The Democratic Party evolved from the Federalists of the late 18th century. The Federalists were the group at the Constitutional Convention who were vocally in favor of a strong central government, and rights only for the landed gentry.
Although they supported the basic tenets of personal liberty as did the Anti-federalists - the Jeffersonians - they actually opposed adding a bill of rights to the Constitution.
Two hundred years ago, Southern Democrats supported the institution of slavery and vehemently opposed any attempts to regulate or weaken it. At the 1840 Amistad trial, then Democratic president, Martin van Buren, forced the case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes the mutineers would not be freed. It was a proto-Republican ex-president, John Quincy Adams, who successfully argued in their defense.
Republican Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863 by executive order and made possible the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution that guaranteed the freed slaves equal rights under the law. During the ensuing Reconstruction era, however, Southern Democrats did all they could to slow the amendmentsâ€™ implementation. That didnâ€™t stop the first African American governor, P.B.S. Pinchback, a Republican, from being elected in 1872.
The Republican Party began its public support for womanâ€™s suffrage in 1896, and backed the first woman successfully elected to Congress in 1917, Rep. Jeanette Rankin of Montana, three years before she could even vote.
In 1957, President Eisenhower ordered troops into Little Rock, Ark, to enforce desegregation of public schools. In 1972, President Nixon promoted and later signed Affirmative Action into law. In 1981, President Reagan appointed the first woman to the US Supreme Court and in 1983, he signed the bill creating the Martin Luther King Day holiday. President Bush appointed African Americans to two of this countryâ€™s highest-ranking positions, Secretary of State, and National Security Advisor. He also nominated several minority judges to federal benches, but curiously, Senate and House Democrats blocked these nominations by filibuster.
This is certainly not an indictment of Democrats in general or even all elected Democrats, but rather of the party hierarchy and its policy machine. For example, Harry Truman began the integration of the US Armed Forces in 1948. John F. Kennedy put teeth behind many existing civil-rights laws during his administration, and Lyndon Johnson nominated the first African American to the U.S. Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall. These acts were all commendable, but sadly, were decades ago and historically isolated. The fact is that Republicans have been far more consistent in their support for minorities. Were Truman and Kennedy alive today, some argue they might even be Republicans instead.
Despite its outward appearance of inclusion, the modern Democratic message to minorities is one of fear, separation and exclusion. It is mass population control in order to gain and maintain a political power base. What the Democrats are really saying to minorities is: â€œYou are incapable of doing for yourselves or standing on your own. Your differences have put you on the outside of society looking in. Stay with us, weâ€™ll protect you and give you what you, otherwise, couldnâ€™t possibly get for yourselves.â€� By taking this position, the Democrats have, for political reasons, pushed the minorities to the sidelines, and want to keep them there.
Minorities deserve better than condescension...they need action. Instead of doing for minorities, Republicans want to remove obstacles and allow minorities to do for themselves. Instead of giving special treatment, Republicans want to eliminate entitlements that ultimately erode self-respect. Republicans prefer a full-immersion, color-blind society where each person achieves and receives according to their ability to contribute and willingness to participate. The Democrats fear this because with every advance in civil rights they lose something that they can blame on Republicans and use to frighten potential voters.
The modern Democratic Party claims it will fight for minorities. In truth, it seems all they really want to fight for are minority votes. When it comes to actually working for minorities and their best interests, history shows Democrats leave that to the Republicans. When deciding how to cast their votes, minorities would do well to ask not what the Republicans have done for them lately, but ask what the Democrats have really done for them ever!
A version of this article was previously published in the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American, June 2004.