The Democrats' own history with race

Bruce Bartlett
|
Posted: Feb 07, 2006 12:05 AM

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond probably spoke for most blacks and liberals last week when he said the Republican Party is equivalent to the Nazi Party.
 
"The Republican Party would have the American flag and the swastika flying side by side," he told an audience at Fayetteville State University.

 Also last week, a new "scientific study" was released showing that Republicans are racist by nature. "The study found that supporters of President Bush and other conservatives had stronger self-admitted and implicit biases against blacks than liberals did," The Washington Post reported.

 For decades, it has been a template of the major media that Republicans are the party of racism. It repeats uncritically any charges of Republican racism, no matter how unfounded. Democrats, on the other hand, are always given a pass whenever they commit racist offenses. Even a cursory review, however, will show that the media template is totally contrary to history.

 Slavery is the greatest evil ever to beset black people in this country. In the decades leading up to the Civil War, there was intense political debate on what to do about it. The Republican Party was founded in 1854 for the express purpose of ending slavery. The Democratic Party, by contrast, defended it to the bitter end.

 Just to show how far Democrats would go to defend slavery, it's worth remembering what happened to Sen. Charles Sumner, Republican of Massachusetts. After giving a speech denouncing slavery in 1856, he was viciously beaten by Rep. Preston Brooks, Democrat of South Carolina, for daring to question the right to own slaves. Being a coward, Brooks waited until the elderly Sumner was seated alone at his desk in the Senate and, without warning, struck him repeatedly with a cane. It took months for Sumner to recover.

 In 1858, Sen. Stephen A. Douglas, Democrat of Illinois, debated Republican Abraham Lincoln on the question of slavery. Said Douglas during one of those debates: "For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians and other inferior races."

 So prevalent were these views in the Democratic Party that Douglas was named its presidential candidate in 1860. Amazingly, Southerners actually viewed Douglas as being too moderate on the slavery issue and instead voted for Vice President John C. Breckinridge, a slave-owner who also ran as a Democrat, thus splitting the pro-slavery vote and allowing Lincoln to win.

 After the war, the Democratic Party held a lock on the South for more than 100 years. All of the "Jim Crow" laws that prevented blacks from voting and kept them down were enacted by Democratic governors and Democratic legislatures. The Ku Klux Klan was virtually an auxiliary arm of the Democratic Party, and any black (or white) who threatened the party's domination was liable to be beaten or lynched. Democrats enacted the first gun-control laws in order to prevent blacks from defending themselves against Ku Klux Klan violence. Chain gangs were developed by Democrats to bring back de facto slave labor.

 President Woodrow Wilson, the second Democrat to serve since the Civil War, reintroduced segregation throughout the federal government immediately upon taking office in 1913. Avowed racists such as Josephus Daniels and Albert Burleson were named Cabinet secretaries. Black leaders like W.E.B. DuBois, who had strongly supported Wilson, were bitterly disappointed, but shouldn't have been surprised. As president of Princeton University, Wilson refused to admit blacks and as governor of New Jersey ignored blacks' requests for state jobs, even though their votes had provided his margin of victory.

 When Franklin D. Roosevelt had his first opportunity to name a member of the Supreme Court, he appointed a life member of the Ku Klux Klan, Sen. Hugo Black, Democrat of Alabama. In 1944, FDR chose as his vice president Harry Truman, who had joined the Ku Klux Klan in Kansas City in 1922. Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt resisted Republican efforts to pass a federal law against lynching, and he opposed integration of the armed forces.

 Another Ku Klux Klan member, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, personally filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for 14 straight hours to keep it from passage. He is still a member of the U.S. Senate today. As recently as the 1980s, Sen. Ernest Hollings, Democrat of South Carolina, publicly referred to blacks as "darkies" and Hispanics as "wetbacks" without suffering any punishment from his party.

 In short, the historical record clearly shows that Democrats, not Republicans, have been the party of racism in this country.