Composite picture, Lincoln and Douglass, around 1860. Image public domain.
Conservatives often trot out the “We’re the party of Lincoln! How COULD we be racist?!” line these days, usually as a stopgap when their candidates are caught in a racist statement or speech.
Where did this idea come from?
Of course, Abraham Lincoln was the first presidential candidate to win as a Republican — twice, in 1860 and 1864 — but pretty much everything from its makeup to its party platform was on the other end of the spectrum from the beast it’s become today. Of course, there were no penis-to-hand-size comparisons back then, but there was a nasty incident in 1856 wherein one member of the House Of Representatives entered the Senate chamber and brutally caned (literally, beat with a cane to unconsciousness) a senator after he attacked slavery. Wow. I don’t think we’ll see that happen this year. But who knows …
“Southern Chivalry — Argument Versus Club,” 1856. Public domain.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 was kind of the catalyst that got the Republican party started. It was a law that let new states decide their own fate when it came to the question of slavery as the United States expanded westward. For the anti-slavery Northern states, this was a problem and went against the desires of those who made the Missouri Compromise — where all of that land came from. If left be, the North could have easily found itself surrounded on both its Southern and its Western borders with slave states. This was not acceptable to both industrialists and abolitionists of the time.
There were some other, minor parties floating around — notably the Whigs and the Free-soil Democrats. They, along with abolitionists and some Democrats who saw the light, more or less coalesced into what would become the party of Lincoln, and slavery rose to become the top issue for the fledgling party.
Image Public Domain
Here’s what some of the key platforms of the Republican Party looked like ideologically when it was formed — unofficially in Ripon, Wisconsin in the Spring of 1854, and officially in Jackson, MI in the Summer of that same year, as well as in 1860 when it gained power and threw Abraham Lincoln into one of the most critical roles in history at a time when the country was tearing itself apart.
- Anti slavery, in fact and in principle
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom of the press
- Taxes on imports that made it favorable for American workers and businesses to survive and even excel:
- ” … we commend that policy of national exchanges, which secures to the workingmen liberal wages, to agriculture remunerative prices, to mechanics and manufacturers an adequate reward for their skill, labor, and enterprise, and to the nation commercial prosperity and independence.”
- Pro-immigrant policies:
- “That the Republican party is opposed to any change in our naturalization laws or any state legislation by which the rights of citizens hitherto accorded to immigrants from foreign lands shall be abridged or impaired; and in favor of giving a full and efficient protection to the rights of all classes of citizens, whether native or naturalized, both at home and abroad.”
Its founding slogan was:
Free Speech. Free Press. Free Soil. Free Men.”
The immigrant question was a huge one and, in addition to slavery, really separated it from the Democratic party of the time. Lincoln’s primary contender for the Republican presidential nomination (and later, his Secretary Of State) William H. Seward had called for a strong welcome to immigrants, with “all the sympathy that their misfortunes at home, their condition as strangers here, and their devotion to liberty, ought to excite.”
And Lincoln himself, in his 1861 message to Congress, made clear that the concept of preserving the government — and the union, for that matter — was to maintain “in the world, that form, and substance of government, whose leading object is to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders – to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all – to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”
Beginning with Lincoln, the Republican Party dominated presidential politics in this country from 1860 all the way up to 1933, when the Great Depression began to change minds about its policies (whether or not Republicans were responsible for that Great Depression is another question), and FDR rode into office, soon to become the only candidate of either party to win 4 consecutive elections.
To underscore the point about the party of Lincoln having lost its moorings, its bearings, its rudder, and its engine — and to demonstrate yet another way this is no longer the party of Lincoln — note that Ol’ Abe always spoke at a 9th-to-11th grade level when at rallies and otherwise talking to the general public.
Donald Trump? He speaks at a 5th-to-6th grade level. (Some have even shown it’s actually closer to 3rd grade.)
Image from Gawker (may it rest in peace.)
Basket of deplorables, indeed.