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GOP's Contemporary Discourse: Against Its Own History?

Updated on August 9, 2018

Republican Party's original platform (1856)

The first Republican national convention met in Music Fund Hall, Philadelphia, in June, 1856, and was called to order by Edwin B. Morgan, later governor of New York. Robert Emmett (NY) as temporary chairman, and Henry S. Lane (Indiana) the permanent president of the convention. David Wilmot (Pennsylvania), reported the platform:

  • the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution were essential to the preservation of the national republican institutions.

  • the Constitution, the rights of the States and the Union of the States, should be preserved.

  • resolved that it was a self-evident truth that all men are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary and ulterior designs of the Constitution were to secure those rights to all persons within its exclusive jurisdiction.

  • no person should be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, the duty arose to maintain this provision, of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing slavery in any territory, by positive legislation prohibiting its existence or extension therein

  • declared against the extension of slavery into the free Territory.

  • denied the authority of Congress, or of a Territorial legislature, or of any individual or association of individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any Territory.

  • "that the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government, and that in the exercise of this power it is both the right and duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery."

  • demanded Kansas admission as a free State.

  • declared in favor of national internal improvements, national aid for a railway to the Pacific, and for appropriations by Congress for rivers and harbors of a national character required for existing commerce, and that same were authorized by the Constitution.

In its long history of almost 156 years, the Republican National Party (RNC) holds a respectful record of constructive and progressive standpoints, policies and statesmanship. Many of Republican Party's political stances and policies where developed at critical moments in the United States' history. In fact, the genesis of the party, took place in a very contentious period of the modern political history of the nation. When Abraham Lincoln became the President of the US, the nation was bankrupt. For thirty years the US was enduring British economic measures, and was under the control of the Baring and Rothschild-allied New York banks of Astor and Gallatin. Jackson's dismantling of the Bank of the United States, followed by Polk's Independent Treasury Act of 1846, and the decisions of Presidents Van Buren, Tyler, Polk, Pierce, and Buchanan placed the government in a weak position against those banks. In 1857, factories closed, unemployment was widespread, the banks had collapsed, business were in a gridlock, higher and professional education were for the affluent, and the Treasury was empty.

In the original RNC's platform, from 1856, its founding fathers and mothers, straightforwardly declared that the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution were essential to the preservation of the national republican institutions. Therefore, they recognized and subscribed that it was a self-evident truth that all men are endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that the primary and ulterior designs of the Constitution were to secure those rights to all persons within its exclusive jurisdiction.

In that light, the Republican Party, along with the progressive political forces of the nineteenth-century, championed the cause to put a stop to the spread of slavery in the nation and ultimately, outlawed that inhuman system (Thirteenth Amendment). Furthermore, since in Scott v Sandford (1854) the Supreme Court didn't recognize "Negroes" as citizens of the nation and in fact, defined them as chattel, Republicans and other progressive activists pushed for the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments of the Federal Constitution. Then, the three Reconstruction Era constitutional amendments, expanded the powers of the Federal government for the sake of broadening democracy. With their political stance, the GOP uphold at least two of their proclaimed aims: to maintain the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence and guarantee that the Constitution secures the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all persons.

President Abraham Lincoln's position against the Secession of the Confederacy's states, preserved the Union and built nationalism against sectionalism and individualism. Thus, American nationalist discourse and identity is rooted in the politics of Lincoln's Republican Party, its policies and progressive rhetoric. Even the cherished national holiday "Thanksgiving Day", became a national day of observance in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Besides, the Republican Party either in the Congress or in the presidency, have been behind key legislative actions that have emboldened the role of the Federal government. For instance: the protective tariff system; the Homestead law; the creation and conservation of natural resources and forest reserves; the establishment of a sound currency and the National Bank system, which effected the resumption of specie payments; promoted civil service to a high degree of observance and expanded the creation of public universities.

These are some of the admirable achievements of the Republican National Party, but my intention is not to offer an apologia of the GOP, rather, to articulate a critical reflection on the best of the history of the GOP, and the Republican Party of our days. This the first part of that exercise.

Thomas Jefferson/Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, c.1821 Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington
Thomas Jefferson/Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, c.1821 Source: National Gallery of Art, Washington
James Madison/Portrait by John Vanderlyn Source:  White House Historical Association
James Madison/Portrait by John Vanderlyn Source: White House Historical Association

Ideological Roots of the Republican Party

In the mid-1850s the founding members of the GOP choose the name "Republican Party" in part as tribute to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. That was the name commonly referred to the party they created in 1796. But in our times, conservative forces in the Texas Board of Education (linked to the GOP) managed to erase Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and during the 19th century.

