It is well past time to quit calling the Republican Party, “The Party of Lincoln.” Today’s Republican Party most certainly in no way reflects the values of the 19th century Republican Party. It has not done so since at least the 1960’s, when Southern Democrats, conservative, even hyper-conservative to their core migrated to the Republican Party in protest of the various civil rights laws of the period. Some, if not many of these conservative southerners accused the executive office, congress and even the Supreme Court of being at the sway of “communist infiltrators.” While factually disputed, legend has it that after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, he said that the party had lost the South for a generation. Whether he said it or not, Johnson knew that by signing the Civil Rights Act into law, he was effectively ending the Democratic party in the South. It is a misnomer to say that Democrats voted against the Act, which is not true at all…what is true is that every Southern politician, Democrat or Republican, voted against it. Johnson’s prediction, whether historically factual or not was inaccurate at best. Even so, with the signing of the Act, the Southern Realignment, the fleeing of the Southern Conservative Democrats to, first their own party, and then to the Republican Party, which began with Truman endorsing civil rights changes in the 1948 Democratic convention, picked up pace. It is from this point, the point where the anti-civil rights cadre of formerly Democratic senators and congresspersons jumped ship and returned as Republicans, that the GOP could no longer consider itself equal to the Party of Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, descendant of the anti-slavery Whigs which had proven ineffective at countering President Jackson’s policies. Lincoln very clearly was the first Republican President.* He, and his fellow republicans were also liberals. After the Civil War the Republican-dominated Congress forced a “Radical Reconstruction” policy for the south. Congress also passed the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution and the granting of equal rights to all Southern citizens.The cries of the new-right that “we freed the slaves” is only true if you ignore the complete and utter transformation of the Republican party in the post-civil rights era.
Allen Carl Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce III Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College; he also serves as Director of the Civil War Era Studies Program. In his book, Abraham Lincoln, Redeemer President, Guelzo states “Lincoln came to see black slavery as synonymous with the denial of his own liberal aspirations for “improvement of condition.” (P.9) Lincoln, in the face of the chaos of even the liberal parties being unable to put for a single face in opposition to slavery, would become the personage of the Liberal capitalist system that rejected slavery saying; “Whenever this question shall be settled, it must be settled on some philosophical basis.” That philosophy was classic liberalism founded in his father’s Calvinist religion, and Lincoln’s decades of self-education which told him that this nation could not survive unless it embraced a liberalism that included a set of ethical (even theological) principles that included true freedom for all men and women. (p. 21).
James G. Randall, an American historian specializing on Abraham Lincoln and the era of the American Civil War, termed Lincoln “a moderate liberal,” in Lincoln the President: From Springfield to Gettysburg. John Patrick Diggins was a professor of history at the City University of New York Graduate Center, he states in his book, On Hallowed Ground: Abraham Lincoln and the Foundations of American History, calls Lincoln a “Lockean Liberal with a Calvinist conscience”.**
Daniel Walker Howe in Why Abraham Lincoln Was a Whig argues that Abraham Lincoln was a liberal, by light of supporting a policy of government aid to internal improvements (for instance, the Union Pacific Railroad), the economic development of the west facilitated by Washington D.C., he counselled temperance, would not even use a gun to hunt, and advocated for women’s suffrage well before its time. All of these are liberal ideals.
The rise of the New Right, led by Nixon and Gov. Wallace culminated when Reagan and his neoconservative movement brought to the fore theological overtones, and hyper conservatism in the 1980’s. These were positions that merely 20 years before were considered too radical for mainstream government. Rather than unifying the country, right-wing conservatives, both Republican and Democrat, in the 1950’s attempted to divide the country into an Us-versus-Them mentality, exactly the opposite of what Lincoln attempted to achieve, even using the extreme measure of military force to ensure the Union remained intact.
Do not kid yourself; neo-conservatives seek to reduce government influence, but only on the social end of the spectrum, not on the market end. The neo-conservative devolution of government away from social support and towards marketism and militarism has resulted in an economy that supports the higher end, while neglecting the base of society. While attempting to free capitalism from government regulation, the neo-conservative leaves the worker out to dry under the guise of Reagan’s trickle-down theory economics, which have, since the 1980’s proven a fallacious philosophy.
Additionally, the modern American Neo-Conservative cannot function beyond the Cold-War mentality. This is seen today in the hawkish (and foolish and short-sighted) attitudes of the current crop of GOP presidential candidates (and it’s not missing from the Conservative Democrat who is running as well). In their attempt to “contain, destabilize, and roll-back” various perceived threats (communism, radical Takfirists, “liberals,” etc.), the Neo-Cons have actually made us considerably less safe than before the Reagan era.
As early as 1986, while the United States was still supporting Iraq in its war against Iran, the U.S. and Israel were making plans to invade Iraq (Operation “Clean Break” never came to pass, but the organizations that designed the plan, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Project for a New American Century included Vice President Dick Cheney and former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton). Today, with the demise of the USSR, the current close ties to China (bolstered by the Neo-Cons), the right-wing has established a popular fiction that Iran is the ultimate evil in the world, a modern day NAZI Empire. The Iranian government’s apparently apocalyptic world-view and rejection of known history surely reinforce the right’s view.
HOWEVER, this position, coupled with numerous sad attempts at propaganda – i.e. the 2006 attempt by blogger Amir Taheri claiming that Iran passed a law to mark non-Muslims in a Nazi fashion, was utterly bogus, but pushed anyway by Rupert Mudoch’s New York Post, the Jerusalem Post, and the New York Sun… all after the original publisher had issued a public retraction and apology. In 2005, another New York Post article claimed that the UN Ambassador, Javad Zarif was a student involved in the taking of US hostages in Tehran in 1979. This also proved false, given that Zarif was a graduate student and teaching assistant at San Francisco State University at the time.
This spreading of lies to facilitate a general fear of … anything… is a key aspect of the spread of modern Fascism. In 1939, U.S. sociologist Merton designated American religious conservatism (Neo-Conservatism by any other name), specifically Puritanism, and German Nazism as analogues in their respective patterns or outcomes. This is where we sit today. A Fascist America, facilitated by religious demagogues, reactionary hawks, and mental midgets.
As none of these attributes are representative of the philosophies of the Party of Lincoln, calling modern “republicans” by that name is, at best, disingenuous, or ignorant. At worst, it is dishonest, and designed intentionally to confuse for political gain.
* I’d argue that Eisenhower was the last.
**I make no pretense to understanding in any meaningful sense the difference between a Liberal and Lockean Liberal…. matter for future research…though philosophy is…deadly dull to me.
Bashevkin, S.. (1994). “Confronting Neo-Conservatism: Anglo-American Women’s Movements under Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney”. International Political Science Review / Revue Internationale De Science Politique, 15(3), 275–296. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1601202.
Adib-Moghaddam, Arshin. 2007. “Manufacturing War: Iran in the Neo-conservative Imagination”. Third World Quarterly 28 (3). [Taylor & Francis, Ltd., Third World Quarterly]: 635–53. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20454950.
Zafirovski, Milan. 2010. “The Merton Theorem Revisited and Restated: Conservatism and Fascism as Functional Analogues”. The American Sociologist 41 (2). Springer: 142–73. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40664149.
John Dowdy Collection. “As published by the Friends of Congressman John Dowdy.” Box and File location not identified.