The initials synonymous with the Republican Party—“GOP”—stand for “grand old party.” As early as the 1870s, politicians and newspapers began to refer to the Republican Party as both the “grand old party” and the “gallant old party” to emphasize its role in preserving the Union during the Civil War. The Republican Party of Minnesota, for instance, adopted a platform in 1874 that it said “guarantees that the grand old party that saved the country is still true to the principles that gave it birth.”
In spite of its nickname, though, the “grand old party” was only a mere teenager in the early 1870s since the Republican Party had been formed in 1854 by former Whig Party members to oppose the expansion of slavery into western territories.
The “grand old party” moniker was actually first adopted by the Republicans’ elder rival—the Democratic Party—which traced its roots back to Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. In his 1859 inaugural address, Kentucky’s Democratic Governor Beriah Magoffin proclaimed, “The grand old party has never changed its name, its purposes, or its principles, nor has it ever broken its pledges.” The following year a Democratic newspaper in New Haven, Connecticut, looked ahead to the presidential election of 1860 and warned that “this grand old party is divided and in danger of defeat.”
Safire’s Political Dictionary reports that the Republican’s GOP acronym began to appear in print in 1884. Newspapers in 1936 credited T.B. Dowden, a Cincinnati Gazette typesetter, with coining the initials after receiving a story about 1884 Republican presidential nominee James Blaine shortly before press time that ran too long. “My copy ends with ‘Grand Old Party,’ and I have two words left over after I’ve set the 10 lines. What shall I do?” Dowden asked his foreman. “Abbreviate ’em, use initials, do anything, but hurry up!” came the reply. In a rush, Dowden shortened the name of Blaine’s planned speech from “Achievements of the Grand Old Party” to “Achievements of the GOP.”