Lincoln’s Legacy

A brief look at the Republican Party

by: Mauricio Baretto

It was on December 30, 1842 that one of the first African Americans to ever serve in Congress, Josiah T. Walls, was born. Born a slave in Winchester, Virginia, he was forced to fight in the Confederate army until captured by the Union army in 1862 at Yorktown. Once free, he joined the valiant ranks of the States Colored Troops, in which he become a corporal and was finally discharged to Alachua County, Florida. Soon enough, he was elected to the Forty Second United States Congress in 1871 and joined the ranks of Hiram R. Revels of Mississippi, Jefferson F. Long of Georgia, and Benjamin S. Turner of Alabama as the very first African Americans to serve in U.S. Congress. And what else did these congressmen have in common? Not only were they the first African-Americans elected into congress, but they were all proudly serving Republicans as well.

It is crucially important to understand the history of the Republican Party and its legacy to be able to fully understand what it stands for today. With origins dating back to President Abraham Lincoln, the Republican Party quickly became a symbol for equal opportunity and freedom, even though that message has somehow been often misconstrued in today’s society. Abraham Lincoln, in signing the Emancipation Proclamation, set a precedent for what the Republican Party should be: a protector of the freedom of the people in all aspects of their lives. In signing the Emancipation Proclamation, he sparked the fundamental change needed to truly move this country forward as he declared four million U.S. slaves finally free. This precedent initiated a legacy that has led the Republican Party to represent and uphold freedom, even today.

In 1864, Republican National Committee Chairman Edwin D. Morgan made abolishing slavery a part of the Republican Party platform. It was through this, after a long and tough battle in congress that the Republican Party was able to pass the 13th Amendment that outlawed both slavery and involuntary servitude. In addition to this action, it was the Republican Party that introduced and passed the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to all African-Americans and overturning the prior Supreme Court ruling of Dred Scott vs. Stanford. Every vote in favor of this 14th Amendment was cast by a Republican, and every vote cast against it was by a Democrat. Finally, it was the Republican Party that passed the 15th Amendment, thereby granting the right to vote to all citizens, regardless of their skin color. Although Republicans passed this amendment, it must be taken into account that not every Republican supported this amendment, as they wanted the bill to go further and grant voting rights to women as well.

It was the Republican Party that called for racial justice in the armed forces. It was the Republican Congress that established the first peacetime all-black regiment in the regular U.S. army known as the “Buffalo Soldiers”. This regiment quickly became the finest horsemen regiment in United States army, and it was this cavalry regimen that was sent to the military academy at West Point to train the next generation of army leaders. None of this could have been accomplished without the full support of the Republican Party.

It was republican senator Charles Sumner that helped give momentum to the equal rights movement in the United States by proposing the first ever civil rights bill through congress. And it was Republican president Ulysses S. Grant that signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875 into law, which became a blueprint for every other civil rights bill to be introduced into Congress ever afterwards.

But even these actions were not enough. Republicans wanted reform and integration in education as well. Chief Judge Edward Tuttle of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, a Republican, was the judge who ruled in favor of ordering the University of Mississippi to admit its first-ever Black college student. And it was the Republican-leaning Supreme Court justices that ruled in favor of Brown vs. Board of Education to allow integration in schools. When a school district in Arkansas refused to comply, it was Republican President Dwight Eisenhower that sent in the 101st cavalry regimen to escort the “Little Rock Nine”, a group of African American students, to class.

Most think that the days of the Republican Party as an equal opportunity and civil rights defender are over, but this is simply not true. Although painted as the party of the White elite, it is the Republican Party that has consistently fought to prevent African-Americans and other minorities from being trapped in a permanent underclass of government handouts. In the 1990’s, it was the Republican controlled 104th congress passed the personal responsibility and work opportunity act that encouraged employment among the poor to break the cycle of poverty. And it was Democratic President Bill Clinton that reluctantly signed this bill, only after vetoing it twice.

While many think that the Republican Party has lost its way, and is no longer a promoter of social justice, one must simply look at the facts. It is the Republican Party that is dedicated to promoting freedom. It is the Republican Party that is widely opposed to large entitlement programs that merely institutionalize poverty and redistribute wealth. As former African-American congressman Allen West put it, “ever increasing re-distributionary handouts is in fact the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today, and it does not promote economic freedom.” Republicans do believe in a safety net, they just think that the safety net should never become a hammock.

Some believe that large entitlement programs are the only way out, but former slave Frederick Douglas is a proven example that it is not. As a former slave, once freed, he did not give up and worked as hard as he could to educate himself and promote social justice. As a Republican, Douglas was not satisfied with just equal rights among race, but he also wanted true freedom along gender lines as well. Through Lincoln’s legacy, the Republican Party has been consistent in its avid support for equal rights, and remains today no less dedicated to the cause of freedom.