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It is my understanding that the Republican Party (of the US) arose from the anti-slavery movement, and, more specifically, as a reaction against the 1854 repeal of the Missouri Compromise.

And yet, pretty early on (at least as early as the Reconstruction, if not earlier), the Republican Party became, roughly speaking, "the party of big business".

I imagine that the evolution of the GOP from the "anti-slavery" party into the "pro-business" one was motivated largely by the relative alignments of political interests at the time, but I would like to know, more specifically

the names of those most clearly responsible for bringing about this "re-positioning" of the GOP.

(Please provide sources.)

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Why would anti-slave and pro-business be at odds?... –  Sardathrion Oct 22 '12 at 7:01
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The GOP today is dominated by social conservatives, not businessmen... –  Russell Oct 22 '12 at 8:11
    
@Sardathrion: who said they are "at odds"??? Why are you grafting this polemic into what I wrote? "anti-slavery" is not inherently equivalent to "pro-business". Therefore, there seems to have been a re-positioning. I'm asking: who was responsible for it. Where do you get this "at odds" from????? –  kjo Oct 22 '12 at 11:13
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@kjo: Your question implies that the evolution from the anti-slavery movement to the party of big business is odd. Otherwise, what would be the point of the question? The first part of Salmon P. Chase's quote free labor, free land, free men, refers to opposition to slavery and support of independent artisans and businessmen. Thus it could argued that the position of anti-slavery and pro-business (or free trade) are strongly correlated therefore eliminating the need to explain any re-positioning. –  Sardathrion Oct 22 '12 at 11:39
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I believe that the assumption that someone was responsible for a shift in politics weakens this question. I wonder if others agree that it would be a stronger question if it merely asked for a description of the events and causes, rather than for names. –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 22 '12 at 11:40
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4 Answers

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I would date the "turning" of the Republican party into a pro business party to William McKinley 1897-1901.

The Republicans dominated the Presidency for 72 years between 1861-1933. But this can be subdivided into two 36 year sub periods 1861-1896, and 1897-1932.

It's true, as one of the other respondendents pointed out, that the Republicans absorbed the remnants of the pro-business Whig party. Fundamentally, however, the Republican party of Abraham Lincoln was a LEFT party (up to 1896). Freeing the slaves and giving African Americans even a few civil rights was a radical "leftist" idea in its time. It was then opposed mainly by "Democrats." Postwar Republican Presidents such as Johnson, Grant, and Hayes were preoccupied by Reconstruction. Then Chester Arthur and Benjamin Harrison (Garfield served only one month.) focused on "Progressive" issues such as civil service reform and trust-busting (the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act). Democrat Grover Cleveland was more pro business than the Republican Presidents (ditto for Samuel J. Tilden, who lost to Hayes by one electoral vote).

The shift toward business began with William McKinley, who was associated with pro business tariffs. His successor, Teddy Roosevelt (TR),was an (antitrust) "Progressive." William Howard Taft was a cipher, sometimes appearing to be Progressive, at other times being associated with pro business interets, like his fellow Ohioan Senator Joseph Fouthaker. (This confusion caused the split off of the "Bull Moose" Republicans under TR.) Certainly by the time of Calivn Coolidge, Republicans were associated with the quote "The business of America is business." (Harding was a nonentity.)

One may wonder how the originally "left" Republican party eventually became pro business. My guess is that it remained in power so long that it eventually became the "Establishment" party.

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The Wikipedia article on the U.S. Democratic Party cites JFK and LBJ next to FDR (whom @Mark C. Wallace cited above) in this context. I have read biographies of all three Presidents, and based primarily on evidence from Robert Caro's The Years of Lyndon Johnson I would vote for LBJ's case being the strongest even among those three. Here's an excerpt from the introduction of Book Three: Master of the Senate (2002):

Icons of the fight for social justice -- the Humphreys and Douglases and Lehmans and the generations of liberal senators before them, eloquent, courageous senators, men of principles and ideals -- had been trying for decades to pass a civil rights bill, with absolutely no success. It was not until Lyndon Johnson, who had never before fought in their cause, picked up the banner of civil rights that it was carried at last nearer to its goal. It took a Lyndon Johnson, with his threats and deceits, with his relentlessness with which he insisted on victory and the savagery with which he fought for it, to ram that legislation through. As I wrote in the second volume of this work, "Abraham Lincoln struck off the chains of black Americans, but it was Lyndon Johnson who led them into voting booths, closed democracy's sacred curtain behind them, placed their hands upon the lever that gave them a hold on their own destiny, made them, at last and forever, a true part of American political life." His great voting rights legislation, the supreme accomplishment of his life and his career, would be passed during his presidency, of course; it was then that he most firmly took the hands of black Americans. But he first reached for their hands not as President, but in the Senate.

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I'm not sure I understand this argument. It doesn't appear to be about the Republican party, or about pro (or even anti) business policies. –  T.E.D. Oct 23 '12 at 20:15
    
T.E.D., good point. I realize now that my response has (at least :) two weaknesses in the present form: 1) It subsumes too much under "in this context". I could remedy this by explaining e.g. why I argue specifically about LBJ's role. 2) It ignores the fact that @kjo was specifically asking about early developments ("at least as early as the Reconstruction"). This may be fatal and indeed suggest my withdrawal/deletion of the answer. Since I'm new to the forum, may I please ask: is a revised answer that addresses "later" developments of interest to kjo and folks following this question or not? –  Drux Oct 24 '12 at 4:56
    
This answer is only half complete - the other half would be how alienated social conservatives from the Democratic Party ("Dixiecrats") found a new home with Goldwater and Nixon's "Southern Strategy," and how this was accelerated with LBJ's agressive pursuit of Civil Rights. –  RI Swamp Yankee Oct 24 '12 at 12:15
    
@RI Swamp Yankee thx for your response. Now I am a bit confused how this (while true -- LBJ quote: "We have lost the South for a generation") is about the Republican party's conjectured (early) turn from an "anti-slavery" party into a "pro-business" party, i.e. how this is in the context of this question (as I now understand it). –  Drux Oct 26 '12 at 7:04
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The Republican Party was always, since its founding, a "pro-business" party.

