I recently came across a set of books published over a hundred years ago and edited by William Jennings Bryan entitled, “The World’s Greatest Orations”. One oration attracted my attention: “Reasons For Being a Republican”, delivered by former President Ulysses S. Grant on September 28,1880. He had decided to try to be nominated for a third term as President, having last served four years before, but lost out to James Garfield, who won the presidency and was assassinated soon thereafter.
In 1876, the party of the South, the Democrats, almost captured the presidency, as the country was emerging from the punitive years of Reconstruction after the Civil War. The Republican James Rutherford was elected President over the Democrat Samuel J. Tilden by one electoral vote following the disputed 1876 election, which was decided by an 8 to 7 vote of a Special Electoral Commission on the early morning of Inauguration Day, 1877.
Given this background, the 1880 Presidential Election promised to be a barnburner, and Civil War hero and two-term President Grant sought to insure that a Republican (preferably himself) was elected President. Grant wanted to tell the world why he was a Republican:
“The Republican party assures protection to life and property, the public credit, and the payment of the debts of the government, State, county, or municipality, so far as it can control. The Democratic party does not promise this; if it does, it has broken its promises to the extent of hundreds of millions, as many Northern Democrats can testify to their sorrow. I am a Republican, as between the existing parties, because it fosters the production of the field and farm, and of manufactories, and it encourages the general education of the poor as well as the rich.
“The Democratic party discourages all these when in absolute power. The Republican party is a party of progress, and of liberty toward its opponents. It encourages the poor to strive to better their children, to enable them to compete successfully with their more fortunate associates and, in fine, it secures an entire equality before the law of every citizen, no matter what his race, nationality, or previous condition. It tolerates no privileged class. Every one has the opportunity to make himself all he is capable of.”
What is striking about this quote is that 131 years later, the two political parties stand for exactly what the other party stood for in 1880. Many of today’s Republicans seek to destroy the full faith and credit of the United States by opposing raising the debt ceiling, do not support “fostering the production” of key American industries such as the auto industry, and seem to want to starve public education.
The Republican party of today is the party of the rich and the privileged and not the poor, and the Southern segregationists who made up much of the Democratic party in 1880 (and to some extent, 1980) have moved their ugly act over the past 30+ years lock, stock and barrel to the Republican party.
The party of Lincoln has become the party of the Old Confederacy. There is no way Abraham Lincoln would be a Republican today – he would be a Democrat.
Ted Vaill, many years ago, used to be a Republican, a liberal Republican to be sure, but after the party left him, he became a Democrat, and is now an elected delegate to the California Democratic Convention for the 41st A.D. on a Progressive slate.