In honor of February being Black History Month, I thought it might be informative to look at one aspect of the history of blacks in America; namely, the history of blacks and the Republican Party. Though black voters in America have in recent decades become a monolithic voting block for the Democrat Party, such has not always been the case. In fact, I think it would come as a great surprise for many blacks today to learn that not only have Republicans not always been thought of as their political enemies, they once had a political and ideological alliance. Even today these two groups agree on a wide range of issues, from educational choice and traditional marriage, to the importance of religion, specifically Christianity, to our history and culture.
On March 20, 1854, a group of people opposed to the Democrats’ policies supporting slavery met in Ripon, Wisconsin with the express purpose of organizing to end the moral evil of slavery. Just ten days later, on March 30th, President Franklin Pierce, a Democrat, signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, a law which authorized the expansion of slavery into U.S. territories. As a result, these anti-slavery members of the Whig and Free-Soil Democrats would form the Republican Party, and within a few short years had established a major power base in the northeastern and Midwestern states.
In 1856, the Republican Party held its first national nominating convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where it nominated John C. Freemont as their presidential candidate. Freemont ran under the slogan “Free soil, free silver, free men, Fremont”. He would lose that election to Democrat James Buchanan after Democrats warned the election of the anti-slavery Freemont would lead to civil war, but despite the loss in the 1856 election, the Republicans had established themselves as a major party, and would win the presidency just four years later with Abraham Lincoln.
In 1857, in possibly the most morally reprehensible ruling in American history, the Supreme Court ruled in Dred Scott v. Sanford that the federal government had no power to regulate slavery in U.S. territories, and that Scott had no standing to petition the court because blacks were not, and could never be, American citizens. This ruling also declared unconstitutional the Missouri Compromise, which ended slavery in U.S. territories. The ruling was 7-2, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roger Taney, a Democrat. The lone dissenting votes were cast by John McLean (Republican) and Benjamin Curtis (Whig).
With the election of Lincoln, an outspoken opponent of slavery, Democrats saw the writing on the wall, and even before Lincoln was inaugurated, seven of the slave states had declared secession, forming the Confederacy. Perhaps temporarily mollified by Lincoln’s First Inaugural speech, the remaining slave states did not immediately join the Confederacy. Lincoln, while abhorring slavery, did not feel like the Constitution gave him the right to dictate to the states an end to slavery. His goal was to end the expansion of slavery, and then use an enticement to end slavery where it existed. In this speech, he declared “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Lincoln sought a pragmatic solution to ending slavery. Realizing he was president and not king, he sought an end to slavery in a way that would avoid war between the slave and Free states. Whereas the abolitionists demanded the immediate release of all slaves on moral grounds, Lincoln suggested a graduated approach whereby slave-owners would be paid out of the U.S. Treasury for the freeing of their slaves, with the compensation level dropping each year. This would achieve the goal of ending slavery, while allowing slave-holders to transition to the new economic reality without causing significant economic upheaval.
Despite the fact that a large faction of his own party saw him as too moderate on the abolition issue, the pro-slavery Democrats trusted his promises even less. The March 1861 edition of DeBow’s Review captured the prevailing sentiment about the Republican Party and Lincoln, stating “That the leading object of the mass of the [Republican] party, as a near or ultimate purpose, is the emancipation of the slaves, no man who has marked the power of the fanatical element in the organization and the growth of it can doubt.”
Lincoln felt that the United States had been formed by a compact of the states dating back to the 1774 Articles of Association, and he therefore believed secession was an unconstitutional act unless mutually agreed to by all parties involved. Unable to establish trust between the factions and come to a compromise, shots rang out at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, and the hostilities of the War Between the States commenced.
In January 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring as free men all slaves still being held in servitude in the Confederacy. Before the war ended in 1865, well over 600,000 soldiers on both sides met their death. Families torn apart by split allegiances, brother against brother, and father against son, it marked the darkest days of this great union.
The end of the war would not mark an end to the suffering of blacks in America, but slavery was ended, and though it would take more than a century to see true equality under the law for black Americans, the process had begun.
It is entirely fitting that this month, which celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation; another proclamation has been submitted for consideration by the State Senate of Georgia, one of the original slave states. In the “Freedom Resolution of 2013”, Republican State Senator Barry Loudermilk calls upon the legislature to acknowledge the role of the state, as in institution, in past slavery, and to express sincere remorse and repentance for its role in perpetuating that evil practice, which runs counter the God’s Law, and the principles of liberty upon which our nation was founded. It reads in part:
“Whereas, the practice of slavery was sanctioned, condoned and perpetuated through the laws of this state until the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution on December 18, 1865; and
Whereas, while even the most abject apology cannot right the transgressions, injustices and oppressive acts of the past, the spirit of true repentance can promote reconciliation among all people and avert the repetition of past injustices for future generations;
Now, therefore, be it RESOLVED BY THE GEORGIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY that the State of Georgia hereby acknowledges, as was written in the original draft of the Declaration of Independence, that the act of slavery is a “cruel warfare against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty,” and; therefore, this state expresses profound remorse and lamentations for the past practice of involuntary servitude instituted, condoned and maintained through the laws of this state; and
Be it further RESOLVED, that through the spirit of repentance and reconciliation “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” and the government of this state shall hitherto commit itself to the preservation and protection of the natural rights of all people, and to the propagation of the ideals of liberty and justice for all mankind.”
The Republican Party, to their shame, has allowed its proud history to be hijacked and rewritten by the Democrat Party, obscuring the leading role it took in ending slavery, and helping to insure that ALL men, including blacks, are truly free. This will be the first in a series of articles that sheds light on the history of the Democrat Party in perpetuating the enslavement of blacks, enslavement no less evil today just because shackles and whips have been replaced with being trapped in failing schools and crime-ridden neighborhoods, and of the Republican Party’s role in correcting these injustices.