Race, Republicans and Democrats
By Bruce Walker
April 16, 2012
It seems increasingly clear that Obama and the Democrats intend to use race as a principal theme for attacking Republicans in the 2012 election. Last year Obama suggested that the Tea Party was racist. Eric Holder implies that critics of his handling of "Fast and Furious" are racist. Lloyd Marcus, in his recent AT article, describes the difference between the horribly real racism which has haunted modern history and the cynical exploitation of the killing of Trayvon Martin to make absurd accusations of racism against Republicans. It is worth recounting how utterly racist the Democrat Party has been and how hostile to racism the Republican Party has been.
This difference began with the creation of the Republican Party on February 28, 1854 in Ripon, Wisconsin, when the party's explicit purpose was to oppose Democrat “Slaveocrats.” Two years later, when Fremont was the first Republican presidential nominee, his campaign slogan was “Free soil, free men, Fremont.” Lincoln, who was the Republican least hostile to slavery in the South, nevertheless clearly stated: “I do not recall any time in my life in which I did not believe slavery was morally wrong.”
Other Republican leaders were abolitionists before the Civil War. Salmon Chase was so anti-slavery that he was nicknamed before serving in Lincoln’s cabinet as the “Attorney General of Fugitive Slaves.” Lincoln would appoint Chase as chief justice, and one of the first things Chase did was to allow John Rock to be the first black attorney to argue cases before the Supreme Court.
The 1864 Republican Party platform called for complete abolition of slavery. After Lincoln died, the Republican Congress was led by men like Thaddeus Stevens, who alone had opposed unequal rights for blacks as a Pennsylvania state legislator in 1838. He was buried in a segregated black cemetery with the self-composed epithet: “I have chosen this that I might illustrate in my death the principles which I advocated through a long life, Equality of Man before his Creator.” These “Radical Republicans” passed the first Civil Rights Act, and the Republican Party Platform of 1872 provided that “[n]either the law nor its administration should admit any discrimination in respect of citizens by reason of race, creed, color or previous condition of servitude.”
Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes supported the vote for black Americans in Ohio at the state level as governor and then at the federal level as president. In 1867 he had strongly rejected the notion that the United States was a “white man’s” country. Hayes dedicated his post-presidential life to educating young blacks in the South.
Republican President Garfield was a strong supporter of black emancipation. In 1881, in his inaugural address, James Garfield said, "The elevation of the Negro race from slavery to the full rights of citizenship is the most important political change we have known since the adoption of the Constitution of 1787. No thoughtful man can fail to appreciate its beneficent effect upon our institutions and people.”
Republican House Speaker Blaine supported “freedom and equality” for blacks and condemned the violation of black voting rights in the South. He was nominated to run against Cleveland, and John R. Lynch, a black Republican, presided over the convention that nominated Blaine; Lynch also gave the keynote address. The next Republican president, Benjamin Harrison, said: “The colored race in the South has been subjected to indignities, cruelties, outrages, and repression such as find no parallel in the history of civilization.” In 1896, Republican William McKinley, who as Governor of Ohio supported black rights, opposed lynching, and appointed blacks to government positions, was elected president.
What was the Democrat attitude toward blacks during this period? Southern Democrats, of course, opposed emancipation and then opposed civil rights for blacks. But the Democrat Party as a whole was firmly in the hands of racists. John C. Calhoun controlled the selection of the national Democrat nominee as early as the 1830s.
Andrew Johnson supported J.C. Breckenridge, the most extreme pro-slavery of the four major candidates, in the 1860 election. He also supported a Federal Black Slave Code for federal territories. As late as 1865, Johnson told California Senator John Conness that he had never been opposed to slavery. Frederick Douglass, in 1865 on Inauguration Day said that Andrew Johnson expressed a real aversion to the black race. President Andrew Johnson directed the federal government to oust blacks from land that had been given to them by Abraham Lincoln and he said: “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am president, it shall be a government for white men. Everyone would, and must, admit, that the white race was superior to the black.”
