In my Internet travels, I run across many Republicans who hope to shock me with tidbits of history about the good things Republicans have done and the bad things Democrats have done in their past. I want to take a few minutes to give Republicans full credit for a portion of their history. I will discuss the evolution of the Republican Party, which in many ways has switched roles with the Democrats, the part my Internet friends always leave out.
In the early 1850s, there was great turmoil within two major political parties of the day, the Democrats (at least the Northern ones) and the Whig Party. There were raucous arguments about enslavement, most concerning expanding slavery into new states as the country grew. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 allowed Missouri to become part of the United States while allowing enslavement but preventing it in the new state of Maine and any new states created from the Louisiana Purchase lands.
In 1854, The Missouri Compromise was dissolved by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. It allowed formerly free states to adopt enslavement and gave any new state the right to offset the free state of California, which upset the delicate balance between free and enslaved states. Many Whig Party members, who were generally against the expansion of slavery, found themselves in disarray after seeing the Kansas-Nebraska Act passed and losing the 1852 Presidential Election to the Democrats, so they decided to go a new direction.
Meetings were held in several locations across the upper-Midwestern states, but the one credited with forming the Republican Party was held on March 20, 1854, in Ripon, Wisconsin. The founding Members were; Abraham Lincoln, Horace Greeley, Alvin E. Bovay, Henry J. Raymond, John C. Freemont, Francis P. Blair, Edwin D. Morgan, Amos Tuck, and Salmon P. Chase.
The new Republican Party garnered significant interest among northern Protestants, business people, and prosperous farmers. They got little traction among Catholics and white Southerners. Enslavement wasn’t the only issue separating Democrats and Republicans. While both parties claimed to be “pro-business.” Republicans favored the gold standard, a national banking system, high tariffs, and railroads. They shared interests with “Free Democrats,” and combined; they made up a majority of voters in almost every Northern state by 1858. Then, Republicans hadn’t evolved to wanting to free the enslaved (though some did) or see them as their social or intellectual equals. Their primary goal was to limit the expansion of slavery and improve some of the conditions they faced. I encourage anyone to read the text of the Lincoln-Douglas debates to see what they honestly thought.
Lincoln was elected President in 1860; his primary goal was maintaining the Union between Northern and Southern states. He was perfectly willing to accept the status quo of enslavement if he could. Only when the Southern states started seceding, with the first being South Carolina in December of 1860, did he begin to change his tune. Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas soon followed before the Civil War began at Fort Sumpter on April 12, 1861. After that, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee seceded from the country. President Lincoln then issued the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 and the final version in 1863. The goal was to disrupt the economy of the South and prevent Britain and France from joining the war on the side of the Confederacy.
It’s important to note what the Emancipation Proclamation did and didn’t do. It freed enslaved people only in states that had seceded from the Union, provided they could reach free territory independently. Slaveholding states that didn’t secede, like Kentucky, were free to continue the practice of enslavement with no problem from the United States government. Many in the Republican Party were ahead of Lincoln in seeking the abolishment of slavery; they saw freeing the slaves as a way to make inroads into the Southern states where they had never successfully gained a coalition. Some, including Lincoln, were worried about what would happen if a massive population of enslaved people was freed and devised plans to ship them to Liberia and Central America. Black leaders like Frederick Douglass convinced Lincoln of the folly of his ways.
Republicans were at the forefront of efforts to grant the enslaved their freedom after the Civil War. They passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, giving the formerly enslaved freedom and the vote. They passed the so-called KKK Acts, which curtailed the Klan and their efforts in the early 1870s, causing them to nearly die out until they rose again.
Though Lincoln was assassinated early in his second term, the era immediately after his death in 1865 is what many Republicans refer to as when they were the “Party of Lincoln,” They can rightfully point to the progress the nation made under Republican control that might have taken decades longer without them. I give them all the credit for what they were; the same can’t be said about them now.
The slippery slide of the Republican Party began in the late 1870s with the Compromise of 1877. The Presidential Election of 1876 was contested, and the electors of three states were in dispute, with Democrats meeting just one more elector to clinch the election. Democrats won the popular vote, and there was good reason to believe Democrats should have rightfully won the Presidency though they wouldn’t control Congress and thus couldn’t pass many initiatives. Republicans and Democrats made a backroom deal that allowed the Republicans to keep the Presidency under Rutherford B. Hayes but called for Republicans to remove federal troops from the South, which were the only thing protecting the formerly enslaved, allowing them to vote, for example.
