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History of the Republican Party


The first Republican

With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, the Republicans firmly established themselves as a major party capable of holding onto the White House for 60 of the next 100 years. Faced with the first shots of the Civil War barely a month after his inauguration, preserving the Union was Lincoln's greatest challenge--and no doubt his greatest achievement. But it was by no means his only accomplishment.

Amid the fierce and bloody battles of the Civil War, the Lincoln administration established the Department of Agriculture, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and a national banking system. Understanding the importance of settling the frontier, as well as having a piece of land to call your own, Lincoln passed the Homestead Act, which satisfied the former Free Soil members by offering public land grants. Hoping to encourage a higher level of education, Lincoln also donated land for agricultural and technical colleges to the states through the Land Grant College Act, which established universities throughout the United States.

Fully sensitive to the symbolism of their name, the Republicans worked to deal the death blow to slavery with Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation and the passage, by a Republican Congress, of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. Hoping to permanently turn back the Democratic advance in the South, immediately after the Civil War the Republican Congress continued to push through legislation to extend the full protection of civil rights to blacks.

During Reconstruction, the mostly Democratic South, which had seceded from both the Union and Congress, struggled to regain its footing. Meanwhile, the Republicans took advantage of their majority and passed several measures to improve the quality of life for blacks throughout the entire Union. First the Republicans passed a Civil Rights Act in 1866 recognizing blacks as U.S. citizens. This act hoped to weaken the South by denying states the power to restrict blacks from testifying in a court of law or from owning their own property.

Continuing to take advantage of their majority, Republicans proposed the 14th Amendment, which became part of the Constitution in 1868, stating: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

That same year the Republican Congress also passed the National Eight Hour Law, which, though it applied only to government workers, brought relief for overworked federal employees by limiting the work day to eight hours.