Republican support for black rights waned when those in the party percieved that this issue was costing the party the needed votes, but this did not help gain support in the South.

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.

But, embracing a tradition established by George Washington, which had gone on record opposing a third term for any president, and being plagued by scandals in his administration, President Grant did not run for re-election in 1876. Factionalism continued to divide the party. Prohibitionists and those who wished to exclude foreigners, demanded heavy emphasis on their concerns and were not enthusiastic about the party’s other commitments. At the same time, another group, the Liberal Republicans, disgusted by corruption in the Grant administration, fought against the party’s unwillingness to do anything about it. The party bosses, needing money to run the campaigns, resisted the reformers.

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.

The Republicans won five of seven elections between 1868 and 1892, but had popular majorities in only three of them. The Republicans’ ability to draw on rural, small-town, and western voters was counterbalanced by the Democrats’ solid core in the South and among urban immigrants. The defection of the mugwumps, a reform faction that refused to back James G. Blaine, the presidential candidate in 1884, helped the Democrats win the presidency for the first time in thirty years. At the 1880 convention, an intense political battle split Republicans into three hostile camps, which included administration supporters, Conkling's "Stalwarts" and the "Half-breeds" which stood between them.

The party’s platform, despite resistance from some Republican leaders, increasingly emphasized the promotion of industrial values, and Republican policy aided the emerging, highly sophisticated economy. At the same time, Republicans were often openly hostile to the new waves of eastern European and Irish immigrants that were transforming the nation’s cities. Republican state platforms advocated government intervention to prohibit or limit liquor consumption and to shape school curricula in order to promote certain Protestant and American values posed by the immigrants who were tied to the Democratic party.

During the 1890s, both major parties were hurt by the rise of agrarian protest, but infighting proved most divisive among the Democrats, their collapse at the polls following in 1896. Increased voter strength made the Republicans a majority party in the country for a generation. However, party factionalism continued, and beginning in the 1890s, a group of Republicans known as the progressives sought to balance the party’s commitment to the industrial elite with the use of federal power to correct some of the worst excesses of the monopolies and rusts that dominated the Republican Party.

Theodore Roosevelt, who had promoted progressive measures when in office, later became the presidential candidate of the Progressive Party. Roosevelt selected Taft as his successor, who, once elected, angered both liberals and conservatives within his party.

The entry into World War I raised some new issues that once again led to divide the Republican Party. Though most Republicans in Congress supported the ongoing war measures, they eventually split over plans for signing the charter of the League of Nations, incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. Many Republicans were also upset because President Wilson excluded Republicans from negotiating the treaty and said that only Democrats in the Congress would allow victory in war. As progressivism and war waned, Republicans were able to reunite and thus once again become a majority party. The 1920 platform pledged the party to serve as the guardian of prosperity by such measures as raising tariffs, restricting immigration, and aiding farmers. The presidential nomination went to Warren G. Harding, and he swept every region outside the South. The Harding administration was swept by corruption, and his successor was Calvin Coolidge, pledged to Puritanical ideals.

The Great Depression, which began during the administration of Herbert Hoover, led to destroy America’s belief in the dream of unlimited prosperity, and thus lost its faith in the Republican Party, who had led them into the depression. The disastrous economic collapse and extraordinary high employment following the crash made a mockery of Republican claims. The Hoover administration had a slow and limited response to the problems, making it ineffective and seemed to be indifferent to the people.

At the loss of the Republicans next election, one faction of the Republican party was behind Hoover, who issued blanket indictments of the New Deal, supported by Eastern businessmen, Recognizing the New Deal’s popularity, Republicans in Congress sought new leaders and principles, nominating Landon for President. The new Republican platform endorsed New Deal objectives but condemned some of its methods, including deficit spending. At the next election, they nominated Wendell Willkie, an internationalist who was even closer to the values expressed by the New Deal; in fact, the C.I.O supported him and Lewis said that if Willkie did not win, he would resign as head.

In response to their losses, the Republicans sought a way to build their national following, first turning to condemning deficit spending techniques and New Deal policy. Republicans, isolationist, now began to take a stricter anti-Communist line in their rhetoric. Party leaders argued that they represented a family oriented America, and this played a part in the popularity of Republican senator Joseph McCarthy’s crusade against Communist subversion in the 1850s. In 1950, Senator McCarthy charged that the State department was infested with Communists, and this gave the Republicans their best issue since the Depression. However, when he attacked the Army, this issue died down and be became disgraced.

A split still remained between conservative and moderate republicans; the former led by Taft continued to oppose the New Deal, while the others did not play on the issue. The moderates looked towards General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had helped win the passing war, to carry their standard in the 1952 elections. Eisenhower won twice with smashing victories; his popularity intensified when he attended a conference in Geneva. Disliking political management, Eisenhower did little to build the party, and continued Democratic policies.

Yet another split between conservatives and liberals weakened the Republican party during the course of the next decade. Nelson A. Rockefeller, governor of New York, emerged as a spokesman for the party liberals. Senator Barry Goldwater, on the other hand, was a representative of the conservatives. The conservatives thereafter controlled the party machinery and increasingly impressed their stamp on the party’s principles and actions, working hard to recruit influence in the South and among urban, ethnic groups.

When new leaders failed to bridge the gulf between conservatives and liberals in the GOP, Richard Nixon helped lead a unified party to a narrow victory in the 1968 race against Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace. Nixon was the first President since 1848 to take office with both houses of Congress controlled by the opposition; he later won re-election. His administration, which started out as a strong reaction against radicalism, became identified after 1972 with the Watergate scandal, which eventually led Nixon to his resignation under the threat of impeachment, leaving Gerald Ford in power.

A temporary Democratic resurgence followed with the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, but the conservative tide returned when the Republican candidate Ronald Reagan won an overwhelming victory in the next elections. The Republicans regained control of the Senate but did not achieve to gain a majority in the House. In the midterm elections of 1986, Republicans lost control of the Senate and more ground in the House as well; this pattern repeated in 1986. As president, Reagan wasa backed by a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats in Congress, and embarked on a program which sought to increase the nation’s military strength and curtail many of the social welfare programs in the previous administration.

Although Vice president Bush won the presidential election for the Republicans, the party lost ground in both houses of Congress. President Bush laid a solid groundwork for U.S. policy in such critical areas as nuclear disarmament, free trade, the Middle East peace process and the future of NATO. Relying on his illustrious military experience, he brought together an unprecedented coalition to maintain the forces of law in the Persian Gulf region. In the wake of Operation Desert Storm, President Bush's popularity soared to record levels. As a result of his leadership after the war, a delegation from Israel sat face to face with Palestinians for the first time in thousands of years.

The gradual erosion in Republican party strength in Congress was matched by a loss at the head of the ticket, and for the first time in 12 years, Democrats controlled both branches of government. The Republicans retained the same number of seats in the Senate and gained nine seats in the House. However, the 1994 election brought a dramatic reversal as the Republican Party gained control over both houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. The Republicans stormed in, in what was termed as the "Republican Revolution," as Representative Newt Gingrich laid forth their new "Contract with America", a list of conservative proposals which helped shape the agenda.

However, 1996 marked defeat again as Senator Bob Dole embarked on a failed Presidential campaign. The Democrats painted the Republican party as maligned, trying to destroy social security and other entitlement programs, often referring to the enemy as "Dole-Gingrich." After the election, Republicans in the party began to split, disappointed at a turn in Gingrich’s leadership to one which held more appeasement to Democratic proposals.

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