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History of the Republican Party

The Republican Party formed in 1854 amid debates over slavery. It grew strong with Abraham Lincoln's presidency and led the U.S. through the Civil War. The party dominated politics until the Great Depression. It regained power with Ronald Reagan, emphasizing business interests, conservative social values, and anti-Communism.

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user Carmen Sandiago
    At , Kim mentions that at the time, anti-slavery merely meant that you were against slavery in the western territories, while abolitionists were mostly on the fringe of politics. Does that mean that the majority of northerners against slavery only wanted to it from spreading to the west, and to keep plantation owners from pushing out smaller, non-slavery, farms?
    In other words, was the majority of the anti-slavery movement at the time because of political, instead of moral motives?
    (10 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Monk4d
    I find it interesting that Nixon was mentioned during the Democratic video, but was conspicuously or intentionally omitted from the Republican video. Nixon was certainly the most notorious and infamous Republican president of the 20th century, yet he was not pictured in the background like Ike was. Why was Nixon not mentioned or pictured in the Republican video?
    (10 votes)
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  • leaf orange style avatar for user Jeff Kelman
    Isn't it overly simplistic to say that "...the lack of regulation, and pro-business policies" led to the great depression (mentioned around )?

    I know we have discussed this before in other video comment sections Kim, but I feel it is historically inaccurate, and even with brevity kept in mind (for the sake of making a shorter video lets say), we simply cannot neglect to mention the significance of Federal Reserve (i.e. government) monetary policy in causing the great depression (and subsequent wage and price controls that exacerbated it, once again, government, not free markets). This is significant for many reasons, but mostly because if we misinterpret an aspect of history initially, or overly emphasize one fact or another in the teaching of history, it can cause a sort of academic "snowball effect" whereby more and more subsequent incorrect inferences are made, all as a result of the initial blunder.
    (10 votes)
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  • starky sapling style avatar for user CodingCat
    My question is, if the Democratic Party was traditionally in the South, then, did they move North, or did they just stay in the South?
    (5 votes)
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    • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Benzion Chinn
      Over the course of the 1960s and 70s, the people who used to consider themselves Republicans became Democrats and the Democrats became Republicans. If you are planning on voting for Hilary on Tuesday, you probably would have been a Republican if you had lived in the early 20th century and if you support Trump you probably would have been a Democrat. It should be noted that until the 1930s, blacks tended to be Republicans.
      (7 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Geovany Diaz
    where republicans pro-slavery?
    (3 votes)
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  • duskpin sapling style avatar for user Mistyberry
    Did they already learn about the West (USA) at the "founding" of the Republican Party?
    (3 votes)
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    • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user briancsherman
      The first 'Republican' party was actually known as the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican Party. In 1828 this party split into the Democratic Party and the Whig Party. The GOP, or current Republican Party, was formed on March 20, 1854. California became a state in 1850, so the Republicans were certainly aware of the West. The first few Senators from California were Democrats, however. The California branch of the Republican Party was formed on March 8, 1856.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

- [Voiceover] Hey, Kim! - [Voiceover] Hi, David! - [Voiceover] So, with the Republican National Convention coming up in just a couple of weeks as we're recording this, you thought it would be like a really good idea to sit down and examine the history of the Republican Party. So what's, what's going on in the country in 1854 that leads to this party forming? - [Voiceover] Well, there're growing discussions over slavery, and why the slavery should expand to the West. Now, all throughout the 19th century the citizens of the United States had been kind of compromising on the issue of slavery. First, they had a line between North and South, said only slave states could be below this line. Now the Kansas-Nebraska Act overturns that compromise. