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American Civil Rights and the Republican Party

John Simkin

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Part 1: American Civil Rights and the Republican Party

John wrote:

The problem with being a reactionary is that in the long-term, you are always destined to be on the losing side.

One final comment here, John.  I am a republican (in the lower case sense) living in a remarkable country the formation of which I strongly believe was shaped by divine providence.  (See "The Angel in the Whirlwind".)  I believe the ideals for which I stand will be vindicated in the future as they have in the past.  It was MY party which freed the slaves.  And it was MY party which was the party of the radical reconstruction forces (that I now you also revere).  It was my country that came to the assistance of yours and helped defeat the evils of Naziism.  And we defeated the evils of Communism as well.  I have no apologies for MY position on the War in Vietnam--it is Jane Fonda who has apologized for her remarks.  And I believe that the Bush/Blair position re bringing democracy to the middle east will be greatly vindicated if we stay the course.  Will there be more blood shed?  Unfortunately, yes.  But that is often the price men must pay for freedom and democracy.  The previous generation paid the ultimate price in World War II, but we can all agree it was worth it.

I am on the winning side, John, because freedom and liberty are causes that will always, ultimately, prevail.

It is of course a myth that the Republican Party fought the American Civil War in order to bring an end to slavery. It is also a myth that the reason why the United States took part in the Second World War was to defeat the “evils of Nazism”. After all, Hitler based his policies of discrimination against the Jews on those Jim Crow laws that existed in the Deep South. The United States did not declare war on Nazi Germany. In fact, Hitler declared war on the United States. Roosevelt wanted to take part in the fight against fascism in the same way he wanted to bring an end to the Jim Crow laws in the Deep South. The problem for Roosevelt was that the vast majority of Americans did not share this view and so he was unable to take action against these two evils. However, as a result of the Japanese bombing Pear Harbor, Roosevelt was able to declare war on Japan. Hitler then declared war on the United States and as a result the country was dragged into the European war.

It is also a myth that the United States invaded Vietnam and Iraq in order to bring democracy to the world. As Eisenhower admitted, if free democratic elections were held in Vietnam (as agreed by the 1954 Geneva Peace Conference) the communists would win an overwhelming victory. That is why the Americans refused to allow point 7 of the Geneva Plan to take place (“a General Election for the whole of Vietnam will be held before July, 1956, under the supervision of an international commission”)

We all know that the invasion of Iraq was about reducing the price of oil. Only the New Cons believe that this was really a war about installing democracy. Even the more intelligent of this group know it to be a convenient excuse for taking illegal action against a sovereign state. After all, they are clearly not interested in democracy being installed in other countries that they currently help support.

However, to return to the American Civil War. It is true Abraham Lincoln had made critical comments about slavery in 1858, but during the 1860 presidential campaign, he made no promises to bring an end to this evil. This disappointed some members of the Republican Party (named Radical Republicans).

Radical Republicans were not only in favour the abolition of slavery but believed that freed slaves should have complete equality with white citizens. They also opposed the Fugitive Slave Act and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This group became known as Radical Republicans. Members included Thaddeus Stevens, Charles Sumner, Joshua Giddings, Benjamin Wade, William D. Kelley, Owen Lovejoy, Henry Winter Davis, George W. Julian, John P. Hale, Benjamin Butler, Joseph Medill, Horace Greeley, Oliver Morton, John Logan, James F. Wilson, Timothy Howe, George H. Williams, Elihu Washburne, Schuyler Colfax, Zachariah Chandler, James Ashley, George Boutwell, John Covode, James Garfield, Hannibal Hamlin, James Harlan, John Andrew, Lyman Trumbull, Benjamin Loan, Wendell Phillips, Frederick Douglass, Charles Drake and Henry Wilson.

Some of the Radicals were elected as chairman of important committees. This included Thaddeus Stevens (Ways and Means), Owen Lovejoy (Agriculture), James Ashley (Territitories), Henry Winter Davis (Foreign Relations), George W. Julian (Public Lands), Elihu Washburne (Commerce) and Henry Wilson (Judiciary)..

In the three months that followed the election of Abraham Lincoln, seven states seceded from the Union: South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. Representatives from these seven states quickly established a new political organization, the Confederate States of America.

The war that followed was not initially about bringing about an end to slavery but about uniting the country under one government.

