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Political Parties and Racial Equality
David Barton - 10/18/2016

No, Salon, It is Democrats, not Republicans, Who Need to “hide” When it Comes to Promoting Racial Equality

by Dr. David Barton

Dr. Paul Escott, professor of history at Wake Forest University, wrote a book entitled Lincoln’s Dilemma: Blair, Sumner, and the Republican Struggle over Racism and Equality in the Civil War Era (2014). The website Salon published a part of this work as an essay entitled “Republicans hide behind ‘the party of Lincoln’ to deflect racism charges. The party’s history is more complicated.” 1

Much of Escott’s article accurately demonstrates that Lincoln opposed slavery and that the Republican Party was founded to combat this vile institution. But the essay’s title suggests otherwise. Whether it was professor Escott who wrote the title, or an over-eager editor at Salon, it is profoundly misleading, as are parts of the essay.

For instance, Escott asserts that Lincoln engaged in racist acts as a young politician. As evidence, he writes:

As a young politician, Lincoln engaged in the race-baiting and racist rhetoric that was common among Illinois politicians. While his party’s newspaper, the Sangamo Journal, accused a Democratic presidential nominee of “love for free negroes,” the young Lincoln charged that his “very trail might be followed by scattered bunches of Nigger wool.” 2

Escott seems to believe that this 1840 quotation is a “smoking gun” that proves Lincoln to be a racist. But these were not Lincoln’s words.

The event that gave rise to this specific quote was an April 17, 1840 story in the State Register, where a pro-slavery Democrat sought to sully the reputation of the Whig Abraham Lincoln by claiming he was descended from blacks – that he was “from outward appearance originally from Liberia.” 3 Since Democrats at this time generally saw blacks as subhuman, 4 this was intended to denigrate Lincoln. But Lincoln replied ably to the attack. 5

Three weeks later, on May 8, 1840, J. A. Chestnut wrote a response in the Sangamo Journal, defending Lincoln from the attack in the State Register. 6 He openly ridiculed Lincoln’s attacker and, like the attacker, used insultingly racist language. In Chestnut’s opinion, Lincoln had “showed in his speech” that the head of his opponent’s party was “clothed with the sable furs of Guinea – whose breath smells rank with devotion to the cause of Africa’s sons – and whose very trail might be followed by scattered bunches of Nigger wool.” 7 These are offensive words, but they belong to Chestnut, not Lincoln. Although he was purporting to describe a speech by Lincoln speech, even Chestnut does not pretend that Lincoln said these specific words.

Escott, in his attempt to “complicate” history, misattributes Chestnut’s words to Lincoln. At best, this is a significant error. At worst, it is dishonest revisionism.

Ironically, most of Escott’s article supports the idea that Lincoln was not a racist and that the Republican Party was founded to combat slavery and racism. This view can easily be supported with additional evidence. For example:

  • The national party platforms of 1856, 1860, and 1864 (the presidential elections leading up to and during Lincoln’s administration) show the Democrats as open and proud racists and Republicans as ardent civil rights proponents. 8 In fact, the Republican platform of 1856 had only nine planks, and seven of them directly addressed achieving racial equality and civil rights. 9

  • When the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was voted on by Congress in 1865, only 19 of the 82 (that is, 23 percent of) House Democrats voted to end slavery, but all 118 of the Republicans voted to end slavery. 10

  • A similar voting pattern is visible in the passage of the other two racial Civil Rights Amendments (the Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, and the Fifteenth Amendment of 1870) 11 as well as the first two dozen civil rights laws passed in Congress. 12 In fact, in the 1875 anti-Klan bill, not a single Democrat in Congress voted either to outlaw or punish the Ku Klux Klan. 13

  • All of the notorious Jim Crow laws and onerous Black Codes were enacted by Democrat legislatures and signed into law by Democrat governors. 14

  • It was not until 1944 that the U. S. Supreme Court struck down the Democrat Party’s long-standing official policy of white-only primaries. 15

  • Blacks from the south were not elected to Congress as Democrats until 1974, and then only after the U. S. Supreme Court ruled that the Democrat Party must stop drawing election lines to prevent blacks from being elected. 16

Without a doubt some early Republicans were racists, and it would be shocking indeed if Lincoln never made a racist comment. But that is no excuse to misattribute Chestnut's words to him and by any measure, the Democratic Party has been far more racist than has the Republican Party. So there is no need for contemporary Republicans to “hide” behind the Party of Lincoln. Instead, they should – and do – proudly embrace the Party’s long history of fighting for racial equality, 17 despite what Salon wrongly claims.