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which says that the citizens of a territory when applying for statehood can themselves decide whether or not that state should have slavery. - [Voiceover] So, even though Kansas and Nebraska are north of this parallel in Missouri above which slavery couldn't exist, this new law kind of overturns that, that agreement? - [Voiceover] Exactly. So a number of US citizens, who are anti-slavery, which means that they don't want slavery to spread into western territories, mainly because they want those territories free from white farmers to not have to compete with wealthy slaveholders who have free labor to farm and ship their goods and sell their crops. - [Voiceover] What about people that hate slavery and think it's immoral and want to abolish it? - [Voiceover] Those people are called abolitionists. - [Voiceover] Yeah, that's a convenient name. - [Voiceover] Yes. And the abolitionists, really before the 1850s they were kind of considered the lunatic fringe, only those sorts of people would imagine that you would want to end slavery right now everywhere that exists in the United States. So, they don't want to just not have slavery out in the West, they want slavery to be ended where it exists already in the South. - [Voiceover] Right. - [Voiceover] So, those who believed in abolition, those who believed in anti-slavery went to a new party, the Republican Party. - [Voiceover] So even within the Republican Party abolitionism was still on the fringe of the party plank? - [Voiceover] Yeah, I would say so. So, the new Republican Party which really comes out to an extremely strong start, they run their first candidate in 1856, he gets second place in national election, which is amazing. - [Voiceover] Not bad. - [Voiceover] But their second candidate for President is Abraham Lincoln. And Lincoln himself is actually kind of considered a moderate, because he is anti-slavery, he is not an abolitionist. But nonetheless, the South perceives Lincoln to be an abolitionist and white Southerners revolt and start the Civil War. - [Voiceover] So, because he is perceived as an abolitionist, because he is a Republican, that's why South Carolina secedes? - [Voiceover] Exactly. So, the Civil War ensues. This is a four year long battle. 620,000 Americans die. And at the end of the day, the North, the United States of America led by the Republican Party is victorious. - [Voiceover] So the victory of the United States in the Civil War kind of assures dominion of the Republican Party for a generation. - [Voiceover] Yeah, I would say even more than that. So, for the rest of the 19th century and really into the early 20th century the Republican Party is the stronger political party in the United States. - [Voiceover] So, from the end of the Civil War, from 1865, until about when would you say? - [Voiceover] I would say the Great Depression. - [Voiceover] So, it's an almost unbroken string of republican presidencies. - [Voiceover] Yeah, there are only three Democratic presidents in this time period. So it's 72 years of pretty much uninterrupted Republican rule. And the Republican Party is the party of anti-slavery. During the Civil War they were the party of the emancipation proclamation under Lincoln. So, it's during their rule that the 13th Amendment, abolishing slavery, is passed. The 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal citizenship to African Americans, is passed. And the 15th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote for African Americans, is passed. - [Voiceover] So in the period immediately following the Civil War called Reconstruction, when we see the election of some of the first African American senators and representatives to the Congress. - [Voiceover] Exactly. So, during this time period quite a few African American men were elected to US Congress, and many more served in appointed roles, like postmaster. - [Voiceover] So this is when we get the election of Senator Hiram Revels from Mississippi. - [Voiceover] Exactly. So Hiram Revels was one of the first two African American senators. So after the Civil War the Republican Party was really kind of this party of the Gilded Age. They believed in modernizing the infrastructure of the United States. They built lots of railroads. They enacted policies that would protect American business. And it's really in this early period of the turn of the century that the Republican Party becomes associated with protections of business there. - [Voiceover] Is that what the elephant's about? - [Voiceover] Kind of, yes. So, the elephant was popularized in an 1870 cartoon by Thomas Nast. - [Voiceover] Oh, the same guy that gave us Santa Claus, right? - [Voiceover] Yes. And Nast depicted the Republican Party as an elephant because it was a party of strength, a really big consequential party. - [Voiceover] That's so fascinating to have gone from this, like, insurgency party to this, like, to being perceived as the elephant of electoral politics in 30 years. - [Voiceover] Yeah, it's amazing. Unfortunately, it kinda all comes crashing down with the Great Depression. - [Voiceover] Sure. - [Voiceover] So, the pro-business policies, the lack of regulation in the 1920s leads to the stock market crash of 1929. And it was a Republican president, Herbert Hoover, who