The Republican Party founded in 1854, which counted Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass among its members, is not ideologically or demographically the same as the Republican Party that exists today. Such a statement should seem obvious to those who have even skimmed through a decent history book on the Civil War. Unfortunately, and largely for self-serving propagandistic purposes, Republicans today, including most recently Senator Rand Paul in a speech at Howard University, insist that they still represent the party of Lincoln and Douglass.
There are numerous implications in making such a claim. If the Republicans of today truly embody the spirit and ideals of Lincoln, then it must be black voters, and not the GOP, who have been led astray. This is a condescending belief that has been rationalized with even more condescension from Republican Party leaders. It’s not that Republicans are blind to the conditions of black Americans, it’s that minorities want “gifts,” according to Mitt Romney. It’s not that Republicans enact and promote policies harmful to black communities, it’s that these communities have been “brainwashed” into supporting Democrats, according to Herman Cain.
The Republican Party began as an explicitly anti-slavery party, eager to prevent the spread of slavery and, if possible, to eliminate its presence in Southern states. William Seward, a Governor of New York and future Secretary of State to Abraham Lincoln, was among the most powerful Republicans and a proponent of emancipation. He helped finance Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper, he rented out a house to Harriet Tubman, and he even harbored fugitive slaves in his own home. Seward also fought throughout his life, as a Whig and later as a Republican, to secure federal dollars to pay for internal improvements such as the building of railroads and canals, to expand public education to girls and immigrant children, and to loosen restrictions for Catholic immigrants who were despised by so-called “Nativist” groups. Opening up borders to immigrants, expanding public education, opposing bigotry directed at a religious minority, and devoting federal dollars to state improvements could be considered, in some scenarios, bipartisan proposals, but they are certainly consistent with the policies advocated by American liberals today.
In Walter Stahr’s recent biography of Seward, the ideological division between Whigs (most of whom would later join the Republican Party) and the Democratic Party is summarized:
The Democrats of the late 1830s and early 1840s favored small government with a limited role. The United States Democratic Review declared itself in favor of “as little government as possible; that little emanating from, and controlled by, the people; and uniform in its application to all.” The Whigs, in the words of the leading historian of their party, “believed government must promote prosperity. Especially in hard times, the government must take positive action to stimulate economic recovery.” Whigs favored a national bank and state support for internal improvement projects, such as roads and canals, that would not only provide jobs but also lay the groundwork for future growth.
It is painfully obvious from this description that Democrats during the time of Lincoln and Douglass were, from a contemporary standpoint, conservatives who favored limited government and were wary of federal spending. The Whig Party’s belief that a government should take “positive action to stimulate economic recovery” during “hard times” is precisely what the Obama administration has done and continues to do.
The Republican Party platform of 1856, while primarily concerned with slavery and various issues surrounding it, also declared that a “railroad to the Pacific Ocean…is imperatively demanded by the interests of the whole country and…the Federal Government ought to render immediate and efficient aid in its construction” and that “appropriations by Congress for the improvement of rivers and harbors…[are] required for the accommodation and security of our existing commerce.” From a contemporary perspective, federal dollars devoted to the construction of necessities with obvious economic benefits such as railroads would seem to be an uncontroversial issue. Yet, Democrats often opposed such measures on conservative grounds, deriding them for being too expensive or declaring that it wasn’t the federal government’s responsibility to pay for such things.
Of course, the primary enemy of the early Republican Party was the Confederacy, which ceaselessly fought, above all else, for the “right” to enslave, torture, and murder black people. South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, and later Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina were part of the Confederate States of America. Of these 11 states, 9 voted for Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election and all 11 states voted for George W. Bush in 2004. A CNN poll showed that “nearly four in ten” white Southerners said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, and Republicans were more likely to sympathize with the Confederacy than either Democrats or Independents.
The absurd insinuation that Abraham Lincoln, if he could somehow rise from the dead and travel through time, would support Mitt Romney or George W. Bush is fueled by the idea that the Republican Party has not changed very much from its founding until the present day. This is an outright lie, propagated by politicians and charlatans trying in vain to peddle a lousy product to black voters. In Lincoln’s time, the Republican Party was most popular in the North and supported federal spending to revitalize a troubled economy. Today, the GOP is most popular in the South and viciously opposes Obama’s economic stimulus.
Republicans usually respond to such assertions by referencing the Dixiecrats and the Democratic opposition to civil rights legislation prior to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. To this I say: Yes, I agree. Both parties have long, terrible records of endorsing explicitly racist policies and denying rights to various minority groups. Many Northerners, especially businessmen, profited from and supported the Southern slave trade. There is a vast amount of blame to be shared by all Americans, including the Founding Fathers and perhaps members of our own families. Racism is an American problem with no political boundaries. But Republicans have no right to make the ahistorical claim that they somehow embody the legacy of Lincoln and Douglass and therefore deserve the support of black voters. If the GOP wants to attract minority voters, they must stop lecturing and look inward.
