Roots of Ripon Society traced to support for Civil Rights

Republicanism is deeply rooted in Ripon, and the history of the party is well-documented, thanks to the Ripon Society, which was launched in 1962.

“It was the height of the Kennedy era, and the great buzz word of the day was that the Kennedy administration was uniquely tapping into the world of exciting new ideas,” Lee Huebner, who served as the society’s second president, said in a recent article on the Ripon Society website, “The cloud hanging over the Republican Party was the recollection of the recent McCarthy era – which had widened a growing gulf between the country’s centers of learning and the GOP.”

Huebner said the GOP always has had intellectual support, and that this was strengthened during the Progressive Era.

“But the traumas of the Great Depression and two world wars, along with the appeal of the New Deal and the excesses of both witch-hunting extremism and isolationist nationalism, had changed older patterns of party identification,” Huebner said.

When members of the party came together to form the Ripon Society, they were a diverse group made up of mostly students, former students or young faculty members.

“We drew on the model of Great Britain’s Bow Group, a moderate, policy-oriented affiliate of the UK’s Conservative Party,” Huebner said.

One of the major motivations of the Ripon Society, especially in the early days, was the advancement of civil rights.

“Civil rights was a cause that had been advanced in the 1950s by Republican leadership on the Supreme Court of the United States – and enforced most recently by a Republican president,” Huebner said.

In a twist, civil rights was something that caused division between the Ripon Society and the nascent New Conservative movement as it emerged in the 1960s and 1970s.

“Nonetheless, it was support for civil rights which most forcefully galvanized the Ripon founders,” Huebner said. “The Republican Party has experienced a vast array of ups and downs since that time — but the Lincoln legacy still represents an ideal party lodestar.”