As he unveiled his Lincoln biopic that is being released next month, director Steven Spielberg proclaimed that he did not want the film to be a political football and then promptly made it into one with this remark:
“Because it’s kind of confusing. The parties traded political places over the last 150 years. That in itself is a great story, how the Republican Party went from a progressive party in 1865, and how the Democrats were represented in the picture, to the way it’s just the opposite today. But that’s a whole other story.”
This would be funny if the historical ignorance were not so vast. The Republican party, from its inception, has held that the government may not discriminate on the basis of race.
From the 1856 Republican platform, the first Republican platform:
Resolved: That the maintenance of the principles promulgated in the Declaration of Independence, and embodied in the Federal Constitution are essential to the preservation of our Republican institutions, and that the Federal Constitution, the rights of the States, and the union of the States, must and shall be preserved.
Resolved: That, with our Republican fathers, we hold it to be a self-evident truth, that all men are endowed with the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the primary object and ulterior design of our Federal Government were to secure these rights to all persons under its exclusive jurisdiction; that, as our Republican fathers, when they had abolished Slavery in all our National Territory, ordained that no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, it becomes our duty to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it for the purpose of establishing Slavery in the Territories of the United States by positive legislation, prohibiting its existence or extension therein. That we deny the authority of Congress, of a Territorial Legislation, of any individual, or association of individuals, to give legal existence to Slavery in any Territory of the United States, while the present Constitution shall be maintained.
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy, and Slavery.
The Republican party has been true to this position throughout its history. From the Republican platform of 1932:
For seventy years the Republican Party has been the friend of the American Negro. Vindication of the rights of the Negro citizen to enjoy the full benefits of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is traditional in the Republican Party, and our party stands pledged to maintain equal opportunity and rights for Negro citizens. We do not propose to depart from that tradition nor to alter the spirit or letter of that pledge.
From the 1944 Republican platform:
We pledge an immediate Congressional inquiry to ascertain the extent to which mistreatment, segregation and discrimination against Negroes who are in our armed forces are impairing morale and efficiency, and the adoption of corrective legislation.
The Democrat Party, with honorable exceptions, has usually fought tooth and nail against this belief. Up to the Civil Rights legislation of the Fifties and the Sixties of the last century, when just enough Democrats joined the overwhelming majority of Republicans to pass the legislation, it was bitter and unyielding Democrat opposition that prevented effective enforcement of the Constitutional guarantees for blacks. Throughout this time period the Republican party fought a lonely crusade for civil rights for blacks, always in the teeth of virulent hatred. When Theodore Roosevelt had Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, Senator Benjamin “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, (D.SC) responded, The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again.
Throughout this same time period Democrats frequently campaigned with the basest appeals to racial prejudice as one of the chief weapons in their arsenal against the Republicans, for example the whispering campaign against Warren G. Harding in 1920 that he had negro ancestry, an allegation that Harding courageously, considering the virulent racism of his day, refused to deny.
Since the Civil Rights legislation of the Sixties, the Democrats have continued to use race baiting tactics in elections, merely shifting the colors involved.
They still hold that the government may discriminate among Americans on the basis of race. When it comes to their stances in regard to government and race, the Republican and Democrat parties have remained remarkably consistent.