Radical Republicans were often highly critical of Lincoln during the Civil War. For example, he was slow to support the recruitment of black soldiers into the Union Army. Radical Republicans also clashed with Lincoln over his treatment of Major General John C. Fremont. On 30th August, 1861, Fremont, the commander of the Union Army in St. Louis, proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free. Lincoln was furious when he heard the news as he feared that this action would force slave-owners in border states to join the Confederate Army. Lincoln asked Fremont to modify his order and free only slaves owned by Missourians actively working for the South.

When John C. Fremont refused, he was sacked and replaced by the conservative General Henry Halleck. The Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, William Fessenden, described Lincoln's actions as "a weak and unjustifiable concession in the Union men of the border states. Whereas Charles Sumner wrote to Lincoln complaining about his actions and remarked how sad it was "to have the power of a god and not use it godlike".

The situation was repeated in May, 1862, when General David Hunter began enlisting black soldiers in the occupied district under his control. Soon afterwards Hunter issued a statement that all slaves owned by Confederates in his area (Georgia, Florida and South Carolina) were free. Lincoln was furious and despite the pleas of Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, the instructed him to disband the 1st South Carolina (African Descent) regiment and to retract his proclamation.

In the early stages of the Civil War Lincoln only had one senior member of his government, Salmon Chase (Secretary of the Treasury), who was sympathetic to the views of the Radical Republicans. Later in the war other radicals such as Edwin M. Stanton (Secretary of War), William Fessenden (Secretary of the Treasury and James Speed (Attorney General) were recruited into his Cabinet.

Radical Republicans were also critical of Lincoln's Reconstruction Plan. In 1862 Benjamin Wade and Henry Winter Davis, sponsored a bill that provided for the administration of the affairs of southern states by provisional governors until the end of the war. They argued that civil government should only be re-established when half of the male white citizens took an oath of loyalty to the Union.

On 19th August, 1862, Horace Greeley wrote an open letter to the Abraham Lincoln in the New York Tribune about forcing David Hunter to retract his proclamation. Greeley criticized the president for failing to make slavery the dominant issue of the war and compromising moral principles for political motives. Lincoln famously replied on 22nd August, "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it."

Despite this public dispute with Horace Greeley, Lincoln was already reconsidering his views on the power of the president to abolish slavery. He wrote that the events of the war had been "fundamental and astounding". He admitted that these events had changed his mind on emancipation. He was helped in this by William Whiting, a War Department solicitor, who told him that in his opinion, the president's war powers gave him the right to emancipate the slaves.

After consulting with his vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, Lincoln wrote the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation. When Lincoln told his Cabinet of his plans to free the slaves in the unconquered Confederacy, Montgomery Blair, the Postmaster General led the attack on the idea. Blair argued that if Lincoln went ahead with this it would result in the Republican Party losing power. William Seward, the Secretary of State, agreed with Lincoln's decision but advocated that it should not be issued until the Union Army had a major military victory.

On 17th September, 1862, George McClellan defeated Robert E. Lee at Antietam. It was the most costly day of the war with the Union Army having 2,108 killed, 9,549 wounded and 753 missing. The Confederate Army, who were now have serious difficulty replacing losses, had 2,700 killed, 9,024 wounded and 2,000 missing.

Although far from an overwhelming victory, on 22nd September, Lincoln felt strong enough to issue his Emancipation Proclamation. The statement said that all slaves would be declared free in those states still in rebellion against the United States on 1st January, 1863. The measure only applied to those states which, after that date, came under the military control of the Union Army. It did not apply to those slave states such as Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and parts of Virginia and Louisiana, that were already occupied by Northern troops.

Lincoln, like JFK, elected a 100 years later, was radicalized by his period in government. He, like JFK, had to be removed from office and replaced by a Southerner called Johnson.

Radical Republicans were understandably strongly opposed the policies of President Andrew Johnson and argued in Congress that Southern plantations should be taken from their owners and divided among the former slaves. They also attacked Johnson when he attempted to veto the extension of the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. However, the Radical Republicans were able to get the Reconstruction Acts passed in 1867 and 1868. Despite these acts, white control over Southern state governments was gradually restored when organizations such as the Ku Kux Klan were able to frighten blacks from voting in elections.

In November, 1867, the Judiciary Committee voted 5-4 that Andrew Johnson be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors. The majority report contained a series of charges including pardoning traitors, profiting from the illegal disposal of railroads in Tennessee, defying Congress, denying the right to reconstruct the South and attempts to prevent the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment.

