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What is GOP: History of Republicans using Grand Old Party abbreviation

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The Republican Party has changed a lot in the past 150 years. But one thing that’s stayed the same is its nickname: the Grand Old Party, or GOP for short.

Since the Reconstruction Era that followed the Civil War, it can be found in everything from rhyming 19th Century campaign tunes to the current name of the party’s main website.

While the exact origin is hard to pinpoint, one of its first recorded uses to describe Republicans appeared in 1874, when party officials in Minnesota proclaimed “the grand old party that saved the country is still true to the principles that gave it birth.” It was a reminder from Republicans to voters that they were the side who opposed secession during the Civil War, backing President Abraham Lincoln to preserve the union and oppose slavery.

“The moniker was intended to frame Republicans as America’s true partisan patriots,” said Tim Galsworthy, a historian of the Republican Party at the University of South Wales, who added that in the years following the Civil War, many accused the Democrats of treachery against the union.

That nostalgic connotation may have originally been intended with a hint of irony. After all, the Republican Party had existed for a mere two decades — since its modern founding in 1854 — when the GOP moniker first appeared print. At the time, the rival Democratic Party was more than twice its age, having been around since 1828. If either of the parties could have fairly been described as “old” at the time, it would not be the Republicans.

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To add to the confusion, newspaper reporters also used the Grand Old Party term to refer to the Democrats around the same time, so the nickname may originally have even been a borrowed one.

Either way, it likely drew inspiration from the British press’s use of “Grand Old Man,” or G.O.M., to affectionately refer to their Prime Minister William Gladstone, who was elected into office across the Atlantic four times between 1868 and 1894. (The moniker became so popular that Gladstone’s critics inverted it to M.O.G — or Murderer of Gordon — after the British leader was accused of abandoning General Charles George Gordon in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, where the commander and imperial administrator was in charge of defending the British-held city from an anti-colonial uprising.)

In the United States, other variations also appeared too. They included Gallant Old Party — which newspapers continued to deploy as a synonym for the Republicans for years after the Civil War ended.

An 1885 issue of the Cleveland Gazette, a Black-owned pro-Republican newspaper, included the alternative phrase in a “closing campaign song” it printed that year: “The Gallant Old Party / Came up hale and hearty / to bury corruption and wrong / The ‘boodle’ was scouted / Democracy routed / And that’s why we give you this song.”

The boodle, in case you’re curious, is an apparent reference to “bribe money” with its origins in Dutch, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

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For the next 100 years, Republican politicians — including President Richard M. Nixon who was particularly fond of the three-letter abbreviation — played around with alternative variations of Grand Old Party, but none stuck.

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One was the “GO-Party,” popularized by Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful 1964 presidential campaign and replicated in political spots across the country that year. “Join the GO-Party … Go Republican in 1964!” read one ad sponsored by the Dubois County Republican Central Committee. Badges were also printed with the 1960s slogan, and some pins still survive.

By the 1970s, the Nixon administration began to use the phrase “generation of peace,” a reference to his administration’s commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam. In 1972, his campaign even printed booklets of political stamps with the slogan on it, capitalizing the first letters of each word in reference to the GOP under a banner of red and blue stars beside Nixon’s face.

Nixon won the election, but the phrase never succeeded in budging “Grand Old Party” off its ledge.

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