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History Facts You Might Not Know-U.S. Republican Party Origins

Updated on June 26, 2016
Horace Greeley
Horace Greeley | Source

Pre-Republican Party

While the Republican Party and Democratic Party of the present day are the behemoths of the United States political system, it is easy to forget that the Republican Party originated as a fledgling third party that quickly replaced the Whig party, one of the primary parties of the time. I was so much so that it had produced 4 United States presidents in its roughly 20 years of existence. In the early 1850's, the two dominant parties were the Whigs and the Democrats.

The polarizing issue leading to the formation of the Republican Party and the catalyst for the Civil War was slavery. We are familiar with the Republican Party but less so with the Free Soil Party, which was an abolitionist party that preceded the Republican Party. However this third party, like the Green Party of our present, was unable to make a strong foothold in the political arena. It garnered only 5% of the popular vote and no Electoral College votes in 1852. The abolitionist party was ultimately absorbed into the Republican Party four years later.

Abraham Lincoln


Republican Party Formation

The catalyst that caused the division was the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854. This superseded the Missouri Compromise of 1820. Prior to the 1854 bill, slavery was prohibited in the Louisiana Territories above Missouri’s southern border line with the exception of Missouri itself.

The Kansas-Nebraska Bill, opened new land for settlement and left the legality of slavery up to the territorial legislature for vote, potentially allowing the slavery establishment to extend further than what was established in 1820. This caused a rush of settlers that were on opposing sides of slavery to go to the territories to sway the vote. New coverage of the topic as well, started to cause fractures in the Whig Party as opposing views were expressed within the party. Horace Greeley, an editor for the New-York Tribune, was particularly instrumental in causing the divisions within the Whig Party.

In response to the bill, a state convention, which has come to be known as "Under the Oaks", was held for anti-slavery men and abolitionists in Jackson, Michigan. A mere two years later, this movement was organized under the Republican Party and nominating conventions for the presidency were held. the The Republican Party was born; its name paying tribute to Thomas Jefferson's Democratic-Republican Party.

The Republican Party divided the dominant Whig Party into free Whigs and cotton Whigs with relation to slavery. Many of the free Whigs joined the Republican party and many of the cotton Whigs either joined the Democrat Party or tried to sustain the Whig Party. In 1852, the Whig Party made up 44% of the electoral vote and by the 1856 election they were non-existent.

By contrast, John C. Fremont, the first Republican presidential nominee garnered 33% of the popular vote. Ultimately, the 1856 election went to Democrat James Buchanan. However, 4 years later, Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidency with a plurality of 40% of the popular.

Ronald Reagan


Republican Party Then and Now

Since its creation, the Republican Party has been a prominent member of our two party system. With its roughly 160 year long existence, 18 Republican Presidents have elected. However, it must be noted that the platform of the Republican Party has changed and evolved significantly since its inception.

The party's changes and expansions have included the push for women's suffrage in the early 1900's through the 19th Amendment proposed by Aaron A. Sargent. However, in the 1960's, the political party was not in wide support for the Civil Rights Acts which were championed during Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency. In the 1976, the Republican Platform adopted a stance against abortion. In addition, the Republican Party has taken a stance in support of "traditional marriage" which is in opposition of same sex marriages. Also from Reagan's presidency to the present, the party has become more adamant about the reduction of federal taxes, social entitlement programs, and deregulation of businesses which are still evident party tenants today. Also, religious faith and conservative values have become an increasingly strong motif for the party for the last 20 years.

Looking at party demographics, the Republican party's support base has changed significantly over time. In the 1850's the Republican's Party's base was northern businessmen, skilled craftsman, African Americans, and commercial farmers. At the present, the Republican party is favored by southern whites, working class whites, and individuals in rural areas. Conversely, the present day Democratic party is more popular among urban areas and more strongly favored by African Americans.

Sarah Palin
Sarah Palin | Source

Tea Party Movement

Since 2009, there has been a growing political movement of conservatism, libertarian, and populist principles known as the Tea Party Movement.Since President Barack Obama's inauguration this group has made significant inroads within the Republican Party. Their platform consist of policies ranging from government size reduction, gun rights, reduction of taxes, "traditional" family values, English as core language, stemming illegal immigration, and etc. Popular figures associated with the Tea Party are Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, and Michelle Bachmann. With the 2016 Presidential Election underway, it is suspected that the rise of candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz among Republican voters may ultimately result in a re-structuring or fracturing within the Republican Party. Donald Trump's candidacy in particular has flourished through an appeal to nationalism.


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    • Daniel Gottlob profile image

      Daniel Gottlob 2 years ago from Texas

      Looks like I spoke too soon potentially and you may be right Kathleen.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      I wonder if the advent of Donald Trump will bring about (finally) a significant third party in America, which might be the only solution for the gridlock in Washington.

      I have a couple of "Fun Facts to Know and Tell" hubs on history as well. They were so much fun to research. Looking for more like this from you!

    • Daniel Gottlob profile image

      Daniel Gottlob 2 years ago from Texas

      Thank you RonElFran for your comment. I am not certain what the future of the Republican Party holds. It is startling how much a party can change and how much they can be in stark contrast with their roots and original intent. However, the fact that rapid change is possible also makes me cautiously hopeful. I do some times wonder if the two party system hinders the ability for progress to be made.

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 2 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      Today's Republican party is not the party of Lincoln. During the 1970s they deliberately adopted a "Southern Strategy" designed to bring into the party whites in the states of the old Confederacy who had become disaffected with the Democrats because of that party's support for civil rights for African Americans. Ever since, today's Republicans have felt the need to placate that segment of their base with rhetoric and policies that most African Americans find disrespectful and dismissive. My hope is that the Republicans will eventually return to their roots.