Matt Patterson

On Monday, December 7, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) took to the Senate floor and compared opponents of his health care legislation to past defenders of slavery and segregation.

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"Instead of joining us on the right side of history," Reid accused, "all the Republicans can come up with is, 'slow down, stop everything, let's start over.' If you think you've heard these same excuses before, you're right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said 'slow down, it's too early, things aren't bad enough.'"

What Reid doesn't want you to know or remember is that, for much of its history, it was his party that was overwhelmingly on the wrong side of civil rights.

The Republican Party was anti-slavery from its very inception. Indeed, at their first nominating convention in June, 1856, the Republicans declared themselves opposed to "the extension of Slavery." Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president, would go on to issue the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, and then in February 1865 sign a resolution sending the 13th Amendment to the states for ratification, ending slavery in the United States forever - all over the fierce objections of congressional Democrats.

Even in the 20th century Democrats were civil rights obstructionists. As Byron Hulsey of the Jefferson Scholars Foundation pointed out in a speech at the National Archives, "Southern Democrats were unalterably opposed to any significant legislation, and Democratic President Lyndon Johnson was forced to reach across the aisle," to Republicans, and especially to Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), who was instrumental in crafting and advancing 1960's civil rights legislation.

Given these historic contributions to civil rights, Reid's comments are not sitting well with Republicans. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) called the remarks "foolish" and "inappropriate." Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, himself African-American, called into question Reid's mental state, noting that the Majority Leader is under tremendous pressure which "has apparently led Senator Reid not only to make offensive and absurd statements, but also to lose his ability to reason."

Matt Patterson

Matt Patterson is senior editor at the Capital Research Center and contributor to Proud to be Right: Voices of the Next Conservative Generation (HarperCollins, 2010). His email is