The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 15, 2012

My View: Lincoln context bolsters Republicans over Democrats on race question

By Bob Jentges

—  The Steven Spielberg historical drama film "Lincoln" recently received four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, making it a leading contender for an Academy award next year.

That reminded me that during the recent election cycle there were articles and commentary opining that were Lincoln alive today he could not have sold Republicans on the 13th Amendment. That motivated me to conduct a cursory review of the history of race relations from Lincoln's time to the present.   

The Republican platform of 1864 called for the "utter and complete destruction" of slavery while the 1860's Democrats favored restoration of states' rights, which would include at least the possibility for the states to maintain slavery. It was by no means easy, but Lincoln was persuasive enough to collect sufficient Democrat votes to pass the 13th Amendment. Generally I support states' rights, but not with respect to slavery.  

For those who assert that after Lincoln the Republican Party's attitude toward racial equality reverted back to that of the 1860's Democrats, they should be reminded that Bull Connor, Orville Fabus and George Wallace, each prominent political figures during the racial strife of the '50s and '60s, were Democrats. Although he maintained a policy of not endorsing any political party, there is evidence that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a registered Republican.  

Sen. Strom Thurmond, a Democrat at the time, filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Democrat, sought recognition from civil rights advocates for passing the bill after it had been significantly reduced in committee by mostly anti-civil rights Democrats. It passed and was signed into law by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower on Sept. 9, 1957.  

Moreover, research of the House and Senate vote totals/percentages by political party on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, including individual members favoring segregation, would be instructive. Most subsequent racial civil rights issues were decided by lawsuits or presidential executive orders. Many dealt with racial equality; some with racial preference. Space does not permit a discussion of the respective political parties positions on each of those.

We need to stop trying to make race an issue in seemingly almost all political discourse -- including some suggesting attempts at subliminal stimulus. I say it is long past time to accept and celebrate complete racial equality. The election campaign is over; let's debate issues on their merits.   

In closing, were Lincoln alive today I would be interested on his views about the social welfare state, which some view as another form of slavery.

Bob Jentges is a former teacher, coach and insurance claims superintendent and is part a team of Free Press readers invited to comment more frequently on issues of the day. He considers himself a conservative.