The GOP is not the Party of Lincoln - A Brief History. Part II: Progressive Boogaloo.

Note: Due to the length of the topic, this is a multi-part post. Read Part I here.

Factional Politics

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Both the Democrats and the Republics had factions to contend with, shaping how the parties attempted to govern and what was considered to be important issues. It is important to remember that not all members of a party have the same beliefs, especially in the 19th century - issues were not nearly as partisan then as they are now [Note 1]. The factions of today (Centerist/Moderate, Conservative, Liberal, Libertarian, Progressive) are not the names of yesteryear - the names that were in use at the time may be a bit confusing. There were also Third and Fourth parties at the time, which also were a factor in the political landscape, but the major players at the time were the Democrats and Republicans.

The Democrat Factions were:

  • Bourbon Democrats - ideologically aligned with conservatism or classical liberalism, and promoters of laissez-faire capitalism [1] [5]. Similar to today’s Libertarian Democrat.
  • Copperhead (or Peace) Democrats - the name initially was chosen to invoke the image of serpents in Eden [18], but was accepted by this group because it also resembled the Liberty head on the large cent. Seeing themselves as the ‘loyal opposition,’ Copperheads were alarmed by modernization, wanted Jacksonian Democracy, and were naive about the Confederacy’s refusal to return to the United States of America [13].
  • National (or Gold) Democrats - a subset of Bourbon Democrats, attempting to preserve the ideals of Thomas Jefferson and Grover Cleveland, standing for ‘Individual Liberty’ [3].
  • Straight-Out Democratic Party - a subset of Bourbon Democrats representing the conservative south [15] and areas with sizable Irish-American populations [10], and were very opposed to any coalition with Liberal Republicans.
  • War Democrats - Northern Democrats who supported the union and wanted aggressive policies against the Confederate States of America. They were strongly anti-Copperhead (Peace Democrat) [18].
  • Young America - Advocates of free trade, social reform, southward expansion, republicanism, and anti-aristocratic movements abroad [19].

The Republican Factions were:

  • Black-and-Tan Republicans - An interracial Republican faction, especially in counties with largely Black populations [8], and opposed the Lily-White Republicans [6]. 
  • Half-Breed Republicans - Moderate Republicans who favored civil service reform and merit systems. The name implied that they were only ‘half-Republican’ by the Stalwart Republicans [17], whom they were in opposition with.
  • Lily-White Republicans - During the Reconstruction era, conservative white Republicans who sought to disenfranchise African Americans [7], had encouraged white Southerners to remain Republican, and attempted to remove African American politicians from elected offices [9].The modern Republican Party is a descendant of this faction [6].
  • Negro Republican Party - One of the African American branches of the Republican Party during the Reconstruction Era [6] [7].
  • Radical Republicans - Pro-equality, anti-slavery, pro-civil rights, pro-voting rights, [2], leading the efforts to fully implement emancipation after the Civil War [10].
  • Silver Republican Party - Split from the Republican Party over “Free Silver,” the gold standard, and bimetallism [12].
  • Stalwart Republicans - “Traditional” Republicans who opposed civil service reform [14] and wanted to keep the existing patronage system. Their numbers included Republican political bosses and Union war veterans [17]. Stalwarts were seen as being closer to Democrats of the era, being mostly Southerners and less-educated, and were in opposition to the Half-Breed Republicans.

The Fourth Party System

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The end of the Third Party System, also known as the Gilded Age, had the Republican Party being seen as the saviours of the Union - the Civil War was ended with Union Victory, modernization programs were underway, slavery was abolished, and freedmen were enfranchised. But the South had control imposed over it by the Army, and the Republicans were in favor of high spending and high tariffs, anathema to the Bourbon Democrats. Enter the Fourth Party System.
The Fourth Party System, also known as the Progressive Era, ranged from Reconstruction to the Great Depression. Early in Reconstruction, business confidence was restored as the wartime government spending made for rich businessmen, who became leaders in the Republican Party. Radical Republicans supported having the Army support rebuilding efforts in the South, while Union Leagues brought Black-and-Tans and Negro Republicans into voting blocs.
Southern Democrats and Lily White Republicans slowly took control of the South, through disenfranchisement efforts directed at African Americans, the prominence of the Klu Klux Klan, restrictive local laws, and the eventual withdrawal of the Army from the South. Rich Republicans started to give up on Reconstruction and Civil Rights, as it did not seem to be the way to handle business interests, and the Solid South came into existence.

A New Century

Enter the 20th Century. The South is dominated by White Democrats. Republicans are seen as the party of Big Business. The Half-Breeds, Radicals, and Stalwarts have disassociated, the Negro Republican Party was becoming known as the Black-and-Tans, the Lily-Whites were largely successful in controlling the Republican Party, and the Silver Republicans were fading away. As Republican Party leaders and Northern Big Industry continued to support each other, the Republican Party shied away from supporting Civil Rights - opposition to the League of Nations, high tariffs, and promotion of business interests ruled the day. The Republican pro-business stance kept the nation in prosperity, ushering in the Roaring Twenties. And as we all know, "the Roaring Twenties were famously the party that never ended. That's what made the Thirties so great - just more Twenties."


Note 1: Politicians have become more partisan since the 19th century, and it has become even more obvious in the past 40 years. The Pew Research Center has been tracking Political Polarization in the American Public [16], while the Brookings Institute graphs out Congresses political ideology dating back to 1857 [4].

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Works Cited:

  1. “Bourbon Democrat.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Dec. 2017,
  2. Cullom, Shelby Moore. Speech of Hon. Shelby M. Cullom, of Illinois, on Reconstruction: Delivered in the House of Representatives, January 28, 1867. Printed at the Congressional Globe Office, 1867.
  3. “Gold Democrats and The Decline of Classical Liberalism, 1896-1900 - Linda Royster Beito, David T. Beito.” The Independent Institute,
  4. “Historical House Ideology and Party Unity, 35th – 113th Congress (1857-2014).” Brookings, Brookings, 29 July 2016,
  5. King, Colbert I. “The Bourbon Democrats rise again?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Apr. 2012,
  6. Lisio, Donald J. Hoover, Blacks, lily-Whites: a study of Southern strategies. The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.
  7. Marshall, Anne. Creating a Confederate Kentucky the lost cause and Civil War memory in a border state. University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
  8. McLaughlin, Andrew Cunningham, and Albert Bushnell Hart, editors. Cyclopedia of American Government: Volume 1. D. Appleton and Company, 1914.
  9. Myrdal, Gunnar, and Sissela Bok. An American dilemma: the Negro problem and modern democracy. Transaction Publishers, 2009.
  10. “Radical Republican.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Dec. 2017,
  11. Richardson, Darcy G. Others: third-Party politics from the nations founding to the rise and fall of the Greenback-Labor Party. IUniverse, Inc., 2004.
  12. “Silver Republican Party.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Dec. 2017,
  13. Slap, Andrew L., and Michael Thomas Smith. This distracted and anarchical people: new answers for old questions about the Civil War - era North. Fordham University Press, 2013.
  14. “Stalwart.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 21 July 2016,
  15. “Straight-Out Democratic Party.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2017,
  16. Suh, Michael. “Section 1: Growing Ideological Consistency.” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, 11 June 2014,
  17. “United States History.” Stalwarts and Half-Breeds,
  18. Waugh, John C. Reelecting Lincoln: the battle for the 1864 presidency. Da Capo Press, 2001.
  19. “Young America movement.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Nov. 2017,