On 28th February 1854 a meeting was held at a church in Ripon, Wisconsin, that would lead to the foundation of the United States Republican Party.
The issue at stake was slavery, and in particular the threat of its expansion into the territories of Kansas and Nebraska under the Kansas-Nebraska Act that was about to overturn the 1820 Missouri Compromise. The group that met at Ripon, under the leadership of Alvan Bovay, passed an anti-slavery resolution and agreed to meet again a month later.
The first two meetings attracted a great deal of attention from people who agreed with the Abolitionists, and the third meeting had to be held at a larger venue, in Jackson, Michigan. This became the inaugural conference of a new political party which adopted the name “Republican” after Thomas Jefferson’s “Democratic-Republican Party”. Despite the obvious admiration of Jefferson as a role model, the new Republicans were apparently not willing to be reminded that Jefferson had been the owner of 250 slaves!
The new party achieved success remarkably quickly, gaining 33% of popular support in the 1856 Presidential election and getting their man, Abraham Lincoln, into the White House in 1860. There have been a total of 18 Republican Presidents, which sounds like a proud boast until you remember that these included Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes!
The Republican Party delights in the name of the “Grand Old Party”. This sounds like a strange definition of “old”, given that it has been in existence for only 160 years and is younger than the Democrats, who also took their inspiration from Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but 22 years earlier!
© John Welford