– from 1960, when the Republicans were still
proudly claiming to be “The Party of Lincoln”
Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers on Monday mornings.
This is an Open Thread forum, so if you have an off-topic opinion burning
a hole in your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
Nothing has been left undone by the enemies of freedom.
Every art and artifice, every cruelty and outrage has been
practiced and perpetrated to destroy the rights of man.
In this great struggle, every crime has been rewarded
and every virtue has been punished.
– Robert Green Ingersoll
Robert Green Ingersoll and Abraham Lincoln
Once upon a time, the Republican Party was a very different party than it is today. The party that put Abraham Lincoln in the White House believed in human rights, fair elections, honesty and integrity — in fact the changes in the party from its inception to its sorry state today are staggering. In 1880, a man could honestly deliver the following speech without feeling a single bit of irony.
New York City — October 28, 1880:
One hundred and thirty-eight years ago, Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899), American lawyer, Civil War Veteran who fought for the Union, known as “The Great Agnostic” and one of the foremost orators of his day, came to Wall Street to deliver a speech from the steps of the Sub-Treasury building. He was urging a crowd of bankers, Wall Street brokers, Produce Exchange Members, and dry goods merchants to vote for James A. Garfield. The crowd, which had tightly packed Wall Street for several blocks to see and hear him, cheered his speech mightily.
Here are some notable excerpts from that speech:
“. . . You can only trust the party that has been honest in disaster. From 1863 to 1879 – sixteen long years – the Republican party was the party of honor and principle, and the Republican party saved the honor of the United States. And you know it. . . . . . .
Republicanism means justice in politics. Republicanism means progress in civilization. Republicanism means that every man shall be an educated patriot and a gentleman. I want to say to you to-day that it is an honor to belong to the Republican party. It is an honor to have belonged to it for twenty years; it is an honor to belong to the party that elected Abraham Lincoln President. And let me say to you that Lincoln was the greatest, the best, the purest, the kindest man that has ever sat in the presidential chair. . . It is an honor to belong to the party that broke the shackles from four millions of men, women and children. It is an honor to belong to the party that declared that bloodhounds were not the missionaries of civilization. It is an honor to belong to the party that said it was a crime to steal a babe from its mother’s breast. It is an honor to belong to the party that swore that this is a Nation forever, one and indivisible. . .
. . . And I tell you that if there is another life, and if there is a day of judgment, all you need say upon that solemn occasion is, “I was in life and in my death a good square Republican.”
. . . If your father voted the Democratic ticket, that is disgrace enough for one family. Tell the old man you can stand it no longer. Tell the old gentleman that you have made up your mind to stand with the party of human progress; and if he asks you why you cannot vote the Democratic ticket you tell him: “Every man that tried to destroy the Government, every man that shot at the holy flag in heaven, every man that starved our soldiers, every keeper of Libby, Andersonville and Salisbury, every man that wanted to burn the negro, every one that wanted to scatter yellow fever in the North, every man that opposed human liberty, that regarded the auction-block as an altar and the howling of the bloodhound as the music of the Union, every man who wept over the corpse of slavery, that thought lashes on the naked back were a legal tender for labor performed, every one willing to rob a mother of her child – every solitary one was a Democrat.”
Tell him you cannot stand that party. Tell him you have to go with the Republican party, and if he asks you why, tell him it destroyed slavery, it preserved the Union, it paid the national debt; it made our credit as good as that of any nation on the earth . . .
Tell the old man that the Republican party preserved the honor of the Nation; that it believes in education; that it looks upon the schoolhouse as a cathedral. Tell him that the Republican party believes in absolute intellectual liberty; in absolute religious freedom; in human rights, and that human rights rise above States. Tell him that the Republican party believes in humanity, justice, human equality, and that the Republican party believes this is a Nation and will be forever and ever; that an honest ballot is the breath of the Republic’s life; that honest money is the blood of the Republic . . .
Tell him that the South seeks to secure by the ballot what it lost by the bayonet; to whip by the ballot those who fought it in the field . . .
. . . Victors cannot afford to have malice . . . I want to see the sails of their commerce filled with the breezes of prosperity; their fences rebuilt; their houses painted. I want to see their towns prosperous; I want to see schoolhouses in every town; I want to see books in the hands of every child, and papers and magazines in every house; I want to see all the rays of light, of civilization of the nineteenth century, enter every home of the South; and in a little while you will see that country full of good Republicans. We can afford to be kind; we cannot afford to be unkind . . .
. . . I will shake hands cordially with every believer in human liberty . . . I will shake hands with every man who is the friend of the human race. That is my doctrine. I believe in the great Republic; in this magnificent country of ours. I believe in the great people of the United States . . . I believe that you are grand enough to stand by the country that has stood by you. . .”
It has been some time since the Republican Party has called itself “the Party of Lincoln.” They dropped that slogan to help put over their “Southern strategy.”
The “Southern strategy” was the Republican Party’s election-winning formula to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to their racism against African Americans. As the civil rights movement and dismantling of Jim Crow laws in the 1950s and 1960s spotlighted existing racial tensions in the Southern United States, Republican politicians successfully wooed white racists, causing a political realignment of many white, conservative voters in the South who had traditionally supported the Democratic Party. The strategy also pushed the Republican Party much more to the right.
This strategy spread fairly quickly to the entire country. What was once “the party of Lincoln” became instead the vehicle of white supremacy. Nixon’s political strategist, Kevin Phillips, unabashedly said in a 1970 New York Times article:
“From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
The Republicans didn’t stop with ramping up the polarization of the South, they exploited ethnic, religious and racial tensions wherever they existed, but getting the white vote in the South was their Grand Prize.
Robert Ingersoll would unquestionably not be a Republican today. He would find his beloved party “that said it was a crime to steal a babe from its mother’s breast” totally unrecognizable.
Some of his other memorable quotes seem especially ironic yet timely today:
If a man would follow, today, the teachings of the Old Testament, he would be a criminal. If he would follow strictly the teachings of the New, he would be insane.
They who gain applause and power by pandering to the mistakes, the prejudices and passions of the multitude are the enemies of liberty.
Perjury is the basest and meanest and most cowardly of crimes. What can it do? Perjury can change the common air that we breathe into the axe of an executioner.
Oh yes, my children, once upon a time there was a Grand Old Party. How Abraham Lincoln would weep if he could see the depths of depravity into which it has cast itself.