Hayes pulled out the troops in 1877 and passed the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878, ensuring federal troops would never return except under certain circumstances. This effectively ended Reconstruction; the Black Republicans that had been elected to Congress previously lost their seats, and the Jim Crow era was ushered in. Republicans who had once stepped in during the worst abuses (the KKK Acts) now looked the other way. Lynchings rose, and the political offices once held by Republicans were ceded to the Democrats. Long before Lyndon B Johnson thought he’d lost the South for a generation, the Republicans gave the South to the Democratic Party.
Before the 1920s, you had an incredible grip on the Black vote in elections, greater than what you today call the “Democratic plantation.” It started slipping in 1927 when during the Great Mississippi River Flood, you purposely flooded Black communities along the river to protect ones and ushered Black survivors into internment camps, using the men for forced labor. Some Black people changed to the Democratic Party, realizing you meant them no good.
An additional shift came after 1948 when Democrats integrated the armed forces and federal government workers. Your hold on Black voters lessened as others did what you would not. Just like in the 1860s, you never considered Black people your social equals, and unless you’re a Black Supreme Court Justice that has constantly denounced his people, the same is true today. As Black people started becoming Democrats, many of the racists in their Party became Republicans, a trend that continues to this day.
Skipping ahead to the 1960s, the Southern Strategy was in full effect by the Republican Party. Democrats, after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, were actively recruiting Black voters, and Republicans were trying to make America afraid of Black people. They became the party of voter suppression. It was as if the parties decided to switch places, not out of ideology but because of political expediency. The Republican Party utilized the Southern Strategy to elect Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. W Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump. The Republican Party got almost all the Black votes during Reconstruction but had now become almost exclusively white.
White supremacy had become the roadmap to victory. America was sufficiently afraid of “Willie Horton,” “welfare queens,” and “super-predators” (a term also used by Democrats) that it ramped up both mass incarceration and voter suppression. Donald Trump became the personification of white supremacy with his attacks on everybody of color. It would be gratuitous of me to remind everyone that his company refused to rent to Black people in his younger days, marking their applications “C” for colored so they would be rejected. I can be petty, so I threw that in there. He also took out a full-page ad advocating the death penalty for the Central Park Five, who were innocent. Think Donald Trump apologized?
Trump’s most significant accomplishment was allowing white supremacists to throw away their robes and come out of their racist closets. He appointed openly white nationalists to his staff. At one time, Steve Bannon was his Chief Advisor and Stephen Miller wrote his speeches and developed his immigration policy. Miller (and Jeff Sessions) were chiefly responsible for throwing brown children in cages and separating them from their families, some forever.
The Klan is far less of a presence today, but they have been joined by the Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, and hundreds of other hate groups nationwide. The SPLC documented 940 groups in 2019, most bunched in states led by Republicans. Many came together in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, which led to a clash killing one woman and two State Police Officers. White supremacists chanted, “Our blood, our soil,” and, “You will not replace us.” President Trump said there were “good people on both sides.”
While Trump lost in 2020, the Republican Party is generally in denial and is deciding whether to bring Trump back or see which Trump-like candidate they can groom to take his place. The Republican Party of today bears no resemblance to the Party of Lincoln, nor have they in some time. When people argue quite correctly about what the Republicans once were, I let them know they can no longer take credit because they have become the polar opposite now.
Now, with a former President under multiple indictments in state and federal jurisdictions, with more likely to come. Most of you are in denial, refusing to acknowledge facts when you hear them from him on tape. All your once firmly held beliefs are gone. No more do you fight for small government and limited taxation. You focus on the transgender, banning books, blocking Black history, and voter suppression. You are against many things and for relatively little. Your heroes are domestic terrorists, and you’ve become petty and mean.
America desperately needs a strong two or even a three-party system, but you’ve set the bar so low that you are not a viable alternative. Some of you may still be Republicans because you hold the old values, but you’ve chosen to associate with white supremacists and Neo-nazis because you imagine you need their votes. The cure for the Republican Party won’t be found in Hunter Biden’s laptop, it must come from within, but your present leaders aren’t capable. Shame!
This post was previously published on The Polis.
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