The memory of Jefferson -one of the main contributors of the US Constitution- was nullified from social studies books, expressly because he coined the term “separation between church and state”, which is one of the foundational and most healthy political principles of the United States. In the Bill of Rights, that principle is organically linked to the freedom of speech. Therefore, and although Jefferson's phrase is not quoted in the Federal Constitution, the document clearly declares that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". Yet, Newt Gingrich, one of the main figures in the GOP, denounced President Obama for running a "secular machine". But, legally, part of the President's job is to run a secular government, so what's the problem there? Besides, the President is the leader of the government, not a pope, bishop, minister, rabbi, imam, and much less a satanic priest.

The political dictum of the separation of church and state in the US Constitution, is not only the crystallization of Enlightenment's ideals, but also a practical approach to the concrete realities of the nation at that time. The US Constitution didn't proclaim a national religion, nor adherence to any particular religious institution, because a mosaic of Christian, non-Christian faiths and non-believers coexisted in the new nation. The institutionalization (or the "jamming down our throats") of a unique faith, could have crippled the development of the new Republic, or even worst, abort the political experiment at birth. Hence, the need of the new State and the commonsense decision of its framers, to guarantee the right to worship or not to all; and so, assumed a "hands-off-religion" approach unlike other Republics before and after the onset of the US.

The people who now resent, loathe and show disdain for the principle of the “separation between church and state”, are denying and renouncing their own rights and freedom, as much are contradicting the foundational ideals of the party they pretend to represent. Even worst, they call themselves nationalists as they stomp over one the basic republican principles of this nation. In their path, they also stride over another principle which states that in a government made up as a Constitutional Republic, the Rule of Law and clearly defined constitutional principles, dictate the administration of government.

Newt Gingrich/Photo by: Gerald Herbert (from AP)
Newt Gingrich/Photo by: Gerald Herbert (from AP)
George W. Bush
George W. Bush

On the other hand, GOP's name, also evoked 1776's republican values of civic virtue and opposition to aristocracy and corruption. Hence, the party created by Jefferson and Madison, favored the interests of the yeoman farmer over merchants, bankers, industrialists, and other bountiful interests.

In our times, Republican leaders oppose to an equal, broad and just access to health care services, mainly because it may hurt the interests of corporations or is against the ideology of freedom of enterprise. Yet the inequalities, inadequacies and "liberties" of the health care system have opened the doors for America’s middle and lower classes' struggle to pay higher premiums, deductibles and co-payments (if they can afford a coverage at all); skyrocketing prices for prescriptions and health insurances; individual, family and small business bankruptcies; deterioration of health and as a consequence, the loss of lives.

In detriment of America's (shrinking) middle class and (increasing) lower classes -and even against common sense- they advocate: huge tax-cuts to the affluent; the deregulation of big business and laissez faire for Wall Street; the leniency of labor laws and consumer protection; and the impairment of worker's and consumer's rights. All of this, while they champion for broader State's intervention over the life of individuals (like with the efforts to ban abortion rights and gay marriages) and defend a pure laissez faire for corporations (which now even have some of the political rights of a citizen).

Clearly, today's GOP political rhetoric and policy, privilege contemporary "merchants" (big consumer chains, insurance companies, etc.), bankers (and investors), industrialists (oil, coal and others) and other bountiful interests (who cover themselves with the mantle of freedom of enterprise and speech). Now they advocate a corporate welfare approach from the government, instead of championing for a government "from the people, by the people and for the people". That's a huge detour from the evoked principles of Jefferson's and Madison's Republican party.

In this light, Mickey Edwards, a former prominent Republican congressman, former national chairman of the American Conservative Union, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and the author of the book Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost--And How It Can Find Its Way Back (Oxford University Press, 2008), have said:

So-called conservatives, they [sic] have abandoned true American conservatism--which is properly focused on limited (not small) government, individual liberty, and prudent governance--and have instead become the champions of wiretapping, government secrecy, federal deficits, questionable wars, and a nasty kind of politics that even questions the patriotism of those who disagree with their policies.

The Republican Party long stood for the principles at the heart of the American Constitution, including a belief in the wonderful possibilities of self-government (instead of the anti-government rhetoric it has since embraced). It celebrated ideas instead of the rabid anti-intellectualism it has come to cherish. It celebrated diversity (Barry Goldwater argued that there was no such thing as a merely common man) rather than demanding sameness in religion, values, and beliefs. The Republican Party does not need to re-invent itself--it merely needs to remember what it once was.

To be continued...


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    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      As I promised, now -that I have read your articles and free from work, I shall respond to your comments more specifically.

      1." I am not blaming you. Probably those public school curriculums designed by Leftists". You can blame me, no need to patronize. I am not trumpeting any school public school curriculum" ( BTW,I didn't study in a Public School and have much more than a high school education). I have read several books and articles about American history an My analysis in an independent exercise of critical thinking, as your very interesting hubs. I assume full responsibility of my historical interpretation, and I never presumed that everybody might agree with me. After all, History is a discipline of interpretation, and opinion is of course subjective.

