It all started with people who opposed slavery. They were common, everyday people who bristled at the notion that men had any right to oppress their fellow man. In the early 1850’s, these anti-slavery activists found commonality with rugged individuals looking to settle in western lands, free of government charges. “Free soil, free labor, free speech, free men,” went the slogan. And it was thus in joint opposition to human enslavement and government tyranny that an enterprising people gave birth to the Republican Party.
In 1856, the Republicans became a national party by nominating John C. Fremont for President. Four years later, with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republicans firmly established themselves as a major political party. The name “Republican” was chosen because it alluded to equality and reminded individuals of Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party.
All of Us Equal
In 1861, the Civil War erupted, lasting four grueling years. During the war, against the advice of his cabinet, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves. The Republicans of the day worked to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery; the Fourteenth Amendment, which guaranteed equal protection under the laws; and the Fifteenth, which helped secure voting rights for African-Americans. All of these accomplishments extended and cemented the fundamental freedoms our nation continues to enjoy today.
The Republican Party also played a leading role in securing women the right to vote. In 1896, the Republican Party was the first major political party to support women’s suffrage. When the 19th Amendment finally was added to the Constitution, 26 of 36 state legislatures that had voted to ratify it were under Republican control. The first woman elected to Congress was a Republican, Jeanette Rankin from Montana in 1917. So it was by hardworking Republican hands that color and gender barriers were first demolished in America.
Free from Oppression
Republicans believe individuals, not government, can make the best decisions; all people are entitled to equal rights; and decisions are best made close to home. These basic principles are as true today as they were when the Party was founded. For all of the extraordinary leaders the Party has produced throughout its rich history, Republicans understand that everyday people in all 50 states and territories remain the heart and soul of our Party.
Presidents during most of the late nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century were Republicans. The White House was in Republican hands under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, the United States won the Cold War, releasing millions from Communist oppression, in true anti-big government Republican spirit.
Elephants, Not Donkeys
The symbol of the Republican Party is the elephant. During the mid term elections in 1874, Democrats tried to scare voters into thinking President Ulysses S. Grant would seek to run for an unprecedented third term. Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, depicted a Democratic donkey trying to scare a Republican elephant – and both symbols stuck. For a long time, Republicans have been known as the “G.O.P.” with party faithful believing it meant the “Grand Old Party.” But apparently the original meaning (in 1875) was “gallant old party.” When automobiles were invented it also came to mean, “get out and push.” That’s still a pretty good slogan for Republicans who depend every campaign year on the hard work of hundreds of thousands of everyday volunteers to get out and vote and push people to support the causes of the Republican Party.
Abolition. Free speech. Women’s suffrage. These were all causes the Republican Party adopted early on. So, too, were reducing the size of government, streamlining bureaucracy, and returning power to individual states. With a core belief in the primacy of individuals, the Republican Party, since its inception, has been at the forefront of the fight for individuals’ rights in opposition to a large, intrusive government.
History of the Democratic Party For more than 200 years, our party has led the fight for civil rights, health care, Social Security, workers' rights, and women's rights.
Under the leadership of Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. Constitution was amended to grant women the right to vote. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee's became the 36th state to ratify women's suffrage, and it became our nation's 19th amendment.
In the 1930s, Americans turned to Democrats and elected President Franklin Roosevelt to end the Great Depression. President Roosevelt offered Americans a New Deal that put people back to work, stabilized farm prices, and brought electricity to rural homes and communities.
Under President Roosevelt, Social Security established a promise that lasts to this day: growing old would never again mean growing poor.
In 1944, FDR signed the G.I. Bill—a historic measure that provided unprecedented benefits for soldiers returning from World War II, including low-cost mortgages, loans to start a business, and tuition and living expenses for those seeking higher education. Harry Truman helped rebuild Europe after World War II with the Marshall Plan and oversaw the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. By integrating the military, President Truman helped to bring down barriers of race and gender and pave the way the way for civil rights advancements in the years that followed.
In the 1960s, Americans again turned to Democrats and elected President John Kennedy to tackle the challenges of a new era. President Kennedy dared Americans to put a man on the moon, created the Peace Corps, and negotiated a treaty banning atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons.
And after President Kennedy's assassination, Americans looked to President Lyndon Johnson, who offered a new vision of a Great Society and signed into law the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.
This landmark piece of legislation outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women and prohibited racial segregation. Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, it ended unequal voting requirements and segregated schools, workplaces, and public facilities.
President Johnson's enactment of Medicare was a watershed moment in America's history that redefined our country's commitment to our seniors—offering a new promise that all Americans have the right to a healthy retirement.
In 1976, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, Americans elected Jimmy Carter to restore dignity to the White House. He created the Departments of Education and Energy and helped to forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt.
In 1992, after 12 years of Republican presidents, record budget deficits and high unemployment, Americans turned to Democrats once again and elected Bill Clinton to get America moving again. President Clinton balanced the budget, helped the economy add 23 million new jobs, and oversaw the longest period of peacetime economic expansion in history.
And in 2008, Americans turned to Democrats and elected President Obama to reverse our country's slide into the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression and undo eight years of policies that favored the few over the many.
After decades of trying and despite unanimous opposition from Republicans, President Obama and Democrats passed comprehensive health reform into law in March 2010. The Affordable Care Act will hold insurance companies accountable, lower costs, expand coverage, and improve care for all Americans.
We've reined in a financial system that was out of control and delivered the toughest consumer protections ever enacted.
We've reworked our student loan system to make higher education more affordable and won the fight for equal pay for women.
From America's beginnings to today, people have turned to Democrats to meet our country's most pressing challenges—and pave the way for a future that lifts up all Americans.