5 Things You Didn't Know About the Republican Party

On July 6, 1854, more than 10,000 people gathered on the outskirts of Jackson, Michigan, for the first official meeting of the Republican Party. To celebrate the anniversary of this landmark event in U.S. political history, here are 5 facts you probably didn't know about the Grand Old Party...


John Fremont Was the First Republican Candidate for President in 1856. # The elephant symbol, popularized by Thomas Nast, became the symbol of the Republican party. Captain John C. Fremont, nicknamed “The Pathfinder,” was a well-known explorer in the American West and led regulars and insurgents to capture California for the United States. He later served as a senator from California in Washington, D.C. Fremont ran as the Republican candidate for president against the Democratic candidate, James Buchanan, and he lost the election by 174 to 114 electoral votes.

The Republican Party Was First Associated With an Elephant by Cartoonist Thomas Nast # It is doubtful that Thomas Nast realized his depiction of the Republican vote in a cartoon would become the permanent symbol for the Republican party. Image source: WikiCommons Nast, a cartoonist who worked for Harper’s Weekly, drew a cartoon called “The Third-Term Panic” in 1874, which depicted the Democratic donkey, wearing a lion’s skin, scaring other animals in a zoo. The one animal that was not frightened off was an elephant labeled “The Republican Vote.” The image stuck, and the elephant became the symbol for the Republican party.


The Term “Grand Old Party” Used to Refer to Democrats. Early terms that referred to the Republican party were “Go Party” and “Gallant Old Party” before “Grand Old Party” became the norm. Democrats, especially those from the South, had been called the “Grand Old Party” as early as 1856. The phrase referring to the Republican party by this name was first used in the 1870s in articles by the Freeport, Illinois, Journal, and Republic Magazine.

Abraham Lincoln Was the First Republican President. Lincoln served as president from March 4, 1861 until April 15, 1865, when he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln’s vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, who was from Maine, was the first Republican to serve in this political capacity as vice president. He was replaced in the 1864 election by Andrew Johnson, a Southern Democrat, when Lincoln ran for re-election under the National Union ticket, a name used by the Republican party for one election only.

Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower Established the Interstate Highways. The Interstate and Highways System Act of 1956 called for the construction of new highways totaling 41,000 miles. Eisenhower signed the legislation into law after having seen first hand how quickly the Nazis invaded Europe using the German autobahn. The threat of nuclear war was one of the reasons for the new highways.  Eisenhower believed these highways would speed up the ability to defend the nation and respond to catastrophes.

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