REPUBLICANS VS DEMOCRATS AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS HISTORY
- 2008/11/13 23:26:35
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by Christopher Cook
It's 2006—election time again.
As with any election year, the commentariat has begun issuing their analysis and many predictions. And, just as they do on any day whose name ends in "day," they'll soon be gracing us all with their many pearls of "conventional wisdom."
One of those many pieces of conventional wisdom—known at this point to just about all of us—is that black Americans vote for Democrats. Overwhelmingly so.
In fact, they vote in greater percentages—usually around 90%—for one political party than any other major demographic group. To have a demographic group vote so overwhelmingly for one party is rather amazing, and so I decided to look into the history of the two political parties to see if I could discover why.
One of the first things I discovered in my research is that there was a demographic group in America's past that—believe it or not—actually gave their votes to one political party in even greater percentages.
The demographic group was the same: black Americans.
The percentage was 100%.
The party that enjoyed those levels of support? The Republican Party.
I know, I know, but wait... it gets even weirder. The Democratic Party is, today, thought of as the political champion and proponent of the interests of black Americans. But for almost all of the history of this country, the Democrats were the party of slavery, secession, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, and opposition to nearly every piece of civil rights legislation ever passed.
The Republicans were the party of abolition and emancipation. They opposed segregation, lynching, and Jim Crow. And they were the sole authors of nearly every civil rights legislation and amendment passed in the United States!
No, I am not smoking anything.
And cling tightly to your caps, because there's more. The Democrats were the creators of the Ku Klux Klan, which they founded with the expressed purpose of using violence to purge Republicans from Southern politics. Essentially, the KKK began its existence as the terrorist wing of the Democratic Party.
Now let's all just take a deep breath—I am NOT making this stuff up.
At this point in my study, I had more questions than I did answers, so I decided to be a bit more systematic. Whether we be Democrats, Republicans, or something else, we should all share a devotion to what is historically true. And so, I have put together a little timeline on this subject. These things may not be widely discussed, taught, or known today, but they are historical facts that are not generally in dispute. Personally, I found them quite surprising, and I think you might too.
In 1789, Congress passes, and George Washington signs into law, a bill stating that no territory could become a state if it allowed slavery.
In 1792, the Democrat Party is formed. They are the party that promotes and seeks the continuance of slavery.
In 1808, Congress abolishes the slave trade in America.
In 1818, the Democrats become the majority in Congress. Using their majority, they begin to undo the 1808 and other anti-slavery decisions.
In 1820, the Democrat Party passes the Missouri Compromise, institutionalizing slavery in half of the territories.
For thirty years, Democrats pass multiple laws promoting and protecting slavery, culminating in 1850 with the Fugitive Slave Law. This law takes away all rights to jury trials, representation, and habeas corpus from any black who is so much as accused of being a slave.
In 1854, Democrats pass the Kansas-Nebraska act, opening up those territories to slavery, thus exceeding even the limits of the Missouri Compromise.
In 1854, the Republican party is formed to end slavery. Six of the nine planks in their fledgling platform statement deal with civil rights issues.
In 1857, the Supreme Court rules in Dred Scott v. Sanford that blacks are considered inferior and thus not covered by the phrase "all men" in the Declaration of Independence; that they are property covered by the 5th Amendment; and that no black—not even a free black—could ever become a citizen of the United States. The Democrats support the decision.
In 1861, Abraham Lincoln is inaugurated, and the anti-slavery Republican Party now controls the Executive Branch. The Democrat Party, in complete control of the South, splits the nation asunder and causes a war in order to maintain slavery. Innumerable horrors and 650,000 deaths are required to free the slaves and restore the union.
In 1865, Republicans pass the 13th Amendment, ending slavery.
100% of Republicans vote for it.
Even among northern Democrats, it receives the support of only 23%.
In spite of the 13th Amendment, Southern Democrats continue to deny blacks their citizenship rights, so...
In 1868, the 14th Amendment was passed, establishing citizenship and equal protection for all in Federal law.
100% of Republicans vote for it.
0% of Democrats vote for it.
In spite of the 14th Amendment, Southern Democrats continue to prevent blacks from enjoying the real fruits of this citizenship, especially the right to vote, so...
