In 1911, President Woodrow Wilson wisely observed:
A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.1
This is still true today, especially concerning African-American history. Since February is celebrated nationally as Black History Month, and since four specific historical inaccuracies related to blacks and politics were prominent throughout Election 2000, this newsletter will review the history of African-American involvement in the political process.
DEMOCRATS, REPUBLICANS, & BLACKS
One of the more surprising statistics of Presidential Election 2000 was the cohesiveness of the African-American vote: blacks supported Democrats with a percentage higher than any other voting block. For example, among traditional Democratic constituencies, union members voted for Democrats by a margin of 62 to 34 percent, and homosexuals by a margin of 70 to 25 percent, but African-Americans voted for Democrats by a margin of 90 to 9 percent.2 Judging by such results, one could easily assume that blacks have a long tradition of support for Democrats. Such, however, is not the case.
Historically speaking, political rights were largely unknown for blacks in America until after the Civil War. Slavery had been introduced into America by the Dutch in 1619 and subsequently enforced upon the Colonies by British authorities prior to the American Revolution. The American Revolution marked the first change in the political rights of African-Americans, and many black patriots fought for and achieved their freedom while fighting for the Colonies during the American Revolution.
Although the attitude toward the century-and-a-half institution of slavery began to change during the Revolution (with over half the States abolishing slavery), emancipation still was not available to most blacks in Southern States, even though Free Blacks (as opposed to Slave Blacks) in Southern States did begin to taste some political freedoms not available to them before the Revolution. For example, in Southern States, many Free Blacks gained the right to vote, saw educational opportunities opened to them, and were largely treated the same as whites under the criminal codes3 – franchises not available to Slave Blacks.
The opposition to slavery that first emerged during the American Revolution continued to grow following the Revolution. The pulpit grew louder in its denunciation of slavery, led especially by Quakers, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Methodists, as well as by prominent political leaders like John Quincy Adams and Daniel Webster. In fact, many Founding Fathers who advocated the abolition of slavery in the 1770s and 1780s were still pursuing that goal half-a-century later.
One such Founder was Rufus King, a signer of the Constitution from Massachusetts. In 1785, King persuaded the Continental Congress to prohibit slavery in all American-held territories, and in 1789, as a member of the first federal Congress, he obtained passage of a measure to prohibit slavery in federally-held territories. Due to these efforts, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, and Iowa were all admitted as free rather than slave States.4
However, in 1819, the Missouri Compromise was introduced in Congress to alter those 1789 prohibitions. Under that plan, States would be admitted to the Union in pairs – six slave States with six free States. King, still a member of Congress, vigorously opposed the modification of his original plan and fought the admission of any federal territories as slave States.5 Other Founders still alive at that time expressed similar opposition to the Missouri plan.
For example, Elias Boudinot – a president of Congress during the Revolution and, in 1789 as a member of Congress, a supporter of the ban on slavery in federal territories and all new States – warned that if the Missouri Compromise passed, “there is an end to the happiness of the United States.”6 A frail John Adams worried that lifting the slavery prohibition would destroy America;7 and an elderly Jefferson, then living in political retirement, was appalled at the proposal, declaring:
I had for a long time ceased to read newspapers or pay any attention to public affairs, confident they were in good hands. . . . But this momentous question, like a fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell [announcement of death] of the Union8. . . . In the gloomiest moment of the Revolutionary War, I never had any apprehensions equal to what I feel from this source.9
Notwithstanding this opposition, and because so many of the other Founders who opposed slavery had by then died (e.g., Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, William Livingston, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, James Wilson, etc.), the Missouri Compromise passed.
The issue of slavery became a bright line of demarcation in America, with the abolition movement being countered with equally staunch opposition from the supporters of slavery. Not surprisingly, political movements formed reflecting the opposing views, with measures like the Fugitive Slave Law (allowing slaves who escaped to free States to be brought back into slavery), the Lecompton Constitution (written by pro-slavery forces in Kansas), and the Dred Scott decision (declaring that blacks were property and that Congress could not restrict the spread of slavery) galvanizing the differences between the movements.
Following a vote in Congress to extend slavery into the Northwestern Territory in May, 1854, twenty House Members coalesced themselves into a group they titled “The Republican Party.”10 Its declared purpose was to support the original anti-slavery principles of the federal government. The first Republican Platform (1856) therefore declared:
Resolved. That with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth that all men are endowed with the inalienable right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. . . . That, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing slavery.11
(Significantly, six of the nine planks in the original 1856 Republican Platform condemned slavery or focused on securing equal civil rights for all.)
