In the late 1850s, as the Republican Party was being formed out of an amalgamation of "free soilers", "whigs", "Liberals", "Know Nothings" (some of which are still around today) and "Black Republicans" who were Anglo, but labeled "Black" because they favored full and immediate emancipation. Mr. Lincoln stitched together enough of a coalition to win the Republican Party's nomination and eventually and thankfully the 1860 presidential election.
As Mr. Lincoln traveled in March of 1861 from Springfield, Ill., to Washington, D.C., for his inauguration, his tour stopped over in Philadelphia and a crowd gathered to see his train, and perhaps coax a speech out of the greatest communicator of the 19th century.
He appeared on the caboose of the train and spoke eloquent words about his political philosophy. He said, "I have never had a political thought that didn't arise from the declaration that all men are created equal - I'd rather be assassinated on this spot than to sacrifice my belief, that freedom is the ultimate destiny of all mankind."
The essence of Lincoln's philosophy was what carried the day and eventually led him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January of 1863. For Republicans, this legacy, combined with President Ulysses Grant's use of federal troops in the South to enforce voting and property rights for emancipated Blacks and later President Dwight Eisenhower's use of federal troops to integrate public schools in the '50s left the GOP a huge share of support from African-Americans. It lasted right up to 1960, when Vice President Richard Nixon faced off against Sen. John F. Kennedy for the presidency.
Nixon was far ahead of Kennedy in October, according to Taylor Branch in his great history of the civil rights movement, "Parting the Waters," but in October of 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed for a parking violation in Atlanta, while his wife Coretta was pregnant. Despite objections from some of his staff, Kennedy called Mrs. King that Saturday evening and conveyed his genuine sympathy. Conversely, despite urging from Nixon's Press Secretary, Herbert G. Klein, former editor-in-chief of Copley Newspapers, a Republican "Southern Strategy" was born because Nixon did not make that fateful call.
Richard Nixon went from the a huge base of "Negro" votes down into the teens while Kennedy went from the teens to and overwhelming share of the Black vote, and ultimately, Nixon lost in one of the closest elections in history.
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