1. Racism the founding of the GOP: Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and the real history of the Republican Party,” Salon, September 13, 2014.(Return)

2. Racism the founding of the GOP: Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War and the real history of the Republican Party,” Salon, September 13, 2014.(Return)

3. Herbert Mitang, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), pp. 18-20, quoting from J. A. Chestnut as published in the Sangamo Journal of May 8, 1840. (Return)

4. Indications of this belief by Democrats were expressed in many ways over the two decades preceding this incident. For example, in 1820 the Democrat-controlled Congress passed the Missouri Compromise (Debates and Proceedings in the Congress of the United States, pp. 2555-2559, 16th Congress, 1st Session, “An act to authorize the people of Missouri Territory to form a constitution and state government,” approved March 6, 1820). It was the first federal act that expanded rather than reduced slavery in America. It repealed the 1789 law signed by President George Washington that forbid slavery in any federal territory (Acts Passed at a Congress of the United States of America Begun and Held at the City of New-York, on Wednesday the Fourth of March, in the Year 1789 (Hartford: Hudson & Goodwin, 1791), p. 104, August 7, 1789), which at that time included what became Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. But as a result of the law passed by Democrats, slavery would no longer by banned in all federal territories but would now be permitted in certain ones. Consequently states began to enter the Union in pairs – one slave state and one free state together (“Missouri Compromise,” Library of Congress (accessed on September 7, 2016)) and slavery began to expand nationally with direct Democrat assistance. Later, the Democrat Platform of 1840 offered a strong defense of slavery, stating that “that all efforts by Abolitionists or others made to induce Congress to interfere with questions of slavery, or to take incipient steps in relation thereto, are calculated to lead to the most alarming and dangerous consequences, and that all such efforts have an inevitable tendency to diminish the happiness of the people and endanger the stability and permanence of the Union,” thus expressing the amazing Democrat belief that efforts to end slavery in America reduced the happiness of the people. Subsequent Democrat platforms took even stronger positions for slavery and against blacks. (See, for example, Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties, 1789-1905 (reprinted New York: Burt Franklin, 1971), pp. 41-42, 48, 60, and passim.) (Return)

5. Herbert Mitang, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), pp. 18-20, quoting from J. A. Chestnut as published in the Sangamo Journal of May 8, 1840. (Return)

6. Herbert Mitang, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), p. 18, quoting from J. A. Chestnut as published in the Sangamo Journal of May 8, 1840; Richard Lawrence Miller, Lincoln and His World: Prairie Politician, 1834-1842 (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008), p. 382. (Return)

7. Herbert Mitang, Abraham Lincoln: A Press Portrait (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1971), pp. 18-20, quoting from J. A. Chestnut as published in the Sangamo Journal of May 8, 1840. (Return)

8. See, for example, Republican Campaign Edition for the Million (Boston: John Jewett & Co., 1856), pp. 3-8; Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties, 1789-1905 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1971), pp. 91, 97-99, 108-109, 113-116, 125; an original 1864 broadside of the Republican Party Platform in our possession. (Return)

9. Republican Campaign Edition for the Million (Boston: John Jewett & Co., 1856), pp. 3-8; see also Thomas Hudson McKee, The National Conventions and Platforms of All Political Parties, 1789-1905 (New York: Burt Franklin, 1971), pp. 97-99. (Return)

10. Journal of the House of Representatives, 38th Congress, 2nd Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865), pp. 168-171, January 31, 1865; Journal of the Senate, 38th Congress, 1st Session (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1863), p. 313, April 11, 1864. (Return)

11. Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States of America (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1866), Vol. 63, pp. 833-834, “June 13, 1866”; Journal of the Senate of the United States of America (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1865), Vol. 58, p. 505, “June 8, 1866”; Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1869), pp. 449-450, 40th Congress, 3rd Session, February 25, 1869; Journal of the Senate of the United States (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1869), p. 361, 40th Congress, 3rd Session, February 25, 1869. (Return)

