It all started on March 20th, 1854 when members of the former Whig Party met in Wisconsin to establish a new political party to oppose the spread of slavery into the new territories. The name “Republican” was picked because it implied equality and was reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. The Republican Party came about to combat the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which coincided with the Whig Party’s ultimate demise. Republicans quickly rose with their anti-slavery position. The Kansas-Nebraska Act let the new territories of Kansas and Nebraska decide amongst themselves (popular sovereignty) if they wanted to be an anti-slavery state or a slave state. The originators of the Republican Party saw Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton as their inspirations. They took Jefferson’s beliefs of keeping slavery out of the territories and limited government, and Hamilton’s idea of a robust economy.

In June of 1854, the Republican Party was already having conventions in Pittsburgh and Michigan, rapidly gaining more support. By 1855, the House of Representatives consisted of a Republican majority.

By 1860, many southern states were threatening to secede if the Republicans won the presidency, but the Republican candidate was no other than Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln defeated the Democratic Party and soon after, South Carolina was the first state to secede. Several states followed after the secession of South Carolina, leading to the Civil War in April 1861. As we know, the North won the Civil War, making the Republican Party also victorious. Congress then passed “Radical Reconstruction” on to the South which made sure it passed the 13th,14th, and 15th Amendments to ensure racial equality. Republicans dominated the presidency until 1933 with the election of Franklin Roosevelt.  

In 1896, the Republican Party was the first major political party to support a woman’s right to vote. When the 19th Amendment was ratified, a majority of the state legislators that voted in its favor were Republican. Also, the first woman elected to congress in 1917, Jeannette Rankin, was a Republican.

The elephant became the Republican Party’s symbol in 1874 when Thomas Nast, a famous political cartoonist, drew a cartoon called “The Third Term Panic.” He drew the elephant as “the Republican vote.”

During this time, the New York Herald had been criticizing Ulysses S. Grant for seeking a third term. Since this cartoon, Republicans have kept the elephant symbol for the party.

The “Grand Old Party” nickname came about in 1888, several years after the Republican Party began. The name was originally used by southern Democrats, but eventually it stuck and we have used it ever since.

Now the Republican Party has members from all different backgrounds and continues to grow stronger. From all races, genders, and ages, the Republican Party lives on. Happy birthday to the best party around, the Grand Old Party!