The party was formed from the remnants of the previous pro-business party, the Whig Party, when that party split over the expansion of slavery into the territories in the early 1850's.

The two platforms are not as disjoint as they may at first appear. Northern business interests did not like the labor market distortions caused by the existence of large amounts of unpaid slave labor. The party's first platform in 1856 was in large part an economic one: (wikipedia)

The new party went well beyond the issue of slavery in the territories. It envisioned modernizing the United States — emphasizing giving free western land to farmers ("free soil") as opposed to letting slave owners buy up the best lands, expanded banking, more railroads, and factories. They vigorously argued that free-market labor was superior to slavery and the very foundation of civic virtue and true republicanism - this is the "Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men" ideology

Of course once slavery had been ended, and the Republican Party disclaimed any further concerns for civil rights (after the end of Reconstruction in the wake of the election of 1876), that only left the "pro-business" platform of the party standing.

Here, according to wikipedia, is what that looked like in the late 19th Century:

The GOP supported business generally, hard money (i.e., the gold standard), high tariffs to promote economic growth, high wages and high profits, generous pensions for Union veterans, and (after 1893) the annexation of Hawaii. The Republicans supported the pietistic Protestants who demanded Prohibition. As the northern post-bellum economy boomed with heavy and light industry, railroads, mines, fast-growing cities and prosperous agriculture, the Republicans took credit and promoted policies to sustain the fast growth

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Nice quote - can you give us the link? I'd like to read more in the article. –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 22 '12 at 18:56
    
...done. Added an extra quote from a whole page on the subject too: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  T.E.D. Oct 22 '12 at 19:23
    
Huh? Now, the Prohibition part seems way way way schitzo in that quote (I'm not saying it's factually wrong, but logically wrong - a pro-business party should not favor prohibiting a large chunk of the economy). –  DVK Nov 4 '12 at 0:04
    
@DVK - I didn't write it, so not my fault. If you're curious how prohibition fit into their program, I'd suggest either asking that as a question, or picking up and reading the excellent Last Call, which goes into the politics of Prohibition in detail. –  T.E.D. Nov 4 '12 at 2:19
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I'm not sure that anyone is responsible for this shift; I rather suspect that politics is stochastic more often than planned. I'm not sure that it is possible to give an answer that a panel of objective observers would agree with. With those caveats in mind, I'd offer the following description of events.

I think the dominant player is FDR. FDR built a political machine that dominated US politics.

African Americans moved into the Democratic Party during Roosevelt's time. After Roosevelt took office in 1933, New Deal legislation sailed through Congress at lightning speed. In the 1934 midterm elections, 10 Republican senators went down to defeat, leaving them with only 25 against 71 Democrats. The House of Representatives was split in a similar ratio. Wikipedia's history of the Republican Party.

As the last couple of sentences point out the Democratic party grew at the expense of the Republican party. The few minutes of research I have available to me don't permit me to discover whether the GOP tried to preserve the party's record on civil rights, what strategies (if any) they tried, and why those strategies were ultimately ineffective. I suspect without any particular evidence that the issues that brought FDR to power and kept him there were, in the short term, perceived as more important to critical segments of the electorate than civil rights.

Nelson Rockefeller and Barry Goldwater are cited as the visionaries for the resurgence of the Republican Party. Both supported civil rights, and Rockefeller had a fairly strong and positive civil rights record. Goldwater in his 1964 election campaign made a strategic decision that federalism and states rights were more important than the Civil Rights Act.

In 1964, Goldwater ran a conservative campaign that emphasized "states' rights".[16] Goldwater's 1964 campaign was a magnet for conservatives since he opposed interference by the federal government in state affairs. Although he had supported all previous federal civil rights legislation and had supported the original senate version of the bill, Goldwater made the decision to oppose the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His stance was based on his view that the act was an intrusion of the federal government into the affairs of states and that the Act interfered with the rights of private persons to do or not do business with whomever they chose. Wikipedia attributes this assertion to Donaldson.

You could therefore argue that Goldwater is responsible for the shift, but I think that oversimplifies the process of politics.

Note with emphasis. I've done my best to be as neutral and academic as possible, since discussions of political priorities and agendas tend to get heated. I'm not so arrogant as to assume that "my best" is the same as "fully successful", so I'm throwing this open to community wiki in the hopes that anyone who can tell the story better will revise.

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I always found it amusing that "states rights" used to be a rallying cry for the slave states prior to the Civil War. But your assertion is correct in my understanding of the parties, this shift was evolutionary and not the work of one person at one specific instance of time. –  MichaelF Oct 22 '12 at 12:19
    
I would argue that the change in "state's rights" is not just amusing, it is a powerful observation on the nature of politics in a democratic society. But that is a subject for discursive discussion, not H:SE Q&A. –  Mark C. Wallace Oct 22 '12 at 12:22
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One is indeed forced to admit that proponents of "States Rights" historically have not come out looking very good. There's probably the germ of several good questions in there. –  T.E.D. Oct 22 '12 at 16:05
    
@T.E.D. - The fact that Hitler significantly improved economic conditions and made the trains run on time is not a reason to support totalitarian state. Similarly, the fact that anti-state-rights people used the power of the federal state to bust up slavery is not a reason to throw out the idea that state-power (as opposed to a fully centrally governed) system is a good idea politically. </Godwin> –  DVK Nov 4 '12 at 0:08
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