On 30th March, 1868, Johnson's impeachment trial began. The trial, held in the Senate in March, was presided over by Chief Justice Salmon Chase. The Radical Republicans played a leading role in the trial. Thaddeus Stevens was mortally ill, but he was determined to take part in the proceedings and was carried to the Senate in a chair.

Charles Sumner, another long-time opponent of Johnson led the attack. He argued that: "This is one of the last great battles with slavery. Driven from the legislative chambers, driven from the field of war, this monstrous power has found a refuge in the executive mansion, where, in utter disregard of the Constitution and laws, it seeks to exercise its ancient, far-reaching sway. All this is very plain. Nobody can question it. Andrew Johnson is the impersonation of the tyrannical slave power. In him it lives again. He is the lineal successor of John C. Calhoun and Jefferson Davis; and he gathers about him the same supporters."

Although a large number of senators believed that Johnson was guilty of the charges, they disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming the next president. Wade, who believed in women's suffrage and trade union rights, was considered by many members of the Republican Party as being an extreme radical.

When the vote was taken all members of the Democratic Party voted against impeachment. So also did those Republicans such as Lyman Trumbull, William Fessenden and James Grimes, who disliked the idea of Benjamin Wade becoming president. The result was 35 to 19, one vote short of the required two-thirds majority for conviction. A further vote on 26th May, also failed to get the necessary majority needed to impeach Johnson. The Radical Republicans were angry that not all the Republican Party voted for a conviction and Benjamin Butler claimed that Johnson had bribed two of the senators who switched their votes at the last moment.

The Radical Republicans campaign for equal rights for African Americans was not a popular cause after the American Civil War. Henry Wilson argued that the issue cost the Republican Party over a quarter of a million votes in 1868. In the election that year several of the radicals lost their seats including the long-term leader of the group, Benjamin Wade.

When Ulysses S. Grant was elected the only Radical Republicans in his administration was Schuyler Colfax, his vice-president, George Boutwell (Secretary of the Treasury) and John Creswell (Postmaster General). Later, he found posts for George H. Williams (Attorney General) and Zachariah Chandler (Secretary of the Interior).

After the American Civil War a group of former soldiers from the Confederate Army founded the Ku Klux Klan. The first Grand Wizard was Nathan Forrest, an outstanding general during the war. During the next two years Klansmen wearing masks, white cardboard hats and draped in white sheets, tortured and killed black Americans and sympathetic whites. Immigrants, who they blamed for the election of Radical Republicans, were also targets of their hatred.

Radical Republicans in Congress urged President Ulysses S. Grant to take action against the Ku Klux Klan. After a campaign led by Oliver Morton and Benjamin Butler, Grant agreed in 1870 to instigated an investigation into the organization and the following year a Grand Jury reported that: "There has existed since 1868, in many counties of the state, an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire of the South, which embraces in its membership a large proportion of the white population of every profession and class. The Klan has a constitution and bylaws, which provides, among other things, that each member shall furnish himself with a pistol, a Ku Klux gown and a signal instrument. The operations of the Klan are executed in the night and are invariably directed against members of the Republican Party. The Klan is inflicting summary vengeance on the colored citizens of these citizens by breaking into their houses at the dead of night, dragging them from their beds, torturing them in the most inhuman manner, and in many instances murdering."

Congress passed the Ku Klux Act and became law on 20th April, 1871. This gave the president the power to intervene in troubled states with the authority to suspend the writ of habeas corpus in countries where disturbances occurred. The passing of this legislation was the last substantial victory for the Radical Republicans in Congress.

In the 1870s several Radical Republicans, including Benjamin Wade, William D. Kelley, George W. Julian, Benjamin Butler, Henry Wilson and John Covode campaigned for the eight hour day and improved conditions for working people. However, they were now fairly isolated and were unable to persuade Congress to pass legislation to protect the emerging trade union movement.

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John I disagree with you (that's dog bites man news, of course) about the war in Iraq being fought for oil but I will post on that later.

Re your piece on the Republican Party, the Civil War, etc., I want to reread it carefully but I would say so far so good. I do not see what you have posted so far as any indictment of the Republican Party. I agree that initially Lincoln was more concerned with the preservation of the Union than he was in freeing the slaves, although he was a long-time opponent of slavery.

