The Grand Old Party (GOP) was founded in 1855 by anti-slavery activists, ex-Whigs, ex-Free Soilers and modernizers in the Northern States. At the time, the Democratic Party was the dominant force in politics but the Republican Party, or GOP, quickly became their principal opposition.
Samuel Bowles III, the influential publisher of the Springfield, Massachusetts newspaper, The Republican, actually formed the Republican Party. The newspaper printed the headline "The Child is Born" one Friday morning in 1855, and the party took its name from Bowles's newspaper. By 1858, the GOP had taken control of many Northern States' governments but the Grand Old Party actually came to power in 1860 when Lincoln was elected President and the GOP took control of the Northern States and Congress.
The early Republican ideology first came to the surface in 1856 with the slogan "free labor, free land, free men." Free labor referred to members' belief in the strength of independent businessmen and artisans as well as their opposition to slave labor, and free land meant they were opposed to the plantation system where the rich buy all the land and slaves cultivate it. The Republican Party focused on containing slavery, which would eventually cause the collapse of "Slave Power" and stimulate the expansion of freedom. When Lincoln took office the party's mission was to save the Union and destroy slavery by waging a war and then reconstructing the country.
In the 1864 election, the GOP got together with pro-war Democrats and nominated Lincoln on the National Union Party Ticket. The success of that party fractured the GOP in the 1870s. Reconstruction had been accomplished but President Grant continued the process in order to tolerate the corruption that existed within that system. Part of the GOP defended Grant's Spoils System. The party supported high wages, high tariffs, high profits and hard money, which means they supported the gold standard, and they were all for generous pensions for veterans.
The GOP promoted policies to sustain its own rapid growth. They took credit for the Northern economy boom that included mines, railroads, light and heavy industries and agriculture, and they supported prohibition, which was brought about by the pietistic Protestants who demanded it. They helped establish the Interstate Commerce Commission and supported the Sherman Antitrust Act because they didn't want to ignore the complaints from farmers and small business owners. But the McKinley Tariff Act that was put in place in 1890 hurt the GOP and afterward the Democrats swept the elections and defeated McKinley.
The Republicans controlled the presidency throughout the 1920s, running on a platform of opposition to high tariffs and the League of Nations, plus they supported big business interests. The pro-business policies of that decade produced incredible prosperity, but the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression woke up the country, which then voted the GOP out.
The second half of the 20th century was dominated by GOP Presidents, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush and son Bush, and they all made some sort of mark on the country, although those marks did not always produce positive results. The Democrats held their political ground with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Clinton, but the Republicans actually made more political noise in terms of government change. That change was not what the country needed, according to the voting majority of the day.
The GOP is trying to reinvent itself in the 21st century. They now stand for social conservatism and a preemptive war foreign policy purportedly intended to defeat terrorism, plus they want a global democracy, as well as more powerful supply-side economic programs and a stronger executive branch. They also support gun deregulation. The GOP controls a majority of state legislative seats, even in many states that elected Democrats to governor and other state administrative positions. Some libertarians say that the GOP's policies restrict personal liberties, and they believe that the Grand Old Party has been the main contributor to the national debt and increased corporate welfare.