Letter: Why context matters
I’ve read a few letters to the editor lately concerning history, and it’s clear that few of these letters care about the context as long as an event can be used for their argument. That, unfortunately, is not history.
It’s true that Republicans passed the amendments making slavery unconstitutional and restoring the rights taken from Black Americans. What my colleagues neglect to mention is these were accomplished by the Radical Republicans — a small faction more progressive than the majority of the Republican Party. Their fight for civil progress was abruptly ended in 1877 when the GOP ended Reconstruction to get Republican Rutherford B. Hayes elected president (the first time they would gain the presidency without the popular vote.) Radical Republicans’ progress was scrapped for power.
It’s also true that Democrats in the South enacted and viciously enforced Jim Crow. It is foolish to pretend otherwise; however, that argument ignores half of the story.
Anyone looking at the major parties today would see that the Democrats are the party of large government, civil rights and change, the same qualities that made the Radical Republicans so admirable. The modern Republicans have lost their appetite for change and instead focus on the good ol’ days. After all, conservative means “averse to change or innovation.”
It is wrong to use the 1860s as an example of modern Republicans, because it gives half the history with none of the context. In the 100 years after the Civil War, the GOP began to care more about the market than civil rights while the Democratic party, much too slowly, began to broaden its base and advocate for larger government spending. In the 1960s the two parties had almost switched civil rights platforms.
The transformation was complete when a Democrat signed the Civil Rights Act and thousands of Southern Democrats switched parties. Since then, it’s Republican-appointed judges who are hellbent on dismantling the act. Meanwhile, a Democratic President first publicly supported gay marriage, and a Democratic House passed police reform, a new voting rights act and economic help for farmers of color (a move halted by Republican lawsuits).
I congratulate the Republican Party for expanding the role of the federal government 160 years ago, but the fight for freedom didn’t end in 1872. The Democratic party has a stained history, but at least they changed and continue to fight, every day, for all people’s rights.
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