Offering Col. John C. Fremont as its first candidate for President, the anti-slavery Republican Fremont lost to pro-slavery Democrat James Buchanan. Two years later, in 1858, Republican Abraham Lincoln faced Democrat Stephen Douglas in a race for U.S. Senate in Illinois. That campaign became famous for the Lincoln-Douglas debates, with Democrat Stephen Douglas defending slavery and Republican Abraham Lincoln opposing it. Although Lincoln lost that senatorial election, two years later in 1860, he won the presidency against Douglas, and for the first time Republicans became the prominent party in Congress. Under Lincoln’s leadership, the Republican vision of equality moved forward with the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, followed by subsequent civil rights bills passed by the Republicans in Congress.
The Republican Platform of 1864 on which Lincoln was re-elected continued its original opposition to slavery, even advocating a constitutional amendment to abolish that evil:
Resolved, that as slavery was the cause and now constitutes the strength of this rebellion, and as it must be always and everywhere hostile to the principles of republican government, justice and the national safety demand its utter and complete extirpation from the soil of the Republic, and that we uphold and maintain the acts and proclamations by which the government, in its own defense, has aimed a death-blow at this gigantic evil. We are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.12
That proposed amendment became reality when, as the Civil War was drawing to a close in 1865, the Republicans enacted the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery. However, because Southern Democrats sought to evade the civil rights guarantees intended by the 13th Amendment, Republicans subsequently passed the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteeing civil rights and securing voting rights for all former slaves.
African-Americans promptly joined themselves to the Republican Party that had secured their freedom, for not only had Republicans fought for the rights of blacks against Democrats but Republicans also offered blacks political opportunities never before available to them. In fact, so strong was the black affiliation with Republicans, that in many of the Southern States following the Civil War, the State Congresses were dominated not only by Republicans but by black Republicans. And numbers of black Republicans were elected to Congress. For example:
In 1869, Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901) from Mississippi became the first black in Congress, holding the position of U.S. Senator, being elected as a Republican to fill the Senate seat previously held by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Revels later served as the Secretary of State of Mississippi. He was an ordained minister, serving both as a pastor and as a chaplain during the Civil War.13
In 1869, Republican Joseph H. Rainey (1832-1887) from South Carolina became the first black member of the U.S. House of Representatives.14
In 1870, Jefferson Franklin Long (1836-1901) from Georgia was elected to Congress and was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention of 1880.15
In 1871, John Mercer Langston (1829-1897) of Virginia was appointed by Republican President U. S. Grant as a member of the Board of Health of D.C., and in 1876, he was appointed by Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes as U.S. Minister and Consul-General to Haiti. Langston also was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1876 and 1890, and was elected to Congress in 1890.16
In 1873, Robert Smalls (1839-1915) of South Carolina was elected to Congress, having previously served as a Republican member of the South Carolina House and Senate.17
In 1871, Robert Brown Elliott (1842-1884) was elected to the U.S. House after having served as Speaker of the House in South Carolina. Shortly after his election, Elliot faced off in a debate over a civil rights bill against three pro-slavery Democrats: Alexander Hamilton Stephens of Georgia (the Vice-President of the Confederacy elected as a Democrat to Congress after the Civil War), James Beck of Kentucky (elected in 1867), and John Thomas Harris of Virginia (elected in 1871).18 Following an attack by those three Democrats against the civil rights bill, the Republican Elliot rose and responded:
Mr. Speaker . . . it is a matter of regret to me that it is necessary at this day that I should rise in the presence of an American Congress to advocate a bill which simply asserts rights and equal privileges for all classes of American citizens. I regret, sir, that the dark hue of my skin may lend a color to the imputation that I am controlled by motives personal to myself in my advocacy of this great measure of natural justice. Sir, the motive that impels me is restricted by no such narrow boundary but is as broad as the Constitution.19
Elliot then went on to recount how African-Americans had fought for America during the Revolution, during the War of 1812, and during the recent Civil War. He then concluded with this stiff rebuke against the Democrat Stephens:
