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A Brief History of N.Y. Republicans

by John J. Marchi, May 10, 2004
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The choice of New York City as the site for the Republican National Convention this year is both politically and historically correct.

After all, the modern Republican Party in America owes much of its beginnings to Republicans from New York. Names like Greeley, Seward and Corning figure heavily in party annals.

Influential editor Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune was one of the first members of the new Republican Party when it surfaced in 1854 and pressed hard to prevent slavery from expanding into the country's new territories. Greeley and Erastus Corning, a founder of the New York Central Railroad, played significant roles in delivering the 1860 GOP nomination for president to Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. William Seward, a U.S. senator, was one of the most prominent New Yorkers in Republican politics and a contender for the Republican nomination. (He would go on to serve as Lincoln's secretary of state.)

New York City was where, in 1859, Lincoln, fresh from his brilliant performance in the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates, turned up at Cooper Union to continue his attacks on the spread of slavery. At that point, Lincoln was an unannounced political aspirant. With closely reasoned phrases, Lincoln examined the origins of sectional strife and the inconsistent positions of Senator Stephen Douglas and the United States Chief Justice Roger Taney. He called on his fellow Republicans to resist Southern demands to recognize slavery as being right, but rather to "stand by our duty fearlessly and effectively."

The Cooper Union speech, reported immediately around the country by telegraph, concluded with this appeal: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."

His reasoned and eloquent presentation electrified the 1,500 New Yorkers who heard him and gained Lincoln valuable support in Seward's home territory.

New York Republicans also take pride in Theodore Roosevelt of Long Island, a New York legislator and New York City police commissioner while still a young man. He came to national attention as the leader of the legendary 'Rough Riders' during the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt came home from the war a hero and was elected vice president under William McKinley. He acceded to the presidency at age 42 when McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. He gained fame quickly through his activist agenda, including 'trust busting' and advocating laws aimed at breaking up monopolies in big business. He directed his progressive reforms at regulation, not abolition, of big business.

New York City itself witnessed the exploits of Republican Fiorello H. LaGuardia, who won national attention as mayor of the metropolis from 1933 to 1945. Before he won national renown as a reform mayor, LaGuardia flew a fighter plane for the American Army in World War I.

Running for mayor on the Fusion Party ticket, LaGuardia confronted the excesses of the then-notorious Tammany Hall and won numerous municipal reforms. Known as 'the Little Flower' (from his first name), he came to national attention for his successful reforms. LaGuardia also had a humorous side. During a newspaper strike in the 1940s, he went on the radio and read the comic strips to children who had missed seeing what he called "the funny papers." Noting that comic strip police detective Dick Tracy was slim and trim, LaGuardia, during the broadcast, asked his police commissioner why New York City detectives were overweight.

Two 20th century Republican governors, Thomas E. Dewey and Nelson A. Rockefeller, earned national attention and achieved notable objectives.

Dewey, governor from 1943 to 1955, first came to prominence as a Manhattan district attorney. He was lauded for his aggressive and successful prosecution of gangland bosses who had become powerful during the Prohibition Era. His vision and leadership led to construction of the 641-mile New York State Thruway, one of the first major superhighways in the United States.

Dewey surged to national attention when he ran for president in 1944 against incumbent Franklin Roosevelt, also a famous New Yorker. Dewey lost, then ran again against Harry Truman in 1948, losing again in a close race.

Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York for four terms - from 1959 to 1973. His many achievements included the start of a successful campaign to clean up New York's rivers and lakes through improved sewage treatment and the modernization of the State University of New York system.

Rockefeller sought the presidency three times in the '60s, but his liberal philosophy did not find favor with the GOP nationally. In the aftermath of the resignation of President Nixon in the Watergate scandal, President Gerald Ford chose Rockefeller to serve as vice president.

While New York City has had Democratic mayors for most of the late 19th and most of the 20th Century, three men were elected in the last 40 years under Republican aegis. John Lindsay held the office from 1966 to 1973 and won national recognition for his efforts to help calm racial unrest in the 1960s.

Rudolph Giuliani, who was elected mayor in 1993, first won wide attention when, as a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, he gained convictions of underworld leaders and business leaders who had broken the law. But it was Giuliani's epic performance as mayor following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center that made him a household name around the world. He is widely credited with having demonstrated courage and leadership during one of the darkest hours in New York City history.

Giuliani's nationwide popularity after the September 11, 2001 attacks helped propel current Mayor Michael Bloomberg's successful effort to win office in the 2001 elections. Since then, Bloomberg has won praise for his efforts to improve education, business, and tourism in New York City.

These Republicans exerted a strong influence on the lives and fortunes of the people of New York. Their part in the history of the Empire State helped to make it a successful state and a natural place for the Republican Party, the 'Grand Old Party,' to hold its 2004 nominating convention.

John Marchi, a Republican state senator from Staten Island since 1957, is the nation's longest serving state legislator.




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