The fact that Republican presidents had to be pushed by the "radical Republicans" does not indict the Republican Party. There were, of course, more "radical Republicans" in the party than there were Republican Presidents. And of course it is significant that the impetus for progress was coming not from Northern Democrats but from Northern Republicans.

The association of Democrats with the racists of the South was one of the reasons I chose to be a Republican. Until the South turned toward the Republican Party, most Northern Democrats were reluctant to criticize them (with some prominent exceptions such as Hubert H. Humphrey, of course). And I have previously, in several posts, given great credit to LBJ for the passage of the civil rights bills of the mid-sixties.

Edited by Tim Gratz
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Part II: Republican Party and Civil Rights

Black Codes was a name given to laws passed by southern governments established during the presidency of Andrew Johnson. These laws imposed severe restrictions on freed slaves such as prohibiting their right to vote, forbidding them to sit on juries, limiting their right to testify against white men, carrying weapons in public places and working in certain occupations.

Even after Johnson left office the Republican Party made no attempt to deal with these Black Codes. Therefore, black people in the Deep South were often denied the right to vote. Even in areas where African Americans were in the majority, it was white racist politicans who controlled the state.

Southern states also passed what became known as Jim Crow laws. This discriminated against African Americans with concern to attendance in public schools and the use of facilities such as restaurants, theatres, hotels, cinemas and public baths. Trains and buses were also segregated and in many states marriage between whites and African American people was illegal.

To keep African Americans in their place, whites in the Deep South introduved a system of lynching (the illegal execution of an accused person by a mob). It has been estimated that between 1880 and 1920, an average of two African Americans a week were lynched in the United States.

In 1884 Ida Wells, editor of Free Speech, a small newspaper in Memphis, carried out an investigation into lynching. She discovered during a short period 728 black men and women had been lynched by white mobs. Of these deaths, two-thirds were for small offences such as public drunkenness and shoplifting.

George Henry White, the last former slave to serve in Congress and the only African American in the House of Representatives, proposed a bill in January, 1901 that would have made lynching of American citizens a federal crime. He argued that any person participating actively in or acting as an accessory in a lynching should be convicted of treason. White pointed out that lynching was being used by white mobs in the Deep South to terrorize African Americans. He illustrated this by showing that of the 109 people lynched in 1899, 87 were African Americans. Despite White's passionate plea, the bill was easily defeated.

It was now clear that the Republican Party had lost all interest in obtaining equal rights for African Americans.

There was a decline in lynching during the First World War but more than seventy blacks were murdered in this way in the year after the war ended. Ten black soldiers, several still in their army uniforms, were amongst those lynched. Between 1919 and 1922, a further 239 blacks were lynched by white mobs and many more were killed by individual acts of violence and unrecorded lynchings. In none of these cases was a white person punished for these crimes. Several trade unionists were also lynched. This included two members of the Industrial Workers of the World, Frank Little (1917) and Wesley Everest (1919).

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). fought a long campaign against lynching. In 1919 it published Thirty Years of Lynching in the United States: 1889-1918. The NAACP also paid for large adverts in major newspapers presenting the facts about lynching. To show that the members of the organization would not be intimidated, it held its 1920 annual conference in Atlanta, considered at the time to be one of the most active Ku Klux Klan areas in America.

However, the NAACP could not get the Republican Party interested in this campaign. Eventually they came to the conclusion that it was the Democratic Party, which was now overall the more liberal of the two groups, who would eventually get equal rights for African Americans.

In 1930 Dr. Arthur Raper was commissioned to produce a report on lynching. He discovered that "3,724 people were lynched in the United States from 1889 through to 1930. Over four-fifths of these were Negroes, less than one-sixth of whom were accused of rape. Practically all of the lynchers were native whites. The fact that a number of the victims were tortured, mutilated, dragged, or burned suggests the presence of sadistic tendencies among the lynchers. Of the tens of thousands of lynchers and onlookers, only 49 were indicted and only 4 have been sentenced."

The NAACP hoped that the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932 would bring an end to lynching. Two African American campaigners against lynching, Mary McLeod Bethune and Walter Francis White, had been actively involved in helping Roosevelt to obtain victory. The president's wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, had also been a long-time opponent of lynching.