He [Stephens] offers his government, which he has done his utmost to destroy, a very poor return for its magnanimous treatment, to come here to seek to continue, by the assertion of doctrines obnoxious to the true principles of our government, the burdens and oppressions which rest upon five millions of his countrymen [slaves] who never failed to lift their earnest prayers for the success of this government when the gentleman [Stephens] was asking to break up the Union of these States and to blot the American Republic from the galaxy of nations.20
The fact that, Elliot, a black, was such an accomplished and effective orator incensed the Democrats. As the American Methodist Episcopal Church Review reported:
Mr. Beck of Kentucky, and other Democratic members of the House who had felt the force of Mr. Elliott’s rhetoric to their discomfiture, could not deny the merit of his speeches, so they denied his authorship of them. . . . The charge of non-authorship was made by Democrats upon the general principle that the Negro, of himself, could accomplish nothing of literary excellence.21
The Review also described Elliot’s work among recently-freed slaves:
From county to county he traveled, teaching them the first lessons in self-government. They sat as children at his feet and learned from his lips the principles and deeds of the Republican party which had liberated them and their children from cruel bondage and which was now to give them that silent but potent motive power: the ballot – the safeguard and bulwark of American freedom. . . . Thus early he won for himself their confidence, and for the Republican party [their] love and devotion.22
There were many other notable black Republicans, including John Roy Lynch (1847-1939) of Mississippi. In 1873, Lynch was elected to Congress and was also a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1872, 1884, 1888, 1892, and 1900. In fact, Lynch presided over the 1884 National Republican Convention in Chicago. (Interestingly, African-American Sen. Edward Brooke presided over the National Republican Convention in 1968, as did African-American Congressman J.C. Watts, Jr. in 2000. While three African-Americans have presided over Republican National Conventions, only one African-American, Yvonne Brathwaite Burke in 1972, has made it as high as Vice-Chair – not even Co-Chair – of a Democratic National Convention.) In 1889, Republican President Benjamin Harrison appointed Lynch as Auditor of the Treasury for the Navy Department, and in 1901, Republican President William McKinley appointed him Army Paymaster.23
In 1875, Blanche Kelso Bruce (1841-1898) of Mississippi was elected to the U.S. Senate – the first black to serve a full term in the Senate. In 1881, he was appointed by Republican President James A. Garfield as Registrar of the U.S. Treasury.24
In 1875, Charles Edmund Nash (1844-1913) of Louisiana was elected to Congress – the first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress.25
In 1889, Henry Plummer Cheatham (1857-1935) of North Carolina was elected to Congress and also was a delegate to the Republican National Conventions of 1892 and 1900.26
In 1890, Thomas Ezekiel Miller (1849-1938) of South Carolina was elected to Congress, having previously served in the State House and Senate.27
In 1893, George Washington Murray (1853-1926) of South Carolina was elected to Congress and also was a delegate to several Republican National Conventions.28
In 1966, Republican Edward William Brooke III (1919- ) of Massachusetts became the first black to be elected to the U.S. Senate after the 17th Amendment (providing for the direct election of Senators rather than their appointment by State legislatures), thus making him the first black ever elected to the Senate by popular vote.29
There are many more black Republican officeholders worthy of mention, one of whom is the Hon. Pinckney Benton Stuart Pinchback who, in 1872, served as Governor of Louisiana, becoming the first black Governor of any State.30 Additionally, the first black presidential electors were Republicans and included Robert Meacham, B.F. Randolph, Stephen Swails, and Alonzo Ransier. In fact, black Republican James H. Harris was part of the committee which in 1868 informed U.S. Grant of his nomination for President.31
There are many other examples of how blacks achieved numerous political firsts within the Republican Party; and so great were the gains of blacks in the Republican Party that in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan was formed to battle both Republicans and blacks with the declared purpose of breaking down the Republican government and paving the way for Democrats to regain control in the elections.32 As a result, blacks were terrorized by murders and public floggings (relief was granted only if blacks promised not to vote for Republican tickets, and violations of this oath were punished by death), and Republican officials were attacked both at home and at the office. In fact, in 1866, Democrats, in conjunction with the mayor and the city police, attacked a Republican Convention of blacks and whites in New Orleans where they killed 40 and wounded 150.33
In historical retrospect, the story of the Republican Party is largely of their opposition to slavery and racism while that of the Democratic Party is largely of their support for it. Similarly, African Americans made their most significant political and civil rights progress while affiliated with the Republican Party.
