John C. Frémont ran as the first Republican for President in 1856, using the political slogan: "Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men, Fremont." The party grew especially rapidly in Northeastern and Midwestern states, where slavery had long been prohibited, culminating in a sweep of victories in the Northern states and the election of Lincoln in 1860, ending 60 years of dominance by Southern Democrats and ushering in a new era of Republican dominance based in the industrial north.
With the end of the Civil War came the upheavals of Reconstruction under Democratic president Andrew Johnson and Republican president Ulysses S. Grant. For a brief period, Republicans assumed control of Southern politics, forcing drastic reforms and frequently giving former slaves positions in government. Reconstruction came to an end with the election of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes through the Compromise of 1877.
Though states' rights was a cause of both Northern and Southern states before the War, control of the federal government led the Republican Party down a national line. The patriotric unity that developed in the North because of the war led to a string of military men as President, and an era of international expansion and domestic protectionism. As the rural Northern antebellum economy mushroomed with industry and immigration, supporting invention and business became the hallmarks of Republican policy proposals. From the Reconstruction era up to the turn of the century, the Republicans benefitted from the Democrats' association with the Confederacy and dominated national politics--albeit with strong competition from the Democrats during the 1880s especially. With the two-term presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, the party became known for its strong advocacy of commerce, industry, and veterans' rights, which continued through the end of the 19th century.
The progressive, protectionist, political and beloved William McKinley was the last Civil War veteran elected President and embodied the Republican ideals of economic progress, invention, education, and patriotism. After McKinley's assassination, President Theodore Roosevelt tapped McKinley's Industrial Commission for his trust-busting ideas and continued the federal and nationalist policies of his predecessor.
Roosevelt decided not to run again in 1908 and chose William Howard Taft to replace him, but the widening division between progressive and conservative forces in the party resulted in a third-party candidacy for Roosevelt on the United States Progressive Party, or 'Bull Moose' ticket in the election of 1912. He beat Taft, but the split in the Republican vote resulted in a decisive victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, temporarily interrupting the Republican era.
Subsequent years saw the party firmly committed to laissez-faire economics, but the Great Depression cost it the presidency with the U.S. presidential election, 1932 landslide election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Roosevelt's New Deal Coalition controlled American politics for most of the next three decades, excepting the two-term presidency of war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The Republican Party came to be split along new lines between a conservative wing (dominant in the West) and a liberal wing (dominant in New England) -- combined with a residual base of inherited Midwestern Republicanism active throughout the century. The seeds of conservative dominance in the Republican party were planted in the nomination of Barry Goldwater over Nelson Rockefeller as the Republican candidate for the 1964 presidential election. Goldwater represented the conservative wing of the party, while Rockefeller represented the liberal wing.
Goldwater's success in the deep south, and Nixon's successful Southern strategy four years later represented a significant political change, as Southern whites began moving into the party, largely due to Democrats' support for the Civil Rights Movement. Simultaneously, the remaining pockets of liberal Republicanism in the northeast died out as the region turned solidly Democratic. In The Emerging Republican Majority, Kevin Phillips, then a Nixon strategist, argued (based on the 1968 election results) that support from southern whites and growth in the Sun Belt, among other factors, was driving an enduring Republican realignment.
While his predictions were obviously somewhat overstated, the trends described could be seen in the Goldwater-inspired candidacy and 1980 election of Ronald Reagan and in the Gingrich-led "Republican Revolution" of 1994. The latter was the first time in 40 years that the Republicans secured control of both houses of Congress.
That year, the GOP campaigned on a platform of major reforms of government with measures, such as a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and welfare reform. These measures and others formed the famous Contract with America, which was passed by Congress. Democratic President Bill Clinton stymied many of the initiatives contained therein, with welfare reform as a notable exception.
With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the Republican party controlled both the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since 1952. Commentators speculate that this may constitute a political realignment, catalyzed by decades of Cold War conflict and free market politics.
The Republican Party solidified its Congressional margins in the 2002 midterm elections, bucking the historic trend. It marked just the third time since the Civil War that the party in control of the White House gained seats in both houses of Congress in a midterm election (others were 1902 and 1934).
President Bush was renominated without opposition for the 2004 election and the Republican political platform was titled "A Safer World and a More Hopeful America". It expressed President Bush's commitment to winning the War on Terror, ushering in an Ownership Era, and building an innovative economy to compete in the world. President Bush won the election with 62.0 million popular votes over Democratic Senator John F. Kerry. Bush received 51% of the popular vote, the first popular majority since his father was elected in 1988. On that election day, Republicans gained additional seats in both houses of Congress.