Happy Birthday to us (or most of us, anyway).
This week the RedState Department of History returns us to days of yore, most accurately this date in 1854, when the Republican Party was, more or less, named by a gentleman named Alvan Bovay.
He was a resident of Ripon, Wisconsin and was a Whig. As the 1840s gave way to the even more turbulent 1850s, Whigs like Bovay were starting to grow increasingly disaffected with their party over the issue of slavery, and the effectiveness of the Whigs in dealing with Democrats who favored the ongoing exercise of what they termed the “peculiar institution.”
As the Whigs collapsed, a new party emerged to tackle the Democrats on the national stage. And it was Bovay who gave himself credit for naming the new group.
Bovay noted that Thomas Jefferson had called his leanings “Republican” in the past, and at a meeting on this date in 1854 the term “Republican” was used for the first time.
Bovay had a powerful ally in the form of Horace Greeley, the powerful editor of the New York Tribune, who helped carry the standard for the party in its early days. Greeley, liking Bovay’s choice of name, used it in print in June 1854:
“We should not care much whether those thus united (against slavery) were designated Whig, Free Democrat or something else; though we think some simple name like “Republican” would more fitly designate those who had united to restore the Union to its true mission of champion and promulgator of Liberty rather than propagandist of slavery.”
In that regard, some things never change between the major parties.
The new party grew like wildfire. In 1854, mass meetings established the Republicans as a regional force, taking Michigan in the elections of 1854 and commanding a majority in the House of Representatives by 1855. The party’s first nominating convention of the national party was held in 1860, with the nomination of “The Pathfinder”, John C. Fremont, as the party’s first candidate for President.
Fremont didn’t win, but the party’s second Presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, did, and as they say, the rest is history.
And as long as we’re discussion the naming of things, the natural question becomes, “how did the party gain the nickname of GOP?”
Well, I’m glad you asked. Originally, the term “Grand Old Party” was used by southern Democrats, but was co-opted in the late 1880s to describe the Republicans.
At that time, the Chicago Tribune was a loyal Republican newspaper (as was the New York Times), and its editors used the term after the election of Benjamin Harrison to unseat Democrat Grover Cleveland. The paper wrote:
“Let us be thankful that under the rule of the Grand Old Party, these United States will resume the onward and upward march which the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884 partially arrested.”
However, even though Alvin Bovay led the switch of national politics from Whig to Republican, he didn’t finish his life in the Republican Party. After serving in the Civil War and reaching the rank of major, Bovay felt that the ending of slavery in the United States eliminated the need for the Republican Party. He then favored a new national party dedicated to prohibition, and died in 1903 as a member of the Prohibition Party.
Happy Sunday, enjoy the big game if you’re watching it and enjoy today’s open thread!