The Republican Party has been in existence now for 164 years. It was founded in 1854 in opposition to the expansion of slavery, as permitted under the Kansas Nebraska Act of that year, which also drew the opposition of abolitionists, as well as “Free Soilers.” What started as a reform oriented party with a real commitment to principle and remained so for about a generation until the mid 1870s, became a party openly connected to the massive growth of monopoly capitalism. By then, beholden to the status quo, it had lost interest in the issue of racial equality and racial justice.
For twenty years the Republican Party had inspiring leadership. It wasn’t just Abraham Lincoln. Republicans in Congress brought about the 14th and 15th Amendments, the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, and the Ku Klux Klan Act in the years of Reconstruction. GOP President Ulysses S. Grant fully embraced the fight for equality.
Among those Radical Republicans who stand out in history are the following US Senators: Charles Sumner; Salmon Chase (later Secretary of the Treasury under Lincoln and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), Benjamin Wade (later President Pro Tempore of the Senate at the time of the Andrew Johnson impeachment trial), Henry Wilson (who was the second Vice President under Grant); Hannibal Hamlin (Lincoln’s first Vice President); John P. Hale; Oliver P. Morton; and Jacob Howard.
In the House of Representatives, we had such luminaries as Thaddeus Stevens, John A. Bingham, James A. Garfield (later the 20th President of the United States); Schuyler Colfax (later Speaker of the House and first Vice President under Grant); Henry Winter Davis; Elihu Washburne, John A. Logan, Benjamin Butler, and James F. Wilson.
After a twenty-five year period of conservative dominance of the Republican Party, as the 20th century began, the party experienced the rise of a “Progressive” wing which had a major influence in the first generation of the century, generally labeled “the Progressive Era.” Theodore Roosevelt initiated the national commitment to progressivism. He backed the regulation of corporations, environmentalism, labor rights, and social justice. GOP members of Congress and some state governors also championed progressive ideas.
Among the major figures who promoted progressivism were Senator Robert LaFollette, Sr. of Wisconsin (who had been the first major state governor to advocate reform and change); Senator Hiram Johnson of California (who had promoted progressivism as the state’s governor); Charles Evans Hughes of New York (who had been a reform governor in the Empire State earlier and ran for President in 1916 against Woodrow Wilson); Senator William Borah of Idaho; Senator George Norris of Nebraska; and New York Congressman Fiorello LaGuardia.
After 1920, progressivism declined in the Republican Party in the era of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover, but Johnson, Borah and Norris remained progressive leaders in the Senate. They were joined by Robert LaFollette, Jr., James Couzens, Bronson Cutting, Charles McNary, Gerald Nye and Lynn Frazier. But growing isolationism in the era of Fascism and opposition to internationalism caused their decline by the time of the formation of the American First Committee in 1940-1941, and America’s entrance into World War II.
Reform commitments however still existed in the hearts and minds of many, and so emergence of a primarily Eastern “Liberal” Republican wing of the party began in the battle over the Republican Presidential nomination in 1952 between General Dwight D. Eisenhower and conservative icon Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, son of former President William Howard Taft. As Eisenhower was about to leave office, Rockefeller Republicans became a strong force in the party.
New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller became the acknowledged leader of liberals in the GOP in three bids to win the party’s presidential nomination in 1960, 1964 and 1968. But others who were part of this group included Governors George Romney and William Scranton and Senators Jacob Javits, Clifford Case, Charles Mathias, Lowell Weicker, Charles Percy, and Mark Hatfield. All of these Republicans favored New Deal programs, including business regulation and social welfare, as well as civil rights, infrastructure improvements and investments in education. Internationalists, they supported foreign aid and close ties to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to combat communism.
The term “liberal Republican” is now an oxymoron, but a few members of the party are rightly described as moderates: Three Maine senators—former Senators William Cohen and Olympia Snowe and present Senator Susan Collins; former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown; former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney; former Arizona Senator and 2008 GOP Presidential nominee John McCain; as well as present day Governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland.
But since the age of Ronald Reagan, the concept of “radical,” “progressive” or “liberal” Republicans is basically a part of the past. The party today has been captured by the most extreme elements, particularly since President Donald Trump’s election. The question is whether reform oriented Republicans will ever arise again.
Ronald L. Feinman is the author of Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015). A paperback edition is now available.
Donald Trump sounds like a complete lunatic because he’s isolated himself in a far-right media bubble
Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.
If you have an older relative who spends way too much time stewing in the conservative media, you may have experienced a moment when you not only disagreed with him, but you realized that you had no earthly clue what he was going on about. Perhaps it was when he started talking about the UN plot to eliminate golf courses and replace paved roads with bicycle paths. Maybe he stopped you in your tracks with a discourse on why flies were attracted to Barack Obama, or complained about the government insisting on referring to Christians as "Easter-worshippers" or expressed outrage over 9/11 hijackers being given leniency by Muslim jurists.
American exceptionalism is killing the planet
Ever since 2007, when I first started writing for TomDispatch, I’ve been arguing against America’s forever wars, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s no surprise that, despite my more than 60 articles, American blood is still being spilled in war after war across the Greater Middle East and Africa, even as foreign peoples pay a far higher price in lives lost and cities ruined. And I keep asking myself: Why, in this century, is the distinctive feature of America's wars that they never end? Why do our leaders persist in such repetitive folly and the seemingly eternal disasters that go with it?
Team Trump wants to steal another election — and there’s only one way to beat them back
When she returned a few hours later, she wasn’t carrying any bags from the shops, and she was seething. The woman she’d eaten lunch with was married to a man who owned a chain of downtown hotels in major cities around the country. They lived in a big Tudor house in Mission Hills, the Beverly Hills of the Midwest. She drove a Cadillac. She was rich.