Updated: Jul 29
We are smack in the middle of 2020; in the midst of an intersection of a world-wide pandemic and a burgeoning social justice movement. With the added impetus of a U.S. Presidential election in November, the political memes, articles, and news reports are coming from every angle nowadays. One particular themed-meme that's being passed around judiciously these days has to do with how Republicans were the original "Black lives matter", anti-slavery party. This piqued my curiosity and I've always wondered when and how Republican and Democrat party values flipped, so let's dive into history and see what we find.
1834- The Whig Party was formed to oppose President Andrew Jackson’s tyranny, but hadn’t proven to be effective at coping with the national crisis of slavery.
1854- Some former Whig members started meeting in upper Midwest states like Wisconsin, and on March 20, 1854, they formed the Republican party. The Republican party was opposed to people immigrating into America and the spread of slavery.
1856- the first Republican presidential candidate won 11 of the 16 Northern states.
1860- majority of Southern slave states were publicly threatening secession if the Republicans won the presidency.
1860- Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected President. Six weeks later, South Carolina formally seceded from the Union. Within 6 more weeks, 5 other Democratic Southern states also seceded.
1861- Civil War began.
1863- Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite popular opinion, this wasn’t because he was anti-slavery. He freed all slaves from rebellious states only as a wartime measure, but did not free the enslaved people in border states loyal to the union.
1865- Confederates surrender, ending the Civil War.
*Side note: The Civil War is typically at the crux of the “Republicans wanted freed slaves” narrative. It is generally seen as a necessary and ennobling sacrifice, redeemed by the liberation of 4 million slaves. However, David Goldfield, a historian and author, argues that white supremacy was so entrenched in the North and South that the war and Reconstruction could never deliver true racial justice and thus afterwards, Black Americans faced economic peonage, Black Codes, Jim Crow, and rampant lynching (Horowitz, 2013).
Post-Civil War, the Democratic party became a defender of the South’s way of life, attempting to restore as much as possible the model of white supremacy. Confederate statues were primarily erected by Democrats.
1948- President Harry S Truman, a Democratic Southerner, introduced a pro-civil rights platform at the Democratic party’s convention and a faction of people walked out.
These defectors, known as the “Dixiecrats” (*side note- most likely why the Dixie Chicks have recently removed “Dixie” from their name), nominated their own presidential candidate, who lost but gained many votes.
This was the first time since before the Civil War that the South was not solidly Democrat.
The majority of the South continued to vote Democratic because they associated the Republican party with Abraham Lincoln and reconstruction.
1964- President Johnson (a Southern Democrat trying to “win over the West”), betrayed the Southern way of life and Democrats by signing the Civil Rights Act in 1964 (and the Voting Rights Act in 1965).
After this “betrayal”, former Democrats flocked in droves to the Republican party, and the parties began to reconstitute themselves.
It wasn’t immediate, but by 1980 when Ronald Reagan became President, the Republican party’s hold on the South was firm. Also, as former Black slaves were allowed to vote, they obviously voted within the party that now sympathized with the Civil Rights movement (Democrat).
Regardless of political party affiliation, the South has historically had a very hard time letting go of their former claim to fame: the ability to continue a lifestyle in which imported humans, stolen from their country, were enslaved in order for them to gain economic wealth. The outcries of those that "don't want to remove history" (i.e. the old Southern ideals they glorify and long for) by protesting the removal of Confederate statues, permeate our current political climate but can be traced all the way back to the loss of the Civil War.
In conclusion, technically Republicans were the OG’s of anti-slavery; but the situation is obviously more nuanced than those simple words. It seems that biases and prejudices had more to do with political parties flipping ideals than anything else.
Little, B. (2019). How the party of Lincoln won over the democratic south. History.com
History.com editors (2020). Republican party founded.
Horowitz, T (2013). 150 years of misunderstanding the Civil War. The Atlantic.