The 1876 Democrat nominee, New York Governor Samuel Tilden loudly condemned emancipation, and he promised voters to deny blacks the right to vote. Grover Cleveland, another New York Democrat, appointed Edwin White, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, to the Supreme Court. He opposed the Lodge Federal Election Bill, which protected voting rights for blacks and he supported Jim Crow laws in the South as good social policy. The Republicans in Congress tried in vain to pass the 1890 Federal Election Bill, which died in the Senate, but which Republicans almost uniformly supported and which Democrats (including Northern Democrats) opposed.
Republicans Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, before they became president, had supported equal rights for blacks in their home states (although the Marxist W.E.B. Dubois in 1912 broke ranks with other black leaders and supported Woodrow Wilson). Republicans still won 93% of the black vote, and Dubois was so disgusted with Wilson that in 1916, he joined all the other black leaders in supporting Republican Charles Evans Hughes.
At the 1920 Republican National Convention, which nominated Warren Harding, all Republican state and district conventions were required to be open to blacks. In 1921, President Harding in Birmingham, Alabama condemned lynching and asking for racial tolerance. He asked Congress to create a commission on race relations which could formulate “if not a policy, at least a national attitude” that could bring the races closer together and asked Congress to “wipe out the stain of barbaric lynching from the banners of a free and orderly, representative democracy.” He spoke in favor of “equal educational opportunity” for both races. Harding supported a Republican measure to make lynching a federal crime. (Senate Democrats threatened by filibuster to stop all other business in the Senate unless the matter was dropped.)
Calvin Coolidge revoked segregation imposed by Woodrow Wilson and favored agencies which discouraged racial segregation. Coolidge was the first president to appoint blacks to be federal judges.
The Republican delegate who placed the name of Herbert Hoover in nomination at the 1928 Convention was a black man from Georgia. Hoover had more on his plate than race relations, but he supported equal rights for blacks. After Hoover, Republicans were reduced to almost a shadow party until Eisenhower was elected in 1952, but Republicans consistently supported equal rights for blacks, voting rights laws to protect blacks, and anti-lynching laws.
Eisenhower was much better than Roosevelt or Truman regarding equality for blacks. During his presidency, when the first civil rights law passed through Congress since the Civil War, and conservative Republican Floor Leader Knowland was described by civil rights leaders as a “key man in the victory.”
Wilson was a nightmare for blacks. After he took office, there were mass firings of black federal employees. The new Democrat Congress passed laws barring interracial marriages in the District of Columbia. “Whites Only” and “Blacks Only” began appearing on drinking fountains and in toilets in Washington. President Wilson broke the tradition of appointing American Negroes as consuls to Haiti and Santo Domingo. He rejected a proposal for a National Race Commission to study the status of blacks in the U.S., and he began segregating blacks and whites in the civil service.
FDR was a hero to black America, but one must ask why. He won the 1932 Democrat nomination by collecting all of the convention votes in 9 of the 11 states of the old Confederacy. Only Virginia and Texas, which had “favorite son” candidates, did not give every single delegate to FDR, although by the fourth ballot, every single delegate in all eleven states voted for FDR.
President Roosevelt appointed Hugo Black, a former Klansman, and although later this was downplayed, Black was elected to the Senate from Alabama with the backing of the Klan. Roosevelt appointed another Klansman, Tom Clark, as attorney general of the United States. Paul Robeson called the appointment of Clark as attorney general by FDR “a gratuitous and outrageous insult to my people.” Black leaders despised FDR. Roy Wilkins accused FDR of “expedient cowardice.”
Were Democrat leaders after FDR better? Harry Truman applied to join the Klan (but stopped when he found out that the Klan hated Catholics.) Truman had said that one man is as good as another “so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman,” and he referred to Martin Luther King as a “troublemaker.” When asked about racial integration, he asked a reporter: “Would you want your daughter to marry one of them?”