In 1869, the 15th Amendment is passed, establishing the right to vote for all people, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
98% of Republicans vote for it.
3% of Democrats vote for it.
From 1866–1875, the Republican Congress passes 19 civil rights laws. Democrats oppose them all.
In 1875, in order to counter the Democrats' passage of Jim Crow laws, Republicans pass the most sweeping civil rights legislation ever—the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Eight years later, the Supreme Court (mostly Democrat appointees) declares the act unconstitutional.
In 1876, Democrats take control of the House of Representatives. No more meaningful civil rights legislation is passed until 1964.
In 1892, Democrats take control of the White House and the Senate, and they keep control of the House. They immediately begin establishing Jim Crow laws and repealing all civil rights legislation passed by the Republicans. Any laws or amendments they cannot repeal, they skirt with poll taxes and literacy tests.
Beginning after the War, and thenceforward until 1935, ALL blacks elected to Congress are Republicans. In addition to those elected to Federal office, hundreds of blacks—all of them Republicans—are elected to state legislatures in the South.
In 1866, Democrats form the KKK with the express purpose of preventing the election of Republicans in the South. Democrats admit—under oath in Congressional hearings in 1872—that the Klan is a Democrat creation intended to restore Democrat control of the South. The Klan carries out this plan by means of a series of massacres at Republican Party meetings.
In 1901, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt invites Booker T. Washington to the White House. Democrats and the media are outraged.
In the 1920s, Republicans propose anti-lynching legislation. The legislation passes the house but is killed by the Democrat-controlled Senate.
In 1947, Republican businessman Branch Rickey, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, hires Jackie Robinson (also a Republican), thus integrating Major League Baseball.
In 1954, Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren (appointed by Republican Dwight Eisenhower) authors the desegregation decision of Brown v. Board of Education.
In 1956, Democrats express their opposition to Brown v. Board of Education in the "Southern Manifesto." One hundred and one members of Congress—all but four of them Democrats—sign the manifesto.
In 1957, Republican President Eisenhower authors a Civil Rights Bill, hoping to repair the damage done to blacks and their civil rights by Democrats since 1892. Passage of the bill is blocked by Senate Democrats. When the bill finally goes through, it is significantly weakened due to lack of support from Democrats.
In 1960, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen authors a Voting Rights Bill, again, in an effort to undo the disenfranchisement of blacks by Democrats through poll taxes, literacy tests, and threats of violence by the KKK. And once again, Senate Democrats attempt (though in the end unsuccessfully) to block passage of the bill.
In 1964, Congress passes, and President Lyndon Johnson signs into law, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This is essentially the law originally authored by Eisenhower in 1957. Democrats, including still-serving Senator Robert Byrd (a former KKK member), employ a filibuster of the bill. Once the filibuster is overcome, a larger percentage of Republicans vote for passage than do Democrats.
In 1965, Congress passes, and President Lyndon Johnson signs into law, the Voting Rights Act of 1964. This is the law originally authored by Eisenhower in 1959. A filibuster is prevented, and passage of this bill also enjoys support from a greater percentage of Republicans than Democrats.
So here we are at 1965, right around the time when black American voters completed the big migration to the Democrats. 100% Republican when they first began voting, 90% Democrat now—what the heck happened?
I kept studying.
Though the sea change occurred in the 1960s, there were, earlier, a couple of small fractures in the 100% support once enjoyed by the Republicans.
First, there was the controversial election of Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes, who won in the Electoral College but lost the popular vote. Though Hayes himself was not involved, there were numerous placative deals made with the Democrats to get them to support his election—including, unfortunately, a relaxing of Republican support for Reconstruction. This was a small crack in what had otherwise been the Republicans' unwavering record of championing the rights of black Americans.
Then, there was the Great Depression, which hit lower-income blacks very hard. Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, with the many anti-poverty and work programs he supported, was seen as a champion of the "little guy." Rightly or wrongly, this caused another diminution in the monolithic support from blacks that had been previously enjoyed by Republicans.
But it was the mid-60s when the big shift took place, and there are three big reasons for that shift.
