The Republican Party was the result of a movement against the Kansas Nebraska Act, which extended slavery further across the United States. The first meeting against this Act, and where the term ‘Republican’ was suggested as the name for the new party, was conducted in Ripon, Wisconsin, on March 20, 1854. From thereon in, the Republican Party rapidly rose on the back of its radical beliefs and anti-slavery position.
The American Midwest saw the most number of Republican Party tickets, followed by the Eastern states. Within six years, every Northern state had a Republican governor. The South saw very few efforts in organizing the Republican Party, apart from a few areas that were close to the Free states.
The party came into the foray as a major political force with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. The American Civil War soon followed as pro-slavery southern Democrats objected to the anti-slavery views of Lincoln. In the years during and after the Civil War, the Republican Party headed by Lincoln went on to pass a number of laws and make significant constitutional amendments that banned slavery and attempted to give more rights to the blacks. This was also the era of the Radical Republicans, a faction of the Republican Party that demanded harsh measures against the Confederates and slavery. Lincoln was able to hold them off, but this changed with his death and the arrival of Andrew Johnson as President.
Although Johnson seemed favorable to the Radicals at first, he soon took the path of moderation and formed an alliance between Democrats and Republicans. By 1866, the Radical Republicans won a sweeping victory and took over the Reconstruction era, which included a number of key laws being passed and the impeachment of Johnson.
Two years later, Ulysses S. Grant became President and the Congress was under the control of the Radicals. This era was marked by aggressive attempts by the party to build their base in the South with the help of the United States Army detachments. There were clashes between local Republican groups, called Union Leagues, and Ku Klux Klan members, leading to the death of thousands.
For the next century or so, the South continued to be dominated by Democrats. In fact, the entire South was called the Solid South in reference to the strength of the Democratic Party in the region. In contrast, the Republican Party only controlled small parts of the Appalachian Mountains and occasionally competed for office in Border States. The status quo, however, changed in 1948 when the Democrats alienated its Southern base in two ways.
The first was the adoption of civil rights by the Democratic National Convention and the second was the signing of the Executive Order 9981, signifying the racial integration of the U.S. armed forces. The Deep South formed a regional party with J. Strom Thurmond at the head, but the outer South remained with the Democrats and President Truman.
The Civil Rights movement, in fact, was the turning point for the Democrats and the Republican Party. As hardcore Democratic governors like Lester Maddox (Georgia), George Wallace (Alabama), and Ross Barnett (Mississippi) resisted integration in their states, an increasing number of Democrats began to go against their policies of racial separation and embraced integration. The Civil Rights Acts was passed in 1964 and 1965, freeing the South from centuries-old barriers that prevented them from joining the Republican Party and liberating them from old racial issues. Nevertheless, the South did not immediately transition to the Republican Party. It took decades, starting from voting Republican during presidential elections and moving on to voting for Republican senators for seats in the Congress.
After 1980, the Republican Party began to attract a majority of the Evangelical Christians, who had been political neutral until then. This was due to the increasingly liberal stance of the Democratic Party, especially on controversial issues like abortion. As more conservatives went from the Democrats to the Republics, the Republican Party became more conservative and liberal Republicans joined the Democratic Party.