Saturday, September 03, 2016

What's the Truth Behind Republican Claims of Supporting Black Civil Rights?

I tend to get a lot of political advertising from all sides. With what I do, it's to be expected. Lately though, I've been receiving one in particular from different groups claiming to be "non partisan", but clearly they are toeing the Republican Party line. Each claim certain historical accomplishments often attributed to the other party, which made me a bit curious, and so I decided to check each of them out. The claims, in various formats, basically read as follows, the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery represented 100% of Republicans supported this while only 23% of Democrats did. The 14th Amendment, which gave citizenship to freed slaves. 94% of Republicans supported this while no Democrats did. The 15th Amendment, which gave the right to vote to all native born had 100% of Republican support and no Democrat. Finally, the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"), which had no Republican support but did have 86% of Democrat support. The obvious implication here is that while the Democrats usually get the credit, it was the Republicans who actually deserve the kudos. So, let's examine these to see what the truth is.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution declared "...neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction", and thus formally ended slavery in the United States, which had previously been enshrined in Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution, aka the "Three Fifths Compromise" of 1787 (the compromise was to keep Southern States from having too much influence on the presidency). The 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the States on December 6, 1865. Many attribute the amendment as a response to Lincoln's 1863 "Emancipation Proclamation" following the Battle at Gettysburg Pennsylvania which, despite popular myth, only freed slaves in the States which had seceded, while leaving slaves held in the Border States and elsewhere in bondage. The proclamation was viewed as illegal since the Confederate States were at independent coalition, and thus Lincoln's edicts held no legal or binding authority. Secondly, the reason for the proclamation was to make the slaves leave the fields and force Confederate troops to leave the front lines and tend to fields in order to prevent mass starvation, especially of their family, friends, neighbors, and yes, even the slaves. But who actually supported it?

There were 183 members of Congress present. It would take 122 "aye" votes for the bill to pass however, eight decided not to vote and abstained. That meant 117 was needed to pass the bill. Of the Republicans present, all of them voted in favor along with 16 Democrats. The final count was 119 to 56; just enough to pass. President Lincoln signed the resolution of February 1, 1865 (he would be assassinated on April 14, 1865. His Vice President, Andrew Johnson, followed him as President). Several states did not ratify the amendment until years later (Kentucky, for instance, was a slave holding border state which didn't ratify the 13th Amendment until March 18, 1976---yes, 1976). So how about the 14th Amendment?

The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to insure that all former slaves were given the right to vote. The law would be passed by Congress on July 9, 1868, during the so-called "Reconstruction Era" which sought to impose economic punishment on the South. Previously, Congress had pass the "Civil Rights Act of 1865" which gave full citizenship to anyone regardless of race, color, previous condition of either slavery or indentured servitude as an effort to incorporate all former slaves into the Union. Mostly moderate Republican encouraged President Johnson to sign the bill, but Johnson vetoed it on March 27, 1866. The reason given for the veto was that freed former slaves weren't accounted for in 11 of the 36 states (these represented former the Confederate States. However, Johnson favored rapid reentry of Southern States back into Union without or without any protective rights being given to former slaves). Nevertheless, three weeks later his veto was overridden and the measure became law. However, the 14th Amendment did not include Native Americans. They wouldn't be given citizenship until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. Again, not all the States ratified the amendment, but a sufficient number did to ensure passage (eventually most all of the States would pass the amendment with Kentucky being the last with its ratification on March 30, 1976...seriously). The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was enacted prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment on April 9, 1866, also under the Johnson Presidency, in order to insure the rights of all former slaves and those held in bondage were protected.

So, the answer is that yes, the majority of Republicans supported the passage of the 14th Amendment, however, there was a group known as "Radical Republicans", led by Lincoln's Secretary of State, William Seward, Horace Greenly, Thaddeus Stevens, John Fremont, and Ulysses S. Grant. The liberal leaning Radical Republicans were strongly opposed to slavery but were not abolitionists. They led the Reconstruction against the South and were often opposed to the moderate Lincoln Clique and the more conservative Johnson. The Democrats were largely opposed to the 14th amendment, partly because many were Southern sympathizers , and opposed some of the more ambiguous language concerning the nature of the citizenship and equality clauses (we continue to struggle with the language of this and the next, the 15th, amendment. Individuals have often hidden behind the wording and obtained citizenship through the use of "anchor babies").

The 15th Amendment, the last of the so-called "Reconstruction Amendments", was ratified on February 3, 1870. It too sought to convey the right to votes on all citizens despite race, color, or previous conditions of slavery or servitude. With the election of Republican (and leader of the liberal "Radical Republicans") Ulysses S. Grant as President, the GOP had determined that their future was tied to the fate of black voters, who had registered primarily as Republicans by this point while the Democratic Party continued to have deep roots in the "unreconstructed" South and where Democrat legislatures remained opposed to many of the changes imposed on the South through the Republican led "Reconstruction", especially as it related to full black citizenship and voting rights. The 15th Amendment was a compromise between the moderate and liberal Republicans on one side and the more reactionary Democrats on the other regarding issues voting rights. The amendment further banned any restrictions pertaining to race, color, and nature of a person's pervious servitude, but was ultimately adopted on March 30, 1870 (Southern legislatures would, starting around 1890 and continuing through the first decade of the Twentieth Century, begin implementing a series of "hoops" for blacks to jump through such as literacy tests and poll taxes, while poor whites would be often exempted through a "Grandfather Clause" incorporated into the law. Again, while hard numbers appear to difficult to find, it appears that moderate and "Radical" liberal Republicans were the key backers while Democrats mostly opposed the amendment as they had the others.