In fact, in the history of Congress, 105 black Americans have been elected – 101 to the House and 4 to the Senate; and of the 4 blacks elected to the Senate, 3 have been Republicans (the lone Democrat was Carol Mosley-Braun, elected in 1992 and defeated in 1998). And even today in 2001, there are 39 black Members of Congress: one Republican and thirty-eight Democrats. The black Republican (one of 271 combined Republicans in the House and the Senate) was elected by his Republican peers to a position of Republican leadership in this Congress; but of the thirty-eight black Democrats (from among the 262 combined Democrats in the House and the Senate), none was elected by his Democratic peers to any leadership position.34
AL GORE, GEORGE BUSH, AND THE THREE-FIFTHS CLAUSE
Judicial appointments were an issue during Presidential Campaign 2000. Bush promised to appoint “strict constructionists” who would support the wording of the Constitution rather than rewrite it, while Gore promised to appoint judges who viewed the Constitution as a living, organic document, reflecting the philosophy set forth by Supreme Court Chief-Justice Charles Evans Hughes who declared, “We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is.”35
Gore, trying to capitalize on the differences in their philosophies, and exploiting America’s historical illiteracy, repeatedly warned black voters:
When my opponent, Governor Bush, says he’ll appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Count, I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written – how some people (slaves) were considered three-fifths of a human being.36
According to Gore, Bush apparently would appoint racist Justices to the Supreme Court. This is based on Gore’s belief that the three-fifths clause of the Constitution was a pro-slavery provision – a provision declaring blacks to be only three-fifths of a person. Significantly, however, the three-fifths clause was not a pro-slavery clause, and it did not relate to human worth; rather, it was an anti-slavery apportionment provision designed to limit pro-slavery Southern representation in Congress.
The Constitution allowed one Representative to Congress for each 30,000 inhabitants in a State. Since slaves accounted for more than half the population in some Southern States, slave-owners in the South therefore wanted to count slaves as if they were free inhabitants, thus potentially doubling the number of their pro-slavery representatives to Congress. The abolitionists from the North strenuously objected to counting the slaves, knowing that the fewer the pro-slavery representatives in Congress, the sooner slavery could be eradicated.
Interestingly, the anti-slavery Founding Fathers, in debating this representation question, actually used many of the South’s own arguments against them. One such example was that of William Paterson of New Jersey, a signer of the Constitution later appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by President George Washington. Adopting the Southern arguments that slaves were property, Paterson argued that since “Negro slaves. . . . are no free agents, have no personal liberty, no faculty of acquiring property, but on the contrary, are themselves property, and like other property, entirely at the will of the master,” then those slaves should not be used to calculate representation to Congress because, according to “the true principles of representation,” legislative assemblies were the result of citizens sending representatives as their “substitutes.”37 Since slaves could not attend a meeting of citizens or send a substitute in their stead, they therefore should not be used to allow slave-owners to gain more representatives to Congress.
Further exploiting the absurdity of the Southern reasoning, other anti-slavery Founders argued that if slaves were nothing more than property but still were to be counted for the purpose of congressional representation, then livestock in the North should also be included as the basis of calculating Northern representation. For example, according to the records of the Constitutional Convention:
Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry [signer of the Declaration from Massachusetts] thought property not the rule of representation. Why then should the blacks, who were property in the South, be in the rule of representation more than the cattle and horses of the North?38
James Wilson of Pennsylvania, a signer both of the Declaration and the Constitution, agreed:
Are they [slaves] admitted as citizens? Then why are they not admitted on an equality with white citizens? Are they [slaves] admitted as property? Then why is not other property admitted into computation?39
The anti-slavery leaders fully wanted Free Blacks to be counted, but not slaves, since counting slaves would increase the influence of slave-owners. Furthermore, Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a co-founder with Benjamin Franklin of America’s first abolition society, argued that if only Free Blacks were counted, it would have the “excellent effect of inducing the colonies to discourage slavery and to encourage the increase of their free inhabitants.”40
When the issue finally came to a vote at the Constitutional Convention, slave-owners proposed that slaves be counted as full persons for purposes of representation. The motion lost, with only the most strident slave-owning States supporting the measure.41 With it clear that slaves would not be used as the means of doubling Southern representation, Benjamin Harrison, a slave-owner in Virginia, proposed a compromise, suggesting that two slaves be counted as one freeman.42 The slave States, however, rejected this proposal, wanting all slaves fully counted.43 The final compromise was that only sixty percent – that is, three-fifths – of slaves would be counted to calculate the number of Southern representatives to Congress.44
Yet, even though this measure reduced the number of slave-holding representatives to Congress, it was still seen as unfair by many in the North. In fact, the Massachusetts legislature passed a resolution objecting to the three-fifths clause because, in slave-holding States, “a planter possessing fifty slaves may be considered as having thirty votes, while a farmer of Massachusetts, having equal or greater property, is confined to a single vote.”45 Clearly, the three-fifths clause was only a ratio used to calculate the amount of representation and had nothing to do with the worth of any individual.