      2. "Read that line carefully that says: CONGRESS shall not establish a national religion—as was common in Europe. It does not say that states can't."

      Yes I have read the line very carefully and several times. CONGRESS is responsible to make the LAW of the LAND (the Nation), so when Congress decreed that it "shall not establish a National religion", clearly banned the Federal government to impose a NATIONAL religion. And of course -as you clearly state in one of your articles- the founding fathers recognized the relevance and centrality of religious life in the fabric of the American culture, that's why they didn't declared a national religion, and thus adopting the concept of freedom of religion, at the same time separating institutional religion from State (Federal) power. That was my argument there I apologize it I wasn't clear enough.

      On the other hand, I never express anything about the power of the particular states. Following your train of thought about states possibility or right to establish a religion, first of all I will need to read the Constitutions of the particular states that "declared" an official religion. I have read the Federal Constitution but I admit I haven't read all the state Constitutions. Eventually I will check them. Can we reflect on this, do you think that the establishment of an official religion by a state doesn't violate the First Amendment of the Federal Constitution?

      3." It is a sly trick to call Abolitionists Progessives. They're weren't. Abolitionists were Christians."

      I never said abolitionists where not Christians The mid-nineteenth century abolitionist movement had several ideological grounds certainly, there was a wing of the Abolitionist movement that clearly opposed slavery on Christian notions of human and natural equality with a heavy moral tone. (and since we are on the subject, also there was also so called Christians who used biblical and/or theological interpretations to defend the institution.) Another side of the Abolitionist movement coin, is the Garrisonian wing which opposed to slavery on legal grounds and the basic principle of equality before the law. This wing heavily influenced Radical and some Moderate Republican political stances during the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.

      "Progressives decidedly are not (Christian)" Come on... you wrote an article about the PM, you know it was mainly a WASP movement. MANY prominent leaders of the PM where Protestant Ministers or sons and daughters Protestant Ministers.

      4. "There are problems with Health Care. Conservatives are not opposed to Obamacare for the reasons you expressed. They are against governmental control of a once free people."

      How the Health Care controls "a once free people"?

      Why "Obamacare"? Many of the provisions in the Law are due to Republican and Health Care Corps amendments. The "individual mandate" was a Republican idea.

      About your last points, I will say that I don't think the actual administration is trying to limit individual rights, it is just trying to limit Corporate abuses against the common citizen. I think that a government that tries to organize mediate and balance the interests and powers of the few for the sake of the many is acting on the very core ideals of a Democracy. But this again, is a matter of views and philosophies of government, and I believe that everyone must be entitled to their own opinion, I sincerely respect your views and I will expect the same for mine.

      Thanks for your very suggestive comment. Take care!

    • Tom T profile image

      Tom T 

      10 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Wow, where to begin. First Madison was the primary author of the constitution. Jefferson certainly had some indirect influence but Jefferson (with the help of Adams) wrote the declaration of independence.

      Agree with James Watkins on the mythical separation of church and state issue. The establishment clause in the bill of rights is meant to prohibit the government from requiring it's people to be part of any specific religion, not a proclamation of a secularist government. It goes with the overall purpose of the constitution which is to protect the people from the government and limit the powers of the government. This oft cited ' separation of church and state' quote is an intentional misrepresentation by the left.

      Sadly the reason so many religious people tend to be republicans is because the democrat party is the home of the atheist secularist. Where else would they go?

      Republicans are not against 'equal, broad and just access to health care services mainly because it may hurt the interests of corporations'. They are against the government forcing people to get health insurance who don't want it. They are against the government being the provider of health care. They are against the government rationing the care and being the arbiter of who gets what care. This, like it or not, is the road we are now on.

      Government telling its people what to do goes against the spirit and the words of the US constitution. In short the founding fathers were about liberty, (as opposed to freedom). Liberty is being free from the tyranny of government telling you what to do.

      Tax cuts are a form of liberty as it allows you to choose how to spend your money. Your spending choices define your values and priorities. Once the government takes that money from you (at the point of a gun) and decides for you how to spend that money, you are no longer making decisions and exercising liberty.

      I will leave on a point that I think we do agree. This country, not just republicans, needs to return to the original intent of the constitution, which was to limit the scope and powers of government.

    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      James A Watkins and Alex thank you both for the comments. Watkins I will read your hubs, clearly are some philosophical differences in our interpretation of history and the Constitution. I appreciate the time you invested reading and analyzing the article. I did not pretend to have the ultimate position regarding this issues neither the whole truth on my hands, after all is an opinion article grounded on a historical interpretation. The main objective was to provoke a healthy debate. Hence, your critique is very welcome. I'll get back to you after I read your hubs. (Now I'm going to bed... take care)

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is an amazing hub, very well done. I have heard that Republicans lost their true conservatism by pandering to get votes from social conservatives and the religious- those people who aren't truly politically conservative though like the idea when it suits them. They are more interested in putting their religious ideas into law.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      Well, you're a pretty good writer but there are some problems with your history. I am not blaming you. Probably those public school curriculums designed by Leftists.

