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The Lincoln-Reagan Freedom Foundation is dedicated to promoting greater appreciation for the heritage of the Republican Party, founded as a civil rights movement in 1854. This Grand Old Party has an extraordinary, though overlooked, record of achievement in advancing civil rights in the United States and around the world.
Celebrating a Century and a Half of Civil Rights Achievement by the Republican Party
For the past century and a half, the Republican Party has proven to be the most effective political organization ever to champion equality and human rights in the United States and around the world. From President Lincoln’s victory in the Civil War to President Reagan’s victory in the Cold War, the GOP shares credit for the ability of hundreds of millions of people to live in freedom.
Many communities claim credit as the birthplace of the Grand Old Party. Perhaps the most significant place was in Ripon, Wisconsin on March 20, 1854. The agenda was simple at this schoolhouse gathering: oppose the pro-slavery policies of the Democratic Party.
Democrat House and Senate majorities and a Democrat President incited the 1854 meeting by approving a bill by Senator Stephen Douglas (D-IL) to allow slavery into the western territories. Opponents of slavery expressed their outrage at town meetings and rallies. The issue, as Lincoln foresaw, was whether the United States would become all slave or all free. The Ripon meeting earned particular attention from the national press, and anti-slavery Americans soon adopted the name Republican nationally.
Republicans held our first state convention in Jackson, Michigan on July 6, 1854. That fall, the GOP swept to victory throughout the North. Other anti-slavery Members of Congress joined the party, so that less than two years later, on February 2, 1856, Republicans elected a Republican Speaker of the House. The Republican National Committee first met the next month, to coordinate opposition to the pro-slavery policies of the Democrats, also known then as slaveocrats.
And that summer, Republicans held our first national convention. There, we nominated our first presidential candidate, the Georgia-born former California Senator John Fremont. Four years later, we won the White House for the Great Emancipator.
As the nation sacrificed during the Civil War, Republicans planned the most significant amendments ever to our Constitution and enacted—despite fierce opposition from the Democrats—the 13th Amendment to ban slavery, the 14th Amendment to protect all Americans regardless of the color of their skin, and the 15th Amendment to extend voting rights to African-Americans. The Republicans’ 1875 Civil Rights Act guaranteed equal access to public accommodations without regard to race. Struck down by the Supreme Court in 1883, this law would be reborn as the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Every man that wanted the privilege of whipping another man to make him work for nothing, and pay him with lashes on his naked back, was a Democrat. Every man that raised bloodhounds to pursue human beings was a Democrat. Every man that cursed Abraham Lincoln because he issued the Emancipation Proclamation was a Democrat.Robert Ingersoll, 1876
For its first 80 years, the Republican Party was the only one to provide a home for African-Americans. Until well into the 20th century, every African-American Member of Congress was a Republican. The same was true for nearly all state legislators and other elected officials.
In 1888, Republican Senator Aaron Sargent introduced the Susan B. Anthony Amendment to the Constitution, according women of all races the right to vote. Strong Democrat opposition to what would become the 19th Amendment delayed ratification until 1920.
Last year was the 150th anniversary of the GOP as well as the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a watershed of the modern-day civil rights movement. In May 1954, former Republican Governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Earl Warren, appointed Chief Justice by Republican President Eisenhower, wrote this landmark decision declaring that separate but equal is inherently unconstitutional. To help enforce this principle, the Eisenhower administration drafted the 1957 Civil Rights Act and guided it to passage over a Democrat filibuster.
The Republican Leader in the Senate, Everett Dirksen (R-IL), wrote the 1960 Civil Rights Act. Senator Dirksen was the person most responsible for defeating the Democrat filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The 1964 Civil Rights Act passed the House of Representatives with 80% Republican support but only 61% of Democrats. In the Senate, 82% of Republicans supported the bill compared to 69% of Democrats. Similarly, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was supported in Congress by a higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats.
Democrats vigorously opposed Republican efforts to protect the civil rights of African-Americans, from Reconstruction until well into the 20th century. In much of the country, racist Democrats virtually destroyed the Republican Party, which did not become a force in those areas until President Reagan’s message of freedom and equality prevailed in the 1980s. Today, the Republican Party continues its historical commitment to civil rights at home and around the world.
Michael Zak, Executive Director
The Executive Director of the Lincoln-Reagan Freedom Foundation, Michael Zak, is the author of Back to Basics for the Republican Party (3rd ed.), a recounting of the GOP’s heritage of civil rights achievement. Mr. Zak’s presentations to Republican and independent organizations around the country often get standing ovations. Among his appearances last year were addresses to the Republican state conventions in Wisconsin and Oregon, and this year’s appearances have included a keynote speech at the annual meeting of the National Federation of Republican Women. He was a featured author at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2003 and 2004.
Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA): The Republican heritage is shared by every American who cherishes universal suffrage, civil rights, and equality before the law. The pivotal role of the Republican Party in this achievement—and the racist and sexist past of the Democratic Party—are authoritatively presented in this eye-opening book. For more information, see www.republicanbasics.com.
Under the chairmanship of Rep. Christopher Cox, Mr. Zak wrote the 2005 Republican Freedom Calendar while a Policy Analyst at the House Policy Committee. The calendar is on the Internet at https://www.cox.house.gov/2005_calendar/view.cfm.
(Posted on March 17, 2005)