Based, therefore, on the self-evident historical records, two prominent professors summarize the meaning of the three-fifths clause:
[T]he Constitution allowed Southern States to count three-fifths of their slaves toward the population that would determine numbers of representatives in the federal legislature. This clause is often singled out today as a sign of black dehumanization: they are only three-fifths human. But the provision applied to slaves, not blacks. That meant that free blacks – and there were many, North as well as South – counted the same as whites. More important, the fact that slaves were counted at all was a concession to slave owners. Southerners would have been glad to count their slaves as whole persons. It was the Northerners who did not want them counted, for why should the South be rewarded with more representatives, the more slaves they held? Thomas West, Professor of Politics 46
It was slavery’s opponents who succeeded in restricting the political power of the South by allowing them to count only three-fifths of their slave population in determining the number of congressional representatives. The three-fifths of a vote provision applied only to slaves, not to free blacks in either the North or South. Walter Williams, African-American Professor47
Many of today’s leaders, both black and white, tend to misrepresent the meaning of the three-fifths clause. Al Gore’s invoking the three-fifths clause against George Bush is proof of this fact, and even Jesse Jackson makes the same uninformed claim. In the Shadow Convention of Los Angeles in August, 2000, Jackson complained: “There was a lot of talk a few weeks ago [at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia] about the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. In that Constitution. . . . African-Americans were considered three-fifths of a human being.”48
Those who make this claim would profit from a study of Frederick Douglass, the great black leader and abolitionist. Douglass said that after his escape from slavery, he initially believed (like Gore and Jackson) that the Constitution was pro-slavery. As he explained:
Brought directly, when I escaped from slavery, into contact with a class of abolitionists regarding the Constitution as a slaveholding instrument . . . it is not strange that I assumed the Constitution to be just what their interpretation made it.49
However, when Douglass became a writer and a spokesman for the abolition movement, he found that accuracy and truth were important, and so, as he explained:
My new circumstances compelled me to re-think the whole subject, and to study, with some care. . . . By such a course of thought and reading, I was conducted to the conclusion that the Constitution of the United States50 . . . not only contained no guarantees in favor of slavery, but, on the contrary, was in its letter and spirit an anti-slavery instrument.51
How could Douglass say this? Had he not read the three-fifths clause? Yes, he had; and based on his own study of the facts, Douglass learned to praise the three-fifths clause as an anti-slavery provision. Gore, Jackson, and others could learn an accurate view of history and the Constitution from the example of great black leaders like Frederick Douglass!
AL GORE, GEORGE BUSH, AND THE CIVIL RIGHTS AND VOTING RIGHTS ACTS OF THE 1960S
When blacks were interviewed following Election 2000, many explained that they had supported Gore for fear that if Bush were elected President, he would take away the right of blacks to vote – a charge circulated by Gore supporters. The basis for this charge is the fact that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be up for renewal under the next President, and – according to current folklore – Republicans are racists who oppose civil rights; why – as the argument goes – they even opposed the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s and certainly would continue to oppose them today! Actually, historical facts prove just the opposite.
The first civil rights act was that of 1866, passed by Republicans in Congress, making it illegal to deprive a person of civil rights because of race, color, or previous servitude. Subsequent civil rights laws were passed by Republicans in 1870, 1871, and 1875 to allow the national government in Washington, D.C. to protect black Americans from white-dominated Democrat Southern State governments. However, it was nearly a century later before similar additional civil rights laws were passed.
Why the delay? As explained by Professor Robert D. Lovey, author of A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States of America, “the nationalization of black civil rights came to a complete end in 1892 when the Democrats gained control of the presidency and both houses of Congress for the first time since the Civil War. By 1894, this Democratic Congress had succeeded in repealing most of the civil rights laws that had been enacted during the post-Civil War period, most importantly the provisions that had to do with voting rights. This wholesale removal of protections left the black citizen in the South almost completely at the mercy of Southern State governments, and the result was a rash of State laws protecting the right of white citizens to segregate themselves from black citizens in many aspects of social and political life.”52
African-Americans, therefore, being the victims of Democratic-sponsored racism and segregation, continued their loyalty to Republicans well into the 20th century. In fact, in the 1932 presidential election, incumbent Republican President Herbert Hoover received more than three-fourths of the black vote over his Democratic challenger Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt, however, won the election; but because civil rights bills were widely opposed by Southern Democrats, and because Southern Democrats had been a key constituency in his victories, Roosevelt chose not to introduce civil rights bills. He did use executive orders to help further some civil rights, and he also established a Civil Rights Section in the Justice Department; he even directed much of the spending of the “New Deal” programs toward blacks. As a result, black voters slowly began to switch from the Republicans to the Democrats. As one civil rights historian explains, “In the years following the New Deal, the Democratic Party found it best to win black votes with economic benefits rather than by advancing the cause of black civil rights.”53
Following President Roosevelt, Democrat President Harry S. Truman did propose a civil rights bill, but it was not passed; and its introduction effectively ruined Truman’s relationship with Southern Democrats in Congress.