      The term "separation of church and state" was ina personal letter and it is now way foundational in our governmental system. Nobody even knew he said until 1947 when the Atheist Supreme Court Justice, Hugo Black, quoted Jefferson—went sent the rest of the country to scratching their heads. I've read the letter and clearly Jefferson is assuring a pastor that the government will not interfere in the affairs of the church—as was common in Europe. In no way did he mean for God to be excluded from the government. For futher proof I'd recommend my Hub:

      Read that line carefully that says: CONGRESS shall not establish a national religion—as was common in Europe. It does not say that states can't. In fact nearly every state of the original 13 DID have a state religion, though they tolerated others. That is the key distinction from the 13 states compared to Europe: they tolerated others. This does mean Christianity was not recognized by the state as the religion of the United States. 98% of all Americans were Christians.

      It is a sly trick to call Abolitionists Progessives. They're weren't. Abolitionists were Christians. Progressives decidedly are not. The Progressives didn't get rolling until long after the Civil War. Please see:

      By the way, I rarely ever put links to my Hubs in somebody else's Hub. If you were a numbskull I wouldn't bother. But you are plenty sharp, you just need the correct information.

      There are problems with Health Care. Conservatives are not opposed to Obamacare for the reasons you expressed. They are against governmental control of a once free people. Obama is not for free healthcare for all for the reasons you think either. Socialists have long sought the power over life and death of the citizens.

      You act like Conservatives are trying to ban longstanding practices regarding abortion and gay marriage. On the contrary, what you fail to perceive, is that both of these ate contrary to longstanding law. The Conservatives are trying to CONSERVE the American Way of life, not radically transform it. Being on defense, as Conservatives are, is different than being on offense, as you imply Conservatives are.

      Lstly, that tired trpe about Republicans being the party of big corporations is so 20 years ago. The vast majority of huge cirporations support the Democrats: Pepsi, At&T, Google, Microsoft, Apple . . . I'll stop.

    • OpinionDuck profile image


      10 years ago

      Neither the democrat or the republicans are what they were, or what they should be.

      The democrats whined for the last 8 years, they continue to whine even when the republicans do the same things they did when Bush was president and the republicans controlled congress

      This flip flop of party control has happened over the last eighty years. Each time the party in control accomplished little to nothing for the people or the country.

      In the meantime both parties have seen to it that the government workforce continues to increase in size, and decrease in productivity.

    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Hi woolman60. Thanks for reading, posting your comment and the nice compliments. Is a pleasure to have your comment here. (I'm a fan). I hope you voted on the polls.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I enjoyed your hub, very well written, and the information you give and how you address the accomplishments of past Republicans makes for great reading. It is nice to know that there a people like you, who express their thoughts and ideas, and respect others for their thoughts as well.

    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Well I'm aiming for a healthy and civil discussion here. Thanks for participating.

    • Springboard profile image


      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      I can find nothing in that logic to disagree with.

    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Springboard, thanks for reading and sharing your position. I think Republicans need to clean their act and start THINKING and working for the American people, not a few. You're very welcome here.

    • Springboard profile image


      10 years ago from Wisconsin

      I have been saying for quite some time that we are seriously lacking in any real conservatives in the party right now. Coming into the November election cycle we've got some new faces, but still, strong conservatives? It's still a big question mark in my mind.

      Perhaps two of the greatest men to have been republicans, without question, were Lincoln and Reagan. As a party we have to dig back into the core of what made them great as leaders, and what made them what I would classify as true champions of not only the republican party, but of the country itself. These were men who had great heart, and great vision for the country. We need to get back to that.

      There's a lot that I think has been wrong about President Obama's presidency so far. BUT, that said, what I'm looking for is substance on issues, and substantive debate that seeks to address not only what those issues are, but what are the SOLUTIONS that will lead us on the right path. I just have this strong feeling, because we're still largely seeing it now, that finger-pointing will be the big weapon in the game, and I don't think its enough. I don't think it should be enough. If we've got the right idea, and we say we do—I believe we do—then let's articulate that. Let's put it to words so that we can understand it and it can be put into action.

      Right now who are the leaders we have coming out of the SRLC? Romney? Paul? Gingrich? I'm inclined to think we can do better than that.

      I look forward to your continuation.

    • CaribeM profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by and reading. Take care!

    • SOBF profile image


      10 years ago from New York, NY

      One of the most accurate and well constructed hubs I've seen on this site. Thanks for speaking the truth.


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