Where Did the GOP Acronym for the Republican Party Originate?

A Look at the Term Grand Old Party

Republican elephant
The elephant is a symbol of the Republican Party, also known by the GOP acronym that stands for Grand Old Party. Joe Raedle/Hulton Archives

The GOP acronym stands for Grand Old Party and is used as a nickname for the Republican Party, even though the Democratic Party has been around longer.

The Republican Party has embraced the GOP acronym after doing battle with the Democrats for decades over its use. The Republican National Committee's website address is GOP.com.

Detractors have come up with other nicknames using the GOP acronym, including Grumpy Old People and Grandiose Old Party.

 

Earlier versions of the GOP acronym were used for Gallant Old Party and even the Go Party. But long before Republicans adopted Grand Old Party as their own, the acronym was commonly applied to Democrats, especially southern Democrats. 

Early Use of GOP Acronym in Newspapers

Here, for example, is a July 1856 reference to Democrats being the GOP from the Agitator, a now-defunct abolitionist newspaper from Wellsboro, Pa.: “If the grand old democratic party is only accommodating enough to dissolve the Union it will be a great relief to the free north, whose resources have always been expended to nourish and perfect slavery.”

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But as The Washington Times' James Robbins points out, Democrats gave up on being the Grand Old Party toward the end of the 19th Century and Republicans adopted the moniker.

The phrase really stuck to Republicans following the election of Republican Benjamin Harrison to president in 1888.

On Nov. 8, 1888, the Republican-leaning New York Tribune declared:

"Let us also be thankful that under the rule of the grand old party which has helped the country to become more honored and powerful, richer and more prosperous, happier in its homes and more progressive in its institutions, than any other country on earth, these United States will resume the onward and upward march which the election of Grover Cleveland in 1884 partially arrested."

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Robbins unearthed evidence that Republicans were labeled the Grand Old Party a little earlier that 1888, however.

They include:

  • A June 1870 reference in the Estherville Iowa Northern Vindicator: “The grand old party goes right along overcoming obstacles and winning victories, entirely oblivions that any such concern as a Democratic party has an existence.”
  • An August 1870 reference from the Freeport Illinois Journal: “Republicans cannot afford to be fighting one another. We ought to reserve our Strength for the common cause in which we are engaged, and rally like a band of-brothers around the grand old party of liberty that we all love.” 
  • And in 1873 Republic Magazine described Republicans as “the grand old party,” “the grand old party of freedom,” and “the grand old party of human rights,” Robbins has reported. 

Getting Rid of Old in GOP

The Republican National Committee, perhaps sensitive to the portrayal of the GOP as the party of old voters and even older ideas - see the reference above to the Grumpy Old People acronym - has tried to reinvent itself in recent years. In at least one reference on its website, it refers itself to the Grand New Party.

 

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Regardless of how the GOP tries to portray itself, many people - including Republicans - have not idea what the acronym stands for, according to public opinion polls. A 2011 CBS News survey found that 45 percent of Americans knew that GOP stands for Grand Old Party. 

Many people think GOP stands instead for Government of the People.