Even though Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower knew that it would be difficult to change the Southern Democrat’s belief in racial segregation, he determined to eliminate racial discrimination in all areas under his authority. He therefore issued executive orders halting segregation practices in the District of Columbia, in the military, and in the federal bureaucracy. Furthermore, Eisenhower was the first president to appoint a black, Frederic Morrow, to an executive position on the White House staff. Eisenhower consequently received significant support from black voters in his reelection to the presidency in 1956. In 1960, he introduced a civil rights bill, but it was promptly blocked by the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Although a Republican Senator and the Republican Attorney General proposed compromise language, it, too, was rejected by the Democrats.54
When Democratic President John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, he was less willing than Eisenhower to utilize executive orders to promote civil rights. In fact, Kennedy delayed for more than a year the signing of an executive order to integrate public housing. But following the violent racial discord in Birmingham in 1963, Kennedy finally sent a major civil rights bill to Congress and then aggressively worked for its passage, but was assassinated before he could see its success. To achieve passage of the measure, Democrat successor Lyndon Johnson resurrected the compromise language proposed by Republicans under Eisenhower in 1960, thus breaking a Southern Democratic filibuster of the civil rights bill and allowing Johnson to sign into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.55
While these two important civil rights acts were signed into law under a Democratic President, it was the Republicans in Congress who made possible the passage of these Acts, for even though the Democrats controlled both Houses by wide margins, they still could not garner enough of their own votes to pass the bills. In fact, in the House, only 61% of the Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act (152 for, 96 against) while 80% of Republicans voted for it (138 for, 38 against).56 In the Senate, only 69% of Democrats voted for the Act (46 for, 21 against) while 82% of Republicans did (27 for, 6 against).57 The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would not have been possible without the strong, cohesive support of the Republicans. In fact, all Southern Democrats voted against the Civil Rights Act, including Sen. Al Gore, Sr., who voted with the Southern Democrats against civil rights whenever the occasion arose.58
One other important civil rights note is that after the Democrats regained control of the federal and of many State governments in the 1880s and 1890s, they instituted what became known as “white primaries” to keep blacks from being placed on the ballot.59 Democrats also developed poll taxes to keep blacks from voting because, according to prominent Democrat leader A.W. Terrell, the 15th Amendment guaranteeing black voting rights was “the political blunder of the century.”60
As confirmed by Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the Democrats amended their State constitutions or drafted new ones to include various disfranchising devices. When payment of the poll tax was made a prerequisite to voting, impoverished blacks and often poor whites, unable to afford the tax, were denied the right to vote.”61 How effective were the Democratic poll taxes in keeping blacks from voting? In Texas alone, 100,000 blacks had voted before the poll tax was instituted but only 5,000 afterwards.62
While an attempt was made in 1943 in Congress to repeal the poll tax instituted by Southern Democrats, the repeal failed, with the floor of Congress becoming the site of ugly racist rhetoric.63 It was not until 1966 that the poll tax was ended, and it had only been in 1944 that the “white primaries” had finally ceased.
Significantly, it was not Democrats, but the Republicans, who had long championed the repeal of the poll tax. In fact, as early as 1896, the Republican platform declared:
We demand that every citizen of the United States shall be allowed to cast one free and unrestricted ballot, and that such ballot shall be counted and returned as cast.64
Clearly, then, the charge that Republicans in general, and George Bush in particular, would not extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is completely without any factual basis and relies solely on historical revisionism.
