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Brief Republican History

A Brief History of the Republican Party
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Suddenly the Republicans' fortunes changed.

Embarking on a decade-long period of quick reversals, the Republicans eventually lost the 1884 election. But by this time the party had firmly established itself as a permanent force in American politics by not only preserving the Union and leading the nation through the Reconstruction, but by also striking a chord of greater personal autonomy within the national psyche. Yet while the presidency was regained for one term with the 1888 election of Benjamin Harrison, with the re-emergence of the South from the destruction of the Civil War the Republicans were shut out for the first time since the Civil War in the election of 1892, as the Democrats won control of the House, the Senate and the presidency.

Republican voters returned to their party with the 1896 election, electing William McKinley to the White House. His term was the start of a consecutive four-term Republican possession of the White House.

The bull moose

Assuming the presidency when McKinley was assassinated in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt busied himself with what he considered to be the most pressing issue, ensuring the Republican principle of competition in a free market. To do so, Roosevelt used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890 under Republican President Benjamin Harrison, to successfully prosecute and break up several large business monopolies.

In 1903, Roosevelt became involved with foreign policy, supporting revolutionaries who then formed the Republic of Panama. His actions in Panama resulted in the treaty that permitted construction of the Panama Canal. In 1905, Roosevelt--who popularized the West African phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" to explain his view on foreign policy--successfully negotiated the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the conflict between Russia and Japan. Roosevelt's accomplishments as a peacemaker earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the distinction of being the first American to receive this award.

Roosevelt easily won a second term and proceeded to continue to stand by his principles. Roosevelt, who was constantly bucking public prejudice, appointed the Cabinet's first Jewish member, Oscar Strauss. Then, in 1906, after reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Roosevelt instructed Congress to pass laws concerning meat inspection and pure food and drug legislation. Two years later he placed 150 million acres of forest land into federal reserves and organized a National Conservation Conference. Believing in the importance of work, Roosevelt was also responsible for creating the Department of Labor.

Although his immense popularity almost guaranteed that he could be elected to a third term, following precedent, Roosevelt retired, allowing William Taft to become the next Republican to hold the presidential office.

Discord struck the Republican Party in the 1912 election as Teddy Roosevelt, dissatisfied with President Taft, led his supporters on the "Bull Moose" ticket against the president. Playing to the advantage of a split Republican vote, as they would again 80 years later, the Democrats won the election with Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson ran for re-election in 1916, he promised to keep the United States out of World War I. Yet shortly after his re-election, the United States stepped onto the European battleground and entered the war. By mid-1918 the Republican Party won control of Congress as Wilson's popularity began to wane because World War I dragged on.

Republican women

Standing in sharp contrast to the two existing political parties' present stereotypes regarding minorities and women, once again the Republican Party was the vanguard in relation to women. In 1917, Jeannette Rankin, a Montana Republican, became the first woman to serve in the House. Committed to her pacifist beliefs, she was the only member of Congress to vote against entry into both World War I and World War II.

Shortly after Ms. Rankin's election to Congress, the 19th Amendment was passed in 1919. The amendment's journey to ratification had been a long and difficult one. Starting in 1896, the Republican Party became the first major party to officially favor women's suffrage. That year, Republican Sen. A. A. Sargent of California introduced a proposal in the Senate to give women the right to vote. The proposal was defeated four times in the Democratic-controlled Senate. When the Republican Party regained control of Congress, the Equal Suffrage Amendment finally passed (304-88). Only 16 Republicans opposed the amendment.

When the amendment was submitted to the states, 26 of the 36 states that ratified it had Republican-controlled legislatures. Of the nine states that voted against ratification, eight were controlled by Democrats. Twelve states, all Republican, had given women full suffrage before the federal amendment was finally ratified.

The Republicans trip

During the Roaring Twenties, three successive Republican presidents kept a lid on government spending and taxes: Warren G. Harding (1921-1925), who, according to A Short History of the American Nation, balanced the budget and reduced the national debt by an average of more than $500 million per year; Calvin Coolidge (1925-1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), who was the last businessman to make the successful transition to president. While Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, the U.S. economy expanded as free enterprise stimulated business and industry. The Republicans' sound money policies brought growing prosperity and steadily cut the federal debt.

