Republicans Used to Like the Whole Constitution

gop moving rightUntil recently, the Republicans seemed cool with just slamming President Obama and the Democrats.

Oh, the GOP is still chorusing “Take our country back!” as if the president and his party are a foreign army occupying Washington .

Now some Republicans have the constitution in their crosshairs. They seem to think parts of our national charter are the root of much liberal mischief.

Various GOP conservatives have taken aim at the 14th, 16th and 17th amendments in particular.

The Republicans used to like the whole constitution. Founded in 1854, the GOP is more or less descended from the Federalist Party.

The Federalists were nationalist-minded folks like George Washington. They supported a constitution that made us a federal republic, meaning that states had power, but that ultimate authority rested in a central government that united us.

Early Republicans like Abraham Lincoln believed in a strong central government, too. They advocated tariffs. They supported federal funding for improving our road and water transportation networks.

The Republicans wanted the federal government to subsidize a transcontinental railroad. They backed a homestead act that would provide virtually free government land to settlers in the western territories.

Most importantly, the pioneer Republicans demanded decisive federal action against slavery. The GOP urged Congress to exercise its “sovereign powers” under the constitution to keep slavery out of the federal territories. Some Republicans even wanted Uncle Sam to abolish slavery, period.

Of course, the staunchly Democratic white South hated the Republicans, who all lived up North. In the 1850s, the Democrats were the “states’ rights” party. Their ancestors were the anti-Federalists.

Southern Democrats yelped “states’ rights” in defense of human bondage against the “Black Republicans” and federal “tyranny.”

One Southern politician, a “Fire Eater” Democrat, blasted the anti-slavery Yankee Republicans for believing “the government is a national Democracy.” He added, “we of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.”

In 1860, most white Southerners were convinced Lincoln and the Republicans would eliminate slavery if they got in. When they did, 11 slave states exited the Union, formed the Confederacy and started the Civil War. (The Confederate constitution vested more power in the states than in their central government and forbade any law “…denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves.”)

Lincoln, the first Republican president, flexed federal muscle to the max. He and the Republican-majority Congress unleashed the U.S. military on the Rebels and whipped them.

After the war, the GOP used the constitution to expand federal power even more. The Republicans saw to it that a trio of amendments were added: the 13th, which ended what was left of slavery; the 14th, which made African Americans citizens; and the 15th, which put the ballot in the hands of African American men.

The white South again yelped “states’ rights” against this triple helping of federal “tyranny” and “usurpation” of “state sovereignty.”

Eventually, the Republicans and Democrats switched roles on federal civil rights activism. In the 1960s, the Democrats, led by President Lyndon B. Johnson, championed historic legislation in Congress aimed at ending years of societal and state-sanctioned racial segregation and discrimination.

Many liberal and moderate northern and western Republicans joined liberal and moderate northern and western Democrats in voting for the landmark civil rights laws. Nonetheless, the GOP, growing ever conservative, took off after the votes of whites, especially Southerners, who hated the new laws.

Gradually, the old Democratic Solid South crumbled. Today, Dixie is Republican Red.

Liberals are long gone from the GOP. Moderates are an endangered species. Like members of the old party of Lincoln and Liberty , they were proud of the constitution. They celebrated the fact that the post-Civil War, GOP-supported amendments moved us a long way toward living up that part of the Declaration of Independence that speaks of equality being a “self-evident” truth.

Now the almost lily-white GOP is braying “states’ rights” and “state sovereignty” against Obama and the Democrats. The Republican-tilting Tea Baggers are big on “states’ rights” and “state sovereignty,” too.

Even so, the GOP’s assault on the constitution might be based more on pandering than on principle. Take, for instance, Republican calls for review or repeal of the part of the 14th Amendment that guarantees citizenship to anybody born in the USA .

At least in part, the neo-nativism is calculated to make political hay off the latest wave of anti-immigrant — especially anti-Latino – sentiment among conservative whites, the GOP’s bedrock constituency.

The 16th Amendment empowers Congress to levy income taxes. According to the Think Progress Internet website, Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) said he wants to repeal it and the 17th Amendment, which provides for direct election of U.S. senators. (Broun also wants to deep-six the birthright provision in the 14th Amendment.)

More than a few Republicans claim the income tax is unconstitutional. (During the Civil War, a Republican Congress approved — and Lincoln signed — the first federal income tax.)

The GOP knows that the same white people who gripe about immigrants also grumble against paying taxes for “government giveaways” to “welfare cheats.” By “welfare cheats” they usually mean African Americans and Latinos. (In private, they call them something other than “African Americans” and “Latinos.”)

Anyway, in dissing the 14th, 16th and 17th amendments, Braun trashed President Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican, for helping start “this process of socializing America .” A lot of Republicans probably would agree with the congressman about TR, who used to be a GOP hero.

But in today’s uber-conservative Republican party, President Eisenhower would be a socialist, too, even a Red, and Nixon would be a liberal.

Berry Craig


  1. hwood007 says

    I wonder how many large countries give birth rights to people who are on vacation when a child is born? If you have child born in France while you are seeing Paris, is your child now a French citizen? The 14th waspassed to settle for all time that the slaves at that time were citizens, and I doubt anyone adressed what is now the view of that law. If you read the words of those who passed that 14th, you will not find the current thought as the main reason in fact you will find it was not a reason, they did not look into the future enough and should have been more clear then.

  2. Bob says

    While I agree with most of your points, your third to the last paragraph (esp. your cheap stereotyping, “In private, they call them something other than “African Americans” and “Latinos.”’) was kind of uncalled for.

    @Brian. You says his “take on US History is weak at best” but you don’t elaborate. A claim without any supporting evidence is rather pointless, and immediately becomes suspect. I didn’t see anything terribly wrong in the history given. Yes, it was brief, and rather superficial, but in an article this length, what do you expect?

  3. says

    Your take on US History is weak at best. I would also add that repealing the 16th and 17th Amendments are libertarian ideals not Republican, although it is good to see Republicans waking up to the need of limiting the federal government. Now if only blue collar Democrats could do the same.

    In our system of government the states had their place and role and that should be restored. By repealing the 17th Amendment we restore the Legislative Branch and the checks and balances the founders created.

    Taxing one’s wages, no matter the income, is immoral. Our government(s) needs to function, but not on the backs of our wages and work. This is why it is important to repeal the 16th Amendment.

  4. DarrelB says

    Isn’t this kind of the pot calling the kettle black? I think you could easily say that President Kennedy or President Truman would be considered conservatives in today’s Democratic Party. Couldn’t you?

    • Marshall says

      Too much logic, many of us who write a lot will tell the same story in several ways. He infers the GOP calls some groups a name in private, wonder what he means? What ever, he did not have the courage to tell the truth, he just infered something, poor taste for sure.

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