Which Grand Old Party?

“Grand Old Party” always seemed to me a pretty clever way to promote your political party. I always wondered why the Democrats hadn’t come up with such a clever name. Turns out they did — the same name. Here’s what you should know.

The phrase “grand old party” was used by orators on both sides of the isle throughout the 1800s when trying to inspire nostalgia, righteousness and loyalty. Considering the Democratic party (1820s) was older than the Republican party (1850s), “grand old” was more meaningful coming from a the Democrats’ mouths, and until the Civil War that’s mostly where it came from.

The first documented use by the Republican party came during the 1870s. The Republicans were the party of Lincoln that had preserved the Union a decade earlier, and therefore truly a “grand old party”. The Congressional Record of 1875 makes reference “this gallant old party” in a speech touting the Party’s military role in the Civil War. Contrast this with the other “grand old party” that, in the South, had led the rebellion. The continued use of this term by the Republican party snowballed in speeches during the late 1800s, with major newspapers following suit, and by the end of the century the Republicans had taken over the brand completely.

Interestingly, the abbreviation GOP was born out of necessity. In 1884 a young typesetter for the Cincinnati Gazette named T.B. Dowden was faced with a spacing problem early one morning on a front-page headline that ended with “Grand Old Party”. After some tinkering, he came up with a solution and the final copy read: “The Hon. James G. Blaine will address the meeting on the ‘Achievements of the Gop.’” We love our acronyms, and this one was a keeper.

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