In 1929, the Wall Street crash signaled disaster for the Republicans as President Hoover emerged as the scapegoat for the Great Depression. Despite his creation of the home-loan banks and the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to save the American financial structures, Hoover's anti-Depression efforts went unheeded as people turned to the Democrats for a "New Deal."

Under Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, the federal government gained power and size while deficit spending rose as a result of increased government involvement in the economy.

Renewing the party

The next 20 years were a time of rebuilding for the Republican Party. This effort included establishing a greater role for women. Launching a tradition that the RNC chairman and co-chairman be of opposite sex, in 1937, Marion E. Martin was named first assistant chairman of the Republican National Committee. Three years later, the Republican Party became the first major political party to endorse an equal rights amendment for women in its platform.

In the post-Depression era, five presidential terms were shared by only two presidents. The Democrats ignored the two-term tradition upheld by the Republican Party and allowed Roosevelt to run for and win an unprecedented four terms. Following Roosevelt's death, Vice President Harry S Truman became president. It was not until 1946, with the 80th Congress, that the Republicans won a majority in both the Senate and the House. Notably, it was this Congress that produced the first balanced federal budget since Republican Herbert Hoover was president.

With the Truman administration held responsible for failure to arbitrate a crippling steel strike, escalating inflation and the Korean War, in 1950 the renewed Republican Party made strong gains in Congress.

Two years later World War II hero Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected president, carrying the party to its first presidential victory in almost 25 years. During Eisenhower's two terms, the nation quickly recovered from the economic strain of the war. Focusing on rebuilding the nation and re-establishing its pre-eminence, as well as his party's, he established the Interstate Highway System and forged ahead with America's space exploration program. Continuing the Republicans' commitment to women, in 1953 he appointed a woman, Oveta Culp Hobby, as the first secretary of his newly created Department of Health, Education and Welfare.

The Eisenhower administration also made special efforts to enforce the 1954 Brown vs. The Board of Education Supreme Court decision that declared "separate but equal" school accommodations unconstitutional. On the heels of implementing this decision through the protection of the National Guard, Eisenhower completed formal integration of blacks in the armed forces. Charged with upholding the rights of blacks, Eisenhower appointed a Civil Rights Commission and created a civil rights division in the Justice Department. All of these actions culminated in the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which gave the attorney general power to obtain injunctions to stop Southern registrars and officials from interfering with blacks seeking to register and vote.


Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, lost the 1960 presidential election to John F. Kennedy by the narrowest margin in U.S. history, and, with the establishment of the Camelot mystique, it seemed the Republican Party was again at an ebb in the political tide. Yet four years later, Sen. Barry Goldwater emerged to revitalize the grass-roots strength of the GOP with his energy and his laissez-faire principles, and despite losing the presidential election to Lyndon B. Johnson, the Republican Party slowly re-established itself.

In 1968, Nixon led the party to victory in a hard-fought presidential contest. In the next four years, Nixon established his place in history as an expert in foreign affairs. He firmly believed that the United States had a form of government that was better than any other system, and therefore, the United States should play a major role in world politics in order to protect American interests as well as to promote our values. He opened relations with mainland China, which not only led 20 years later to a major market for American products but also fundamentally altered the Cold War strategic balance. He ended the U.S. involvement in Vietnam--a war that had torn this country apart. He dramatically improved American security through his policy of detente with the USSR, which led to the signing of the ABM and other arms control treaties.

Domestically, Nixon brought inflation under control by implementing the traditional Republican policy of fiscal control and by the innovative tactic of cutting the dollar loose from the gold standard. In addition, The Clean Air Act, which began the process of environmental controls in the United States, was crafted and passed under the Nixon administration. His administration also promoted America's manned space program.

Nixon won a landslide victory in 1972, carrying every state except Massachusetts. In 1973, Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President while under investigation for corruption during his term in the 1960s as county executive of Baltimore County, Maryland. Using provisions of the 25th Amendment, President Nixon appointed House Republican Leader Gerald R. Ford to the vice presidency. When Nixon resigned in the wake of the Watergate scandal in 1974, Ford assumed the presidency, selecting former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller as his vice president.

