The Republican Party was established at Ripon, Wisconsin in 1854 by a group of former members of the Whig Party, the Free-Soil Party and the Democratic Party. Its original founders were opposed to slavery and called for the repeal of the Kansas-Nebraska and the Fugitive Slave Law. Early members thought it was important to place the national interest above sectional interest and the rights of individual States.
Over the next few years the Republican Party emerged as the main opposition party to the Democratic Party in the North. However, it had little support in the South. The party's first presidential candidate was John C. Fremont in 1856 who won 1,335,264 votes but was defeated by the Democratic Party candidate, James Buchanan.
John C. Fremont was seen as too radical by the electorate and in 1860 the party decided to select the more moderate, Abraham Lincoln, as candidate. Lincoln won the election by 1,866,462 votes (18 free states). His opponents were Stephen A. Douglas (1,375,157 - 1 slave state), John Beckenridge (847,953 - 13 slave states) and John Bell (589,581 - 3 slave states).
In the 1860s, Thomas Nast, of Harper's Weekly, developed the idea of the political cartoon. Nast originated the idea of using animals to represent political parties. In his cartoons the Democratic Party was a donkey and the Republican Party, an elephant.
After the American Civil War the Republican Party dominated the political system. Its support of protective tariffs gained it the support of powerful industrialists and the Northern urban areas. It was also popular with Northern and Midwestern farmers and most of the immigrant groups, except for the Irish, who tended to support the Democratic Party.
Republican presidents included Ulysses Grant (1869-1877), Rutherhood Hayes (1877-1881), James Garfield (1881) and Chester Arthur (1881-1885). Grover Cleveland managed two victories (1885-89 and 1893-97) for the Democratic Party, but the Republican dominance was reinforced by the election of Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), William McKinley (1897-1901), Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), William Taft (1909-1913), Warren Harding (1921-1923), Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929) and Herbert Hoover (1929-33).
Hoover was blamed for the Economic Depression and in 1932 was defeated by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He held power from 1933 to his death in 1945 and the Democrats remained in power under Harry S. Truman (1945-53).
The Republicans selected the war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower as its candidate in 1952. During the election the Republicans took a strong anti-communist stance and advocated lower taxes for the rich. It also opposed civil rights legislation being proposed by the liberal Democratic Party candidate, Adlai Stevenson. Eisenhower won by 33,936,252 votes to 27,314,922.