The Legacy of Racism in the Democratic Party

Printed from:

In recent years, left-wing Democrats and so-called “progressives” have routinely labeled as racist some of America’s greatest Founding Fathers and military leaders who were slaveholders – men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Robert E. Lee. They have also demanded that statutes of these men be pulled down and that the buildings which bear their name be changed because of their shameful past. The people calling for these changes almost always come from those in the Democratic Party.

But one hears little from these woke individuals about the legacy of racism in the Democratic. Party. There are no apologies for the actions taken and the votes cast by politicians in the Democratic Party during the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th.

An example of shameful behavior by Northern Democrats occurred during the Civil War in 1862:  A bill was introduced in Congress to free the approximately thirty-two hundred slaves in the District of Columbia where the federal government ruled. David Blight, in his superb biography Frederick Douglass, Prophet of Freedom, writes that “The roiling debate in both houses centered on the capacities of black people to cope with freedom and what was to be done with them after emancipation.” The bill proposed to pay compensation of $300 per slave to each slaveholder as well as $100,000 for various plans for colonization after the slaves were freed.

Every Republican in Congress voted for the measure. Every Northern Democrat but four voted against the bill. President Abraham Lincoln signed the bill into law in April 1862

As John Adams said when defending the British soldiers faced with the charge of murder in the Boston Massacre of 1770, “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts or the evidence.”

Let’s look at the facts surrounding President Lincoln’s campaign for a second term in 1864. What was the Democratic platform adopted during the party’s convention that summer? The delegates at the 1864 Democratic National Convention passed proposals by former Congressman Clement Vallandigham and Congressman Fernando Wood for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement with the Confederacy to end the Civil War. The Democratic presidential candidate, General McClellan, repudiated this policy in his campaign, promising to pursue the war vigorously. However, if the Democrats had won the election, McClellan may not have prevailed against the powers in his party and might have been forced to enact the Democratic Party platform. If this had come to pass, America might conceivably still be split into two countries – one slave and one free.

More evidence of the racism inherent in Democratic Party at the time of the Civil War:  the fight to pass the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery. The Republican Party led by President Lincoln sought to pass the Thirteenth Amendment in 1864. The amendment reads as follows: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

The Senate voted by the necessary two-thirds majority to pass the amendment in April 1864. In a vote taken in June 1864, the amendment failed to garner the necessary two-thirds majority in the House. Every Northern Democrat but four voted against the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery.

President Lincoln tried to pass the Thirteen Amendment again after his victory in the 1864 presidential election. The 2012 Steven Spielberg movie Lincoln uses the story of the struggle to pass the amendment in January 1865 to portray the character of one of our greatest presidents. The Senate had already passed the measure the previous year. The battle took place in the House again. President Lincoln could count on every Republican to vote to abolish slavery. The problem again was how to secure the necessary votes from Northern Democrats, most of whom were every bit as racist as the Southern Democrats who were governing the Confederacy.

The historic vote took place in January 31, 1865. The Thirteenth Amendment was approved 119-56 — meaning with two votes to spare. It passed because eight Democrats were persuaded to abstain. Another 14 Democrats voted for the measure. Almost all of the Northern Democrats abstaining or voting for the amendment were lame ducks, many of whom had been promised plum jobs by the Lincoln administration when they left Congress. All 56 negative votes came from Northern Democrats.

What a legacy! What shameful behavior by the Democratic Party! The legacy of racism in the party continued, of course, during Reconstruction and Jim Crowe, and, in the South, during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

These days the term “racist” is constantly in the mouth of left-wing Democrats and woke individuals of every stripe. Conservatives, libertarians, and Republicans are accused of racism in the debates over immigration, voter fraud, and sanctuary cities. Even tightening up the rules about eligibility for food stamps evokes the epithet of racism.

Democrats should think carefully before calling other people racists. Doing so only reveals hypocrisy.  They should remove the plank in their own eye before trying to remove specks from the eyes of others. Acknowledging the legacy of racism in the Democratic Party would be a great step forward, and perhaps lower the current level of political invective in our country.