However, once in power, Roosevelt showed no interest in the subject. In 1935 Robert F. Wagner, the Democratic congressman from New York, agreed to draft a bill that would punish the crime of lynching. Most Republicans in Congress refused to support the bill. Roosevelt also refused to speak out in favour of the bill that would punish sheriffs who failed to protect their prisoners from lynch mobs. He argued that the white voters in the South would never forgive him if he supported the bill and he would therefore lose the next election.

Even the appearance in the newspapers of the lynching of Rubin Stacy failed to change the minds of politicians of both parties on the subject. Six deputies were escorting Stacy to Dade County jail in Miami on 19th July, 1935, when he was taken by a white mob and hanged by the side of the home of Marion Jones, the woman who had made the original complaint against him. The New York Times later revealed that "subsequent investigation revealed that Stacy, a homeless tenant farmer, had gone to the house to ask for food; the woman became frightened and screamed when she saw Stacy's face."

Wagner’s bill was easily defeated in Congress. Nor did Roosevelt’s administration do anything about the Jim Crow laws that prevented African Americans from voting in elections.

It was the killing of Emmett Till in 1955 that recreating interest in obtaining civil rights for African Americans. Till, a 14 year old boy from Chicago, was sent by his mother to Mississippi to stay with relatives.

During the evening of 24th August, Emmett, a cousin, Curtis Jones, and a group of his friends, went to Bryant's Grocery Store in Money, Mississippi. Carolyn Bryant later claimed that Emmett had grabbed her at the waist and asked her for a date. When pulled away by his cousin, Emmett allegedly said, "Bye, baby" and "wolf whistled".

Bryant told her husband about the incident and he decided to punish the boy for his actions. The following Saturday, Roy Bryant and his half-brother, J. W. Milam, took Emmett from the house where he was staying and drove him to the Tallahatchie River and shot him in the head.

After Emmett's body was found Bryant and Milam were charged with murder. On 19th September, 1955, the trial began in a segregated courthouse in Sumner, Mississippi. In court Mose Wright identified Bryant and Milam as the two men who took away his nephew on the 24th August. Other African Americans also gave evidence against Bryant and Milam but after four days of testimony, the all white jury acquitted the men.

The Emmett Till case, publicized by writers such as William Bradford Huie, led to demonstrations in several northern cities about the way African Americans were being treated in the Deep South. Bob Dylan also took up the case and helped promote the idea of civil rights amongst young people.

This was the beginning of the modern Civil Rights movement. However, few Republicans got involved in this struggle. It was mainly members of the Democratic Party that led this campaign.

Dwight Eisenhower attempted to ignore this issue (1952-60) when he was in office. However, the subject became increasingly embarrassing to him when he attended meetings in Europe. It was constantly pointed out to him that Eisenhower’s speeches about America campaigning for democracy in Eastern Europe were not taken seriously when so many African Americans were being denied the vote in his own country.

Kennedy found himself in the same position when he was in power (1960-63). However, without the support of the Republican Party in the north, he could not get civil rights legislation through Congress. It was another Democrat, Lyndon Johnson, who eventually persuaded Congress to pass a series of civil rights measures that finally insured that African Americans could vote in elections.

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  • 2 weeks later...
John I disagree with you (that's dog bites man news, of course) about the war in  Iraq being fought for oil but I will post on that later.

Re your piece on the Republican Party, the Civil War, etc., I want to reread it carefully but I would say so far so good.  I do not see what you have posted so far as any indictment of the Republican Party.  I agree that initially Lincoln was more concerned with the preservation of the Union than he was in freeing the slaves, although he was a long-time opponent of slavery.

I am still waiting for you to come back and defend the Republican Party and its record on civil rights.

President Nixon attempted to pack the Supreme Court with southern segregationists. However, in two cases they were rejected by the Senate. Nixon then selected William Rehnquist, the farthest-right candidate he could find. He was a judge who had personally intimidated blacks and Hispanics from voting at polling places and written a memo in favour of segregation. Nixon told him to "be as mean and rough as they said you were".

When Reagan became president he appointed two justices who were further to the right than Rehnquist (Antonin Scalia and Robert Bork).

Reagan of course was not known for his beliefs in civil rights. He took a leading part in McCarthyism in the 1950s (got several of his fellow actors blacklisted). He also refused to do anything to help Nelson Mandela's release from prison. Like Margaret Thatcher he called Mandela a communist and did what he could to undermine the economic boycott of South Africa.

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