12. Statutes . . . from December, 1865, to March, 1867, Vol. 14, pp. 27-30, 39th Congress, 1st Session, Chapter 31, April 9, 1866, “An Act to protect all Persons in the United States in their Civil Rights”; Statutes . . . from December, 1865, to March, 1867, Vol. 14, p. 50, 39th Congress, 1st Session, Chapter 86, May 21, 1866, “An Act to prevent and punish Kidnapping”; p. 236, Chapter 240, July 25, 1866, “An Act legalizing Marriages and for other Purposes in the District of Columbia”; Statutes . . . from December, 1865, to March, 1867, Vol. 14, pp. 375-376, 39th Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 6, January 8, 1867, “An Act to regulate the elective Franchise in the District of Columbia”; pp. 379-380, Chapter 15, January 25, 1867, An Act to regulate the elective Franchise in the Territories of the United States”; pp. 391-392, Chapter 36, February 9, 1867, “An Act for the Admission of the State of Nebraska Into the Union”; pp. 428-430, Chapter 153, March 2, 1867, “An Act to provide for the more efficient Government of the Rebel States”; p. 546, Chapter 187, March 2, 1867, “An Act to abolish and forever prohibit the System of Peonage”; Statutes . . . from December, 1867, to March, 1869, Vol. 15, pp. 72-73, 40th Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 69, June 22, 1868, “An Act to admit the State of Arkansas to Representation in Congress”; pp. 73-74, Chapter 70, June 25, 1868, “An Act to admit the States of North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to Representation in Congress.” Statutes . . . from December 1869 to March 1871, Vol. 16, p. 3, 41st Congress, 1st Session, Chapter 3, March 18, 1869, “An Act for further Security of equal Rights in the District of Columbia.” Statutes . . . from December 1869 to March 1871, Vol. 16, pp. 62-63, 41st Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 10, January 26, 1870, “An Act to admit the State of Virginia to Representation”; pp. 67-68, Chapter 19, February 28, 1870, “An Act to admit the State of Mississippi to Representation”; pp. 80-81, Chapter 39, March 30, 1870, “An Act to admit the State of Texas to Representation”; pp. 140-146, Chapter 114, May 31, 1870, “An Act to enforce the Right of Citizens of the United States to vote.” Statutes . . . from December 1869 to March 1871, Vol. 16, pp. 433-440, 41st Congress, 3rd Session, Chapter 99, February 28, 1871, “An Act to amend ‘An Act to enforce the Right of Citizens of the United States to vote’”; Vol. 17, pp. 13-15, 42nd Congress, 1st Session, Chapter 22, April 20, 1871, “An Act to enforce the Provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.” Statutes at Large and Proclamations of the United States of America, from March 1871 to March 1873, George P. Sanger, editor (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1873), Vol. 17, p. 601, 42nd Congress, 3rd Session, Chapter 262, March 3, 1873, “An Act to place colored Persons who enlisted in the Army on the same Footing as other Soldiers.” Statutes at Large, from December, 1873, to March, 1875 (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1875), Vol. 18, pp. 335-337, 43rd Congress, 2nd Session, Chapter 114, March 1, 1875, “An act to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights.” (Return)

13. Congressional Globe (Appendix), p. 808, April 19, 1871; p. 831, April 20, 1871. (Return)

14. W. E. B. DuBois, Black Reconstruction In America (New York: The Free Press, 1962), pp. 173, 177; Dictionary Of American History, s. v. “Black Codes”; African-American History online, “The Black Codes of 1865”; see also The Handbook of Texas Online, “Black Codes”; Brayton, Election Law of South Carolina, p. 16. (Return)

15. Smith v. Allwright, 321 U. S. 649, 658 (1944). (Return)

16. The Handbook of Texas Online, “African Americans and Politics”; South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U. S. 301, 311 (1966); Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U. S. 339, 346-348 (1960). (Return)

17. See, for example, David Barton, Setting the Record Straight: American History in Black & White (Aledo, TX: WallBuilder Press, 2013). (Return)

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