Is It Time for the Republican Party to Split Apart?

On the cold, windy night of March 20, 1854, 36-year-old lawyer Alvan Bovay rounded up dozens of his neighbors in Ripon, Wisconsin, and gathered them in a schoolhouse for a meeting that would change the course of American history.

It was the group’s second gathering of the month. Weeks earlier, Bovay, a member of the Whig Party, had issued a bulletin: “A meeting will be held at 6:30 o’clock this Wednesday evening at the Congregational Church in the Village of Ripon to remonstrate against the Nebraska swindle.”

The Kansas-Nebraska Act—which would repeal the 1820 Missouri Compromise’s restrictions on slavery above the 36°30’ parallel—was barreling through Congress, and those opposed to slavery’s spread were furious. “Of all the outrages hitherto perpetrated or attempted upon the North and freedom by the slave leaders and their natural allies, not one compares in bold and impudent audacity, treachery and meanness with this, the Nebraska Bill,” read a motion adopted at that first Ripon meeting. 

If the federal legislation became law, the group resolved, according to 20th-century historian A.F. Gilman, they would “throw away old party organizations” and form a new one: One “directly opposed” to the principles of the Nebraska bill. President Franklin Pierce signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act into law on May 30, and Ripon voted to dissolve their Free-Soil and Whig parties. The Republican Party was born.

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  • Good piece, Declan. I don't know whether to be hopeful or to despair at yet another reminder that things never really change.

  • To think the patron saint of Republicanism used to be Ronald Reagan. Now it’s Donald Trump.
    I wonder what Reagan would have said had he lived to see all this? I can just hear Trump trashing Reagan and all his followers squawking after. If Jesus himself wrote an op-ed ala the 7 churches style rebuking Trump and his party I think Trump would respond without batting an eye...”I like people who don’t get crucified.” And the fans would cheer.

  • Only just got around to reading this, but wanted to compliment you for the write-up. Well done, Declan!

  • I read about how the GOP needs its current coalition of "establishment" and "Trumpers" just to numerically put them on a somewhat equal footing with the Democrat coalition (and "numerically" would mean Electoral College, not popular votes), but I can't help but wonder if a new party was born to accept Hogan, Sasse, Cheney, Romney and more with open arms, how many non-Progressive people who vote Democrat would feel that they could also embrace the new party. Would it also attract politicians such as Manchin, Sinema, Kelly and Tester? In short, is there room for a centrist party? If so, would the GOP and Democratic parties go on to contain nothing but far-right and far-left extremists? Personally, I think it would be an interesting development, and one that would attract my vote.

    1. But there isn't actually a coalition of establishment and Trumpers. The problem is that they can't live in the same party--it's been cracking apart in slow motion. The GOP leaders are resisting recognizing this fact, because it means they are going to have to make some choices. But if they don't, others will choose.

  • That was really well done. Thanks Declan.

  • I love the piece and I have been similarly wondering at the parallels between the GOP in 2021 and the Whigs in 1855. Similarly I also think it's a bit hasty to plan for the break up of the party. I have felt for sometime that the 2016 election was disastrous not just for the country at large, but for the GOP specifically. It felt like a significant portion of the conservative media and republican leadership were ready to take a reckoning of the party and the movement after the inevitable defeat of Trump in 2016. Instead, a razor thin electoral college victory coupled with a popular vote loss created something terrible. Trump took over a party that no longer saw a reason to correct the ship, and the democrats went hard left and their friends in the media felt no need to even pretend to be unbiased.

    I don't know how the GOP makes it through this quagmire. I believe that Trump can turn out to be a storm in a teacup and we will move on as time goes by, or his control of the party will harden . I am hoping for the former. I am hoping that some voices out there can slowly build up and take control over both sides of this Trumpian divide. I personally will keep with the party in hopes that the voices here and in other outlets can become the way going forward.

  • whew thank you declan..........always wanted to read someone's senior thesis (took me all afternoon........the scrolling just never stopped)

    Seriously though this is great work and very engrossing. I like deep dives like this that include a lot of historical context mixed with on the ground reporting.

    There was a bit of an overemphasis on Ripon Wisconsin being the birthplace of the republican party when Jackson Michigan (first convention) was the more traditional place. (i've seen the plaque). I sense the influence of a pro-badger/cheese head Steve Hayes cover-up here.

    I think they even catered the first convention with Buddy's come on let us keep the official honor.

    As a bears fan declan you need to work harder to manipulate history to take away bragging rights from that state to the north and allow your neighbor to the Northeast shine a little (I mean come on what did the lions ever do to you?.........or anyone for that matter?)

  • Thanks for this! The mix of a history lesson (I learned some things) and individual viewpoints (from both leaders and ‘regular’ people) was just right.

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