Under the Ford administration, the United States regained its confidence in politics and in the integrity of national government. At the same time, America's double-digit inflation rate was cut in half, taxes were cut significantly and the role of municipal and state governments was enhanced by reducing federal government expansion. However, the country's first appointed president was denied election to office in 1976 by a narrow loss to Jimmy Carter.

A new renaissance

In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran for president promising a "New Federalism." On the theory that local governments reflected both the will and the wisdom of the citizenry better than the remote bureaucracy-ridden government in Washington, Reagan planned to transfer some functions of the federal government to the states.

Both the past and the future of the Republican Party were represented in Reagan's election to the presidency. Appealing to the same conservative constituency that had been attracted to Barry Goldwater, he also captivated a broad spectrum of America with his easygoing and reassuring manner. His sense of humor lightened the pessimism pervading America--as when John Hinckley Jr. shot him in the chest. Although seriously wounded, as Reagan was wheeled into the operating room for emergency surgery, he told the team of doctors that he hoped they were all Republicans.

His sincerity and strength led to an emotional tidal wave at the polls. Reagan restored America's pride in itself. As he once commented, "America's best days are yet to come. Our proudest moments are yet to be. Our most glorious achievements are just ahead. America remains what Emerson called her 150 years ago, 'The country of tomorrow.' What a wonderful description and how true."

Continuing the Republican tradition of leading the way in furthering the position of women, Reagan's first term included several notable appointments. He selected Sandra Day O'Connor as the first female Supreme Court justice, Elizabeth Dole as the first female secretary of transportation and Jeane Kirkpatrick as the first female U.S. representative to the United Nations. With Dole, Kirkpatrick and Margaret Heckler as the secretary of health and human services, it was also the first time in history three women served concurrently in a president's Cabinet.

In his 1984 re-election, President Reagan received the largest Republican landslide victory in history. Under the leadership of President Reagan and his successor, George Bush, the United States experienced the longest economic expansion period in its history--more than 20.7 million new jobs were created as a result. His steadfastness in the face of the communist threat led to the surprising--to all but himself--collapse of communism in 1989. Reaching milestones economically and diplomatically, President Reagan, "The Great Communicator," earned his place in history among our greatest presidents.

Although Reagan was a hard act to follow, President Bush's leadership was proven when he lay 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.

Unfortunately President Bush was blamed for a worldwide economic slowdown triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and involving the transition of the global economy from an industrial base to a high-technology base, and he was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election in 1992. Nearly 20 percent of voters were drawn to the blunt anti-government candidacy of Ross Perot, and another 43 percent elected "New Democrat" Bill Clinton, who promised to reinvent government.

The Republicans look toward the future

After Haley Barbour's election as chairman of the Republican National Committee in January of 1993, the party began concentrating on organizing its grass-roots strength. Focusing on the principles that had historically made the Republicans a strong party, Barbour emphasized individual freedom, personal responsibility and reduced government. As a result of that work, House Republican members and candidates together created the Contract With America , a bold agenda of 10 specific pieces of legislation based on Republican principles of individual liberty, economic opportunity, limited and effective government, personal responsibility and strong security. All told, 367 candidates signed the Contract With America to bring fundamental change to the way business is conducted in the people's House of Representatives.

On November 8, 1994, the American people responded to the Republican promise of concrete change and voted for a new American majority in the greatest midterm majority swing of the 20th century. After 40 years of a Democratic-controlled Congress, Republicans gained majorities in both the House and Senate, as well as a majority of the states' governorships for the first time in two decades. Not a single incumbent Republican governor, senator or representative lost.

The swearing in of the 104th Congress marked the start of the process of change embodied in the Contract With America. For example, Republicans have made Congress abide by the same laws it imposes on the rest of us; commissioned the first independent audit of the Congress in history; cut Congress' budget by at least 10 percent--more than $200 million; eliminated three congressional committees, 25 subcommittees and one of every three committee staff jobs; imposed term limits on committee chairs and the speaker; planned a balanced budget reducing the deficit to zero in seven years without raising taxes; and worked to protect, preserve and improve Medicare.

The actions of the 104th Congress not only promise to fundamentally alter the way that Washington, and indeed the nation, works, they also signal the continuation of a long Republican history of offering fresh ideas and principled approaches to the challenges facing our nation.

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