Yet, despite the unequivocal (but often unknown) records of history, today’s blacks often hold an opposite view. As African-American professor Ronald Walters explains in Black Oklahoma Today:
[Blacks] vote their interests and when it appears that a person or party doesn’t particularly like them, they will take their business elsewhere. The “elsewhere” for blacks has generally been with Democrats, largely because of the feeling that, even though Democrats have also done them wrong, they feel that Democrats are less prone to be racist than Republicans.65
However, as black media personality R.D. Davis of Alabama correctly observes, “History tends to unilaterally and falsely depict Republicans as racists when Southern Democrats truly deserved this title.”66
FAMILY VALUES, BLACKS, AND PARTY POLITICS
The history of blacks in the American political process shows that blacks were originally drawn to the Republican Party for its values and made their greatest strides in civil rights and elected representation under the Republican Party, but by economic allurements begun under President Roosevelt, were finally enticed to join the Democratic Party. Notwithstanding their change in party affiliation, the current values of African-Americans not only are generally more conservative than those of whites but are still best represented by the Republican rather than the Democratic Party. For example, recent polls demonstrate that blacks:
- oppose the legalization of marijuana by a margin of 75% to 21% (while whites oppose it by a margin of 73% to 24%);
- support English as the official language by 84% to 15% (whites by 82% to 16%);
- support a constitutional amendment to return prayer to schools by 80% to 17% (whites 71% to 26%);
- oppose same-sex marriages by 71% to 23% (whites 66% to 29%);
- support educational choice by 73% to 24% (whites 57% to 39%);
- support charitable choice by 74% to 24% (whites 51% to 46%); and
- support a flat tax by 51% to 24% (whites 52% to 44%).67
- support the death penalty by 64% to 31% and
- support a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution by 75% to 24%.68
Ironically, the Democratic Party – as demonstrated both by its platform and by its voting record in Congress – not only opposes school prayer, educational choice, a flat tax, charitable choice, and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution but also supports same-sex marriages – all positions opposite to those held by most blacks.
While African-Americans currently have more in common with Republicans than with Democrats, it has been a lack of knowledge of the political history of African-Americans that has allowed the current fallacious misportrayals to be accepted – a fact made clear during Presidential Election 2000.
In short, an historical review of black involvement in the political process demonstrates that: (1) African-Americans made their greatest political advancements in the Republican Party (in fact, while Democrats have talked the talk, Republicans have walked the walk); (2) the three-fifths clause was not a racist, pro-slavery provision in the Constitution but rather was an abolition part of the Constitution; (3) the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960s were the product of Republicans, not Democrats, and therefore were not in danger from Republicans in this election; and (4) black values generally continue to be conservative and are best reflected by the values expressed in the Republican rather than the Democratic platform.
Even though it was Democrats who actually committed the racial injustices of which they accuse Republicans, many today believe just the opposite, thus affirming a statement attributed to William James (the father of modern psychology):
There is nothing so absurd but if you repeat it often enough, people will believe it.
Now, more than ever, President Woodrow Wilson’s declaration is true:
A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about.69
[For more information on the struggle for African American Civil Rights see our Setting the Record Straight resource (in DVD, VHS, and Book format); we have also cataloged our Black History resources here]
1. William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations (FAME Pub., Inc., 1996), p. 697.
2. MSNBC Presidential Exit Polls, Nov. 7, 2000.
3. George M. Stroud, Sketch of the Laws Relating to Slavery in the Several States of the United States of America, (Philadelphia: Henry Longstreth, 1856), pp. 171-177. The difference in the treatment of African American and white criminals pertains more to a distinction made between slaves and free blacks than it does to color. In Virginia, 52 out of 68 crimes are treated identically between black and white offenders. These sixteen laws either deal with breaking and entering or sex offenders. In fact, only seven laws for Breaking and Entering treat blacks differently than whites, and the differences in these cases are slight. Likewise, nine laws pertaining to sex offenders only vary in the case of an interracial offense.
4. Robert Ernst, Rufus King, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1968), p. 369; See also Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1927 (USGPO, 1928), s. v. “King, Rufus.”
5. Robert Ernst, p. 369.
6. George Adams Boyd, Elias Boudinot: Patriot and Statesman 1740-1821, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1952), p. 290.
7. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States (Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1856), Vol. X, pp. 385-386, letter to Thomas Jefferson on December 18, 1819.
8. Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Lipscomb, editor (Washington, D.C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, pp. 248-250, letter to John Holmes on April 22, 1820.
9. Thomas Jefferson, The Works of Thomas Jefferson, Paul Leicester Ford, editor (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1905), Vol. XII, p. 157, letter to Hugh Nelson on February 7, 1820.
10. Eugene V. Smalley, A Brief History of the Republican Party, From its Organization to the Presidential Campaign of 1884 (New York: John R. Allen, 1885), pp. 25-27.
11. Republican Campaign Edition for the Million Containing the Republican Platform (Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1856), p. 4.
12. Smalley, A Brief History of the Republican Party, pp. 86-87.
13. Biographical Directory, s. v. “Revels, Hiram Rhodes.”
14. Id. s. v. “Rainey, Joseph Hayne.”
15. Id. s. v. “Long, Jefferson Franklin.”
16. Id. s. v. “Langston, John Mercer.”
17. Id. s. v. “Smalls, Robert.”
18. Edward A. Johnson, A School History of the Negro Race in American from 1619 to 1890 (Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1891), p. 170.
