- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2006

Now more than ever, Republicans should take great pride in our Party’s heritage of civil rights achievement. They should remember the words of Joseph Rainey, the South Carolina Republican and former slave who was the first African-American to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives: “We love freedom more, vastly more, than slavery; consequently, we hope to keep clear of the Democrats!” And, it was Mary Terrell, an African-American Republican who co-founded the NAACP, who declared: “Every right that has been bestowed upon blacks was initiated by the Republican Party.”

Today, the District of Columbia celebrates “Emancipation Day” — commemorating when on April 16, 1862, the Republican Party abolished slavery in the District. That’s right, the Republican Party freed the slaves here in the District, despite fierce opposition from the Democrats. Of course, no one in the D.C. Government dares mention that fact, since the true heritage of the Grand Old Party is what Republicans should know and Democrats should fear.

During the Civil War, one of the nation’s leading abolitionists was Republican Sen. Henry Wilson, of Massachusetts, who would later serve as vice president during President Grant’s second term. In December 1861, Mr. Wilson introduced a bill to abolish slavery in the District. The measure met with parliamentary obstacles from the adamantly pro-slavery Democratic Party, whom Republicans in those days referred to as the “Slave-ocrats.”

Most Democrats in Congress having resigned in order to join the Confederate rebellion, Wilson’s measure sailed through the Senate. The abolitionist senator responsible for outmaneuvering Democrat opposition was Ben Wade, the Ohio Republican who six years later would have assumed the presidency had the bitterly racist Democratic President, Andrew Johnson, been convicted during his impeachment trial.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats delayed passage with a series of stalling tactics. Finally, the majority leader, Thaddeus Stevens, bulldozed over Democrat opposition by calling the House into a committee of the whole. He stopped all other business in the House until Democrats relented and allowed a vote on the bill. Stevens, of Pennsylvania, is best known for his “forty acres and a mule” proposal. Overall, 99 percent of Republicans in Congress voted to free the slaves in the District of Columbia, and 83 percent of Democrats voted to keep them in chains.

While serving his one term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Abraham Lincoln had in 1848 sponsored a bill to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. As president, he proudly signed the District of Columbia Emancipation Act on April 16, 1862, announcing: “I have never doubted the constitutional authority of Congress to abolish slavery in this District; and I have ever desired to see the national capital freed from the institution.” Thanks to Republican majorities in Congress, President Lincoln could at last see the nation’s capital freed from the institution of slavery.

Among the 3,100 slaves freed by the Republican Party’s District of Columbia Emancipation Act was Philip Reid. A year later, Reid, a skilled metal worker, supervised the casting of the bronze statue which stands atop the dome of the U.S. Capitol. The name of that statue? Freedom.

Michael Zak is the author of “Back to Basics for the Republican Party.” (www.republicanbasics.com)

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