Do the United States and its people really want to tell those of us who live in the rest of the world that our lives are not of the same value as yours? That President Obama can sign off on a decision to kill us with less worry about judicial scrutiny than if the target is an American? Would your Supreme Court really want to tell humankind that we, like the slave Dred Scott in the 19th century, are not as human as you are? I cannot believe it.
I used to say of apartheid that it dehumanized its perpetrators as much as, if not more than, its victims. Your response as a society to Osama bin Laden and his followers threatens to undermine your moral standards and your humanity.
It was both unfortunate and disastrous that the Republican Party nominated Barry Goldwater as its candidate for President of the United States. In foreign policy Mr. Goldwater advocated a narrow nationalism, a crippling isolationism, and a trigger-happy attitude that could plunge the whole world into the dark abyss of annihilation. On social and economic issues, Mr. Goldwater represented an unrealistic conservatism that was totally out of touch with the realities of the twentieth century. The issue of poverty compelled the attention of all citizens of our country. Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
While I had followed a policy of not endorsing political candidates, I felt that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being President of the United States so threatened the health, morality, and survival of our nation, that I could not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represented.
48 percent of respondents to a Pew Research poll conducted on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War persist under the delusion that the war was “mainly about state’s rights.” If this was the case, then the war would surely be among the most pointless ever waged since we are still debating the proper balance between state and federal power today. As anyone with a precursory knowledge of American history should know, state’s rights was a contentious issue because of slavery.
As politicalprof pointed out earlier this month, sympathy for the Confederacy is alarmingly high. 38 percent of Southerners say they “sympathize more with…Southern states that were part of the Confederacy.” No doubt this sympathy is rationalized by historical ignorance.
Even if it were true that the Civil War was not “mainly about” slavery, Confederate sympathizers would still have a warped view of history. Confederates believed in state’s rights only when it suited them and rejected the principle when it conflicted with their desire to own, torture, and murder black people. Slave holders consistently supported federal laws that overrode state laws so that escaped slaves could be more easily recaptured.
From James McPherson’s superb “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”:
The 1850 [fugitive slave law]…required U.S. marshals and deputies to help slaveowners capture their property and fined them $1000 if they refused. It empowered marshals to deputize citizens on the spot to aid in seizing a fugitive, and imposed stiff criminal penalties on anyone who harbored a fugitive or obstructed his capture. The expense of capturing and returning a slave were to be borne by the federal treasury.
…the law seemed to ride roughshod over the prerogatives of northern states. Yankee senators had tried in vain to attach amendments to the bill guaranteeing alleged fugitives the rights to testify, to habeas corpus, and to a jury trial. Southerners indignantly rejected the idea that these American birthrights applied to slaves.
So, at the very least, one must admit that an unshakeable belief in state’s rights was not clearly supported by either the North or South. Are we expected to believe then that it was a nuanced debate of state laws (unresolved to this day) that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people? Or are we just skirting the real issue so as to avoid an uncomfortable subject?
Reinterpreting American history in order to portray the Confederacy sympathetically is wrong not just because it’s factually incorrect, it also amounts to an apology for genocide. When someone blithely proclaims that state’s rights was the true cause of the Civil War, they insult good sense and excuse the hideous legacy of slavery. There were human beings who were raped, tortured, murdered, and enslaved by people who might be related to some of us. This is an unpleasant fact but it’s part of our history and it shouldn’t be ignored.
I don’t think it follows that because Obama used marijuana he should necessarily switch postions. But I would hope that it would give him some empathy. In America, Barack Obama was able to become president, despite his drug use. That is a good thing.
Indeed. Would any heterosexual person be “content” without the right to marry or adopt? Would men be “content” to be severely underrepresented in their own government?
So often it is the most privileged people who tell others to stop dissenting and to be content with inequality.
In other words, some are perfectly willing to have innocent citizens harassed and treated like criminals if they believe that their own safety might be ensured. But even this selfish interpretation of the stop and frisk policy is unjustified. Less than 0.2 percent of searches result in the discovery of a gun (and of this 0.2 percent, we don’t know how many gun owners would have actually committed a crime), and there is no correlation between the decline of crime rates and the use of stop and frisk tactics.
Perhaps impossible to measure is the distrust and resentment the policy breeds within its victims. How many people have failed to report a crime or refused to participate in an investigation because they believe, based on personal experience, that they can’t trust the police? Indeed, anyone who would tolerate such harassment simply because of how they “look” would degrade their own value as a human being and give up their right to go about their crime-free lives without being abused by the authorities.
It’s time to end stop and frisk, respect the rights of all citizens, and implement a new policy that actually results in the reduction of crime.