Kennedy and King:
The 1960s roiled with questions of equality and civil rights. Marches and protests were taking place across the country—it truly was the defining issue of the early 1960s.
John F. Kennedy, recognizing the need to place himself on the correct side of the cilvil rights question, employed the talents of Senator Harris Wofford to pursue this aim. Among other initiatives, Wofford encouraged Kennedy to make a comforting phone call to Coretta Scott King when her husband was in jail. This had a deep effect on Martin Luther King Jr.'s father, who had previously been a Republican and Nixon supporter. King, Sr. very publicly switched his support to Kennedy, and said he would bring "a suitcase full of votes" with him. And he did. When the father of the nation's most prominent civil rights leader switched parties, it was only natural that many would switch with him.
Civil Rights Legislation:
The 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were passed by a Congress wherein Democrats were the majority, and they were signed into law by a Democratic president. This had a powerful effect on public opinion.
The ironies involved were many. Both pieces legislation had essentially been authored by Republicans. As a percentage of the party, a greater percentage of Republicans voted for both bills than did Democrats. And a cadre of Democrats filibustered the 1964 bill in an attempt to prevent its passage.
Simply put, both bills could not have been passed without the actions of Republicans... not to mention that both were just modern versions of civil rights legislation that Republicans had passed—and Democrats had systematically undone—100 years earlier.
This, however, was not the broad public perception, and Barry Goldwater—with one action—made that perception significantly worse for Republicans. In the course of the debate on the 1964 Civil Rights legislation, he found an element of the bill not to his liking, and voted against it.
Barry Goldwater—a man who, using his own money, twice kept the Arizona chapter of the NAACP from going bankrupt—was not a racist. And his vote was a principled one, in that it was a provision of the bill that he opposed, rather than its overall aim. And yet it may have been the most costly electoral mistake ever made. Barry Goldwater was the Republican nominee for president. The standard-bearer of the Republican Party had voted against civil rights legislation. The perception might as well have been carved in stone.
The Southern Strategy:
The electoral reality for any presidential candidate is that he (or she, someday soon) must appeal to a majority of voters in enough states to win. It's a complex game, involving hundreds of calculations and very deliberate strategies. Resources are carefully allocated by state or region, in an effort to secure the most electoral votes. In the presidential election of 1960, the Nixon campaign decided to go after votes in the South. The South had been, from the beginning of the country, solidly Democrat, but fractures had begun to appear in this monolithic support, and the Nixon campaign felt they could make enough headway there to turn the tide. This was called the "Southern Strategy." Nixon's campaign and Republicans contended that they were appealing to traditional American values. Their Democrat opponents countered that they were appealing to underlying racism pervasive in the South.
Whatever the truth was, the Democrats' characterization of the Southern Strategy gained enough traction to have an effect. Ironically, there was still institutionalized racism in the South at that time, but it was still being expressed almost exclusively by Democrats. Southern Democrat governors, such as Faubus of Arkansas, Wallace of Alabama, and Barnett of Mississippi, were standing in doorways of schools, calling out the National Guard, and even closing them all down for a year to prevent their integration.
So, here in 2006, where does this leave us?
Democrats will likely respond to all of this by saying, "that was then and this is now." They will argue that today's Democratic Party is nothing like the way it was. Some will go further, and argue that the roles have reversed—that today, it is the Republicans who are the racists, and the Democrats who are the champions of minorities.
In response, a fair-minded Republican must grant that the Democratic Party has indeed changed—and dramatically so—from its pro-slavery, secessionist, segregationist past. But that Republican then would likely go on to argue that the Republican Party did not change at all vis-a-vis civil rights—that they still continue to promote the same general ideas of colorblindness that they always have: that everyone should be treated equally, and that everyone should be allowed to get as rich as possible, regardless of who they are.
Where does the truth lie? Which party's policies are more beneficial to the interests of black Americans today? And, if all of this is a matter of historical record, why haven't Republicans been shouting it from the rooftops?
If you ask a thousand people to answer those questions, you just might get a thousand different answers. But somewhere in there is the truth, and it's a truth we're going to need to find as we continue to examine this question.
For now, we've taken the first step. For indeed, in order to understand where we are now and where we may be going, it is important that we first understand where we've been.
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