Historical Liberal Republicans
Click the name of each Liberal Republican below to view individual biographies.
Did You Know?
The two Twentieth Century landmark civil rights laws, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, were supported by a greater proportion of Republican Congresspersons and Senators than Democratic ones.
Did You Know?
George Romney, the popular and successful liberal Republican Governor of Michigan and a leading Republican Presidential candidate in 1968 (and also the father of the recent Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney), was one of America’s foremost advocates for the Federal Government playing a leading role in transforming America’s impoverished inner cities? He pushed for the creation of low-cost housing throughout metropolitan Detroit (including its suburbs), both as Michigan’s Governor and later as President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. He stated, “some already are saying the answer [to inner city riots] is brute force such as would be used on mad dogs…Force alone will not eliminate riots. We must eliminate the problems from which they stem.”
Did You Know?
Nelson Rockefeller, the four-term Republican Governor of New York whose name came to be identified with the liberal and moderate Republicans who were a predominant force in American politics from the 1940’s through the 1970’s (so-called “Rockefeller Republicans”), was castigated by right-wing white racists ”as a dangerous Northern agitator bankrolling Dr. [Martin Luther] King and other troublemakers.”
“After hundreds of Birmingham [Alabama] youngsters, responding to King’s appeal, were jailed for taking part in the so-called Children’s March on May 2, , King’s lawyer Clarence Jones was summoned to the vault of the Chase Manhattan Bank. There he was handed a briefcase full of Rockefeller cash. Officially described as a loan, the money helped pay bail costs for the movement’s youngest foot soldiers. On his return to Birmingham, Jones found in his mail an unsigned receipt, informing him that his ‘loan’ had been fully repaid.”
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If you are in your Forties or younger, you are unlikely to know how diverse the politics of the Republican Party were when your parents and grandparents were young. In fact, you may be flabbergasted by how many prominent liberal Republicans there were and for what they stood. While the Party always included conservatives (like most Republican politicians today), conservatives did not dominate the Party, let alone control it. Today’s Republican Party is an aberration (or at most a cyclical trend). It is the thesis of this website that the rebirth of liberal Republicanism is where Americans are most likely to find the middle political ground that could end the dysfunction that today paralyzes much of our public discourse and our government.
Most people know the Republican Party was founded in opposition to slavery and that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President. (In fact, the Republican Party was long known as “the Party of Lincoln.”) Many people also know that Teddy Roosevelt, the early Twentieth Century progressive President who took on powerful business interests and led the enactment of much of the first major social welfare legislation in America, was a Republican. But most people do not know that until recently liberal and moderate Republicans had an even greater voice in the Party than conservatives, or that these Republicans aligned with like-minded Democrats on an issue-by-issue basis to enact major civil rights laws, major infrastructure legislation and laws and policies that underpinned America’s foreign policy in defense of democracy and liberty around the world. (Conservative Republicans used to be predominantly isolationists. In fact, America’s support of the Allies in World War II, up until Pearl Harbor, would not have been possible without the efforts of liberal and moderate Republicans who worked with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to defeat the efforts of isolationist Republican and Democratic Congressmen.)
The Republican Party was founded in 1854 as the anti-slavery party. It also originated and developed as the party advocating liberal capitalism as the best means to achieve broad economic prosperity (by advocating for national infrastructure development and against the abuses of great wealth, including business trusts and monopolies); the party advocating for ethics and competency in government (rather than the vote-buying, job patronage and electoral horse-trading which were all characteristic of Democratic machine politics of the time); and the party most associated with a preference for individual initiative, decentralized government and fiscal conservatism.
While today the Democratic Party is consistently the more “liberal” political party, this was not the case for most of American history. When Republicans today accuse Republicans they regard as too liberal of being RINO’s (“Republicans in Name Only”), they ignore history. It is important for the American people, especially young people whose involvement in politics will increasingly determine America’s future, not to cede control of the Republican Party, which represents half of our established political infrastructure, to its conservative members. This is especially important since for some of these passionate conservatives (as is the case for some of the most passionate liberal Democrats), “consensus” is a dirty word.
The term “Liberal Republican” has often been used to describe both progressives and moderates. Like most political factions, it’s been a big tent, including people who espouse divergent views on many issues, as well as politicians who have drifted into the space with experience and changing political times. (Interestingly, this also is true of the conservative wing of the Republican Party. Ronald Reagan started his political career as a Democrat and as the head of a labor union, the Screen Actor’s Guild.)
This chapter will introduce (or reintroduce) you to nine Liberal Republican politicians, all prominent in the 1960’s or later. Their politics will undoubtedly surprise you. I hope that familiarizing yourself with them will also help you realize that Liberal Republican politicians could once more play a meaningful role in the Republican Party, and enable Republicans and Democrats to find common political ground. Liberal Republicans would not have to dominate the Party to make such a difference. Just a handful or two would likely suffice.