20. Carter G. Woodson, Negro Orators and Their Orations (Washington, D.C.: The Associated Pub., Inc., 1925), p. 323.
21. African Methodist Episcopal Church Review (Ohio: Theophilus J. Minton) April, 1892, Vol. VIII, No. IV, p. 369, from an Article on Robert Brown Elliot. [http://dbs.ohiohistory.org/africanam/det.cfm?ID2373]
22. Id. p. 364.
23. Biographical Directory, s. v. “Lynch, John Roy.”
24. Id. s. v. “Bruce, Blanche Kelso”
25. Id. s. v. “Nash, Charles Edmund.”
26. Id. s. v. “Cheatham, Henry Plummer.”
27. Id. s. v. “Miller, Thomas Ezekiel.”
28. Id. s. v. “Murray, George Washington.”
29. “Brooke, Edward William III,” [http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=B000871]
30. Louisiana’s African American Heritage [http://www.crt.state.a.us/crt/ocagno.htm]
31. Black Facts Online [http://www.blackfacts.com/Factdisplay.asp?ID=1029]
32. Smalley, pp. 48-50.
33. Black Facts: July30, 1866; See also “The New Orleans Massacre,” Harper’s Weekly, March 30, 1862, p. 202.
34. Congressional Black Caucus 103rd Congress 93-94 Guide [http://www.sas.upenn.edu/African_Studies/Govern_Political/CBC_Guide.html]
35. Charles Evans Hughes, The Autobiographical Notes of Charles Evans Hughes, David J. Danelski and Joseph S. Tulchin, editors (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1973), p. 144.
36. Sanfra Sobieraj, “Gore says to ‘Take souls to polls,’” The Advocate (November 5, 2000).
37. Donald L. Robinson, Slavery in the Structure of American Politics, 1765-1820 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), p. 192.
38 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Max Farrand, editor (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1911), Vol. I, p. 201.
39. James Madison, The Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Which Framed the Constitution of the United States of America, Gaillart Hint and James Brown Scott, editors (New York: Oxford University Press, 1920), p. 239.
40. Journals of the Continental Congress 1774-1789 (Washington, D.C.: 1906), 6:1105.
41. The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, Vol. I p. 581.
42. Jefferson Papers, Vol. I, p. 47.
43. The Records of the Federal Convention, Vol. I, p. 596.
44. Id, p. 597.
45. Anti-Slavery 1804 Broadsheet, Vol I. (Boston: June 22, 1804)
46. Principles: A Quarterly Review for Teachers of History and Social Science (Claremont, CA: The Claremont Institute Spring/Summer 1992), Thomas G. West, “Was the American Founding Unjust? The Case of Slavery,” p. 5.
47. Walter E. Williams, “Some Fathers Fought Slavery,” Creators Syndicate, Inc., May 26, 1993.
48. Jesse Jackson in a speech to the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles, August 13th to 17th, 2000 [http://www.shadowconventions.com/losangeles/index.html]
49. Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom, (Orton & Mulligan: New York, 1855), p. 392.
51. Frederick Douglass, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, (New York: Collier Books, reprint 1893 of an 1888 original), p. 705.
52. Dr. Loevy, A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States of America, p. 2. [http://www.coloradocollege.edu/Dept/PS/faculty/loevy/civil%20rights.html]
53. Id. p. 5.
54. Id. pp. 7-10.
55. Id. pp. 14-16.
56. R.D. Davis, Blacks “Gored” By a Lie: Al Gore Sr., the GOP and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (Washington, D.C.: The National Center for Public Policy Research, May 1999), p. 1. [http://www.nationalcenter.org/P21NVDavisGore599.html]
58. Id. p. 3.
59 Loevy, p. 2.
60. Mike Kingston, Sam Attlesey, & Mary G. Crawford, The Texas Almanac’s Political History of Texas (Austin, Texas: EAKIN Press, 1992), p. 186.
61. Encyclopedia Britannica, s. v. “Poll tax.”
62. Kingston, et al., p. 186.
63. Encyclopedia Britannica, s. v. “Poll tax.”
64. Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties1789 to 1905, Convention, Popular and Electoral Vote (New York: Burt Franklin, reprint 1971 of a 1906 original), p. 304.
65. Dr. Ronald Walters, “Raw Republican Racism,” Black Oklahoma Today, October 25, 1999. [http://www.blackoklahoma.com/Articles/columnists/com-ronwalters102599.htm
66. Davis, p. 2.
67. Clark Kent Ervin, “Majority of Blacks are Conservative,” MSNBC Opinions.
69. Federer, p. 697.
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