The modern Republican Party has come a long way from its radical origin as a fringe political party. The Republican party today has undergone several ideological changes since its genesis, adapting and changing to stay relevant to the issues of the time. However, many in the party now forget the great achievements of the Republican Party’s history. What is even more disturbing is the trend of certain modern party members who actively seek to unravel these past achievements.
Let's take a look back of five of the Republican party’s historical achievements, and recall what once were the great draws of the Republican party. Perhaps a look back at the achievements of the past, can help guide the present Republican party toward a better, and nobler goal for the future.
Numbers 1 – 3: The Reconstruction amendments
Perhaps the crowning achievement of the historical Republican Party was the drafting, passing, and ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution. These three amendments drafted during and after the Civil War by “Radical Republicans” remain some of the most important political achievements in American history. These three amendments were the first step toward healing the festering wound of slavery and racial oppression in the country. These radical Republicans went so far as to require the freshly subdued rebel southern states to ratify these amendments as a condition of returning to the union and self-governance.
1. The 13th Amendment:
The thirteenth amendment, ratified just after the close of the Civil War once and for all abolished the system of slavery, and involuntary servitude in the United States, except as a punishment for a crime. Republicans in Congress saw slavery as a malignant cancer which had only festered disunity in the county. Many were abolitionists who saw slavery for the great evil it truly was, and how it was antithetical to American values. Slavery, the great sin of American history, and the primary factor which turned brother against brother during the civil war, was abolished by Republicans in Congress.
Unfortunately, the caveat in the 13th amendment has remained a constant stain on the American criminal justice system. Newly readmitted states turned their criminal justice systems into frameworks of racial oppression, and the system of “convict lend leasing” reproduced slavery in all but name for much of the later part of the 19th century. Unfortunately, for the most part, the modern Republican party continues to embrace the idea of imprisonment as a new slavery, with the modern party continually obstructing criminal justice reform, and pushing “tough on crime” agendas which have little relationship to the reality of crime in America today.
Sadly, many in the modern Republican Party ignore this achievement, except as a barb against their Democratic opponents. The irony should not be lost on anyone that the prodigy of the brave men and women who fought to end the horrific system of slavery, now slavishly defend its ideology and monuments to the champions of the institution. It is even more unfortunate that many members of the modern Republican party would see their first president, Abraham Lincoln, as a disappointment to the party, instead of the influential and transformative leader he was.
2. The 14th Amendment:
The fourteenth amendment, ratified during the 1870s, remains the single most important amendment in modern American legal history. The 14th amendment guaranteed a host of rights, many of which are integral to the American system of government.
The first right guaranteed was "Birthright Citizenship". While some fanatics in the modern Republican Party, like the Canadian born Ted Cruz, would have you believe that such a right should be revoked, birthright citizenship is a fundamental American right. Originally intended to guarantee newly freed slaves citizenship, this right has come to mean much more. This right guarantees that all people, born or otherwise naturalized, shall be citizens of the United States and remain citizens. Thanks to this right, citizenship remains one of the most fundamental and guarded rights by our legal system.
The amendment further guarantees the "Privileges and Immunities Clauses", which protect citizens’ rights against infringement by other states. This right has been interpreted to mean general protections afforded to citizens cannot be abrogated or infringed on by other states, in which the citizen is not a resident.
Another constitutional right guaranteed in the 14th amendment is the "Due Process" clause. Mirroring the language in the 5th amendment, the Due Process clause guarantees your right to process against the states. Prior to this time, the Federal Constitutional protections did not apply to the states, and citizens were at the mercy of easily malleable state constitutions. While it would take almost a century for the legal framework to be fleshed out by the U.S. Supreme Court, the 14th Amendment Due Process clause is perhaps the 2nd most important right guaranteed in the amendment.
The most important right guaranteed in the 14th amendment, and possibly the single most important right in the whole Constitution, is the "Equal Protection Clause". This right was intended to solve the state-sponsored racial discrimination which had been instituted in much of the country, and guarantee citizens the same protections regardless of sex, race, religion, gender, national origin, age, wealth, or poverty. While this right is today under continuous assault today by much of the modern Republican Party, equal protection under the law was once the motto of the Republican party. Now this achievement is scorned by many who wish to go back to an era were state-sponsored discrimination was acceptable, so long as those in power were not the recipients of such abuse.
