A Brief History of the Republican Party


Many of us are engaged in the arduous struggle to restore our constitution and promote the principles which are the foundation of the American Republic. The contest is often between an entrenched elite and the many who have come to realize the liberties we have lost and the duty we have to regain them. In many ways, and across a broad spectrum of issues, we work to arrest the trepidations against our nation and restore what ought to be.

This contest is made at the state, federal and local level, and within the Republican Party itself. Some of us have only recently arrived at our place in this contest; others may have been at it for decades. Regardless when we joined the fray, it is the transgressions of modern times that motivate us. We understand what is wrong today and we challenge it. But what does the light of history show us? Is there anything new in this contest? If we are to restore our republic through the Republican Party, which republican are we?

When we think of “Republican,” we are inclined to think of the GOP or the Grand Old Party, but is the GOP truly republican? Is the GOP even the oldest of the two main parties holding political power today? History has a different story to tell:

There were no political parties when President Washington took office in 1789. Washington nominated New York lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, to the office of the Secretary of the Treasury. By 1790, Hamilton started building a nationwide coalition. He used his network of treasury agents to link together friends of the government, especially merchants and bankers.

The Federalist Party was the first American political party. The party was built mainly with the support of those bankers and businessmen who supported Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal policies. George Washington was sympathetic to the Federalist program, but he remained an independent during his presidency. The United States’ only Federalist president was John Adams, our second President. The Federalist policies called for a national bank, tariffs, good relations with Britain and heavy government subsidies. Hamilton developed the concept of “implied powers,” and argued for that interpretation of the Constitution.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison began forming a party to oppose the Federalist policies. Between 1792 and 1794, newspapers started calling Hamilton supporters “Federalists” and their opponents “Democrats,” “Republicans,” “Jeffersonians,” or “Democratic-Republicans.” Jefferson’s supporters usually called themselves “Republicans” and their party the “Republican Party.” Jefferson, Madison and the “Republicans” denounced most of the Federalist policies, especially the central bank and “implied powers” as a sell-out of republican values to the British monarchy.  The Federalist Party was popular with businessmen and New Englanders. Republicans were mostly farmers who opposed a strong central government.

The Federalists won most of the major legislative battles in the 1790s. Their strong base in the nation’s cities and New England gave the Federalists control of the federal government until 1801.The Republicans, with their base in the rural South, won the hard-fought election of 1800.

As time went on, the Federalists lost appeal with the average voter. They were generally elitist and not equal to the tasks of party organization. They became steadily weaker as the political triumphs of the Republican Party grew. The name “Federalist” came increasingly to be used in political rhetoric as a term of abuse. After 1816 the Federalists had no national power base.

By 1824, the original Republican Party was split four ways. One remnant followed Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren forming the Democratic Party in 1828. That party continues today, although its’ policies are considerably different now. Another remnant led by John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay formed the National Republicans in 1828. By 1835 it reformed into the Whig Party. The Whig Party fell apart in the mid-1850s because it could not bridge North-South differences on slavery. The Democratic Party held together by taking positions that favored slavery.

The modern day Republican Party, or GOP, was founded in 1854 to oppose the expansion of slavery westward, and into the Missouri Territory which was favored by the Democrats. Its name was borrowed from Jefferson’s earlier party. By 1858, these Republicans dominated nearly all the Northern states. This Republican Party first came to national power in 1860 with the election of Lincoln to the Presidency and Republican control of Congress.

This new Republican Party began an era of federal dominance. The new Republican Congress, dominated by the northern manufacturing States, imposed a tariff on European manufactured agricultural implements in an attempt to force the southern agricultural States to buy northern manufactured implements. This, combined with the slavery issue, compelled the southern States to walk out of Congress and seek separation from the union. Thus began the bloodiest conflict in American History. The north prevailed in the Civil War and ushered in a new “federalism” beginning with the “Reconstruction Era.”

Ironically, the Grand Old Party, or GOP, is actually the younger of the two main parties today, and the Democrats, who now extol modern virtues of liberalism, began and maintained their party structure by adhering to slavery as an institution. In our current time, both parties seem to espouse the original Federalist doctrine, each in their own way. Democrats afford heavy government subsidies to social programs, while GOP Republicans apply heavy government subsidies to corporations. Both do so with borrowing from a central bank and advance the cause of federalism with an ever expanding concept of “implied powers.” As we all can see, the current federal government has assumed a great deal of “implied powers,” which extend well beyond it’s enumerated powers.

The GOP has borrowed the name “republican,” but it comes with some principles. Those of us in the Liberty Movement are here to add those principles to those who only want to use the name. We are the Jeffersonian Republicans re-emerging in this cycle of history to challenge the Federalists of our time. The federal supremacy doctrine, fostered in part by the GOP, has inverted the essential principle that the federal government is of limited powers and is a servant to the states which created it.

In Idaho, the federal government allegedly “owns” 62% of our state’s land and federal funds comprise approximately one-third of our state’s budget. This effectively controls the majority of Idaho’s natural resources and “owns” many of our highest elected state officials who are dependent on federal funds. We must change this equation if we are to rout out the Federalists in our state and return to the essential principles upon which our nation was founded.

We sometimes call these federalist republicans, RINOs, and given the trail of history, the name bears great truth. They are Republicans In Name Only because they borrowed the name from the original Jeffersonian Republicans. At their first grasp of power in 1860, they immediately instituted federalist policies, defying our republic’s founding principles and building the federal empire that continues today.

Our challenge is simple: If you are going to borrow the name “Republican,” then live by the principles that belong to the republic! As the original Republican, Thomas Jefferson said, “bind them down with the chains of the Constitution.”

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