Republicans View the Confederacy—Then and Now

So President Trump thinks it’s “sad” that “our beautiful statues and monuments” to famous Confederates are being removed from public squares.

There was a time when no Republican would dream of saying such a thing. It was the Republican Party, let us remember, that preserved the Union, freed the slaves and championed the rights of African Americans during Reconstruction. It was the Democrats, in contrast, who ripped the country apart, fought for slavery, and imposed segregation.

Republicans of that earlier era had no qualms about reminding the American people just how they differed from the Democrats on the Confederacy.

Compare President Trump’s equivocation on the issue of Confederate monuments to the fiery rhetoric of Robert Green Ingersoll (1833–1899) in his speech to the 1876 Republican Convention in Indianapolis.

Ingersoll had been a colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. He had seen hard fighting at the Battle of Shiloh in 1862. He was an enthusiastic supporter of civil rights for African-Americans, and was a personal friend of the great civil rights leader Frederick Douglass. (Douglass once said that he had known only two white men in his life whom he felt did not regard him as an inferior because of his race. The first was Abraham Lincoln; the second was Robert Ingersoll.)

Ingersoll was also, by common consent, the greatest orator of his day. It’s not hard to see why. This is what he said in Indianapolis about the Democrats and the Confederates:

“Every man that loved slavery better than liberty was a Democrat. The man that assassinated Abraham Lincoln was a Democrat. Every man that sympathized with the assassin — every man glad that the noblest President ever elected was assassinated, was a Democrat. Every man that wanted the privilege of whipping another man to make him work for him for nothing and pay him with lashes on his naked back, was a Democrat. Every man that raised bloodhounds to pursue human beings was a Democrat. Every man that clutched from shrieking, shuddering, crouching mothers, babes from their breasts, and sold them into slavery, was a Democrat. Every man that impaired the credit of the United States, every man that swore we would never pay the bonds, every man that swore we would never redeem the greenbacks, every malinger of his country’s credit, every calumniator of his country’s honor, was a Democrat. Every man that resisted the draft, every man that hid in the bushes and shot at Union men simply because they were endeavoring to enforce the laws of their country, was a Democrat. Every man that wept over the corpse of slavery was a Democrat. Every man that cursed Abraham Lincoln because he issued the Proclamation of Emancipation — the grandest paper since the Declaration of Independence — every one of them was a Democrat. Every man that denounced the soldiers that bared their breasts to the storms of shot and shell for the honor of America and for the sacred rights of man, was a Democrat. Every man that wanted an uprising in the North, that wanted to release the rebel prisoners that they might burn down the homes of Union soldiers above the heads of their wives and children, while the brave husbands, the heroic fathers, were front in the front fighting for the honor of the old flag, every one of them was a Democrat. I am not yet through yet…”

Indeed he was not. He would go on for at least a dozen more scourging lines.

But Ingersoll also knew how to be brief. He once summed up his views on equal rights in a single ringing sentence: “I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot.”

Ingersoll was a “big tent” Republican before the term was invented. In the same speech in which he excoriated the Democrats in Indianapolis, he said: “I am a Republican because it is the only free party that ever existed. It is a party that has a platform as broad as humanity, a platform as broad as the human race, a party that says you shall have all the fruit of the labor of your hands, a party that says you may think for yourself, a party that says, no chains for the hands, no fetters for the soul.”

Ingersoll’s broad, spacious and inclusive vision of the Republican Party helped to make it America’s national party for decades. President Trump’s cramped, blinkered and sectional vision of the GOP may consign it to the political wilderness for that long or even longer.


Hal Gordon, who wrote speeches for the Reagan White House and Gen. Colin Powell, is currently a freelance speechwriter in Houston. Web site: Like this post? Share with your friends using the button below! Also be sure to like PunditWire on Facebook. 

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  • i__have_no_name

    The “party of Lincoln” has become the “party of Booth” and they don’t even realize it.