3. The 15th Amendment:
The fifteenth amendment, the last of the radical Republicans' reconstruction amendments, was ratified in 1870. This amendment stands as a cornerstone to the American democratic system. The amendment guarantees that the right to vote of all citizens shall not be infringed by the states on the basis of race, color, or previous condition.
This amendment was intended to ensure that newly freed slaves would have the right to vote. While this amendment was significant for its purpose, it took decades for its effect to be felt. Early on, African Americans feared voting due to racial violence by their white peers. When congress did finally get involved, it took decades of legal battles, and countless hours of protesting and marching before the old system of voter suppression was ended.
This amendment has been used to strike down literacy requirements to vote, poll taxes to vote, grandfather clauses to vote, and most recently voter ID laws. Unfortunately, such forms of voter suppression are now championed by the modern Republican Party. Republican legislators have by and large been responsible for passing most of the voter ID laws in this country. While many may argue that voter ID is necessary to ensure the integrity of the vote against in-person voter fraud, these arguments are made by many of the same people who actively ignore real, tangible evidence of voter manipulation and election hacking on the American voting system. In-person voter fraud is exceedingly rare in this country, and yet this extremely rare occurrence is used to justify policy which actively suppresses voting that is unfavorable to the modern Republican party.
The Civil Rights Achievements And Conservationism
Two other major historical achievements that many forget are in areas were the modern Republican Party is loath to go. It was Republicans who introduced the first ecological conservation legislation in the country, and Republicans who passed the first, foundational civil rights legislation in the country.
4. The Civil Rights Act of 1960:
The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was the realization of the failed dreams of the radical Republicans who passed the Original Civil Rights Act of 1866. While not the final Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act laid the foundation for addressing the systemic racial discrimination that existed in the American government, economy, and society. This act was intended to address Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s 7 goals for mending civil rights in the county.
After a long and arduous process to passage, Republicans in the House and Senate achieved the first substantive civil rights legislation in almost 100 years. The irony of course is that the legislation was introduced by a Democrat, as were all subsequent major civil rights reforms. What is also important to note from a historical context is how this achievement shaped the modern Republican Party.
The Civil Rights Act of 1960, and to a greater degree, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, were the last throes of the radical Republican ideology in the Republican Party. From this point on, The Republican Party became the party of Lincoln in name only. Southern Conservative Democrats revolted from the Democratic Party’s support for the Civil Rights Act, as this was the beginning of the civil rights era. Southern Conservatives abandoned the Democratic party for its support of “negro rights” and flocked en masse to the Republican Party, who eagerly embraced their new constituents and their questionable ideologies.
Republican President Richard Nixon would be the first to turn this migration of political alliances into a solid base with his “Southern Strategy”. This framework would become the solid red base which now sits in much of the southern United States. The modern Republican party began to abandon its radical roots of equality to embrace a more limited view of individual liberty and equality.
5. Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Conservative Conservationism
One of the other great achievements, often forgotten by the modern Republican Party, was the party’s embrace of traditional conservationist roots. It was under Republican control, and carried by Republican congressmen and senators, that Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, and eventually most of the major national parks were established.
Republican President Teddy Roosevelt also established large tracts of Federal National Parks, which remain pristine and vibrant ecosystems for American wildlife. While these reserves were originally intended to ensure that there was always game to kill, these parks and monuments have become natural wonders of the American landscape.
Unfortunately, the modern Republican Party has all but abandoned conservationism, in order to slavishly follow the whims of megadonors in the coal, natural gas, and oil sectors. The modern Republican party hasn’t sought to preserve the American wilderness, but has rather sought to destroy and sell off many of the last pristine examples of America's wild beauty.
Many of the greatest achievements of the Republican party have become forgotten in the modern party. Worse yet, many of these achievements are actively threatened by the modern Republican party. Perhaps by engaging with the historical victories of the Republican party, the modern party can revaluate its positions, and reject the poisonous ideology on which it has become drunk.
Some of the greatest achievements in American political history have come because of the Republican party, but as time goes on, the modern Republican party seems hellbent on eroding and destroying the achievements of its forbears.
Hunter White is a longterm Republican and cannabis advocate who also writes the Confessions of a Pro-Cannabis Republican series.