Moving forward in time over a century and a half, we come to the Affordable Care Act or as it's more commonly known, "Obamacare". There has been previous attempts at providing some form of nationalized healthcare going back decades (even Republican President Eisenhower had discussed it) which had been repeatedly shot down thanks to primarily to hospital, doctor, and insurance lobbyists. While they applied their "advise" and money most liberally, the Republicans were most open to their arguments ( In 1993, the Sunlight Foundation published a report documenting the tight ties between Washington politicians of both parties and the healthcare industry). In 1993, under President Bill Clinton (D), a committee headed up by his wife, Hillary Clinton, attempted to push through passage of a universal healthcare reform bill which was soundly defeated by a Republican House, although Senate Republicans submitted their own version which required individuals, but not employee, to purchase insurance with a fine for non-compliance. A bipartisan compromise bill which protected some transferability of existing healthcare coverage for those who had lost or change their jobs. Under President Obama (D), the proposed law was repeatedly dealt setbacks by leading Republicans. However, in November 2009, the AFA resulted in several "DOA" counter proposals and a filibuster. The Senate voted 69 - 39 to end debate on the bill and to the filibuster. The bill then passed, also 60 - 39, with all Democrats and two Independents voting in favor (Kentucky's Jim Bunning did not vote). It then passed on to the House where it passed by a vote of 220 - 215 with the passing vote being led by Democrats. 34 Democrats votes "Nay" with the rest, 134 votes, being comprised of House Republicans (four Senate members didn't vote). President Obama signs the bill in March 2010 with an effective start date of January 1, 2014.

Republicans opposition to the AFA continued along with others. Unions (such as the Teamsters, AFL/CIO, Unite-Here, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Laborers' International Union of North America) opposed it as well for being "unfair to marketplace competition" . The Tea Party, business and healthcare associations as well as other conservative groups opposed the bill as well (the conservative Heritage Foundation had originally proposed a "Single Payer Plan" which was popular among who opposed the AFA). However in November 2011, in a most unusual measure, 26 States and the National Federation of Independent Businesses brought the matter before the Supreme Court based on arguments that elements of the AFA are unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court upholds major provisions of the bill (if interpreted and applied as a tax).

So, what do we have here? How accurate is the claim that the Republican Party supported major civil rights legislation over the heads of Democrats, while opposing the Affordable Healthcare Act? Well, based on the information available, it seems to be fairly accurate and generally happened "as advertised". However, there are a few provisos that must be factored in as well. First of all, the so-called Civil Rights Act of 1864, which included the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments all took place during the Civil War and during the Reconstruction Era. The Republican Party was nearly brand new; a coalition of the former Whigs and other third parties. Politically, it consisted of liberal (or "radicals"), moderate/centrists, and conservative members. Lincoln and his clique were moderates. Johnston, who followed Lincoln, was conservative leaning (he later got in trouble with his party as moderate and liberal Republicans as he became the first president to be impeached. He would be acquitted by one vote), and "Radical" Republican U.S. Grant. This is a very different party from today's Republicans who successfully purged all liberal and moderate Republicans (who they sarcastically called "RINOs, "Republicans in Name Only", starting in the 1980's under Ronald Reagan. Today, there's not enough "RINOs" to drown in a teacup (the Democrats, who also purged their moderates, calling theirs "DINOs, Democrats in Name Only) . So, while the overall argument is true, we're comparing cherries to sour grapes (or would you prefer plums to prunes?).

The Republicans who opposed Obamacare (AFA), were more of the modern breed. They ranged from very conservative to hyper conservative/Religious Right. Most of those who opposed Obamacare but supported a Single Payer Plan were among the last of the moderates. Also, the moderate and liberal Republicans of the Lincoln Era, grouped around their party chief, but they also voted for what they believed was best not just for their party, but what was best for the nation. The more modern Republican (and Democrat) parties still tend to support their party boss, and thus vote along partisan lines with little regard to the needs of the country. But just as importantly (perhaps more so), they vote in accordance with wishes of their paymasters---the lobbyists who are employed by corporations. Over time, we've gone from our democratic republic as bequeath to us by our Founding Fathers to a defacto Oligarchy; the elite 1% and their corporate interests. The Republicans or Democrats can pretend (as they do during elections) that they are "arm-in-arm" with ordinary Americans. They aren't. If they are "arm-in-arm, we need to watch our backs for the knife in their hand. The majority of Americans, mostly former moderate Republicans and Democrats, are now registered as Independents and they make up the largest voting bloc in the country, followed by Democrats and lastly, Republicans (within the next 10 years---if not sooner---there will be more Indies than Democrats and Republicans combined).

There you have it. Question authority, always think for yourself, and then speak up and speak out. By the way, I hope to provide you in a upcoming article with information regarding both parties support of more recent bills, such as Women's Suffrage, the right to organize, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

A Short History of the 14th Amendment

Background of the 15th Amendment

The Affordable Care Act history

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