As the first and most celebrated of all Republican Party presidents, what would Abraham Lincoln think and say about today’s incarnation of the party? Here on Allvoices.com and in various other venues, often is heard the assertion that it was the Republican Party, under the leadership Lincoln, which first not only befriended black people but brought them out of 246 years of official bondage via this nation’s bloodiest war. Why, then, do black people consistently give upwards of 90 percent of their hard won votes to Democrats?
After all, it was the Democratic Party (“Democrat” Party per the Republican Party’s current leader Rush Limbaugh), which fought to keep blacks enslaved and which blocked every effort to grant them full citizenship rights for more than one hundred years, including opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and the Voting Rights Act of 1964.
This argument easily fits under the rubric of “willful ignorance.”
Lincoln would not recognize today’s Republican Party. The Republicans of the 1850s and ‘60s were a different animal entirely from the Republicans of 2012. The driving force of Lincoln’s Republicans – those men who forced the slavery and black rights questions to forefront -- were known as “Radical Republicans.” The most prominent elected officials among them were Thaddeus Stevens (R-Penn.) in the House, and in the Senate, Charles Sumner (R-Mass.). These two spearheaded the movement to end slavery, to enfranchise blacks, to punish the South after the war by giving slaveholders’ millions of acres of land to the former slaves.
In today’s parlance, Lincoln would be called a “moderate,” even “conservative.” He toyed with several plans and options during the war – all aimed to “preserve the union,” rather than free the slaves. In the end, he issued his famous Executive Order (the Emancipation Proclamation), only as a military necessity, not as a “moral imperative,” as we are taught in our public schools. In fact, the Proclamation did not actually free a single slave. It only applied to those slaves being held in states which were in rebellion against the federal government. Slave states not in rebellion were not required to free anybody. The rebellious states, of course, just simply ignored Lincoln’s edict, and slavery continued unabated until the North, finally, militarily defeated the South at a cost of 620,000 lives.
Lincoln’s “moderation” and “conservatisim” are well-documented.
“The radicals and conservatives, each agree with me in some things, and disagree in others... I do not question their right... I hold whoever commands... responsible to me, and not to either radicals or conservatives," Lincoln said, according to Don E. Fehrenbacher, author of "Abraham Lincoln Speeches and Writings 1859-1865."
As to the Democrats, they were in complete disarray both during and immediately after the war. It was the southern Democrats who seceded, rebelled, and sought to establish a true slavocracy independent of the north. Northern Democrats generally remained loyal and many actually served in the military in various capacities. Yet, they remained “Democrats.”
Lincoln was aware of this split among the Democrats and warned the southern faction to tread lightly.
“[They] deny [black] manhood; deny, or dwarf to insignificance, the wrong of his bondage; so far as possible, crush all sympathy for him, and cultivate and execute hatred and disgust against him and call the indefinite outspreading of his bondage ‘a sacred right of self-government,'" Lincoln said, according to Fehrenbacher.
Today, he would have a similar message for the so-called Tea Party faction of the Republican Party. He most certainly would not support their assaults on human and civil rights. He would call attempts by various Republican-led states to suppress or deny voting rights to blacks, students, the elderly and disabled, or denying rights for gays, or dictating to women what they could or could not do with their own bodies, as obvious and blatant attempts to subjugate minorities and women.
It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who got the ball rolling with his "New Deal" for everybody, not just blacks, in the 1940s. Blacks began a gradual shift from the Republicans beginning in about 1936. And now....?
Blacks support Democrats because Democrats support them. It was President Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, who forced those landmark civil rights bills through congress. It was Republicans who opposed that legislation tooth and nail right down to the very last ounce of obstructionism that they could muster.
Blacks recognize that Republican calls for “states’ rights” and “small government” are euphemisms for “local” control of their freedom, and have little to do with fostering economic efficiency.
Blacks understand clearly that “privatization” of public spaces and institutions are thinly veiled attempts to withdraw public support for their issues and concerns, and place them back into the hands of people who have no regard whatever for “the common good,” but only the bottom line.
So, President Abraham Lincoln would oppose today’s Republican Party’s attempt to give back to the “states” the ability to determine who is and is not a citizen, a person, indeed, a human being.
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