Adlai Stevenson, the Democrat nominee in 1952 and 1956, selected as his running mate John Sparkman of Alabama, a segregationist. As a congressman, LBJ opposed civil rights legislation, opposed anti-lynching legislation, and opposed legislation to end the poll tax and end employment discrimination.
JFK, too, was a bigot. In 1960, when Time Magazine interviewed John Kennedy, he said: “It was so hot that even niggers went to the beach.” During the 1960 election campaign, John Kennedy had breakfast in Alabama with the White Citizen’s Council in Alabama, a fact that Jackie Robinson noted in expressing frustration at the indifference to racism in the Kennedy campaign.
It is a testament to the racism pandemic in the Democrat Party that when Hubert Humphrey courageously spoke up against “white only” primaries in the South at the 1948 Democrat Convention, that was recognized as a breakthrough for civil rights -- but Republicans, of course, had accepted blacks in their primaries and caucuses all along, and blacks from the South had been delegates at Republican conventions since the end of the Civil War. Humphrey was asking Democrats to move up to where Republicans had been since 1868.
The crux of all notions that somehow Republicans are hostile to blacks while Democrats champion black rights dates back to Barry Goldwater and his opposition to federal civil rights laws which forbid private citizens and businesses from discriminating against people based upon race, color, or national origin.
This had nothing to do with equal rights for blacks before the law. Goldwater, in fact, had been one of the founders of the NAACP in Arizona. He supported every single civil rights bill before the 1964 law, and his opposition to that one was based upon its unconstitutionality, as Goldwater explains here and as his campaign brochure also explains. LBJ, as Goldwater noted at the time that the 1964 law was passed, had opposed every other civil rights bill in his political career.
No one today can seriously question the integrity of Goldwater. He was a principal mover in forcing the resignation of Nixon. He often stood alone, or almost alone, on other issues. What caused the change in the attitude of blacks towards the two political parties was not any real perception of Goldwater as a bigot, which he emphatically was not, but rather upon the perceived benefit to blacks of socialism and of statist intervention in the private affairs of Americans.
Socialism promises those who are at the bottom of society greater affluence by the redistribution of wealth. Historically, that noxious doctrine has had very little appeal in America because groups have entered America destitute and, through dint of hard work, have risen to the heights of society within a generation or two. Irish, Italians, Jews, Japanese, Greeks, and other immigrants have proven the validity of this proposition over and over again.
As Thomas Sowell has so persuasively demonstrated, black America not only could, but did rise fast in American society once legal restraints on race -- the sort that men like Coolidge and Goldwater have always opposed -- were lifted. As one small but telling example, Sowell notes that in the segregated school system of Washington, D.C. in 1899, blacks scored better than whites on standardized tests. Moreover, just as blacks unhindered by government hindrance or “help” have risen fast, private enterprise, the great equalizer, is often the first part of society to accept blacks. The boycott of the Montgomery Bus System which inspired Rosa Parks’ passive resistance was opposed by the City of Montgomery, which obtained an injunction against blacks using taxis to avoid riding on buses. The private black boycott was working, and the statist racist response was to stop the boycott through government intervention.
Socialism punishes individual achievement, and that achievement is the best avenue of success for blacks and all others who have suffered from discrimination. The bosses of socialism, which is in essence no more than a scam to seize and to hold power, have utter indifference to real racism (e.g., having Klansman Robert Byrd as Democrat Senate Floor Leader) and a deep interest in the permanent poverty and misery of those who irrationally view statist collectivism as their only hope.
Democrats have long been addicted to machine politics, which requires its constituencies to be clumps of votes and not human souls. This addiction requires the perpetual enslavement of black America, although with a different and more generous master. Republicans have been consistent on race relations from the very beginning, and this reflects the fact that moral principles cannot change to meet the needs of political power. Many black Americans know this and have rebelled against it, but the party of the slave whip does not surrender easily, and the party of emancipation too often apologizes for sins never committed.
Bruce Walker is a long-time conservative writer whose work is published regularly at popular conservative sites such as American Thinker.