History of the Republican Party: The Evolution of U.S. Republicans

By Jacob Shelton
1874 Nast cartoon featuring the first notable appearance of the Republican elephant. (Thomas Nast/Wikimedia Commons)

Whether you call it the G.O.P., the conservatives, or just the Republican Party, this major political group has changed quite a bit since its inception in 1854. Somehow, this party has encompassed Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump, and countless politicians and voters in between. In its nearly 200 years of existence, the Republican Party has put 19 presidents in office—more than any other party—but in the 20th century, it underwent a major ideological shift.

The Creation Of The Republican Party

In 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act was signed by President Franklin Pierce with the goal of creating a transcontinental railroad and repealing the Missouri Compromise, but many Northerners believed the South would take advantage of the law to spread slavery throughout the growing United States. To combat this overreach, members of the Conscience Whigs and Free Soil Democrats met at "anti-Nebraska" meetings, one of which took place in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854, where the name "Republican" was first suggested to describe the fledgling organization.

Aside from their anti-slavery stance, this new party advocated for modernizing the United States by expanding the railroad system and banking industry. By the election of 1860, the Republican Party had become such a force that they elected Abraham Lincoln as president during a time of extreme contention in the United States.