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GRANDPA'S PARTY? Republican Voter Suppression Belies GOP Tradition

Trump's Victory Came In Part Because Black Turnout Fell

November 26, 2016       Leave a Comment
By: Dave Rogers

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Few contradictions in politics are stranger than today's Republican suppression of black votes -- the absolute reverse of what our GOP great-great-grandfathers died to protect.

It's hard to remember that the Republican Party began as a workingman's political movement with abolition of slavery as one of its main goals.

Your Republican great-great grandfather and early leaders of the party who teamed with blacks with the goal of universal freedom would be shocked by today's paucity of minority support for Republicans.

What happened in 2016 is that blacks were not as enthusiastic for Hillary Clinton, by about two million votes nationwide, then they were for Obama in 2012. Thus, Trump benefitted despite what some pundits branded as his racist campaign rhetoric.

Especially distressing for civil rights advocates was GOP attempts to suppress black votes, the reverse of their stand during Reconstruction when Republicans defending universal voting rights suffered wholesale murder at the hands of Democrats and the Klan throughout the South.

The formation of the Republican Party in 1854 in Michigan and Wisconsin was the culmination of a quarter century of organizing by political abolitionists led by James G. Birney, reformed Kentucky slaveholder and two-time Liberty Party Presidential candidate (1840 & 1844).

"But for the pioneering work of the abolitionists there would have been no Republican Party," wrote Levi Coffin, Ohio Quaker and so-called "President of the Underground Railroad."

Republican Abraham Lincoln, the ideological successor of Birney as the anti-slavery candidate, won the Presidency because Stephen Douglas and former vice president John Cabell Breckenridge split the Democratic vote. Thus, Lincoln prevailed with only about 39 percent of the vote while the combined Democratic votes would have elected a pro-slavery unity candidate, had there been one.

A recent book entitled "Apostles of Equality: The Birneys, the Republicans and the Civil War" (Michigan State University Press, 2011) tells how the process of betraying egalitarianism began: "In his 1887 biography of Thomas Hart Benton, Republican leader Theodore Roosevelt called Birney's candidacy a "political crime" and denied that the work of Birney and the political abolitionists had anything to do with the formation of the Republican Party."

In fact, Birney's work had EVERYTHING to do with the formation of the Republican Party.

Thereafter the GOP distanced themselves from the abolitionists -- who were identified with support for black voting rights -- in an obvious attempt to win more white votes in the South and establish the party nationally.

Several writers including Ari Hoogenboom, City University of New York History professor emeritus, in his biography of Rutherford B. Hayes (University Press of Kansas, 1995), have reinforced the contention that lust for the Presidency in 1876 caused the GOP to abandon their egalitarian principles.

It is well accepted among historians that the Republicans agreed to pull troops out of the South who were enforcing Reconstruction in exchange for Democratic capitulation for Hayes, who actually had several hundred thousand fewer votes than Samuel Tilden.

That "corrupt bargain" put the Republican in the White House and abandoned blacks to white supremacists for about 90 years, 1876-1966, according to Hoogenboom and other writers. Widespread Jim Crow laws in the South have been blamed for virtually ending the power of blacks as a voting force during that period

. For about nine decades after Reconstruction, Democrats controlled the South. It was not until after Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson engineered the Civil Rights laws of the 1960s that Republicans were able to regain a foothold among Southern voters.

Also, the current conventional wisdom that platform planks don't matter was belied by the Dixiecrat revolution of 1948 -- triggered by a civil rights statement in the Democratic platform.

The Republican Southern Strategy of Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon beginning in 1964 focused on white voters and recognized that Republicans wanted no more than 10-20 percent of the black vote. The code words "states' rights" again were used, 100 years after they had helped spark the Civil War.

The ultimate outcome of the recent revival of that strategy has been negligible support for the GOP among blacks, although it appears to be growing slightly each election cycle.

Political analysts opine that if the GOP could regain 10-20 percent of the black vote, as they had nearly half a century ago, they would be virtually invincible. That would return the Republican Party to the days of their great-great-grandfathers, a place surely more favorable to them -- and more in keeping with their egalitarian heritage -- than today's puny percent of the black vote for which their main response apparently is a campaign of voter suppression.


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Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is a former editorial writer for the Bay City Times and a widely read,
respected journalist/writer in and around Bay City.
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