The proper role of the Federal Government is to stand between white nationalists and the African Americans they wish to enslave or oppress. There is no middle ground.
African Americans were enslaved from the colonial period to the end of the Civil War. Only in my lifetime have most African Americans been able to vote freely. Republicans have, historically, stood with African Americans against Southern slavers, segregationists, and secessionists. The Republican Party should be proud to have led the fight to end slavery.
The election of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, triggered the Civil War. The next time the ill-informed tell you the Civil War was not about slavery, ask why Lincoln, a moderate on the slave question, triggered secession. Why were the Republicans called “black Republicans” in the South?
White Nationalists and the Civil War
Without slavery, there would have been no Civil War. Ulysses S. Grant was the next Republican President after Lincoln. Grant did a decent job protecting the newly freed slaves, busting the Klan, and keeping former rebels from taking back over in the South.
The worst moment for Republicans (until modern times) came in 1876. Grant could not run for a third term as scandals and a poor economy had weakened his administration. The nominee, Rutherford B. Hayes, lost the popular vote but won a disputed election in the electoral college (Florida! No, really!) by selling out the former slaves. White nationalists regained control in Southern states for a lifetime.
James Garfield might have restored the Republican Party’s morality toward the Freedman, but sadly, he was murdered.
In a hopeful moment at the end of the War, after the pro-Southern Johnson had left office, the Union Army and the Freedman’s Bureau stood between the newly freed people and the white nationalists who tried to put them back in bondage.
When cartoonists pictured this situation, they showed the Union standing against the Southern white nationalists and for the African Americans.
Of course, there was a tendency to look to the government as a “white savior.” This was bad, but it was better than viewing the white nationalists, the grey backs of the Confederacy, and the African Americans as moral equals.
The Republican Party of the time knew that if there was “violence” in the African American community, it was a reaction to terrorism from groups like the KKK. They might put a hand out to calm the former slaves’ anger, but only because they stood in solidarity with the Freedman and against the mob of slavers. They said “stop” to the slavers, with force, and rightly saw the white nationalists as the source of the problem.
Why Does the Civil War Matter Today?
This moral clarity is necessary today. The Federal Government is on the side of the African-American minority, but it’s still subject to white nationalism and inbred racism. There are not two equal sides. Did we complete the work of the Bureau, or did we end it too soon? How should we deal with broken promises to the freed slaves today?
The injustice that was allowed to fester in the South was not ended until the 1960’s. What should be done to compensate for the decades of lies that were told to the people of color in the South?
Until we come to grips with the continued failure to complete Lincoln’s work, we will know no peace.
Rachel Motte edited this essay and added the sub-headings.