was in the presidency at the time of the crash. And so, in 1932, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt is elected president. And the following 40 years, more or less, are going to be the time of Democratic ascendancy. But, in the meantime, there is one notable Republican president. - [Voiceover] Ike for President, Ike for President. - [Voiceover] I like Ike, you like Ike, Everybody likes Ike. - [Voiceover] For President. - [Voiceover] (laughs) So, we were quoting one of Ike's campaign commercials. - [Voiceover] Who is Ike, Kim? - [Voiceover] Ike was General Dwight Eisenhower who was a World War II hero. He was so popular he would have been elected had his... - [Voiceover] Could have been from the Martian party, right? - [Voiceover] Yes (laughs). - [Voiceover] Like any party expect the Communist Party would have propelled Eisenhower to the presidency. - [Voiceover] Yes. Exactly. And you're right that one of the, you know, key themes of this time period was anti-Communism, and both Republicans and Democrats had an anti-Communist bent. But Eisenhower was elected in 1952, and he was really the first president to use commercial spots to get elected. He had these cute little jingles that were very memorable. - [Voiceover] So catchy. - [Voiceover] And he really used the medium of television well. So he's kind of the father of TV ads. - [Voiceover] Yeah, it's interesting, because I think we think of Kennedy as being the first television president. But I would, I think we could both make the claim that it's, it's really Eisenhower. - [Voiceover] That is a great point. So, Eisenhower is kind of a Republican moment in a much larger Democratic era. - [Voiceover] Okay. - [Voiceover] And this is the era when the Civil Rights Movement happens. This is the era of the Great Society programs, which were Lyndon Johnson's programs to try to attack poverty, and New Deal programs. So this is really the birth of the welfare state. So in this time period the Republicans begin to experience a demographic shift. So first, they had been the party that was most known for representing African Americans, because they were the party of Lincoln. But during the New Deal, when most people really needed economic help, the African American constituency moved over to the Democrats. They actually had a campaign saying to African Americans "turn your picture of Abraham Lincoln to the wall" so that he can't see you changed parties. But this is really the time period when the Democratic Party begins to pick up the votes of African Americans. And so, over the course of the 1930s through the 1960s, as the Democratic Party begins to advocate bigger and bigger government, a larger welfare state, and more and more social progress, the Republicans develop a conservative response to that. And in the 1970s and 1980s, in the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, many whites in the South felt that the social chaos of the Civil Rights Movement had gone too far. And so, they left the Democratic Party, which had been traditionally a party in the South, and joined the Republican Party, which was presenting a more conservative face towards social change. And so, in the 1980s this new conservative movement really came together in the person of Ronald Reagan. And Ronald Reagan brought together a number of constituencies. He brought together business interests, who wanted less government regulation of business. He also brought together Christian evangelicals, who wanted a more conservative social value program in government. And he also brought together anti-Communists, who felt that the Democratic presidents had been too soft on Communism during their tenure. - [Voiceover] So this is interesting to me, because it seems to be around the era of Reagan that we started to see the beginnings of ideological polarization within the parties. - [Voiceover] I would say that's kind of been around since the beginning, more or less. You know, the two original political parties in the United States, the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists, or the Democratic-Republicans. This is the party led by Thomas Jefferson versus the party led by Alexander Hamilton. You know, they had the same idea of the sort of large central government versus the small central government. In many ways we're still debating the same issues that Hamilton and Jefferson were debating in 1800. - [Voiceover] So, okay, so we're seeing this conservative coalition coalesce around the election of Reagan, and his election was like a sweep, right? - [Voiceover] Yes. Yeah, he deregulates a lot of industries. He defends conservative social family values, like prayer in school, for example. And he takes a very hard line against Communism. And George W. Bush, who was the most recent Republican president, had a fairly similar agenda, although less emphasis on anti-Communism and instead an emphasis on anti-terrorism. - [Voiceover] So we're seeing this shift over last 150 years of party priorities for the Republicans as the country changes and as its demographics change. - [Voiceover] And we'll find out how the story of the Republican Party continues in this election.