On this date in 1854, the Republican Party was founded in Ripon, Wisconsin. The founding principle was the opposition of slavery, first to stop its spread, then to eradicate it. As its second presidential candidate, and first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln said,
"No man is good enough to govern another man without that other's consent. I say this is the leading principle --the sheet anchor of American republicanism."
At the time, the power in the nation was found in the Democratic Party, predominately a product of the 3/5th clause in the Constitution which counted every slave as 3/5th of a person for congressional apportionment, thus giving the Southern dominated Democratic party an almost insurmountable edge in the House of Representatives. Indeed, the majority of the Speakers of the House, the Supreme Court Justices, and the Presidents to that time had been either slave owners, or sympathetic to slavery.
Born out of the death of the old Whig Party, and its earlier split of the Free Soilers, the Republicans quickly organized and gained a national following. Indeed, it was a radical path the Republicans were on in 1854. They were staring at a very steep hill to climb. They nominated the great western explorer, John C. Fremont as their candidate. He ran on a ticket promising “Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Speech, Free Men, Fremont!” He was defeated, but the margin was not nearly so wide as the Democrats had expected. Just as the Whigs had split earlier in the decade, the Democrats were about to experience a split of their own.
At their 1860 convention, the Democratic party was split so deeply that it finally called a halt to the proceedings, only to pick them up again after a few weeks cooling off. That didn’t help. The Southern Democrats went on to nominate John C. Breckenridge, from Kentucky. He had been Northern Democrat James Buchanan’s Vice President. Meanwhile, the Northern wing of the party nominated the Little Giant from Illinois, Steven A. Douglas.
For the Republican nominee, Abe Lincoln, things looked bleak. Throughout the south, he was not even on the ballot in most states. At the end of the election campaign, Douglas realized the split was deadly to the Democrats, and even more perilous to the Union, so he threw his candidacy away and campaigned throughout the South trying desperately to avoid the threatened secession. It failed. Lincoln won handily.
Over the next 70 years, Republican Presidents dominated the scene, perhaps peaking in the 1904 election of Teddy Roosevelt. TR was an exuberant, energetic, straight forward man, practical, and talented, possessed of a keen intellect. He had gotten himself made into a war hero during the Spanish American War by campaigning for a position at the head of a regiment of “Rough Riders”, a mixture of fading cowboys and New York dandies. They achieved their moment of glory on San Juan Hill in Cuba. It was justly earned.
As president, TR was a progressive, trying to change things for the better, in the spirit of Lincoln and the first Republicans. He gave over a chance for a full third term (having taken over for the assassinated McKinley early in his term), pushing hard for Taft in 1908. By 1912, Roosevelt was frustrated with the Republican Party as not being progressive enough, so he (and others) formed the Progressive Party and ran Teddy as its candidate. The Progressive Party was better known as the "Bull Moose” party.
Like the Democrats in 1860, the third party split from the Republicans was deadly, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected.
The post World War II era ushered in the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and proved him as able a civilian commander as he was a military one during the war. “Ike” was personable, friendly, with an engaging grin. Even today, campaign buttons professing that “I like Ike” are highly prized. Since Ike, we have had Richard Nixon, the man who reopened China to the west; Ronald Reagan, who restored a flagging American spirit, and a flagging American economy, and bluffed the Soviets clear out of their “Evil Empire”; George H. W. Bush, who defeated Saddam Hussein and forcibly ejected his troops from Kuwait in one of the most masterful military operations the world has ever witnessed; and our current Commander in Chief, George W. Bush, who is leading us in a War of unknown duration, but certain victory.
We do not always get the best presidents after an election, but we always get good men, who work to fulfill the roll of President with honor and courage. We have been fortunate in the Republican Party that so many have been statesmen, soldiers, scholars, and wonderful presidents, and great leaders. And why not? Look who set the bench mark as a Republican president, 146 years ago.
Happy Birthday Republican Party – 152 years old today!
"It is the duty of every citizen according to his best capacities to give validity to his convictions in political affairs. "
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