Abbreviated History of the Republican Party
The first Republican National Convention occurred in 1855. Those first Republicans shared a devotion to the Constitution which made the last best hope on earth possible. Their cause, as Abraham Lincoln said, was a struggle for maintaining in the world, that form and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men - to lift artificial weights from all shoulders - to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all - to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance in the race of life. Dedication to this "great task remaining before us" was the core ideology of the Republican Party then and should be now. The theme of the first Republican administration was Lincoln's struggle to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."
The history of the United States is the story of the Civil War. Apart from that you cannot comprehend the Republican Party then or now. As far back as the George Washington presidency, the overriding issues of the day were those which led inexorably to the Civil War.
From the beginning Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson articulated competing visions for the country which broke down generally North-South. The Missouri Compromise in 1820 squelched rumors of war. By 1830, the two sides hardened in their determination to have their way and only a compromise kept the country together for another 30 years.
Republicans viewed the Civil War as a battle for supremacy between the slave system and the free market society. Was the United States to be all slave or all free? The slave system required a vast regulatory and enforcement infrastructure to keep people enchained for the benefit of others. An underclass today maintains the political and economic power of the Democrat Party elite and indirectly in the government bureaucracy that runs the welfare state established by the Lyndon Johnson administration.
At the end of the Civil War the supremacy of the Federal Government was unchallenged. The Republicans initiated a national banking system and a national currency, free land for farmers in the Plain states, land-grant colleges, the transcontinental railroad and other structural reforms that were responsible for making the United States the wealthiest country in the world.
What stopped this progress in the South? The slaves were free but their constitutional rights were not guaranteed. What happened? One simple answer: Abraham Lincoln was murdered.
Vice President Andrew Johnson unexpectedly became President upon Lincoln's death. He was faced with the problem of reconstructing the Union and settling the future of the former Confederate states. Johnson was a southern Democrat. He was unable to compromise or to accept the political reality that existed after the war. He could not forge a compromise between the Radical Republicans and the moderates. There were many people who were not interested in having black Americans experience Lincoln's "new birth of freedom." Johnson set up state governments in the South that reduced black citizens to near slavery with "black codes" which were very similar to the previous "slave codes." Johnson’s decision to support the return of the prewar social and economic system-except for slavery-cut short any hope of a redistribution of land to the former slaves or a more far-reaching reform program in the South.
Andrew Johnson did not have the skills of political compromise that Abraham possessed. Most historians believe that Lincoln could have better completed the racial justice and equality that was begun in the Civil War.
The Republican Congress passed the 14th Amendment to make sure that the Emancipation Proclamation and the Republican Civil Rights Act could not be repealed. Republicans voted unanimously in favor of the 14th Amendment and all Democrats voted unanimously against it.
Until the Republicans passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which, to do so, required that they override Johnson's veto, Johnson and the former Confederate leadership were almost completely in charge of the South. Sadly, the former slaves were never fully liberated and Lincoln's "unfinished work" was never completed. Just as sadly, the Republican Party was forced off its original course.
To this day, Republicans owe the Party's muddled message and inability to battle Democrats effectively to their own ignorance about the Reconstruction era. Certain histories paint Reconstruction as all bad. There were things that were not right but the goal of Reconstruction was to give the former slaves their full civil rights. The Black Codes that were passed in the South were aimed at controlling and suppressing the former slaves.
What most people know besides slanted written histories is very much the product of two best-selling books and the blockbuster movies made from them.
After the Civil War, the Klu Klux Klan, founded by six Confederate veterans operated as the terrorist wing of the Democrat Party, killing thousands of white and black Republicans in the South. The Klan was crushed by the Federal government when the presidency was back in the hands of the Republican Party.
However, it was a very different story in the 1905 novel THE CLANSMAN: A HISTORICAL ROMANCE OF THE KLU KLUX KLAN which was the basis for the 1915 movie THE BIRTH OF A NATION. Woodrow Wilson saw the movie in the White House and declared that it was "terribly true... like writing history with lightning." The movie also portrayed Radical Republicans in a very negative light.
The other movie that distorted life in the South was GONE WITH THE WIND. Many readers of the book came away feeling that by defeating the rebellion and freeing slaves those terrible Republicans had ruined everything for Scarlet O'Hara and her friends. By the time the movie came out in 1939, the Republican Party's appreciation for its postwar crusade had faded almost completely.
It was not until 1867, when the Republican Party was able to ignore Andrew Johnson that they were able to sweep away the quasi-slavery regimes set up by the Democrat Party. Thaddeus Stevens warned: "The whole fabric of the South must be changed and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost." Another person predicted "a century of serfdom" for blacks if they were denied their rights. The two years of Democrat rule after the end of the war proved to be too much of a delay before true Reconstruction of the South could begin. The opportunity was lost and a century of serfdom is just what black Americans got. Republicans wanted "a new birth of freedom" for the South. They saw the Civil War as a chance to fulfill the promise of the American Revolution and to unite the country by extending to the South the free market system that had helped make the North so successful. Democrats in control of the postwar South denied economic development for the region by making subjugation of black citizens their top priority.
Though tragic for the region as a whole, the failure to reconstruct the South proved disastrous for black Americans, who though legally free, discovered they were once again ruled by the same class of white southern Democrats who had been their slave masters. Since they had no land of their own, former slaves became sharecroppers at the mercy of landowners. As soon as the Democrats got back in power in the South, they closed down most of the public schools Republicans had established for blacks as well as poor whites. For decades, the Democrat party kept southern blacks poor and badly educated.
During the Civil War and Reconstruction, if you were black you were a Republican. The Republican Party was committed to the freedom of Black Americans. However, once Democrats were back in charge in the South, Black Americans could no longer vote and whites who were Republicans were shut out of politics. A Republican Party coalition of blacks and poor whites did not materialize because white Southerners across the political spectrum had united within the Democrat Party. These Democrats, allied with Northern Democrats and the Solid South, would threaten nationwide Republican policies as well.
Political expediency and the inability to eradicate the slave system after the Civil War basically meant that black voters were written off. Black voters resented being written off and so, when they began to move North in large numbers after 1914, they did not take any great allegiance to the Republican Party with them.
When black Americans moved North, initially the Democrat party was not attractive. Woodrow Wilson was a racist and also a misogynist regarding women's rights. He had resegregated the federal civil service.
Eventually, however, the Democrat Party's traditional focus on urban ethnic politics would show results. Northern Democrats viewed black Americans as just another group to bring into the Party. The New Deal combination of federal government assistance to the poor and traditional urban Democrat paternalism attracted black voters to the party.
The founders of the Republican Party had understood that unchecked government power, whether exercised blatantly by a slave state or more subtly by a socialist bureaucracy, is the worst threat to constitutional rights. They knew that protecting constitutional rights is the foremost free market policy. Radical Republicans would have known that no good would come from tearing the Republican legacy in half.
Even today, the legacy of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society misleads most people into thinking that to oppose a socialist welfare state is to oppose the Constitution. Too many Republicans, because they have never thought through what a "right" is, find themselves unable to counter Democrat charges that the Republican Party is against the right to this or that or just about any noble-sounding sentiment. Because they had a thorough understanding of the Constitution, the Republicans of the 1860's were impervious to such clever manipulations.
The New Deal lay the foundation for the dominant ideology in this country: the notion that most problems can be solved by enabling government employees to exercise more power over other people. Republicans find themselves continually outmaneuvered because few understand that for most Democrats the accumulation of power by government over individuals is not a means to some end, but the end in itself.
Vigorous enforcement of constitutional rights and a promotion of a free market society are the arguments that today's Republicans need to make. Otherwise, they are on the defensive and always charged with racism and not caring about the poor.
The message that Republicans must have in order to win is the one that Ronald Reagan gave when he accepted his second presidential nomination. He explained the difference between Democrats and Republicans in a way that cannot be improved upon: "Two visions of the future, two fundamentally different ways of government - their government of pessimism, fear and limits or ours of hope, confidence and growth. Their government sees people only as members of groups. Ours see all the people of American as individuals. Theirs live in the past seeking to apply the old failed policies to an era that has passed them by. Ours learn from the past and strive to change by boldly charting a new course for the future."
In 1878, a Republican, Senator A.A. Sargent from California, at the request of Susan B. Anthony, a Republican, introduced the women's suffrage amendment to the U.S. Congress. The 19th Amendment, giving the women the right to vote, finally passed the House and Senate in 1919 when the Republican Party regained control of Congress. The amendment had been defeated four times by a Democrat controlled Senate.
The Republican Party was founded to abolish slavery and to protect the rights of individuals.
The Republican Party has always been the group that wants to preserve the constitution and maintain our founding principles.
Too many Republicans do not know their history and do not know how to answer the attacks made on them by the liberal media and the Democrats. The Republican Party is the Party of freedom. We must have pride in our history and in the principles we must continue to endorse and work towards.